Have you ever wondered why some crocheted objects have a neat and professional look, while others have that homemade look as opposed to handmade? Skill with your medium, as well as with the hook, are needed to create a finished object that has all the qualities needed to serve its purpose and highlight its beautiful crocheted stitches. Crocheted garments need particular care in the choice of yarn or thread, as well as hook size. The wrong hook or a too think yarn can turn that gorgeous vest you worked so hard on into something as stiff as a throw rug.
It’s no wonder the choice of yarn and hook are the biggest challenge for crocheters. Historically, crochet was seen in household items, which required just such a stiff fabric. The other way we traditionally found crochet was in crocheted lace garments that were truly elegant, but could only be produced with thousands of hours of work, something most of us don’t have these days. So, the traditions were either very thick, dense, stiff fabric or very fine delicate fabric.
Knit fabric is naturally softer and most wool yarns were developed with knit garments in mind. So, this has been another barrier. Some folks, even think you can’t crochet with yarn, only thread. It’s true, crochet was most often done in cotton thread and thus we have those amazing motif designs which were seen around the house right up to through the 1950s as doilies and antimascars (seen on the backs of chairs as protection from men’s hair oil) which are the basis for many of the lovely exploded lace designs we see today on crocheted garments. A crocheted garment was for the most elegant occasions. So, if you could afford it, a crocheted wedding gown was a treasure, as was wedding gift of a crocheted bedspread.
In the 1960s there was a revival of crochet and other hand crafts. Today, we may remember the ungainly acrylic granny square vests as a testament to the ugly 1960s and 1970s, but this was also a time fo true innovation in the crochet art. As we saw in last week’s post, it was a time when wearable art came to the forefront and many innovative crochet designs remain as attractive and stylish today as they were in the hippie era. And don’t think it was all jeans skirts and granny square vests. I was recently perusing a website of vintage patterns from the ’60s and there were not one, but two, crocheted hoodies! If you made one of these, no one would never know they were designed in the 1960s. And how about all those fashions with ripple stripes we see today? Yep, 1970s styles in that amazing new polyester started the craze. Crochet pattern designers, also, had some lovely interpretations of ripple striped tops. What goes around comes around.
What was happening during that period more than anything else was experimentation. Sure some of the styles didn’t work, or they only worked for that time period, but the experimentation lead to a better understanding of how crochet works. Whether it’s crochet, knit, or woven, it’s the fabric that makes the garment. Fabric has a texture, a hand, and a drape that will determine how the final garment will look and all the experimentation during the mid to late 20th century helped develop the wide variety of patterns and even the influenced the innovative yarns and threads we have available today.
So, the next time you are browsing patterns on the web or stash diving at a garage sale, take a second look at some of the old designs. If a design was a great look back in its day, it is probably still a great design today. Try to imagine the same garment with today’s yarns and colors. With only minor modifications in fit, maybe the same pattern could be given a totally modern look. Women’s garments, especially can go from baggy to body hugging in just a few years. If you are crocheting it yourself, you can adjust that fit to suit your body and today’s fashion look. Bring the shoulders in, and a 1980s look can become a classic. Lengthen a 1950′s cashmere sweater, and you have an updated, yet still elegant look.
The trick is knowing how to get the look you want. Next week, we will take a closer look at creating the fabric. Getting that right is the number one skill you need to get a polished look with your crocheted garments. We’ll take a look at Dora Ohrenstein’s book, Creating Crochet Fabric, and highlight some of the basic skills and top tips she gives you in the next post.
Till then, Happy Crocheting!