Back in the game

First experiment with design.

First experiment with design.

It’s hard to believe it’s been two months since my last post. It did take time to get settled into Taiwan. I have found a couple of yarns stores in Taipei and hope to locate a couple more over the next couple of months. In the meantime, I have started my first cowl design using some inexpensive lace weight yarn that I found at Bear Mama in the wholesale district.

I can see this will be a new adventure. Although my crochet skills are pretty advanced, I have never designed for crochet before. Not to make it too easy, I chose an 18 count repeating lace stitch pattern from one of my Korean stitch dictionaries. At first I wanted just a simple cowl that increased to cover the shoulders. Then I realized I did not know how to increase properly in order to maintain the lace pattern while crocheting in the round.

Nothing is ever a easy as it seems. I did a couple of swatches and could not get a consistent gauge. So, I finally just estimated the circumference I wanted to make it fit over the head without being too drapey. But it expanded as the piece grew. It turned out to be just about right for a smoke ring, framing my face nicely. I decided to make it top down, since it was fitting my head nicely.

I wanted a smooth transition from head to neck, so I started adding short rows to make it turn gradually down the neck. Then I realized I didn’t know how to make all the rows match up. No matter, I ran out of yarn.

It’s a cowl. I can do another one and learn how to make the adjustments properly. Published pattern to be arranged. See my Ravelry page. Any suggestions for tutorials on increasing and decreasing lace in the round?

Kristin Omdahl’s Seamless Crochet

Making crocheted motifs can be a lot of fun. It’s amazing the different geometric designs that can be created from the same motif or pairs of motifs set in different ways with different colors. The problem comes in when it is time to assemble them. You can wait until the end and crochet them all together afterwards; this eliminates working in loose ends easier. But you will still have at least one loose end to hide on each motif, which can be daunting if you want to make something light weight and lacy, like a shawl. If you are doing all of your motifs in the same color scheme, you can simply skip the final row and join them all using the same yarn or thread for the final round. In general, I have found I have trouble with the join showing on motif work and have never found a joining method that gives me the results I want.

Problem solved! Kristin Omdahl has done all the experimentation for us and offers a book that reveals the secret to joining motifs seamlessly in Seamless Crochet from Interweave Press.  All the challenges that may come up have been considered, such as joining half motifs or triangles and  clear and precise instructions are included for all the steps you will need to know to complete a seamless motif project.

This is not a book that teaches you how to crochet, but rather a book for crocheters who want to learn a new method for joining motifs. With this in mind, Kristin has kept the projects simple, so they are useful learning tools for mastering the techniques. Once you have mastered the seamless crochet method, you can then go off on your own and complete any motif project seamlessly whether it is a pattern you purchase or something you design yourself.

There are eighteen projects in the book, so you can find something you will like to make for practicing each of the techiques. It also includes an instructional DVD. Which demonstrates the seamless method with three of the projects from the book. You can crochet along with the DVD or choose a project you like and just watch the part of the DVD that shows the technique you need. If you prefer learning straight out of the book, simply browse the projects in the front and choose whatever you like for a first project. Kristin has planned it so both beginners and advanced crocheters will have projects to please and challenge them.

The join as you go method is presented in the back of the book. So, you will want to study that thoroughly first or watch the explanation on the DVD before beginning your first project. You will need to learn a slightly different method than you are used to for reading the charts, but once you understand the concept it is quite simple. There is, also, a short glossary and stitch dictionary in the back along with a resource guide for all the materials suggested with each pattern.

Overall, I think this book is well worth the price. You get to learn a new crochet technique, you get a large selection of patterns, and you get a DVD. That’s quite a lot of bang for your buck in one book. Of the projects offered, my favorite is the very first pattern: Blue Lagoon. It’s a shawl in a hexagon swirl motif. Although it is done in chunky weight yarn, it has a light and airy look to it and drapes very nicely. The Malabrigo Superwash Merino yarn that Kristin has used appears to have a slight sheen to it and no halo. I like that, it gives it a silky look. The Eden Tile shawl is done in a multicolored yarn and adds some depth to the simple motifs, which might otherwise become boring. I also like the Burges lace edging on this shawl. It’s another bonus that comes with this book. You might not be expecting to learn a Bruges lace stitch. The Ninja Star shawlette also gets my vote because the motif creates such eye catching shapes. There is real motion in the design. The Star Mobius is another nice piece that I would like to make. Here, she has used different colors in rows creating a colorful project that is still joined in one piece. I love the soft sheen of the acrylic and bamboo yarn used in this one.

The stitch pattern of Berry Blossom Market bag was too open for my taste. I like a market bag with smaller holes, otherwise things are always falling out. However I do like the three dimensional flowers in the motif. They could be really interesting in a smaller gauge and using a less stretchy thread or yarn.

The weakest designs were the hats, which were nothing new or interesting; and some of the neck pieces which were either too spindly to hold their shape or done in yarn that was too thick to make a really wearable piece. My one other criticism is that some of the edgings are not really three dimensional. The Bruges lace was nice, but some of the edgings were just a long strig with a motif on the end. This kind of fringe will never hang well and will crumple when washed. I can’t imagine blocking each little piece of fringe after washing. If you don’t want regular fringe or tassles, bobbles or other stitches that hold their shape work best with as fringe.

My rating for this book: It’s a keeper! The method is well explained in both charts and written directions, and visuals on Kristin’s DVD. As always, the photos are immaculate; focus is very sharp and lighting is perfect on detail shots. And there is something for everyone in the generous choice of patterns. Now if only there were a method for doing multicolored motifs with no seams. I can’t wait to see if she does a sequel!

Do you have any tips for motif work? What’s your favorite motif?

Releasing Your Creativity with Free-form Crochet

One of the advantages of crochet can be seen in free form work. With crochet, you can design as you go. You don’t need a pattern, you just start with an idea and then start crocheting. That’s not to say you don’t need a method. Just like in garment design, you have to have the basic shape in mind before you start and it helps to sketch out your idea. If you are interested in trying some free form crochet, a good book to start with is  Learn to Free-form Crochet by Margaret Huber (Annie’s Attic a division of DRG publishing, 2010). This is a short book, only 29 pages, but it has all the essentials to get you started with free-form crochet.

The first section introduces three methods for working free-form crochet: the template method, the lining method, and the mesh method. Part 2 gives you instructions for creating some basic shapes. It’s a ten page stitch dictionary and has plenty to get you started. Once you have mastered a technique, you can add other stitches from any crohcet stitch dictionary.

The stitch dictionary is followed by seven different projects that use the three different techniques. The first one, a bag, uses the lining method. You essentially create the shape of the bag in a muslin fabric and sew you crochet onto the lining. The advantage of this method is you have the finished shape right there. So, you can easily create your own free-form crochet design to cover the same bag because you will be able to see if your design is working up to fit the shape you need. If you just want to try out the lining method, but you don’t care for a bag, the next project is a pillow. Who doesn’t have a place for a pillow?

The next three projects, a cardigan, a vest, and a hat and scarf set; use the mesh method in which you creat a mesh background and sew your freeform motifs onto the mesh afterwards. In the case of the hat and scarf, I think they could both be crocheted in a piece with a little planning. However, you would not have the option to change the design as you go if you chose to create the hat and scarf all in one piece.

The necklace on page 32 creates a chain of leaves and flowers to which you add larger flowers to complete it.  This design, also, offers lots of opportunity to improvise.

The final project is the capelet which is shown on on the front cover. By far the most complex project, it demonstrates the advantage of the template method. You create a template out of paper or muslin as you would for a fabric garment. This allows you to test the size, fullness, and drape of the final shape before you commit yourself to the whole design. The motifs are planned out for you in this project, but once you start designing your own, you might want to create sample motifs and play around with the placement on your pattern. Once you have decided the exact layout of the motifs, you can create them individually or plan to join them as you go, using the pattern to measure and make sure each motif is coming out the proper size.

Learn to Free-form Crochet is a great book to get you started with free form crochet. My favorite projects were the hat and scarf set, and the bag. However, I can see possibilities in the other projects, for learning a technique and then modifing the project as details are worked out. And I think, that is exactly what the author had in mind. It is not necessarily a book you would buy just for the patterns. It’s a book for learning a technique and would be a welcome addition to your crochet library because you would refer to it again and again.

Margaret Hubert, author of Learn to Free-form Crochet, is featured on her personal website at:  http://www.margarethubertoriginals.com . There you will find more books, patterns and photos of her work.

Do you have a favorite free form crochet book or author? Do you freeform crochet? Tell us about it in comments.

It’s Not about the Hook

We’ve considered crochet history and techniques and how they influenced today’s designs. Now we want to consider the process that gets us there. In order to create your own designs, you will need more than skill and great ideas. You’ll have to understand how fiber creates fabric.We say each fabric has a hand; meaning whether it is soft of stiff, smooth or coarse, whether it drapes well and holds a curve or looks better in pleats and tucks. When you knit or crochet, you are creating fabric and you need to take each of these things into consideration when choosing the right fiber for your design. But how do you know? If you are going to make a sewn garment, you go through the fabric store and look at color, sheen, and texture. You feel the fabric in your hand (thus the term hand) and you hold up a length of it to see how it drapes or pleats. In the case of crochet or knit, you are creating the fabric and you will need a good bit of knowledge about fiber to anticipate what kind of fabric you can create with a given fiber.

Reprinted with permission from Creating Crochet Fabric © 2010 by Dora Ohrenstein, Lark Crafts, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

Reprinted with permission from Creating Crochet Fabric © 2010 by Dora Ohrenstein, Lark Crafts, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

Dora Ohrenstein’s book Creating Crochet Fabric: experimenting with hook, yarn & stitch addresses all the procedures you need to follow in order to produce the right fabric for the design or pattern you want to make. She starts with the basics; going over the different types of fibers, their weights and size, and the different types of yarn that can made from them. Each of these elements alone will affect the resulting fabric. A fiber can have a thick or thin strand, it can have more or less twist, can have single or multiple strands, and more. The hook size, too, can affect your fabric but the yarn itself is by far the most important and complex choice you have to make. Dora has laid out all the details in this first chapter and then offered a simple circular motif scarf which can be made by repeating the same stitch pattern with a series of different fibers and gauges. This will give you a fun wearable project to experiment with and get the idea of how fiber weight and hook size affect outcome. You can follow this pattern or create a repeating design of your own as a practice piece.

In the following chapters, you’ll see many examples of swatches depicting definition with different types of fiber, how stitch patterns create geometric designs, colorwork samples, and swatches worked with different size yarns. Each chapter includes patterns you can use to go beyond swatches and make a practical project using the techniques you’ve learned. In the final chapters, Dora gives you suggestions for how to put together what you’ve learned, offers additional patterns and a short stitch dictionary to get you started. If you are serious about design, you’ll want to start collecting stitch dictionaries, too. But Creating Crochet Fabric will also be an excellent reference book that you will return to again and again as you continue to learn more about creating fabric in crochet. Read it cover to cover when you first get it and then keep it handy for future projects.

What’s your favorite crochet reference book?

The Crocheter’s Art: Nicki Hitz Edson

I am isolated here in a small town with not much of a crochet book collection in the local library. So, I recently requested some crochet books on interlibrary loan, just to see what might be  available. Apparently, here in Tennessee, there is a dearth of books on crochet. But among the few books I was able to obtain was Del Pitt Feldman’s The Crocheter’s Art (Doubleday, 1974). I remember this book from my early research into fiber arts and it is now a classic. A first edition is listed on Amazon for more than $600 dollars! Don’t worry; there is a contemporary paperback available for about $11.00. I daresay, the pictures are not nearly so marvelous as in the original.

This book came at a time when crafts and especially fiber arts were experiencing renewed interest and, for the first time since the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th century, fiber arts were being recognized as art and being included in shows in some of the major national galleries. Today, the larger museums still give a nod to crafts with a few select pieces, but major shows are not on the agenda. (Readers, correct me on this one if I am wrong. Are we in a renewal period for textile arts? If you know of any art shows that are currently featuring fiber artists, please post them here. This site is all about making crochet as art more visible and along with that goes any related textile art.)

Some of the artists featured in The Crocheter’s Art are no longer working, but a few are still around and even still actively producing work. I’d like to focus on just one of these artists today. Her name is Nicki Hitz Edson. Some of her best known early work was crocheted masks. She is an artist after my own heart, one of my favorite art forms is maks and my current favorite textile medium is crochet. You can find excellent full color photos of some of these early works at Nicki’s website.(http://www.nickihitzedson.com/index.php-page=crochet.html) My personal favorite is the Satyr. What’s yours?

These masks look as fresh and inspired as they did back in the day when they were first being shown in Tiffany’s windows and the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City. Her mask work continued to be a major part of her art shows throughout the 1970s and then in the 1980s wearable art became the predominant theme in her work. This is not to say her work is limited only to these two ideas. If you browse through the other pages on her website, you will see she also does tapestries and pet portraits, gives workshops in freeform crochet, and sells patterns for some of her original designs for  knitted vests.

I hope looking at Nicki Hitz Edson’s work has given you some inspiration. Has anyone tried a crocheted mask? Maybe there are some of you out there who’ve done some similar work for theatrical costuming. These are not your typical weekend projects for a Halloween costume, but they could be something for one of the big masked balls held around the major cities during the Halloween season. Post a comment, link, or photo of your work or work of someone you admire who’s done some amazing crochet masks!

Happy crocheting!

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