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?

Crochet in Korean

It wasn’t until moving to Korea that I was inspired to take up crochet for making garments. Korea is very hot and humid in the summer, but it is also a conservative place, so wearing revealing clothing in the summer is frowned upon. The rule at the workplace was no exposed shoulders. If you are American, you already know how hard it is in summer to find appropriate clothing for the work place. With this added restriction I had a dilemma. We were expected to dress in business attire, but how could I look as well kept as my Korean counterparts? I noticed that all of my female coworkers wore little crocheted jackets over their summer tops.

I knew I coudn’t just go out and buy something in my size, but I did know that I could crochet beautiful lacy designs if I could just get some basic patterns. That was the beginning of my adventure with crocheted garments.I started scouring the bookstores and online book sites for crochet patterns that might get me started.

That opened up a whole new world for me. I remembered the wonderful selection of crafts books that the Japanese bookstore, Kinokuniya, back in San Francisco had. They always had a good choice of Japanese craft books in English translations available. Not so, in Korea. But what I did discover was that they have Kyobo Bookstores, which are similar to Kinokuniya. Nothing was in English, but I soon found out that Asian patterns were always charted. I could make the patterns following the charts.

But what would I do if I had a problem? I was thousands of miles away and I had no idea. You can probably guess that I did an internet search and discovered hundreds of crochet sites. There were lots of blogs, as well as commercial sites selling all the supplies, including books and even free patterns.

If I could do it while living in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language, you can, too.

Here are a few guidelines:

Start with the basics. If you don’t have someone to teach you, find a how-to book that is easy to follow or look at some of the tutorials on YouTube.

Swatch. Make some practice swatches with the most common stitches.

You should learn the chain stitch, single crochet, double crochet, and triple crochet.

You will also need to practice some simple increases and decreases.

Start with a simple pattern, but one you really like. Look for a style you like that uses only one or two different stitches. There should be a list of abbreviations for all the stitches. I recommend getting a book that also has a chart, so you can visualize how the stitches line up.

Choose a good quality yarn in the weight called for in the pattern. If you don’t like the yarn, you won’t like the finished product.

Start with at least three hooks. Get the one called for in the pattern and at least one smaller and one larger hook. Depending on how tightly or loosely you crochet, you may need to use a different hook size.

SWATCH: Remember that yarn that matches the weight called for in the pattern? Well, there is no industry standard, so the yarn size is an estimate. That means the size of your project won’t be right until you play around with the yarn and hooks until you get the gauge called for in the pattern. Make a big swatch, at least 4 inches, preferably larger. Launder it and steam it according to the yarn label, then measure. Keep swatching until you get the right gauge.

What’s gauge: It is an estimate of the number of stitches per inch across a row and the number of rows per inch measuring vertically.

READ: The entire pattern! Try out any confusing parts, like lining up stitches or doing increases and decreases, until you feel confident.

Go for it!

If you get stuck, try finding an answer on an internet blog or an online video. A good place to start is Johnny Vasquez’ video tutorials “New Stitch A Day” There are hundreds of them. Become a member on Ravelry (www.ravelry.com) and post a question on one of the help boards. Or you can contact me by posting a basic question here. This blog is mainly for information and news, but I will be happy to answer specific questions about the basics of getting started with crochet and most likely, others will be able to offer additional information.

Here are some of my favorite websites, blogs, & podcasts: (Dear readers, please suggest more.)

http://newstitchaday.com/welcome

http://www.facebook.com/pages/KINOKUNIYA-BOOKSTORES-SAN-FRANCISCO/177633730285

Kyobo Bookstores online site in Korean only: http://www.kyobobook.co.kr/index.laf?OV_REFFER=http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=kyobo%20bookstore&source=web&cd=1&sqi=2&ved=0CCAQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.kyobobook.co.kr%2F&ei=FyhFUKa2BISB0QHfsIDIDg&usg=AFQjCNFHbRkAJ1H0vtMlDMRZVP9AnxUxUw&sig2=E9pUEthw4QEMgwqrW79z4Q

There is a store in Duluth, Georgia, but no website.

Happy crocheting,

Joy!

Crochet: Elegant, Fashionable, and Fabulous

What makes it work?
If you’re like most crocheters you probably started by making some fun little one skein items, like scarves or afghans. Once you realized how much you enjoyed crochet, you may have thought, “This is fun, but I’d really like to make something I can wear more often, something bigger that could be a part of my everyday wardrobe,” or maybe you wanted a fabulous crocheted piece you could wear for a special occassion. Recently, you may even have seen some really amazing crochet pieces on a runway fashion show and wanted to make something equally as fine for yourself.

Your next step might have been to search the patterns on Ravelry or at your local yarn store (if they are crochet friendly, that is). For a first fitted garment there were probably a couple of obstacles. First, there are a lot of crochet  garment patterns out there, but they are not all equal. How often have you seen a crocheted sweater pattern and thought, “I like the idea of this design, but something isn’t quite right.” That something goes back to the challenges we talked about in the last post. Crochet garments are often stiff and boxy. They don’t have that soft drape that flatters the way a perfect piece should.

The second problem is fit. You may have found a beautiful pattern that looks fabulous on the model, but you will need to modify it for your figure and you don’t know where to begin. This problem requires a bit of fitting know how. If you sew, you may understand the basic skills, but might not be sure how make them work when crocheting.

Never fear, there are some really smart designers out there who understand how to make a crocheted garment fit like a dream, drape like it came from a couture designer, and can show you all the tricks you need to know to make that dream project turn out perfectly.

Two great reference books

Flat pattern design in crochet
You may already have some crochet stitch dictionaries and how-to books in your crochet library. Now you will need some books that will become your go-to references for adjusting a pattern design or creating your own design. Today, I will introduce a couple of books that have been around long enough to be tried and true references for making fitted crochet garments. You will want to add to your reference library as you go along, but these might be good ones to get you started.

If you are new to the concept of pattern making, or you have some experience but aren’t sure how to adapt your crochet using traditional fitting methods, then Lily Chin’s book Couture Crochet Workshop is for you. She starts out with how a basic flat pattern is constructed and how to use an existing garment as a guide to do your own flat pattern. She gives you keys to getting the fit you want for the style you have in mind. And she also gives you some insider tips on making your garments look professional, like how to adjust armholes and shoulders. You may be familiar with some of the techniques, but be sure to review them before starting a crocheted garment. Unlike with sewing, you have to have it all planned out before you start to crochet. You will also learn to lay out your swatches on your pattern so to get increases and decreases that fit the curves for neckline, armholes, and sleeves while keeping the stitchpatten even. The patterns in this book are mainly classic styles that give you a chance to try out the techniques you’ve learned.There are also circular patterns which allow you to do wonderful things with vintage crochet stitches originally designed to be used for home decoration, but make beautiful shawls, jackets, and skirts when blown up to the larger proportions necessary for clothing.This is one of the construction types that works especially well in crochet.  She’s got all the calculations laid out for you. What a time saver! My favorite worked in the round pattern is the Cossack Hat. No book on crochet techniques would be complete without a chapter on lace and Lily breaks it down for you.  One of the toughest planning skills is adapting a lace repeat to give smooth curves where you increase and decrease. Lily’s got that covered, too. She also shows you how to avoid some of those tricky seam constructions on lace garments by working seamless bodices and sleeves.

The no math method
If flat pattern drafting leaves you flat, there is another method for getting great fit with far less math and alterations. By adjusting yarn size and hook size to the pattern you like you can alter the fit without recalculating the math. If you are working your own design, you can run a gauge swatch with different size hooks and alter the gauge where you want the curves; smaller hook, decreases size, bigger hook, increases size. Mary Jane Hall’s book, Crochet That Fits, gives you step by step instructions for using this method to adjust for hips, waist, and bust. The results are garments with drape that takes advantage of crocheted fabric’s natural stretch. And she shows you a simple graduated stitch method to get armhole and neck shaping. It’s just one more way to get great fit without the fuss.

All the patterns are labeled: beginner, advanced beginner, or intermediate. The little black dress on the cover shows off a crocheted necklace and both of the patterns are included in the book. I want to try the ballet neck sweater and the striped, sleeveless turtleneck. There is something for everyone here from simple accessories like hats and headbands to belts and purses. You’ll see how the same design idea can be easily be modified to make another garment and it will really get your creative juices going. Try a couple of the patterns and then take off with your own variations.

Find your style

So if you like a tailored look, Couture Crochet Workshop might be your go-to reference book for fitting and alteration. On the other hand, if you like a more softer more draped style, Mary Jane Hall’s book might be a good first crochet fitting reference for you.

Next week, I will be talking about some recently published books that build on the idea of fit and flatter for designing in crochet. It’s all about using the medium to its best advantage. What’s your best tip for making a crocheted project really shine?

Chin, Lily. Couture Crochet Workshop. Loveland, CO. Interweave Press, 2006
website: http://www.lilychinsignaturecollection.com/books.php

For mor about Lily Chin see the interview with Dora Ohrenstein on Crochet Insider:
http://crochetinsider.com/interview/lily-chin

See what it looks like to be the fastest crocheter!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPYS29CMwJA

Lily’s Ravelry page: http://www.ravelry.com/designers/lily-m-chin

Hall, Mary Jane. Crochet That Fits. Cincinnati, OH. Krause Publications, 2008
website: http://positivelycrochet.com/

Mary Jane Hall’s Ravelry page: http://www.ravelry.com/designers/mary-jane-hall

Mary Jane Hall on Twitter: https://twitter.com/maryjanecrochet

Mary Jane’s Pinterest page: http://pinterest.com/maryjanedesign/my-original-designs/

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