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.

Vintage Crochet Influences Today’s Designs

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!

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!

My short hiatus

I have missed my goal of posting once a week. I started a new job, part time only; but I haven’t had the brain energy to do the serious kind of post I like to do for this website. In upcoming posts, I will be researching crochet artists from the past decades and considering how crochet has changed for the 21st century. I will look at who is still around and active in the medium and how  they have changed and, also, who are some of the up and coming crochet names today in future posts. So stay with me.

Oh, yes, during the chaos of the last couple of weeks, I finally finished a crocheted jacket that I started more than a year ago. It’s been five jobs, seven moves, and a lot of stress, including a lot of hair falling out. But I am pleased with the result. I am not planning on posting pictures of my own work here, but I will have a photo up on Ravelry  by the weekend.

BTW: If anyone knows the protocol for posting pictures of other people’s work, please comment or send me an email. I’d like to have images of the work I am reviewing here, but I am afraid most of the work I am reviewing has copyrighted photos.

I am going away for the weekend, so I should have a new post by Friday evening. Stay tuned!

Crochet Community

In the previous blog we talked about some of the working artists out there who are using crochet in their artwork. That was only a taste. If you know of others, please put up a post on that page. The crochet community is a small but close-knit group (or should I say close-crocheted?) The best way to get information out about anything crochet is to share what you know and by the same token, that’s the best way to learn more about crochet. That’s what I am hoping to do with this website. There are lots of websites out there that have demos, free patterns, and crochet alongs. But there is not much related to crochet as an artform. If you love crochet and love to see or hear about the most wild and wonderful things being done in crochet, this is the place to come to. I will be posting  stories, links, and as much information as possible.

The way we keep crochet alive as a living craft is to disseminate information among ourselves. Start a local crochet group and meet somewhere other than a yarn shop. Local yarn shops are great and we should support them, but they are often small, hard, to find, and can be intimidating for some people. Right now, people don’t have a lot of money, so meet with others in a home or public place, share what you have, if you can, and most of all encourage others.

Start a local crochet group. Believe me crocheters will welcome it. There are lots of knitting groups, but few crochet groups. Make it friendly and fun. Include time to show some amazing crochet projects that you have seen from others or online. Go beyond just meeting up and doing a little show and tell, then spending the rest of the time with local chit/chat. Start a conversation anyone can contribute to. Talk about upcoming crochet events, websites or blogs that you have seen on line, opinions and ideas about different techniques and styles of crochet. Plan a group trip to see a local artist’s work or travel together to a conference.

If you are in a small town in the middle of the US, like me, you may find it hard to start up a group. Crafts have their niches,. I don’t know why that is, but the most crafty states, seem to be on the east and west coasts, with some of the more northern states having pockets of crafters. This is based strictly on my observations from traveling and living in a lot of different states. Do you live in a crafty place? How many yarn stores are in less than one hour’s drive from you? How many active guilds or craft groups are in or near your town? If there is a craft or fabric store in your area, does it put the craft items right up front or have they stuck a bunch of home decorator items in the front? I’d like to see a WolframAlpha chart comparing the number for fiberarts clubs to number of Walmarts across America. My guess would be, the fewer Walmarts, the more clubs or organizations related to fiber arts or making things in general.

Just a last word about the website. Eventually, I hope to have a lot of images. Right now, that’s not possible because I need permission to use images. The best way to get that permission is through the publishers, artists, and photographers. If you are in this category and would like me to show your crochet related work, please contact me. The more images I have available the more beautiful the website will be. It is hard to write about the visual arts without images, and crochet is definitely a visual art!

Art and Crochet

As you can tell by this website, I am a big proponent of recognizing the so called crafts as art forms. But what about recognition in the formal sense. Can crochet really be a work of art? It all depends on how you define art. I believe that a lot of the argument stems from the fact that many people don’t accept that the word art can have more than one definition. We readily accept that other words, like review have more than one meaning. So why not art? It is mainly a line in the sand. The art aficionados, intelligentsia, and most of all the high end museums and collectors want to be able to have the last word. When asked how the various incarnations of Startrek qualified Gene Roddenberry used to say, “It’s not Startrek until I say it’s Startrek.” In a way, those powers at the top want to be able to say when something can be called art.

But artists are always pushing the envelope, questioning what it is that defines art. Women artists, in particular often approach the question, “What is Art?” by questioning what it has to be made of. Judy Chicago  explored ceramics and embroidery in her feminist installations in the 1960s and continues to do so today in other media. Young artists today are crossing that line, too.

The one line that is most difficult to cross it the monumental element of high art. For centuries, if it wasn’t oil on canvas, then it had to be marble or bronze. And it had to be large. Thus, monumental, large and built to last. Today, we see many other media recognized in art, from acrylic sculptured to video films.

Fiber art is a little more problematic. It can be made large, but it can be very labor intensive. Making a textile last takes a great deal of care, too. A few monumental textile pieces have lasted through the ages. The Bayeux Tapestry (c.1070) is one which has survived, probably because it was in storage for many years and because it was usually displayed only once a year in the Bayeux Cathedral, for which it was named.

Today, young artists are still challenging the definition of art. And crochet is among the textile art forms being used to cross the boundaries and question our cultural and aesthetic values through art. Olek, a New York artist, very active in the Occupy Wall Street movement, has used yarn bombing as an art form.  Particularly notable was her yarn bombing of the Wall Street Bull sculpture, which is so symbolic of New York Stock Market and all it stands for.

Across the Atlantic, Joana Vasconcelos,  a French artist who now lives in Portugal, mixes crochet, hand knitting, manufactured knit fabric, and various other fabrics, even feathers, with steel and ceramics. She has shown her work at Versailles, Lisbon, Venice, London, Budapest, and the list goes on.

In Japan, one of my favorites, Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam, created large scale crocheted nets for a major art show in Japan. After the art work was taken over by some rambunctious children, with her blessing, she and her husband decided her art work should be for everyone. The developed a company that designs playgrounds, as well as helping to produce Toshiko’s large scale art installations for gallery and museum shows.
Check out the video of the kids playing on the crocheted networks, tunnels, and hanging globes. I’ve never seen so much joy! I loved watching them navigate the tunnels by standing on each others shoulders, seeing how they helped the younger children along to the different levels, and even some parents were letting infants crawl on the lower levels. The children became a part of the art work.

These are just a few of the artists who are showing us how to make our craft into art. It is only a taste. So many other artists are doing, wearable art, toys, and jewelry, as well as gallery art. For an excellent collection of interviews with crochet artists go to Kathryn Vercello’s website: Crochet Concupiscence. http://www.crochetconcupiscence.com/about/ Please post links to some of your favorite crochet or textile artist!

PS: I hope the lack of visuals in this blog are not discouraging. Most of the images in the links I have noted are copyrighted. I wanted to respect that. For a magazine or professional article, I would take the time to request permissions. But blogs have to be put out there pretty quickly. So, here are the links again.

Judy Chicago website: http://www.judychicago.com/contact.php

Website for the Bayeux Tapestry museum in Reading, UK (a replica) http://www.bayeuxtapestry.org.uk/Index.htm

Olek’s website: http://agataolek.com/home.html

Joanna Vasconcelos images: http://lovelytextiles.blogspot.com/2009/02/joana-vasconcelos.html

Joana Vasconcelos’ website: http://www.joanavasconcelos.com/menu_en.aspx

Images: Toshiko Horiuchi https://www.google.com/search?q=crochet+art+Toshiko&hl=en&client=firefox-beta&hs=mJE&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&channel=fflb&prmd=imvns&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=Y3JOUI-VNqLt0gGqoYHgBw&ved=0CCQQsAQ&biw=1260&bih=613

Toshiko Horiuchi Macadam and husband Charles Macadam’s company website: http://netplayworks.com/NetPlayWorks/Projects/Projects.html

Colossal Art and Visual Ingenuity, Crochet Playgrounds by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam,
http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2012/07/crochet-playgrounds-by-toshiko-horiuchi-macadam/

Crochet Artist Interviews by Kathryn Vercillo: http://www.crochetconcupiscence.com/about/

Crochet or Knit

Today, I want to discuss some of the differences between crochet and knitting, specifically ways to achieve different results. How often have you seen a design for a knit garment and wondered, “Why couldn’t I crochet the same design?” And indeed you probably could. You will sometimes see patterns published for both crochet and knitting and many crocheters lament the fact that this is not done more often. What we need to keep in mind is that there is an inherent difference between the resulting fabric from crochet to knit. In sewing, we refer to this as the hand of the fabric. This means the texture, weight, and way the fabric drapes. This should be the first consideration when you make a crocheted project.

Crochet fabric is usually denser than knit fabric because of the nature of the technique. It is thicker and stiffer than knitted fabric when the same fiber and needle size are used. So, not only will you need more yarn or thread, but you will need to think about whether this heavier result will be acceptable to you in the finished garment. If it is a winter coat, you may like the thicker fabric which will result in a warmer garment. On the other hand, if it is a light summer top with draped neckline, just changing the pattern to crochet using the same fiber, weight, and hook will not give the desired result.

But there is another side to this issue. Do we want to copy and adapt knit patterns because there are so many more sophisticated stylish designs available? I would say, only if you just adore that pattern and you have a reason why you think it would be better as a crocheted garment. One of my goals in starting this website is to point out the beauty and strengths inherent in crochet. It is versatile and has a beauty all it’s own. It is not the ugly sister of knitting, but a similar craft that can be used to create fabulous projects that work best as crochet.

So, what are the considerations we need to keep in mind when deciding whether to knit or crochet? Some people find that one is easier than the other, but among people who do, I find they usually say one is easier than the other only depending on which they learned first. For those that do both crafts on a regular basis, they tend consider which technique works best for the project they have in mind. I’ve already mentioned the heavier weight and stiffer hand of crochet, but there are some obvious advantages, too. Crochet works well for light lacy patterns. It offers just a bit more stability and you can see the pattern developing as you progress. With knitting, a heavily textured or lacy pattern is harder to visualize until several rows down because of being bunched up on the needles.

This brings up another advantage with crochet. You can lay it out flat to measure your progress at any point. You have only one live stitch, so it is easier to frog back should you decide you want to redo a portion. As for finishing,  there are hundreds of pretty crocheted edgings and these can be used on knitted projects, as well.

Another advantage I see with crochet is for three dimensional objects like amigurumi. Since you can see your progress as you go along, you can easily make adjustments to get the desired shape. Crochet’s dense fabric leaves smaller holes and in many cases you can stuff a toy without a fabric lining. And when working smaller items, the hooked crochet project has a distinct advantage over trying to work a small item on knitting needles.

Fiber is also a consideration. You can crochet or knit with just about any fiber, but the less stretchy fibers, such as cotton or linen are easier to work with in crochet. Really stretchy fibers or loosely stitched patterns on larger garments may not work as well in crochet because the weight tends to pull the garment down. That tunic length top may be down to your knees by the end of the day if you have crocheted it in medium weight cotton.

What are some other reasons to choose crochet over knit? Do you prefer to change hook size, choose a lighter weight yarn, or adjust the gauge? Next time, I will write about some of these choices, how to decide, and also give you a list of references that will help you learn the different techniques.

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