Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Tools of Power

Just received 3 complete sets of Pony crochet hooks:
  • 32-inch circulars in 12 sizes from 2mm-5.5mm
  • 14-inch double-ended/tunisian hooks in 13 sizes from 2mm-6mm
  • 8 plastic "Pony Pearl" hooks up to 10mm
I've accumulated many brands of crochet hooks over the years but these are my first Ponies. Survey the Pony bonanza:
I love the sleek finish of the aluminum hooks and the dense weight of the plastic ones. Between the excellent range of sizes and the quality of materials, that's power, baby.
Since I have some swatching of '70's stitch patterns to do, I now have a fullblown case of Crocheter's Itch. I'll put these hooks to use and report back.
How in the world should I organize, store, and display them? This is the first truly complete set of double-ended & tunisian hook sizes I've ever owned as well as the first circulars ever. I know knitters have storage issues with their circulars so I'm keeping them in their packages until I have a better idea (might have to design something).
If you want to feel the power, look for Ponies at your local yarn shop. If you don't see them, ask the shop owner to order them from Muench --you know, the people who brought us that outrageously sensuous Touch Me yarn.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

'70's Read-Along Book #2: Crochet and Creative Design

"So earnest was the enthusiasm of the young people toward creating their individual things, and so intense their endeavor toward this end, that even their first attempt toward a new style started a fashion trend, and indeed a very popular fad." Annette Feldman
Crochet and Creative Design (1973, 1st ed.) is Annette Feldman's first crochet book. Crochet sure was a natural high back in 1973! Just the historical background she gives in Chapter 1 left me jazzed; by the time she brings us up to 1973 (end of Ch. 2), I was breathless and even jealous! Crochet is bliss for me too, but I missed out on the wild sensation that it was. Imagine a shortage of hooks and yarn! Imagine writing that everyone's doing it--even if it wan't technically true, it must have felt like it was.

I collect needlework magazines & leaflets spanning the early '60's to the early '70's because I'm fascinated by the abrupt fashion shifts in the mid-'60's, and in these publications, crochet's fevered pitch peaked at or before 1973; perhaps the true peak is around 1971 and then it coasts through to '73? I'd love to hear others' thoughts on this who were there, you lucky devils. So I also felt sad for the author as I read these chapters. She clearly thinks the crochet hysteria has lots of life left in it. She would have written the manuscript in '72 at the very latest. I'm anxious to see shifts in the post-'73 books I'll be reading.

I'd sum up the message of Chapters 3-5 as: "If you think crocheting is outtasight, wait 'til you wear something you've designed yourself!" (I'm not denying that she's right.) Not only that, but designing is a piece of cake and now that it's 1973, you no longer have to worry about whether your design is fashionable. If it looks good to you, then "believe it is good" she says.

There is the usual "How to" section and she offers a bit of guidance for making circles that lie flat. The text goes on for long unbroken columns, but when Feldman is excited, it's easy to read and you're (I was) carried aloft. When she's explaining math, however, it becomes off-putting, even though I already know what she's trying to say. Some charts and visual aids would make it so much more accessible. Textbook writers know how to do this.

After these very dense chapters are six that are basically stitch dictionaries--Tunisian, filet, etc. These take up three-quarters of the whole book. I can report fingers itching for hook and yarn when I saw unusual stitch patterns that I'm sure she made up herself. Many incorporate long single crochet and split hdc-clusters that I hope to swatch up and post here another time.

The final chapter, the "Designer's Guide", is a fantastic idea, but of limited real use to me now. It gives standard dimensions or proportions for many items, but often the info is narrow, outdated, or the math is wordy and dense.

I thank the author for the exhilarating slice of '73 and the ambitious scope of this book. She's a true crochet sister. I'm not sure how long I will hold onto it--I doubt I would use it as reference but I may keep it for other reasons. I'll wait until I've read the others.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Read-Along: Thoughts on 1st book

"Crochet is essentially unlimited in its potential because it is open-ended in all directions, but sometimes we have to stick with it, push it, and exploit it in order to grow beyond the traditional boundaries. Scale in crochet is a matter of how much energy the artist is willing to expend." Clinton Mackenzie

First book up for discussion is New Design in Crochet (1972) by Clinton D. MacKenzie.

[Readers of this book are welcome to add their comments. For more info on this '70's Crochet Read-Along, look at the end of this entry for a label that says "'70's Crochet Read-Along" and click on it. This will bring up all related entries.]

The author writes about crochet as an art professor, in fact he is still teaching art today at Fullerton University. I am so accustomed to crocheting clothing and accessories that the freeform-style sculpture emphasis of this book was refreshing. For example, Chapter 12 is called "Armatures and Stuffing". He also favors the technique of surface crochet, where you can build vertical 3-D rows onto crocheted horizontal planes, anytime, anywhere. Mackenzie sees such freedom and possibility in this kind of crochet that it had me wondering, why don't I see this kind of crochet more often?--as a fashion edging, as an all-over linear design on a bag, etc. Right now, I can only think of what Annie's Attic is currently calling "Wiggly Crochet"; I've also heard it called "hotpad crochet". Dee Stanziano has more info with a link to a free pattern at her site. Mackenzie, though, wasn't so much into the wiggly look (see bookcover image).

There is also a strong emphasis on crocheting with "new" materials, and Mackenzie encourages crocheters to scrounge around in hardware stores and other places for unconventional materials, such as covered wire. However, there is so much crocheted jute, sisal, and raffia in the book that in the future, when I see it on my shelf (because I will be keeping this book), I'll think of it as an inspirational guide to crocheting jute-type fibers. It has a dated feel mostly because of this, but I like it.

It briefly passed my Itchy Fingers Test: the section on crocheting differently-shaped tubes had me suddenly wishing hook and yarn were handy. It is a small section of the whole book, though there are photos of art pieces featuring tubes that I found strangely inspiring. But for the most part, for me, too many pages are taken up with teaching newbies how to crochet and I'm so tired of every crochet book having to devote a third of its space to how-to basics. (It's probably unfair to complain about an early book having a big how-to section.)

Oddities of the how-to chapters:
To my 21st cen. mind, he places extra emphasis on the slip stitch (sl st) while de-emphasizing the half-double crochet stitch (hdc)! He notes that a fabric of all sl st is slow going, but he likes its denseness especially for sculptures. He only teaches going into the back loop. (See the chapter on "Bosnian Crochet" in Donna Kooler's Encyclopedia of Crochet. See Dee's site again; she says this is the Bosnian, whereas going into the front loop only is "Shepherd's Knitting". Also see a pullover shrug I designed for CGOA using only sl st worked in the front loops.) For the hdc he says, "The hdc is treated last because it is seldom used." Have times changed or WHAT?

The section on crocheting discs is from the Dark Ages--there is no formula for how much to increase in each row so that a circle lies flat, you just have to go by trial and error. I remember that and I don't mean fondly: all the ripping out and uneven distribution of increases bogged me down. Also no suggestions for closing up the center hole. Also there is a bowl-shaped art piece next to text describing how to make a disc cup by decreasing stitches, yet the rows of the bowl were worked vertically, not in the round. The bowl's vertical stripes could confuse someone!

He offers a variation on the love knot with a heavier knot that I don't remember seeing before. His way of fastening off is not so good--leaves a short tail; but the temporary ending is cool. The illustration showing how to start the 2nd row of double crochets has an error in it. He explains long double crochet with more detail than usual as I recall. In the chapter on Tunisian, he teaches a stitch called "knitted afghan crochet" and I don't recognize it, but maybe I did it a while ago and the look of his swatch throws me off. He has very few rigidities, but one is that Tunisian simply can't ever be worked in the round. (Another one is that you can only do bullions if your hook is tapered.)

Overall, the how-to information is more thorough, with more fine points, than in many books. I'm impressed by the space he gave to chainless foundation stitches, tunisian, and hairpin lace. He even provides a chapter for lefties.

Chapter 14, "Contemporary Crochet", is my favorite. It is full of vision and an art professor's perspective toward crochet compared with other art media such as weaving, glassblowing, and pottery. I see crochet a new way because of it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

'70's Crochet Read-Along update

Welcome and thanks for joining me in this '70's Crochet Read-Along! I've only announced it on two discussion lists so far and many people have written to me about their interest in the topic Some have suggested more books.

Finished reading:
  • New Design in Crochet (1972) by Clinton MacKenzie, an art professor. Book will be evaluated in the next blog entry later today or so.

Skimmed while waiting for other early '70's books to arrive:
  • Vogue Guide to Crochet (1971) Occasionally I'll skim a '70's book that lacks a pioneering emphasis in its title ("New", "Adventurous", "Creative", "Discovery" etc).

Next up:
  • Crochet and Creative Design (1973, 1st ed.) by Annette Feldman--it just arrived in the mail.
  • I may skim America's Crochet Book (1972) by Gertrude Taylor.

The minute they arrive (any day now) I'll read these:
  • Crochet: Discovery and Design (1972) by Del Pitt Feldman
  • New Ways with Crochet (1972) by Dorothy Standing
  • Fashion Crochet (1969) by Caroline Horne (might skim this one)
  • Crochet: A Modern Guide to an Ancient Craft (1969) by Iris Rathbone (might skim this one)

The Horne and Rathbone books (the last two) are complete wildcards to me--I've never heard anyone mention them. They lack any pioneering terms in their titles, but hey, copyright 1969! I'm intrigued! Might offer a useful context for the '70's books.

Books too darned expensive for me to order right now:
  • Modular Crochet (1978) by Judith Copeland, currently over $100.
  • Creative Crochet (1973) Arlene Stimmel and Nicki Hitz Edson, currently $65 and up.
  • Batsford Book of Crochet (1981) by Ann Stearns. Past the '70's, but people make it sound so good; minimum $40 now.
  • Crochet: A Basic Manual for Creative Construction (1974) Mary Tibbals Ventre. Okay, so it's only going for $29 right now, but no one ever raves about this one, and it's still more than I want to spend after buying crochet books I'm more sure of for much less. I have no shortage of '70's crochet books to read!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Lilly Hats

A shortstack of hats for my mother-in-law, Lilly,

a stylish octagenarian who feels drafts in her ears sometimes. She requested something in offwhite, brown, and black. When I asked her if angora is okay, she gasped then whispered, "Wouldn't that be too expensive?" Nope, not nowadays and not for Lilly. I used cream handspun angora but used a lacy stitch pattern because I didn't want to run out of it; I also alternated some rows with "Hempathy" yarn by E. Lavold because it matched perfectly. I had so much angora left over that I shouldn't have worried. I'm calling it a "Lilly Juliet" and this is not Lilly modeling it, just the nearest person handy.

The brown hat is Caron Simply Soft held together with Fabulous. I expect it to look fabulous with Lilly's hair.

For the black one I went with a vintage chinchilla look (Bernat Boa held together with Lion Brand Microspun). This one can be worn many different ways.
They should cover Lilly's ears even though they don't cover the Buddha's.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A Crochet Syllabus for Independent Study

In the tradition of my alma mater, where students design their own courses that are called "independent reading projects" (IRP's), "independent study projects" (ISP's), or tutorials, I've designed a "New Directions in 1970's Crochet" ISP that I'll work through for the next month or two (traditionally at New College the ISP is a special "interterm" required every January).

I invite anyone to join me at any point in the reading and hands-on experiments. I'll post here my thoughts about the readings as I go and I hope others add comments. If there's a book that you think should or should not be on the list, please comment also.

Working Syllabus

My Questions:

- A rash of crochet books were published in the 1970's with terms like "New", "Creative", "Discovery", "Adventures", etc. in the titles. What were the truly fresh ideas of the time? How have they matured?

- Are there stitches and techniques in these books that I think deserve rejuvenating for the 21st century?

- Which of these books will become essential classics for my own library?

The Reading List:
Most of the books I already own but haven't gotten around to reading. Some are on order from places like www.half.com or www.alibris.com . A few aren't available at all but I might locate a copy at a library later. I'd like to read them in fairly chronological order. On the Core list, I own the first book but the next 2 haven't arrived in the mail yet. I'm thinking I'll give myself until Jan 9 to read the first one, New Design in Crochet by Clinton MacKenzie. Then I expect to pick up speed with the rest. I don't know yet if I'll be making use of the supplementary books. Maybe to skim briefly and randomly.

The Core List so far:
(If the list doesn't display well, try here.)

1972MacKenzie, Clinton DNew design in crochet0442350694
1972Feldman, Del PittCrochet: discovery and design0385051336
1972Standing, DorothyNew Ways with Crochet

1974Brock, DeliaThe Adventurous Crocheter0671217550
1976Feldman, AnnetteCrochet and creative design0883653346
1978Dittrick, MarkHard Crochet0801532795
1978DittrickDesign Crochet0801520193
1978Hubert, MargaretOne-Piece Knits That Fit: How to Knit and Crochet One-Piece Garments0442235674

Supplementary Reading List:

1969Horne, CarolineFashion Crochet0263707369
1969Rathbone, IrisCrochet: a modern guide to an ancient craft;0707101611
1972Taylor, GertrudeAMERICA'S CROCHET BOOK
Vogue guide to crochet0812814339
1973Edson, Nicki HitzCreative crochet,0823010406
1973Rathbone, IrisMore crochet0877494312
1974Ventre, Mary TibbalsCrochet; a basic manual for creative construction (The Crafts series)0316899607
1975Feldman, AnnetteHandmade Lace and Patterns006011231X
1975Standing, DorothyUsing Crochet Motifs0263053660
1978Bonando, WandaStitches, patterns, and projects for crocheting (Harper colophon books)006091095X
1979Jacobs, ShanieShanie Jacobs' Crochet Book0672523817
1979Calder, LouisaLouisa Calder's Creative Crochet (Penguin Handbooks)0140463704
1979Parkinson, FrancescaKnit and crochet your own designs0668041269