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Guest Blogger: Kathryn Vercillo - Crochet Art History

Monday, July 15, 2013
I'm delighted to announce today that I'll be introducing a series of guest bloggers who will stop by here periodically to contribute essays on subjects near and dear to their hearts (and mine). Often it will include crochet-as-art as a topic which I hope will be of interest to many.

Today I welcome  Kathryn Vercillo. She is a prolific blogger  and a passionate crochet advocate.

I guess, if nothing else, I should be known as someone who enjoys the unique and even the odd. For that reason alone, I had to get to know Kathryn and to have her tell me the meaning of "concupiscense"!

In 2011, she awarded me the Awesome Crochet Blog award for my Free form Crochet and I wrote about it here
In 2012, I introduced Kathryn as my "cyber-friend" and reviewed her just-released book, Crochet Saved My Life

Please enjoy Kathryn's essay that follows and many thanks to her for an interesting read!

Crochet Art History Resources: 1970s, 1990s, Today by Kathryn Vercillo

Crochet is a craft that comes and goes in waves of popularity. While true devotees stitch quietly day in and day out over the years, the media and publication attention to the craft waxes and wanes. During the times of great attention a few amazing resources get published and these are the resources that we can turn to again and again to understand the true art of our craft. Three waves that have produced such great resources came in the 1970s, the 1990s and then there’s the wave happening right now.

1970s Crochet Art History Resources

A couple of years ago I began to research crochet art history and I came upon a wealth of information about the crochetart movement in the 1970s. What I learned, in brief, was that there was a big movement in art schools at this time (especially the Pratt Institute in New York) to accept and include crochet as a fine art form rather than viewing it as a lowly craft. Crafters (mostly women but also many inspired men) pursued creative approaches to utilizing crochet in new ways and elevating it to a greater art form. Many of the unique techniques that we use today, especially in freeform crochet, were born during this time.

Two books written during that time have really captured my attention: Creative Crochet by Nicki Hitz Edson and Arlene Stimmel (1973) and The Crocheter’s Art by Del Pitt Feldman (1974). Each of these books shows a collection of truly inspiring original crochet art designs from a variety of different artists. I love being able to look at this aggregation of the unique work of a number of different crocheters who were influencing one another but each creating one-of-a-kind designs. It shows the variety of how crochet can be used in sculpture and wearable art. Creative Crochet weaves the work of different artists throughout the text whereas The Crocheter’s Art features a section of individual profiles of different artists.

1990s Wearable Art Resource

About two decades later another similar book was published – Julie Schafler Dale’s Art to Wear. Dale ran a fiber art gallery in New York where many of the crafters featured in those 1970s books first exhibited their work. Schafler created the wearable art book to showcase the bold designs of those artists along with many other of the era’s fiber artists. The book explores crochet as a wearable art form and also looks at artists working in knitting, weaving, appliqué and other fiber art niches.

Art to Wear is organized by category and within that category (such as crochet) there are individual artist profiles. We get to see the colorful work created by these masters of the hook, most of which is freeform crochet work. We also have the opportunity to learn more about each artist. Book publishing had come a long way from the 1970s and this book is filled with bigger, more detailed, color photos that really show off the crochet work of the fiber artists. Visually it’s a stunning coffee table book. Historically it adds to the small bit of information available about the developing history of crochet as an art form.

Today: Yarnbombing and The Fine Art of Crochet

Crochet has seen a great resurgence in popularity in recent years. Craft publishing has also gained traction. This is a wonderful thing. However, most of the books that are published about crochet today are pattern books and “how to” guides. Those books are invaluable for the crafter but don’t provide a lot of information that adds to the literature of crochet history. Since learning about those multi-artist books from the 1970s and 1990s, I’ve been lamenting the fact that although there are plenty of books today that do show the work of different crochet designers in one resource, there aren’t too many at all that specifically profile the work of different artists.

Gwen Blakley Kinsler’s new book, The Fine Art of Crochet, helps fill this missing hole. The book profiles the work of twenty different contemporary crochet artists. Some of these, like Arline Fisch, are artists who began their work decades ago and who were actually originally featured in those other books. Others are new artists who are bringing their own modern voices to the fiber arts scene. The collection expands upon the existing literature in crochet art history and then adds to it by showcasing the developments of each individual artist in a way that shows us how the whole of the crochet art movement is more than just the sum of the parts.

Another recent book that adds a voice to this movement is Mandy Moore and Leann Prain’s Yarnbombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti. This book delves into the specific niche of the yarnbombing movement, a movement also covered in brief in The Fine Art of Crochet in a great crochet history chapter called “the era of collaboration”. Hopefully as the craft continues to hold the attention of the publishing world we may see more resources covering the varied niches in crochet art history!

Can you think of any other past or present books that reveal the multi-dimensional developments in crochet art history through profiles of individual artists?


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