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Guest Blogger: Jude Butterworth - Alternative Materials

Tuesday, August 3, 2013

I first “met” Jude Butterworth on the Internet via Ravelry when I admired and bought one of her gorgeous shawl patterns. Since that time she has been an active and very creative participant in my Ravelry Fan group, Cro-Kween Designs.  I admire Jude's beautiful free-form and other crochet work. From Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, she is one busy and talented lady. I asked her to share some of her insights on alternative materials for use in crochet.

Alternative Materials: A Practical Guide

by Jude Butterworth

When I was a university student, I had very little money and used what little I did have for food and shelter.  During that time I had such a strong urge to crochet that I had to get inventive.  Whether by necessity, curiosity, or the desire to recycle detritus that would otherwise end up in a landfill, many crocheters are experimenting with materials that diverge from traditional yarns often found in the crocheter’s basket.

As part of my brief guide to working with these materials, I offer you these examples of what artists have done with these alternate materials, The Fine Artof Crochet: Innovative Works From 20 Contemporary Artists by Gwen Blakley Kinsler. the International Freeform Crochet Group  and the Crochet and Knit community, Ravelry. There are books and articles available for more advanced help and an internet search will also point you to many eye-opening ideas.

Let's take a quick look at unconventional materials and remember, always pull up a big loop on your work if you set it down, even for a minute, or it could start to unravel.  This is especially true for slippery yarns. 

Sewing thread is very fine.  You can use a very small hook to achieve a tiny version of more traditional crochet, but if you use a larger hook be aware that you will have to keep a lot of control over your work to keep the tension even and to prevent it all from unravelling.

Lake Street Steps by Betsy Tuttle

Fishing line/mono-filament thread is incredible slippery and yet the results are so rewarding.  Don't expect your work to hold a firm shape though.  Using a smaller hook can give you a tighter fabric with these materials so you will need to experiment a bit to achieve the effect you desire. 

Many of Dale Robert's Distorts use fishing line and other nautical materials

Dental floss can be interesting to work with.  Some flosses tend to be sticky so that can be a problem if you like to work quickly; it also makes it difficult to unravel.  Other are very slippery and so pose the same problems as fishing line and mono-filament thread.  Flosses can be flat and ribbon-like or round like regular thread.  Some are flavoured and smell great as you work with them.

Wire can be used to produce amazing projects.  I have found it easiest to work with a gauge between 26 and 40 as it is pliable enough to be crocheted with quite easily.  You don't have to pay exorbitant prices for your experiments with wire; a trip to the hardware store will show you an array of suitable wires at a good price.  You can also use florists’ wire.  But, a word of warning, wire is very hard on your hook so use a metal hook that is not your favorite. 

Detail: Very Mixed Media crochet art by Bonnie Meltzer

Audio and cassette tape actually look fantastic when crocheted.  You might need to experiment a bit with hook size as it isn't as pliable as traditional ribbon yarn.  If you pull too tightly, the tape will stretch and might break.  Some of these tapes have a shiny side and a flat side which can lead to interesting effects when crocheted. 

Adrian Kershaw: From Video Tapes to Vessels, Boise City Dept of Arts & History, 2012
Plastic shopping bags can be cut into strips to make 'plarn'. 
Crochetqueen with Jerry Bleem: plarn flower garden: Oil Flowers 
Fabric, paper or leather strips can also be used in the same way.  There are many methods to cutting these strips, but I like a more continuous length to work with so I cut the strips according to width from alternating sides of my material being careful not to cut all the way through to the other side, as shown in the diagram below.  The gray lines represent the cutting lines.

Embellishments such as beads, buttons, pop tab and vintage jewelry components can add a whole new dimension to your work.  I find it best when adding embellishments to make a chain stitch after each addition to secure it in place.  

Animal Love by Donna Rosenthal: vintage jewelry & found objects

Objects with holes make good additions to the crochet work. Other objects that can easily be drilled or punctured can be used as well.  If you crochet around a piece of leather or fabric, you need to pierce it first, then insert the hook into this space and pull through a loop and make one chain to secure it.
Susanna Bauer: Crochet around a leaf!

Work a chain to get to each space until you have reached your end point. From here you just crochet as you would normally, crocheting into each stitch and either crocheting into or around the chains.  Don't restrict yourself to these materials – I have seen work with holes drilled into driftwood  allowing crocheted stitches to be attached.

Objects that can be crocheted around entirely or encased in a bezel yield amazing results  (bezel: a grooved ring holding the glass or plastic cover of a watch face or other instrument in position. To create a bezel you need to chain a length that will fit snugly around your object.  Join your work and do some decrease rows until your object will fit without falling through, then end off your yarn.  The next part is a little tricky as you need to position the object in your crochet work, reattach the yarn to the starting chain and work decrease rows until your object is held firmly within your stitches.
Cabochon in crocheted  bezel with wire crochet by Gwen Blakley Kinsler
If you have always had a secret desire to create something unique with your crochet skills but have been timid or afraid to 'fail', I would encourage you to take this leap.  You might surprise yourself and, if you are unhappy with your results, just try again.  After all, no one needs to see your experiments but you, so the only thing to lose is a bit of material.  Have fun creating!

To see Jude’s crochet work, go to her Ravelry project page , her Etsy shop or read this article about her work .


Tanya McGuire said…
Fabulous post. Love to see how others use non-traditional materials. Love love the cords.

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