Monday, September 23, 2013

Crocheting with Cabochons

Monday, September 23, 2013
Have you ever crocheted with cabochons? Do you know what a cabochon is? Well, it's a french word meaning, a gem or bead cut in convex form and highly polished but not faceted. Because I am on a mission to "cover my world in crochet," I've been intrigued by cabochons for quite a while. 

Today my favorite cabochons come from Tanya McGuire Lampwork & Jewelry. We met a few years ago at a fiber show and Tanya is a gem of a person who creates fabulous "gems" with her lampwork. I fell in love with her pieces and this past summer I bought my first cabochon from her. Here's what I created...
Tanya McGuire Lampwork-cabochon bead-crochet brooch

Tanya gave me a shout-out this week on her blog

Following is a little history of how I got started making brooches from cabochons. I love the colors, designs and the possibilities. Some of the first cabochon brooches I made were done with cabochons I made myself from postcards and decopage. Remember that stuff? I called it my "Famous Faces Series." 

Diego on my Mind

A few years ago when I was a member of the Bead Society of Chicago, I became familiar with dichroic glass cabochons. I had to use this beautiful piece for something and this is one of the first brooches I created with cabochons:

Years and years ago I bought this cloissone piece in Honduras and at the time i made a macrame cord to wear it one. (That tells you how long ago I'm talking about!) Recently, I ditch the macrame and used the piece as a cabochon.

My friend, Deb, creates fabulous fused glass pieces and recently invited me to add some of my brooches with her glass to an art show she participated in. They sold well! See Deb's work:

Want to see some cabochon brooches created in my fan group on Ravelry: Cro-Kween Designs? I led a tutorial on creating cabochons and the very talented Courtesans created some great works! Want to try it yourself? Here's a link to the pattern in my Ravelry store.

Have fun and post some of your creations here! 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Book Review: Crochet for Beginners Who Want to Improve by Ali Campbell

Wednesday, September 18 2013

This self-published book by Ali Campbell has 93 pages packed full of crochet knowledge; and as the title indicates, it is meant for beginners who want to improve their crochet skills. Ali offers an immense amount of crochet information which, if followed in order, should birth many new, enthusiastic crocheters into the world! She offers this version with U. S. terminology which Americans will appreciate

Obviously passionate about crochet, this British designer has a solid background in crochet and much experience teaching through her online [] and one-to-one classes in Dorset, England. Using a unique approach to achieve success for her readers, Ali uses a rainbow of color coded text for specific points of interest. She explains that green means “go” and text in the color green offers “tips, tricks of the trade and “cheats.” Red means “stop” and warns the crocheter to take the time to do what the instructions say! Text in the color amber indicates an abbreviation that is written out in long-hand for clear understanding. All other text in the book is in standard black.

All patterns in the book are made in mostly bulky yarn with a K size hook. The ten chapters offer a concise and logical progression as the reader learns all about crochet. Simple projects are included to emphasize the learning in each chapter. In chapter three, a sock pattern is offered, but don’t be put off by this. It is described as a version of a very simple sock; and because the heel is made separately, I believe a wonderful sock can be achieved. Clear and colorful photos are included in each chapter which concisely illustrate what Ali is trying to convey. A blank page for notes is at the end of each chapter as well.

In chapter 7 - Joining Methods, Ali reveals her JAYGo method of joining using either tapestry needle or crochet hook. Besides the socks, projects include a chunky headband with detachable flower, granny square and variations and a personal organizer cover. Although it is billed as “written in U. S. terminology,” endearing little British-isms creep in such as using “wool” in place of “yarn” and “colour” in place of “color”!

Nineteen tips are offered at the end of the book and they are common sense, but represent important information that will help any new crocheter succeed. Crochet for Beginners Who Want to Improve is available at Amazon and retails for $17.50.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Guest Blogger: Kristen Stoltzfus

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I recently had the opportunity to interview Kristen Stoltzfus in Talking Crochet eNewsletter and because she is such an interesting person and so passionate about vintage crochet patterns, I invited her to be my guest. Please enjoy what Kristen has to say about the "Swing Era;" her love for vintage style in her crochet designs shines through!

Swing Era Crochet: Using Vintage Patterns as Inspiration for Today
by Kristen Stoltzfus

Before the modern resurrection of crochet as a fine-tuned make-it-yourself fashion element, crochet was often thought of as either a Victorian needlecraft, with fine thread and scanty instructions, or associated with the hippie movement and splashy granny squares in coarse, fuzzy yarn.

Actually, crochet enjoyed a long period of usefulness in the eras between the early 1900s and the 1980s. Especially popular during the 1940s when “make do or do without” was the order of the day, creative women everywhere turned their focus away from traditional outer garments like mittens and capes, or household accessories like doilies, to crochet their own stylish accessories and wardrobes. There are many beautiful vintage crochet patterns for breathtaking tailored skirts, jackets, and blouses from that era still available to the adventurous or historically motivated stitcher. The earlier patterns were often based on sewing patterns, and the scanty instructions were complicated relying on the seamstress’ when turning to fiber instead of cloth.

Crocheted Purse and Hat, 1940s
 Standards were developed and less generalization was used by the 1940s; but the patterns still did not spell out every step needed. For example, “A Flattering Blouse” was only written for sizes 34-36 in size 10 thread. This was common and anyone who wanted a larger or smaller size would have to be creative and work from the written pattern. While the terms are still the same, the instructions were written so vaguely in some of the rows that even an experienced stitcher today would have to rely on the photo or intuition. A short page of tiny print includes shoulder shaping, arm shaping, jabot and collar and belt instructions. How talented the stitchers from this era must have been to be able to crochet a stylish, flattering blouse with only one grainy photo and such unspecific instructions!

Exquisite detailing was a source of pride in the 1940s
At that time, yarns were different too. Stitchers of that era did not have the beautiful, endless range of washable colors and kinds of yarn we can draw from today but used mostly natural fibers like silk, cotton, and wool. The colors were limited, often not color fast, and did not age well. Thread was much more commonly used by the proficient crocheters. Boucles and novelty yarns were available even then; and were used to create texture and interest in garments with lots of fabric such as a skirt or coat. Beading or sewing embellishments were popular, particularly for the ladies' hats and purses. Sometimes, the finishing of a project would take longer than the actual stitching!

Despite these handicaps, patterns from this era include an amazing variety of feminine styles that we can still draw on for inspiration today when crocheting or designing. Even the slim, conservative outline of a 1940s skirt and jacket might have the feminine touch of fancy closures, a lace jabot, contrasting pointed cuffs and collar. The basics of expressing individuality while keeping within the practical fashion demands of that era still apply even in today's fashion world.

Slim Line Skirt and Jacket from the 1940s
There are many patterns available from the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. For anyone who wants to stitch their own back-in-time garment or accessory, I have included a few tips:

1.   Use colors they would have used – No neon shades, variegate or modern self-striping yarn! Military styles were big, so olive drab, khaki, dark blue and white would have been popular, as well as neutrals and muted bright shades.
2.   Be prepared for endless rounds of single crochet. Vintage patterns often call for a fabric stitched in single crochet to be used as a canvas for the finishing touch that suddenly made it a period piece.
3.   Don't try to skimp the finishing instructions. If stiffening is called for, it won't look right without If slippers need a certain brand of innersoles or a purse needs a bottom insert, find something that is comparable or make your own.
4.  Try to match the fiber content of the yarn called for. Using a cheap acrylic yarn to replace a luxurios wool will not turn out an identical project. Likewise cotton has more mold-ability in a crochet fabric, rather than bamboo, for example, so a substitution may not turn out the way you want.
5.   Keep in mind that gauges were sketchy. Many patterns had no gauges at all! In such cases, try to guess the tightness or looseness desired from the photo, and if it is a garment, do lots of fitting or matching against a similar garment approximately the same size. Keep in mind that a vintage size Medium, for example, will be a little smaller than a modern garment marked size M.
6.   Try patterns that do not call for extras that are long-gone such as a specific hat form.
7.    If you are a beginner and want to try vintage patterns, learn the basics first—not only stitches, but construction techniques as well. It can be frustrating to follow a pattern with few details if you are not comfortable unless every step is spelled out.

Pearl Harbor Pillbox by Kristen Stoltzfus
Designed for Sense & Sensibility this hat pattern uses a real vintage veil to give it the period correct flair.
I love and wear vintage and vintage-style clothing, so  crochet patterns from that era are always interesting to me. I enjoy designing costume accessories, and the challenge for me when using  vintage patterns comes with the finishing. For this situation, it is helpful to have a hands-on knowledge of styles from the era in which you are crocheting. Distant, one-side-only photos of either the back or front assembly only or embellishment becomes pure guesswork!
Swing-Time Tilt Hat by Kristen Stoltzfus 

The pattern was inspired by real vintage hats and photos from the 1940s
There is no need to limit vintage inspiration to actual dated patterns as there is so much we can learn from pattern photos from the past for our own creations. The recent retro movement in fashion is a throwback to these timeless styles. Lace elements, Peter Pan collars, polka dots – even color combinations like robin's egg blue and rose-red, or blue and green together, are a turn away from the often shapeless, flowing, monochromatic fashion of recent years, toward embracing the vibrancy and creativity of vintage clothing, energizing our lives and our hooks.

There is certainly a time and place to make weekend projects, using bulky yarn and simple patterns, but it can be so special to take the time to add the embellishments, do the details, and create an heirloom by hand.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Top Five Books in My Library

Tuesday, September 10, 2013
My crochet library, which includes  over 300 volumes, is very personal to me. My books are my friends and that’s because I personally know so many of the designers and authors with books in my collection. A sizable number of the books are even autographed and that increases their value! 
Crochetqueen's crochet book collection of over 300 books!
Deciding on which five books to highlight here was an enormous, close to impossible, task. Because crochet is so diverse, there is a wide variety of offerings in the books that grace the shelves of my large bookshelf. I started out trying to pick a book that would be representative of each of five decades. However, I quickly realized that my oldest book is from 1916 and I have one from the 1920s, but  there is a gap in which I don’t have any books from the 20s, 30s or 40s. Booklets were common in the 1940s and probably very few books were published.

I began crocheting in 1971 and as my skills grew, so did my wide-eyed excitement about crochet patterns and designs. I was on a collecting rampage of both old and new volumes that piqued my interest. As I looked over my bookshelf today with a discerning eye, I found that i have a very large representative selection of books from the 70s, 90s and a special place on the shelf for the most current books. 

The following list of my Top Five Crochet Books is purely emotional; I admit it! Each  one has some meaning to me. Qualification for this list includes warm memories associated with meeting the author; well used and even  tattered due to much use;  a specific technique of crochet that is of particular interest to me; or it is a good general representation of crochet history and technique.
 1)  A Living Mystery – The International Art & History of Crochet by Annie Louise Potter. United States: A.J. Publishing International, 1990. AUTOGRAPHED

A Living Mystery - The International Art & History of Crochet, 1990

This book is the quintessential story of Annie’s love affair with crochet and at the same time it is an amazing reference on the history of crochet all brought together in a full-color coffee table book format.Annie is recognized as one of the world’s masters of crochet. It was an incredible honor meet Annie when she attended the first-ever Chain Link Crochet Conference in 1994.  She spoke about her travels and adventures while writing this book. 

Crochetqueen with Annie Potter (R) and Deborah Hamburg, 1994
Annie spent many years traveling around the world with a research team and professional film crew to find the roots of crochet. The endearing photos of her meeting crocheters along the way and the images of artifacts she discovered in museums and collections makes it easy for the reader to feel like he/she actually accompanied Annie!  Newly created crochet reproductions beautifully photographed and styled are quite inspiring.

A bonus leaflet,The International Collection of Crochet Patterns, was included inside the book as a bonus and my copy is well worn as I  made several of the patterns inside. My most triumphant accomplishment is Antique Baby Dress by Emma Jones worn by my granddaughter at her christening

As the Founder of Annie’s Attic, Annie developed a multi-million dollar enterprise whose roots are still firmly entwined in the newly branded Annie’s, a division of DRG. Annie’s incredible design skills are still in demand by crocheters and are published under the trademark, Annie Presents

22)    Old and New Designs in Crochet Work Book No. 5 by Sophie T. LaCroix. St. Louis, MO: St. Louis Fancy Work Co., 1920.
Old and New Designs in Crochet Work, 1920s
 Sophie LaCroix was a prolific crochet designer and this booklet is full of her designs billed as “nice, dainty articles entirely different from the ready-made, ‘hand-me-down' variety of Christmas Novelties usually offered for sale.” It makes me chuckle because it appears that crochet is the hero being pulled into use for a wide range of household necessities such as a spectacle case, safety pin holder, ribbon case, burnt match receptacle, gentleman’s collar bag, in addition to the usual baby booties and sachets we are more familiar with. Can you imagine a household today with that many items filling the house and all crocheted?

I am in awe of this book and suggest it as an exercise in testing one’s crochet skills. The projects are small but the vintage-style method of pattern writing is challenging, to say the least!
  3)  Crochet Workshop by James Walters. London: Sidgwick & Jackson Limited, 1979. AUTOGRAPHED
Crochet Workshop by James Walters, 1979

James Walters is an amazing man and brilliant crocheter. He is my friend and has been my mentor off and on over the years. His tome, Crochet Workshop, personifies the James I know. For the serious crocheter or the beginner, I daresay that you will not find another book (or man) like this, past or present!

I have often thought that if I had no other book in my library, I’d be fine with just this one because if I started at page one and crocheted my way through the book, I’d be an exceptional crocheter in the end! Right off the bat in the introduction, James makes his approach very clear without apologies: “There are no fully developed or completely worked out parcels of designs or even ideas, for you merely to regurgitate. The various stitch patterns for instance are never included simply because of their prettiness, but because they each illustrate at least one separate, identifiable basic principle of quality/constructions, etc. This is a workshop: there are no discussions about art and no aesthetic value judgments. If your study is going to be fruitful, let it be because you use the information as a set of tools to take the lid off your own creativity."

James’ personality and British sense of humor flows through the book and reading it is like having James standing over your shoulder teaching, supporting, encouraging!  To view  a photo of James in his body suit is well worth the price of the book
     4)  Crocheting in Plain English by Maggie Righetti. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988.

Crocheting in Plain English by Maggie Righetti, 1988
 I often turn to Maggie's book as a reference when I need crochet help or want to confirm a fact about something I may be blogging about. A definitive classic for years, Maggie is another author that offers friendly advice in her book as if she is in your home giving you a private crochet lesson! 

The book is organized in such a way that beginner’s can use it as an introduction and guide book; skilled crocheter’s will use it as a reference tool and source for the finer points and pattern stitches; and teachers will use it as a text. In the introduction Maggie says, “My purpose in writing this book is to ive confidence, courage, and creativity to crocheters everywhere. Thank you, Maggie!

A long-time designer and teacher, Maggie died in 2006 at the age of 94. In 2008, she was honored with the release of the 2nd edition of her book, updated and revised and it is available here
    5) Crocheting with Beads by Kate Coburn.  Gilbert, AZ: KTB, 1995 AUTOGRAPHED

Because of my long-standing interest in bead crochet – I crocheted my first bead crochet necklace in 1986 - I must highlight Kate Coburn’s self-published book, Crocheting with Beads. No mean feat at the time, she did a wonderful job with this full-color spiral-bound guide to crocheting with beads.

Kate was my mentor and friend and taught classes in bead-crochet and exhibited her bead sculptures at the early Chain Link Crochet Conferences. In the book, she starts with bead crochet basics and includes detailed instructions on finishing, including backings, jewelry findings, tassel fringe and assembly. Her book can be found here and be search for her other two books, Tubes I and Tubes II.

Obviously, this small survey is a drop in the ocean as compared to my entire library! Try a small survey like this yourself; it is a good idea for any crocheter to get the periodic boost of inspiration will come their way and add to the “to-do” list as well! Whether you categorize your books by genre, author, year or some other clever category doesn’t matter; just be sure to visit your books often. They are like old friends and need to be visited when you crave an idea, when you’re feeling down, or when you just want to see fantastic images! Have fun and be on the hunt for your own book collection! As you can see by the photo of my bookshelf, I still have room for more!

I am the author of The Fine Art of Crochet 2013 

Kids Can Do It Crocheting, co-authored with Jackie Young, 2003.

Magical Misers Purses Crochet Patterns with Victorian Inspiraion, co-authored with B.J. Licko-Keel, 1999. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Crochet and Society: How Crochet has Contributed

Wednesday, September 4, 2013
Because I am passionate about crochet and because it plays such an important role in my life. I am constantly “thinking crochet.” I want to bring awareness about crochet to everyone in the world. They don’t necessarily need to achieve the level of passion that I have for the craft, but my dream is that our society in general would come to recognize crochet as a valuable art and craft.  I also want to see the entire genre of crochet planted firmly on a continuum with all the other needle arts as a valuable pastime and art, and for the day to come when society stops confusing it with knitting!

I have often joked that I am “covering my world in crochet” and that’s because I think crochet can beautify nature as well as contribute to many aspects of my community. I have been covering rocks for years and I turn them into sculptures or decorative objects.

Claire Zeisler: Fragments & Dashes, Threads magazine, Oct/Nov 1985
My first covered rock (1985); inspired by Claire Zeisler

I also yarn bomb in my community or on my travels to bring awareness of crochet to whomever might see my work and wonder, “Wow, how did that happen?” and “Wow, how interesting!”

Yarn-bombed bench in front of a local yarn store

I can still remember the first thrilling moment in the late 80s when I found my first “crochet sighting”.* Crocheters and Crochet were in the closest then; crochet sightings were far and few between. Along came the 90s, and crochet became a fashion icon. Designers like Dolce & Gabbana presented crochet fashion often. By then I had growing notebooks full of crochet sightings: so many that I kept a notebook for each year! With the establishment of the Crochet Guild of America in 1994, we had a growing group of “crochet lobbyists” who were on the look-out for anything that would validate the worth of crochet. 

There is strength in numbers and our confidence was growing exponentially and we wanted to shout it from the roof tops that crochet is fabulous!  Often, I had crocheters who would send me magazine clippings of crochet sightings they had found! I was so indebted to so many watchful eyes; the validation was important to us and it was great PR for the non-believers! Back in 2008, I went green and scanned a hugs sampling of my crochet-sightings to blog about

Designers and celebrities helped us immensely by wearing crochet and even practicing the craft themselves! It was truly exhilarating to see big-name designers being inspired by crochet lace of the past and turning it into chic and trendy on the runways.

Oscar de la Renta, Vogue, Nov. 2012

Dolce & Gabbana, Marie Claire, Dec. 2012

I knew crochet had arrived and entered into the mainstream of popular culture the day I found an advertisement in a magazine for tampons and the model in the picture was wearing crochet! I concluded that crochet was accepted as an everyday, fashionable way to dress! In this 2013 ad for tampons on my crochet-sightings page, the current trend of yarn-bombing is used. Please feel free to send me any crochet-sightings that you find!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

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 .