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What is Free Form Crochet?

Monday, January 6, 2014
This topic came about from the title of my article recently in Fiber Art Now magazine.  "Crochet As Art: A Conversation with 5 Free-Form Crochet Artists." Yes, the 5 artists I wrote about, all of which are in  my book The Fine Art of Crochet, are free-thinking when it comes to their creativity. They are free-wheeling with the hook and use unique fibers in many cases. Once you read the article, tell me what  you think? Are these artists doing free-form crochet?

In order to define free-form crochet, we must look way, way back to it's origins: Irish crochet. A brief history of crochet, including the Irish method, written by Ruthie Marks is available through The Crochet Guild of America. Unfortunately, there are no images on the site. On her blog, Nancy Nehring has a beautiful montage of Irish Crochet in reference to a class she taught in 2013 at Lacis. I wrote an article in Old Time Crochet Magazine (Spring 1998), "History of Irish Crochet," but was unable to find it online since it was so long ago. Explore the internet and you will find loads of Irish crochet images.

Antique Irish Crochet from Gwen's collection
Back in the day, the CGOA offered tours to Ireland. I designed and led the first one in 2000. There we met Maire Treanor who has since become a frequent and popular teacher at the CGOA conferences. My local chapter brought her to do a workshop for us in 2011 and we learned so much.

Maire Treanor class project
Sylvia Cosh and James Walters were the first in modern times to share the correlation between Irish crochet and free-form crochet, declaring that Irish crochet was the original free-form!

Many members in my Northern IL chapter of CGOA have a real soft spot in our collective heart for the free-form method because many of us were privileged to study with James and Sylvia in 1995 and 1996 when they taught at the Chain Link Crochet Conferences.  In 1997 our Chapter hosted the Chain Link event in Chicago and we organized an Open House in one of the local yarn stores to introduce James and Sylvia to the community.

Sylvia is best known for her rich and exotic “moth” capes and landscape coats which may become sumptuous wall hangings; the variety of texture and miraculous subtlety of color in her work is remarkable.  By contrast, James did not crochet until he was thirty and won a nationwide design competition soon after!  “His definitive technical manual, Crochet Workshop, is the only crochet book you will ever need,” declared Threads Magazine.

Sadly, Sylvia died of ovarian cancer in 2000. but her legacy lives on in the tribute James created on their website. I treasure this brooch that Sylvia gave me after creating it with her gifted hands in my living room!

Scrumble Brooch by Sylvia Cosh
This page shows the free-form wall-hanging created by my Northern Il chapter which now hangs in the gallery that James created in Sylvia's honor..

Sylvia and James coined the term "scrumble" for the individual motifs that make up the whole of a free-form project. They compare to the tiny Irish motifs (roses, shamrocks and leaves) but are much heavier made in worsted or sport weight yarns.colorful yarns. This team coined the word scrumble for the motifs used in free-form crochet. They are also very colorful as opposed to the mostly white used in Irish crochet.

Here are some examples:

Three "Scrumbles"

For those who have never tried the free form method, it is always an inspiring and "freeing" experience.  The hardest part is letting go and convincing yourself you don't need a pattern. Once tried, crocheters go away with many ideas on color, form and texture and have a new found confidence in their own artistic abilities. 

There are no “right” or “wrong” ways of crocheting in free form crochet.  It is a way of creating shapes with the as-you-go method; a sort of “organic patchwork.”  Crochet fabric is constructed in a “free” and intuitive way, with no regular structure.  If the results are pleasing to the eye, then the results are considered successful. Like any kind of art, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Best known in these contemporary times for their free-form crochet are Prudence Mapstone, Jenny DowdeMargaret Hubert and Myra Wood. I've been privileged to take classes from each of them at various CGOA conferences. They teach and design prolifically and their books even instruct on how to do free-form crochet. It may seem like an oxymoron to follow instructions for doing free-from crochet, but these books are invaluable tools for getting one started and offering the courage to "do your own thing" by offering many helpful tips and colorful examples.

Beadwork magazine brooch
Besides teaching free-form crochet, I've published an article in Beadwork magazine (Summer 1999) with instructions for making a free-form brooch (entitled the same). These brooches included bead-crochet as well:

My first free-form garment (1997)
The International Freeform Crochet Guild is probably the most renown and long-standing online group of free-from crochet enthusiasts. Started by Myra Wood, experts and novices alike have been working "together" across the miles since 2006. Each year they challenge themselves to create a work of art on a theme and then publish a book with everyone's work with proceeds going to a charity.

Challenge 2012: Inspired! Music & Art in Fiber,Van Gogh, "Vase with Red Poppies"

Challenge 2011: Mythologies, Stories & Fairy Tales, "Freeform Fiber Faerie"
Challenge 2010: Somewhere in My World, "Dreams Realizing"
In 2009 Prudence and Jonelle Beck wrote a book, Freeform Style, which actually gives guidance and instructions for creating specific free-form garments. I was invited to create a piece for the gallery section.
Scarf from Freeform Style by Gwen
Free-form shawl I made inspired by a class with Prudence Mapstone in 2010 at the CGOA conference
Here are some groups on Ravelry that you might enjoy exploring:
1) *Gwen's group-we're not a freeform group per se, but we're very "freeformy"
1) Russian Freeform
2) Prudence Mapstone's group
3) Jenny Dowd's group
4) *International Free form group
5) Margaret Hubert's group
*most active groups

I've given you lots to think about to answer this question, "What is free-form crochet?" Now go out and explore the resources I've provided and give it a try. I think you'll like it. Meanwhile, I think I'll go make a scrumble; just for fun!


Deb Burger said…
One of the ways I like to use freeform crochet (whether scrumbles or more usually for me, the 'as you go' method) is to paint pictures with crocheted fibers.
A painter can not only choose from various colors, but has access to different brushes, palette knives and other tools to create textures, and has an arsenal of different stroke movements for each of those tools... In the same way, I can choose from colors and textures inherent in the yarns/fibers, and add texture through use of a range of stitches, stitch patterns, and sizes of crochet hooks. When I paint with crochet, it's true freeform-- I use no pattern, and usually do not even sketch on paper before starting. I gather the fibers I want to use, and arrange them as a palette. I choose a starting point in the picture that's in my mind, pick up a hook and a yarn, and start crocheting in a stitch pattern that I think will create the texture (plant leaves, clouds, roof shingles, etc.) that I want for that part. When it's "done", I attach the color needed for whatever will be adjacent in the finished picture, and continue. Some of the work is in motifs, attached to the background; some is patchworked together as it's created.

All of it is fun. My "crochet paintings" are on my Ravelry project page, tagged with "freeform". My username there is cerdeb.
jd said…
most of these are true works of art. i simply adore freeform and have done lots of it - but nothing that i can assemble into a garment. scrumbling is fun. just planning to blog about it but you kinda beat me to it. nicely, i might add!
jd in st louis
stefanie g-r said…
Such great inspiration!

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