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Guest Blogger, Mary Rhodes: The Quiet Comfort of Crochet

August 28, 2014

Ed. Note: Mary Rhodes, has been a long-time member and supporter of CGOA. It was great to see her again at the Chain Link Crochet Conference in Manchester, New Hampshire. Throughout the ups and downs that naturally occur in life, she has researched and experimented with crochet and at the same time has found comfort in many aspects along the way. I can certainly relate to her concept of "quiet comfort." Like Mary, I don't wear my crochet to be flashy or trendy. I wear it because it envelopes me in comfort as well as pride in the making. Mary "whispers" and yet shares so much!

Gwen & Mary at the Stitchwhisper booth at the 2014 Knit & Crochet Show
The Stichwhisper speaks out: "The range of crochet creativity on display at the Knit and Crochet Show in Manchester, NH, in July was awe-inspiring.  With CGOA, Gwen gave a gift to all of us by bringing together a focus on the creativity and nurturing that is so much a part of what crochet has to offer.  Lately, crochet has been in the spotlight for its therapeutic value – for people recovering from horrible accidents, grappling with PTSD, as well as bringing comfort in the form of throws, wraps, and toys to share with others in distress. Crochet has a long history of giving comfort.

At a quieter level, I find comfort in crochet to make things I use every day:  clothes I wear, accessories (bags, wallets, hats, scarves, wrist warmers, slippers – the list goes on), and household items like placemats, coasters, pillows and, yes, even dishcloths.  On the Stitchwhisper blog, I explore that quieter level.

As much as crochet is about texture – there are wonderful designers and artists exploring color and texture in crochet – I love exploring and using understated fabrics, making simple needful things that I would otherwise buy ready-made from stores.  Making needful things is satisfying on several levels:
I know what wear and tear the fabrics can take, and they last.  My purses are sturdy enough that I carry more stuff than I should.  Garments made with good quality yarn last and last – people are surprised to find out how many of my garments have been around for a decade or more.
There is a delicious pleasure in wearing and using things that are quietly designed, not made to be the focal point of my ‘look’ or of the room, but to go easily through my day and even to the grocery store without a fuss, with the added bonus that I made them.
When a project is designed to be understated and practical, techniques are easier to learn. Some ways of doing things are so simple and functional, once I know what the point is, how to get there becomes organic and intuitive.

Exploring how to keep it all simple, while ending up with a practical finished product, is a great de-stressor in my life.  Thinking on such a basic level, I focus on the basic elements that make up my pieces:  the construction, the materials, and the stitches.

Lately, I’ve been making a lot of pieces on the diagonal – this:
Makes variegated yarns visually more interesting,
Adds a comfortable bias drape,
Allows me to make the most of limited amounts of yarn, with designs that are basically squares or rectangles (lots of comforting, almost-brainless stitching, with shaping details added in the finishing to pull it all together), and
Puts some very traditional stitches in a whole new light.
All are good things!

Diagonal Crochet
Other directions of stitching work well, too:  having the rows go up and down on a top or vest is a great way to prevent color pooling in variegated yarns and confines most of the shaping to one side of the piece.

Up and Down Crochet
And the traditional top-down, one-piece construction for sweaters is perfect to crochet, allowing for visual details.

Top Down Construction
Choosing yarn for garments can be tricky:  Knitting makes a lightweight, elastic fabric compared to crochet; crochet makes a textured, sturdy fabric compared to knitting.  Often the focus in crochet is on the texture of the stitches.  A tight gauge with a smooth thread or yarn (perfect for doilies and lace) enhances the texture of the stitches.  When a garment yarn (designed to be knitted) brings its own personality to a project, there can be confusion and tension in the look of the fabric if the stitch is fancy, too.

The basic stitches in crochet, by themselves, can have their own drawbacks, so I often choose fairly simple pattern stitches.  With samplers of different stitches, using the same yarn and hook in one sampler so there is an apples-to-apples comparison to show how the stitches work, I have my own personal resource to help me choose the personality of my fabric.

Stitch Sampler
Getting the gauge right is another part of the process:  choosing the best hook for the pattern stitch can take a few tries.  My current project uses a DK weight yarn, where the label calls for a size 4 (3.5 mm) knitting needle.  I thought a 4 mm hook would work fine; but, no, the fabric was too heavy.  Bumping it up to a
5 mm hook gave me a fabric with a very nice drape and is surprisingly not too lacy – with the bonus that the project is zipping along very quickly.  I’m a happy camper because of that!

With all the parts of a stitch where tension matters, matching gauge with a pattern can be another tricky thing. Some people crochet tightly; some, loosely.  Some folks tighten their finished stitches but have a loose loop on their hook resulting in stitches that are a combination of tight and loose.  There are a lot more ways for fabrics to be different in crochet than in knitting, making the craft a more personal way to make fabric. Everyone is different.  Understanding the shape I want to make lets me focus on my relationship with the yarn rather than stressing about my relationship with the pattern.

And even a practical crocheter runs into "embellishment emergencies" from time to time, so I like to have a basic toolkit of embellishments:  edgings, surface embellishments, and flowers.   Many of these ideas are simple but so generous in their results, making it easy to be special.

Flower Embellishment
Crochet works at a human scale, in human time, in a three-dimensional way that helps me calm down to focus on the bigger picture.  In a world where lots of things don’t make sense, crochet is a wonderful tool to create a space in my life that makes perfect sense."


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