Friday, February 28, 2014

Book Review: Rustic Modern Crochet by Yumiko Alexander

February 28, 2014
Rustic Modern Crochet by Yumiko Alexander

I don’t know when I have been as excited about a crochet fashion pattern book as I am about Yumiko's new book Rustic Modern Crochet! I can’t wait to get started making many of the designs within, and I have put the Driftwood wrap at the top of my to-do list. Its shimmery drape is so interesting with alternating sections of fan lace and chains. This wrap will shout "elegance" as you step into the room at your next social soiree'!

As we have come to expect from Interweave, this is a lovely and colorful book on quality paper stock. The full-color illustrations are abundant, and symbol crochet is included along with the written instructions. Not everyone wants to use symbol crochet, but it is nice to have the choice.  For me, symbol crochet enhances the written instructions and they are a helpful, visual way to confirm instructions. A key to the symbols is included for those who have never tried this method.

Water Lily
The Water Lily scarf is a great place to start if you've never tried symbol crochet. It uses chunky yarn, size M hook, and the motifs are "join as you go"

All 18 designs in the book appeal to crocheters who seek an upscale look in their garments. Refined, Yumiko’s designs feature eye-catching construction based on simple lines that come together in unexpected ways. Lace Reflections fingerless gloves are so hip and my daughter is going to love them! They are cleverly made with two layers and should be super warm!

Lace Reflections
Originally from Japan and now residing in Chandler, Arizona, Yumiko was exposed to the fiber arts at a young age. Her grandparents owned a tailoring business and she learned to appreciate fine handwork. When she came to live in Arizona with limited English, she found that crochet and knitting were universal languages that helped her make acquaintances easily.

In this Rustic Modern Crochet, Yumiko takes her cue from the natural world – tide-swept sand, shells, coral, shale rock formations and colorful sunsets. Her stitch patterns have a central focus as the silhouettes or shapes are kept simple to emphasize the delicate crocheted fabric. Yumiko says of her designs, “I want to create things I can be proud to wear and use, both functional and fashionable.”

Hot off the presses in January 2014, Rustic Modern Crochet is available at and is on sale for $17.36.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Tribute to My Dad

February 25, 2014

Time softens some of the loss and settles the mind. It has been a whirlwind since my dad died on February 11. We left returned home to Chicago that day having shared our love for dad in his last hours. Shortly after on February 15, we left for our long-planned vacation to Anna Maria Island, FL with the blessings of my brother to go ahead with our plans knowing that his memorial was planned for March 1.

Now that I am back home and settled in from traveling, I turn my thoughts to my dad, Martin Blakley. He was a quiet and humble man who had a subtle sense of humor. Kind, caring and helpful, he had so many friends who loved and depended on him.

Having served in the US Army during World War II, my dad's Division landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy on that fateful D-Day. Yes, he survived but he saw many, many of his comrades perish that day and never wanted to talk about it much. I am so proud of him and his bravery and can only imagine what it was like to go through a day like that!

Martin Blakley (R)

He returned home to Ft. Wayne, Indiana after his service.

Dapper young man; no wonder my mom fell for him!
That's where he met my mother, Dorothy, who he called "Dot." He loved her dearly and deeply; and they had 63 challenging and satisfying years together. I either didn't think about it or didn't realize the depth of his love until my mother died in 2009.

He was never quite the same after she left us. Maybe it was seeing how she suffered; he always hated hospitals and nursing homes in the best of times! The day before he died, he asked his Hospice nurse to play, "At Last," the song he and mom danced to the night they met. It was a 1941 song and was played that night by the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Made popular by Etta James and sung at President Obama's inaugural ball by Beyonce,' I found it ironic. Dad was a die-hard Republican, but the politics of today had nothing to do with a memory he wanted to relive as he was dying.

My dad apprenticed as a plumber and raising a family during the Depression was not easy. When I was ten, he took a leap of faith and founded his own business, with my mother's continual support. It was called, Blakley Plumbing and in 2007 we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the company my dad started. Now owned by my brother, Roger, Blakley Plumbing has had 3 generations of the family working there.

(L-R) Marty, Roger, Martin Blakley

Next to his grandchildren and great grandchildren, Dad probably loved his 1929 Model A Ford more than any of he hobbies he enjoyed. He delighted in taking family members, especially little ones, on rides during the family reunion each year. He exhibited it at various summer car shows and the car was even featured in a movie in which dad had to drive the car!

Family reunion
Local parade
Car in a movie
Dad's five grandchildren, and 8 great grandchildren loved him dearly. He was always there at special occasions for the nearby grandchildren and enjoyed the family gatherings especially when we got a poker game going!

Mom, Dad and the 5 grandchildren

Mom and Dad loved playing poker and had lifelong friends who they played with regularly. I fondly remember those fun-loving games. We kids looked forward to having the folks come over because mom always made great snacks and we got to stay up a little later. All the friends were almost part of our family. Over time as the friends got older and older, there were less people at the poker table. The loss of his friends and poker buddies was a source of great sadness for my dad. He was able to continue to play now and then with my brother and sister-in-law and some of there friends, and he still did well and enjoyed it greatly!

One month before his death at age 93, my dad was still driving and taking his dog, Jack, on rides about 3 times daily. According to him, Jack really loved those rides and demanded them each day. Truth be told, dad was always looking for something to do during his lonely days. Jack has already found a new home with a 7-year-old child and he still has energy and lots of love to give.

You'll be missed by many, Dad. Rest in Peace and I hope mom was waiting at the poker table for you!

Updated March 3, 2014:
Dad's memorial was held on March 1 and it was a lovely service with many in attendance. Afterwards, we were able to visit with family and friends at my brother Rog's house. There was much food and conversation.

After everyone except the immediate family was gone, money from dad's wallet was used for him to "treated" us to carry-out ribs from his favorite place, The Rib Room. I love it when the five grand children are all together. The stories they tell about growing up with Nanny and Pop are hilarious!

Martin's Grandchildren, top to bottom: Nicole, Sarah, Martin, Bethany, Elizabeth
Great Grand-Twins: Paris & Marissa
Later that night, they all picked a hat from Pop's collection

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Chicago One-Of-A-Kind Show Freatures UpScale Crochet

February 8, 2014
As reported by Amy Kaspar in the Chicago Knitting Examiner on January 28, 2014, “Women Taking Action, an organization founded by Kamilah Paden and Angela Underwood to further the education and empowerment of women in both their personal and corporate worlds, held their day-long workshop at the University of Illinois at Chicago.”

The keynote speaker was Shirley a New York-based designer, who had previously worked in corporate America before making the daring decision to become a knitwear designer. Paden's keynote address, “Finding the Courage to Follow Your Bliss” was focused on her personal journey and how her story can be an inspiration to others to follow their own path they carve for themselves. Shirley’s closing remarks resonated with everyone when she told them what her husband had once said to her, "If someone made you work this hard, you would quit immediately." 

Once a year, the fantastic designer craft exhibit, One-of-a-Kind, comes to the Chicago Merchandise Mart. Made famous by the Kennedy family, the enormity of the Mart tells you what a large and important show this is. I look forward to going each year, more for inspiration than for buying; but I always manage to purchase at least one “must-have’ while I’m there. The variety of jewelry, especially earrings, usually gets my attention!

Always noteworthy is the variety of high quality handcrafts presented by dedicated makers. This year was no exception, and there was an unusually vivid presence of crochet throughout the show.   I met 3 women who are working hard to maintain the artful and positive image of crochet through their handmade products. Any time I see upscale, quality crochet, I am proud and excited, and I have to know more about the designers. My guess is that they would whole-heartedly agree with Shirley Paden's husband!

I would like to introduce you to Michele, Megan and Lisa because I know you’ll enjoy knowing more about them and their passion for crochet!

Michele Costa 

Michele Costa 
After twenty years of working in television and event production with a move to Chicago from New York City included, Michele has parlayed her love of crochet into a business called Midwest Crochet. I particularly like her business name since I am Midwest born and bred. She explained that since her initials, “MC.” and Midwest Crochet are the same and since she lives in the Midwest, it would be a clever name. I agree!

A crocheter for thirty years, Michele has run her crochet business for 4 years. Her business started to blossom when she was working the night shift in a practical job at a call center. Between calls, Michele found herself crocheting to pass the time. (An ideal job, I’d say, in any crocheter’s eyes!) Co-workers bought a few hats and the word began to spread about Michele’s crocheting talents. She now has a successful  Etsy store and was honored to be featured on the Etsy blog

Providing instructions for others to make her designs was always a goal, but at first Michele didn’t have the know-how to write patterns. “I wanted to reach out to beginners, and because I always had trouble following other peoples’ crochet instructions, I decided to write patterns more like tutorials than step-by-step instructions.” Michele  finds that this appeals to others like her. Later, her second Etsy store was opened to feature her patterns.

Describing her love of crocheting full time professionally as her “happy place,” Michele exclaims, “I love it so much! I am still blown away after 4 years when someone buys one of my creations or a pattern! It’s like the feeling I had with my very first sale; I get that giddy 'school-girl' feeling!” Michele is also very clear on which yarns work best for her designs and sales. “I am madly in love with Serenity by Premier Yarns,” she says. It is acrylic, soft and no one is allergic to it. I also love the Super Traveler Collection by Dragonfly Fibers. The yarns are hand-dyed chunky weigh,t and that weight is very unique for a hand-dye company.”

Megan Keach 

Megan Keach 
Her degree in Theatre Arts and Costume Craft feeds perfectly into Megan’s small business, This One Chicago, where she sells crocheted hats. A full-time staff person in the costume department at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, Michele performed in regional theater after graduation from Illinois Wesleyan University. She told me that she taught herself to crochet and knit while in college and at that time, she made lots of blankets. When she switched to making hats, other students wanted to buy them. “Frankly,” says Megan, “I was surprised that people wanted to give me money for the hats!” Starting out slowly, Megan sold 5 hats in an “artsy” vintage store and that encouraged her to innovate and experiment with the idea of a small business.

The name of Megan’s business, This One Chicago, is unique also. “I was born in Chicago,” she explains. “I still have strong connections here and my designs are practical for the people of Chicago. When my customers are shopping and deciding on a specific hat, usually “one” jumps out at them and they say, ‘This is the one.’"

“I have to have the courage of my design convictions,” explains Megan. “My aesthetic comes from more of a theatrical perspective due to the skills I’ve learned and the oddities I’ve seen in the theater business. I do classic millinery and once made traditional bonnets for a production of Pride & Prejudice. From the beautiful fabrics I’m exposed to and the patterning and shapes that allow for a good silhouette, I’ve learned how to really shape a crocheted hat. There may be a scrap of fabulous silk left over which I then turn into a rosette embellishment to create a one-of-a-kind hat." 

"You’d be surprised at how much crochet is found in theatrical productions! Once I crocheted an apron for a 'poor peasant' woman. It was several hours of work for a brief time on stage! I have also crocheted to simulate chain mail. With the use of metallic paint on top of the crochet, no one is the wiser from the audience’s perspective!”

Megan at One-of-a-Kind
Michele explains that from her point of view, theater and crocheted hats influence each other. “Each one’s unique creative angle feeds on the other.” Michele recalls that in the early days of her business, she worked with yarns that were donated to the costume shop. “We had no room to stock the left-overs; so if it felt good or was pretty, I made use of it in my hats. Many of the yarns I used had labels and many of the hats were also made from ‘mystery’ yarns!”

Today, Megan tracks the fiber content in her hats so that she can inform her customers when they ask. Her business has grown so that this year she plans to begin to buy her yarn wholesale and she favors Lion Brand Thick ‘n  Quick because crocheted with a small hook, she achieves a sturdiness to the body of the hat that holds its shape.”

Today, Megan keeps very busy selling her hats at shows like One-of-a-Kind and also has a shop on Etsy

Lisa Toland

Lisa Toland at One-of-a-Kind
Born in New Zealand of Lebanese decent, Lisa came to the United States with her parents and siblings when she was 12 years old. She explained to me the evolution of her gorgeous wire crochet jewelry. “My parents opened a store on Union Street in San Francisco, and I would go with them to the Wholesale Mart in the city. There I saw so many things that inspired me, but I wanted to make my own collections of things!”

Lisa told me that she comes from a long line of needle artists and designers. “My grandmother was a Manageress of a suit factory in New Zealand, and my mother has designed jewelry for over thirty years,” she explained.  “I always wanted to design and I followed my mom around, learning from her. At first, I played around with crochet and then I got more serious and taught myself from a book.”

It has now been sixteen years since Lisa began to crochet with wire. She explained that her love of old things and the romance of times past inspire her work. “I find the work women did three to five generations back to be wonderful.  They achieved amazing skills in the needle arts that were sophisticated. There is preciousness about what they created that I try to emulate. Today there are still artisans working in villages in China, Vietnam and Northern India that do beautiful work. I’m inspired by that way of life.”

Lisa's jewelry at One-of-a-Kind
At times, Lisa feels that women’s work is not taken seriously. She says, “I’m not sure the artistry and skill that goes into fiber work is always appreciated. It takes so much time and skill to run a business featuring handmade art. Today it is very difficult.” Since this is the third successful One-of-a-Kind show for Lisa, I would say she is proving that having a unique and well-made product defies the odds. She quips, “I meet many ‘textile freaks’ during my shows and my booth is the official meeting place for the club! I appreciate the people who buy my work and it is difficult to identify what it is that makes them willing to make the investment.”

“My crochet work is adornment and it is ornamental. It has a vintage feel. I use fabric, embroidery threads and beads along with the wire crochet.” Today, crocheting with wire is much more popular due to some books and patterns that have been published. Lisa believes that this has contributed to more appreciation and more sales for her. “It is not always about the money from sales,” she explains. "I get good feedback and that keeps me going. I also do lots of educating at these shows. I’m constantly asked, ‘What is it?’; ‘How do you do it?’ or I hear comments like, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before.’ Or ‘This is not my mother’s crochet!’”

See for yourself on Lisa’s beautiful website and enjoy! 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Book Review: Tunisian Crochet Baby Blankets by Sharon H. Silverman

I love Tunisian crochet and I’ve been doing a lot of it lately. This beautiful book by Sharon Silverman gives me a few more items to put on my “to-do” list!

Tunisian Crochet Baby Blankets offers 8 classic patterns, including ripples, cable, bobbles and basket weave, but done in Tunisian crochet, a technique that combines the drape of knitting with the ease of crochet. Joyful photography of real-life babies throughout, will make you smile! 

Frosted Stitch Stripes
Color Waves
Also included are the great illustrations that we have come to expect from Leisure Arts; the materials needed are listed generically with the Craft Yarn Council number standards. In the Yarn Information section, Sharon provides the exact yarns used in the book’s projects. There will be no mistaking which yarn to use to achieve gauge! The General Instructions section is very useful and the unique Tunisian crochet stitches are clearly explained and illustrated.

Sharon is a Professional member of the Crochet Guild of America and a lifelong crafter with a passion for Tunisian crochet. That, paired with her background in writing, clearly shows in the quality of this book! Sharon is the author of fifteen books, 7 of which are crochet titles. Check out Sharon’s very professional website and keep in touch with her through her blog which you’ll also find there. I’m sure she’d love to hear about some of your finished Tunisian baby blankets.

Tunisian Crochet Baby Blankets is published by Leisure Arts and can be purchased through Sharon’s website or Amazon. It is available in both Kindle ($7.99) and paperback ($8.55) versions.

Monday, February 3, 2014

CGOA Celebrates 20 Years: Part 1 Book Review: Today's Crochet

February 3, 2014

Today’s Crochet – Sweaters from the Crochet Guild of America by Susan Huxley

Today's Crochet: Cover Design by Jenny King
Because I believe that this book is just as useful today as it was in 2003, I’ve wanted to write a review of it for some time. This is the first of a series of blog posts that I will be doing in conjunction with the 20th Anniversary of CGOA. I want to look back into the history of the organization and bring to you an update on “Where are they now?” about some of the important contributing volunteers who’ve shaped our organization and made sure that it endures.

A timeless classic, this book was published in 2003 in cooperation with Martingale who so graciously worked with CGOA member and author, Susan Huxley to bring together the best CGOA designers to create this book for the 10th Anniversary of CGOA. 

Crochet Guild President at the time, Tosca Mark, said in the forward: “The Crochet Guild of America dedicates this book to the memory of our forebears, who diligently preserved their handiwork. It is our hope that this book will help others experience and learn new ways to use their skills.”

Tapping into the vast talent within the ranks of CGOA, Martingale, Susan and the CGOA board chose the finalists from hundred of design submissions, creating a book full of garments that have stood the test of time and are still relevant “today.” “The book is a celebration of creativity and community because it is being released on the cusp of the tenth anniversary of CGOA.” 

With this book, the tenth anniversary celebration committee wanted to give back to members, not only to those who attend conferences; but also to dedicated crocheters in the far-reaching corners of our membership. Included among the designers are members who you can get a chance to meet at one of the many conferences they attend: Jenny King, Delma Myers, Willena Nanton and Kathleen Stuart. Susan Huxley often teaches at our conferences.

Here’s a sneak peek inside and I’m sure you’ll want to make several in the fashion color of the season with the latest new yarns.

Casual Chic by Nancy Brown, Past President of CGOA
Northern Lights by Delma Myers, past Nominations Chair
and CGOA Historian
Short & Sweet by Joy Prescott, member of Puget Sound Chapter of CGOA
 The “Back to Basics” section at the end of the book is extensive with very clear stitch illustrations as well as great information such as joining garment pieces, blocking shapes and checking gauge. There is a section on hooks with a lovely photograph that includes some vintage hooks and the “Yarn Guide” will help you choose current yarns for your projects.

Today’s Crochet, is available at Amazon and adding this collectible volume to your crochet library is a great way to celebrate CGOA!

Susan Huxley lives in Easton, Pennsylvania and is a community activist. She curates fiber art shows; and has launched "Chase the Chill," Volunteers crochet and knit scarves which are used to yarn bomb and viewers in need are invited to take one to chase the chill! Friend her on Facebook.

Nancy Brown lives near Seattle, Washington and is a prolific designer with hundreds of crochet and knit patterns available online.

Delma Myers lives in Anchorage, Alaska and she has attended every Chain Link crochet conference since the first one in 1994. This is no mean feat!

Jenny King lives in Australia and  is a frequent and popular crochet teacher at CGOA conferences. You can learn more about her on her website.

Do you have a fond memory of the early days of CGOA?  I’d love have your comments.