Monday, June 18, 2012

On Music, Design as Self-Discovery, and Overrated Questions

It's always such a treat for me to publish answers to my Artfully Voie de Vie Questionnaire - designers are all so unique, that no matter how many times I ask a question, I always receive such varied and intriguing answers. And in this next installment, the same holds true: Dora Ohrenstein, who's been designing crochet garments and accessories for many years, provides insight as well as takes me to task on the question of crochet hook grip.  No matter; I am pleased and honored to present the latest installment in the Artfully Voie de Vie Questionnaire series with crochet designer Dora Ohrenstein.

Cover of Custom Crocheted Sweaters,
Ohrenstein's 2012 book
The Artfully Voie de Vie Questionnaire
with crochet designer Dora Ohrenstein

    Can you tell us a little bit about your background before you started to design crochet garments and accessories? 
I was a professional singer for thirty years.  My biggest “claim to fame” is that I was the solo vocalist of the Philip Glass Ensemble for 10 years – great gig!  I also had my own touring production called Urban Diva which was presented in about a dozen US venues and in Europe, and became a solo recording. In addition, I’ve been teaching singing at the college level for the last 15 years

When was the moment you knew you wanted to become a crochet designer?

When Jean Leinhauser approached me  at a CGOA conference and said she wanted to buy the top I was wearing! 

Please describe your personal crochet design philosophy?

Several ideas are always present in my mind when designing: make something beautiful, using the best yarn and stitch for the project. The latter may sound simple, but often it’s not – I swatch A LOT with different yarns and stitches.  If it’s a garment: something versatile and really wearable. Too many crochet garments don’t really fit with today’s fashions, so I strive to make wearables that I can imagine being worn with jeans, or to work. I hope I achieved this in my recent book Custom Crocheted Sweaters!  In my designs, I want to suggest new ways of seeing certain stitches, or design elements, to introduce something special and different to crochet. I’m also always challenging myself to learn something new. 

Eleganza Raglan from
Custom Crocheted Sweaters
What is your greatest crochet (or design) memory?

It’s hard for me to pinpoint one, but I would say that some of my most pleasurable moments have been talking about crochet with my dear friend Vashti Braha.  I’ve had the privilege of visiting her in Florida and we’ve spent days in non-stop talk about crochet, designing, crochet history, the way it’s done in the US and abroad, and our dreams for crochet’s future.

If you could have dinner with any three designers, dead or alive, who would they be, and why?

Well, I have been incredibly lucky: I’ve had dinner with many of the designers I admire most! Doris Chan, Kristen Omdahl, Lisa Gentry, Teva Durham, Lily Chin. Mostly because we all attend TNNA. I’ve also spent time with non-US designers,  including the amazing Ukrainian designer Antonina Kuznetsova.  I visited her in Kiev in 2010, along with another wonderful crocheter Maire Treanor from Ireland.  We had a fantastic week together, and visited the offices of Duplet magazine, where we saw more incredible Ukrainian crochet.  Another marvelous designer I’ve met and spent several hours with is Yoko Hatta, one of Japan’s leading designers – her work has been featured a lot lately by the people at Vogue.  She is a knitter and crocheter, and her stuff is exquisite.

Lacy Tunic from the recent
Vogue Knitting Special Crochet issue.
Pencil or knife grip?

Knife.  But I think this topic is overrated.  What I wish would be more frequently discussed is tension, especially how to loosen it.  It’s a pity that many crocheters feel stuck with whatever tension they used when first starting to crochet.Tight tension is very limiting and can cause pain eventually.  What I advocate is flexible tension, and I don’t think it’s difficult to learn. For some reason it’s taboo to discuss the crochet hold as a technique -- rather, people want to be reassured that however they do it is fine.  But there are some ways of maneuvering that are a lot more efficient than others, and if we had clearer guidelines in our crochet world, perhaps more people would strive for it.

It’s your last object to design (or make). What is it, and what fiber do you use?

I’m currently working on two designs for publication, one with Malabrigo lace, one with Euroflax Kidlin, both yarns I love.

What trait do you most admire in designers?

My version of Ohrenstein's Juliette Shawl,
a design from one of her previous
books, Creating Crochet Fabric.
Originality. I also admire designers who have a strong signature to their style.

What trait do you most detest in designers?

I don’t think there’s anything where I would use such a strong word as detest, but  I do wonder at the number of designs which seem to be just another version of the latest trendy idea in crochet.  I guess people are just trying to sell patterns, and who can blame them, but for me, crochet is a pathway of discovery, not rehashing.  I guess this stems from my background in the arts – I have a permanent craving for creative challenges!

You are recommending a design gift in response to a friend’s inquiry. Other than your own designs (which, as everyone knows, are quite beautiful!), what would you recommend?

Thanks so much for the compliment Denise! I think crochet hats and scarves make great gifts, because they are so practical, easy to make, and not necessarily costly.  My recommendation is to ask the giftee what color they like, and to think about the styles they wear and how your gift will fit in with it. Maybe even show the person some pictures so they can show you what they like.

My sincere thank you to Dora for taking the time to answer my questionnaire. Both Custom Crocheted Sweaters and Creating Crochet Fabric are invaluable additions to any home library.


  1. Love her Vogue Knitting garment!

  2. What a great interview! I just borrowed a copy of Custom Crocheted Sweaters from the library and it's terrific. There's so much information that I know is going to help me with all my future sweaters! Plus the designs are flattering and so pretty! Very, very nice!

  3. Wonderful interview! The book looks terrific and I've loved following Dora's conversations and advice on Rav and elsewhere.