Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Crochet Every Way Stitch Dictionary - Book Review

Crochet Every Way Stitch Dictionary
125 Essential Stitches to Crochet in Three Ways
Dora Ohrenstein
9 ½ x 7 ¼”
287 pages
Publisher: Abrams (May, 2019)

There are two basic avenues to gain knowledge of any subject: (1) via study through books and/or the classroom; or (2) from direct experience. Both have their place, but when it comes to crochet, the former is almost impossible as there is scant formal written information on the subject, especially when compared to its’ big sister needlework art, knitting. Just to provide one cursory example, I pulled out a general textiles book from my personal library, written in 2005, and searched the index for knit and crochet entries. I was expecting a fair amount on the former, but was unsure whether crochet would have made the cut. I was surprised when, after mentally recording that more than three quarters of the 24 entries under “K” in the book were about knitting, the almost 2 pages of “C” entries contained exactly one about crochet – “crocheting.” And that lone entry in the textile wilderness was contained, tellingly for my current purposes, in a chapter entitled “Nonwovens and Other Methods of Fabric Construction,” and was grouped together with macramé, netting, and tatting, as alternative ways to create openwork fabrics. Of some note, this textiles book also included hairpin lace as its own method within this grouping, indicating it as a subset of crochet. I can only guess that the frame used to create hairpin lace was the reason it earned its own distinct entry separate from general crochet.

Enter Dora Ohrenstein.  She has been writing books on crochet and crochet design for the better part of the last decade, and the title that had, until now, the biggest impact on my designing career was her 2011 title Creating Crochet Fabric. Before it, I was not a fan of swatching, and initially I purchased the book for the design projects (and have made one, the Juliette Shawl, which project made the blog in this entry back in May, 2011). While the design projects drew me in, it was the brief, ending stitch dictionary and fabric creation that kept me coming back to it, again and again and again. Dora spent considerable time throughout the period when that book was first published attempting to get everyone – both designers and non-designers – to just swatch. Ohrenstein was trying, back then, to get everyone to learn to love the art and beauty of crochet fabric as much as she did through the means she knew best: direct personal experience with hook and yarn.

A swatch sampling from Crochet Every Way Stitch Dictionary
Fast forward to now, and Ohrenstein’s latest title, Crochet Every Way Stitch Dictionary, picks up rather elegantly, and with some innovation, where Creating Crochet Fabric left off. In keeping with my theme of how one gains knowledge, Dora’s opening words in this book provides her personal roadmap: “I taught myself to crochet as a twenty-one-year-old hippie while living on a houseboat in Amsterdam.” It doesn’t get any more hands-on than that. While she would leave crochet for a singing career in the intervening years between that hippie houseboat and now, creativity has never left Ohrenstein, and it shines brilliantly in this, her most recent entry, on the way to get everyone hooked (no pun intended) on the possibilities of crochet fabric. (Note: Dora has also completed an Artfully Voie de Vie Questionnaire here back in 2012.)

My version of Plump Posts, p. 126, worked in
Cascade 220 Superwash + a 5.00 mm hook
For designers and non-designers, swatching is the cornerstone of most any knit and/or crochet endeavor. For the maker, it yields vital information on gauge and fiber behavior with a particular stitch pattern, the lynch pin of whether a project will be successful. For designers, swatches are mini-fabric windows through which designs flow, morph, grow. Each attempt yields different informational fruit, all of which goes into the trifle that will become future fabric. We designers become the masters of the 4” fabric square, the going industry size for determining whether a design is, or isn’t, a potential publishing winner. The swatch is, of course, conventionally a means to a bigger design end and, most probably, was created in service to a design idea already formed.

What Ohrenstein wants us to recognize and internalize is that the swatch is a vehicle for stitch patterns that, in and of themselves, are a wealth of design information and inspiration. Exercising the swatching muscle can (and I might argue) should be one of the foundational design inspiration tools in any self-respecting designer’s tool kit – to be exercised at any point, whether or not with a particular design in mind. This book shows that how one manipulates a stitch pattern via increase and decrease can just as easily lead to other design inspiration. Stitch pattern increase and decrease is just as much an art as a skill.

My Open Ovals swatches, p. 236, using
a fiber cocktail of Habu Textiles Silk
Mohair + Tahki Stacy Charles Luna
held together + a 4.25 mm hook
After introducing some perfunctory basics on stitch patterns and how they create designs, Dora lays out the book’s organization – stitch patterns in five flavors over six chapters from closed stitches to open, texture to lace, and that final crochet mainstay – ripple stitches. After thumbing through each section, I chose the first three stitch patterns that caught my eye to work up for this review.  My gut is consistent when it comes to the types of stitches I like – I chose one from the texture section, one from the classic lace section (and that’s my favorite section in the book, truth be told), and one from the ripple section because its increase was just so darned intriguing.

Working these swatches was not only a pleasure because each is charted (such a treat – work the chart and fini!), but also because I chose stash yarn for each, and for this textile fan pairing the right fiber with stitch pattern is always a fun exercise. Working some of the decreases on the first texture stitch swatch instantly gave me other ideas on what could be done along that particular edge. The lace swatches were the most satisfying, not the least because I chose to work them up in a mohair blend. The ripple increase swatch was, however, the most enlightening. I know I shall be going back to that swatch as well as that 

Tilted Ripple, p. 270, was by far the most fascinating
swatch worked. I used Drops Puna + a 4.25 mm hook.
section of the book (at the end, and the shortest) to further investigate.

While this is technically a stitch dictionary, I find the title slightly misleading. I do not find the stitch patterns themselves to be the star, but how we can learn to manipulate them. In that respect, this book is indeed innovative, because stitch repeats in whole cannot always be successfully increased and/or decreased. Ohrenstein, through her instruction for each increase and decrease, is giving us the underlying tools to successfully get any stitch pattern to do what we want it to.

It is a shame that we (at least in the U.S.) tend to look down our noses at craft (although this continues to change and evolve). Ohrenstein, with this latest title has, along with her title from 2011, created a one-two punch for anyone wanting to create crochet fabric, or learn more generally about fabric creation and manipulation. As crochet is seen more and more regularly on the fashion runway, it takes its place alongside knit fabrics as a potential design fabric staple in any house’s seasonal collection. Resultingly, I find both of these Ohrenstein titles should be useful not only to a general craft public (as each title is categorized by their respective publishers), but also relevant in any textile or design classroom setting. Then there would be, at minimum, three crochet entries in any thorough book on textiles.

If you love to create fabric (crochet or otherwise) as much as I do, and you’ve read this far (ha!), now comes the payoff: I had no idea Abrams would be sending me two copies. Therefore, I am so thrilled to be able to give a copy of Crochet Every Way Stitch Dictionary away to one lucky winner. All you need do is comment below on why you want a copy of this book, and what you hope to learn from it. I will be awarding the copy to a winner via random number generator from all comments received between now and the end of the day next Monday, June 17th. 

Good luck ... and happy swatching!

Wednesday, June 19th Update: Sorry I am a few days late in awarding a winner - but I gave the random integer generator a whirl just a few minutes ago, and it picked number 1 (and 5 was the alternate), so Missy of A Tree Hugger's Wife wins this awesome book! I will also be posting this on Instagram, so everyone can see it there as well. Thanks to everyone who read the review, and especially to those who took the time to leave a comment. I urge everyone to add this title to your crafty book shelf - you will not be disappointed.

Monday, June 3, 2019

2019 Progress, Hope, & Happiness Collection Launch - Year 3!

Oh my friendly makers - it is the beginning of June, and for the third year in a row, I have curated, coordinated, and/or otherwise wrangled a collection of summer makes, and it went live last Friday!  For a viewing of the collection's look book, just click on it below:

I cannot tell you how thrilled I am with this year's designs, and the yarny colorways created and/or picked especially for the collection really make the designs stand out. As usual, we have our make-a-long home on Ravelry and people are starting to figure out what they would like to make, and what yarns they will be using.

I have two designs in the collection this year, and they are meant to help anyone get out there for a quick adventure or two. I happily present the Rings of Saturn, a really well-sized bag great for short weekend jaunts (it's small yet so roomy); and Weekend Adventure - a tee with a whole lot of pink attitude that is easily customized to fit a maker's personal style.

There are also a good number of shawls, some head wear, a super tank (in pink!), and a cowl that I really want to make (along with several other designs). So much to make; so little crafty maker time. Grrrr.

Also, there are a few new things this year: if you are on Instagram, do follow the MAL's hashtag #happinessmakealong2019 - we are currently running an #artadventure challenge that, if craftily played, can find both you and a tagged friend winning prizes, including a grand prize (and this year's other big new thing): an e-book of the entire collection of 12 designs! That's right, the collection has an e-book for sale this year exclusively on Swatch Warriors (retailing for $19.95, with most of that going directly to all nine participating designers), but only for a limited time (basically, through the end of July, which is when the maker event ends).

Given the ups and downs in the yarn publishing industry so far this year, it is a testament to my fellow indie designers and dyers that we have just not given up and are continuing to forge our own designing path. I cannot tell you how pleased and proud I am to be among the company of these talented artists. I hope you will check out the look book, buy a pattern or two, or even gift an e-book to someone just because. Then, get your yarn and making tools all lined up and come join us as we each find our own yarny renewal.

Happy summer, everyone!