23 May 2019

Irish and Aran Crochet

On the second day of the workshop, Rita showed us Irish and Aran crochet techniques. In class we worked samples using size 10 crochet cotton. Yes, the fineness of the materials can be a challenge, especially if your hands shake or your eyes no longer see in high definition. But the patterns are lovely and definitely worth the effort. For reference here on the blog, I've worked these motifs in the same worsted-weight yarn as the other posts.

bullion stitches at top, limpet stitches at bottom

Possibly the toughest stitch we did was the bullion stitch. Like the Tunisian stitches, this is another technique where a crochet hook with a long plain throat is better than one with a thumb rest. The bullion stitch makes fabulous texture by wrapping the yarn multiple times around the throat of the crochet hook and then pulling a loop through this long spiral worm. As you might guess, part of the trick is not catching the spiral loops on the hook. Scrunching the spiral worm together helps, as it makes the spiral open outward ever so slightly.

As you can see from the picture, a shell of bullion stitches makes a lovely edge. Rita had us work picots on the other edge. When I got home, I also made a swatch using limpet stitch. It is similar to bullion, except the stitches are "cast-on" to the hook with half-hitches, similar to backward loop or e-cast-on in knitting. The limpet stitch ends up with a line between the coils. Both techniques would be great ways to embellish a quiet design to give it more drama.

Irish crochet Rose of Sharon

The classic Irish motif is, of course, the Rose of Sharon. It is worked from the center out. Basically, you make a wheel with long spokes. Petals are formed over chains connecting the spokes. Layers of ever-larger petals are added behind by using post crochets to lay in more chain structure. The motif is very three-dimensional.

After the bullion stitch, the pattern that gave the class the most trouble was he leaf. The leaf isn't difficult per se, but it is constructed in a way that is not intuitive. The center is established by making a line and working around it. Then the leaf is shaped by swinging back and forth, akin to short rows in knitting. To make it easier to envision, I've drawn a colored diagram. Start at the red and the top and follow the rainbow line in color order to the violet at the bottom.

One thing that helps — the pattern has three single crochet in the same spot whenever you get to the base of the leaf. Once I understood that, it was much easier to keep track of what I was doing.

One of the last swatches we made was an Aran cable swatch. Cables are associated with knitting, but you can do them in crochet. In this case, the swatch is all double crochet. The stitches forming the cables are always worked around the post. This gives them higher relief texture. Crossing is a little weird, but very similar to knitting. You simply work the stitches out of order and around the post at the same time. Jumping ahead isn't too tricky, but backing up to work the stitches you skipped can be a little challenging. The wrong side of the fabric is very different from the right side, as it has strong horizontal elements rather than vertical ones.

Overall, the weekend-long workshop was an opportunity to explore a different direction. I'm not sure how much I will use what I learned. For me, creativity is often about learning and exploring and then waiting. You don't know how a technique will be used until you get to the project that incorporates it. The heritage crochet techniques definitely expanded my creative horizons.

22 May 2019

Tunisian Crochet

In the afternoon on the first day of Rita's workshop we learned Tunisian crochet.

Tunisian stitches are characterized by a right-to-left ("forward") pass creating loops, then a left-to-right ("backward") pass crocheting them off. You don't turn the work; the public side is always facing you. When you are at the right-hand edge of a piece of Tunisian crochet it looks like you are crocheting — there is a single loop on a crochet hook. But when you are at the left-hand edge, there is a strange hybrid of a crochet hook with lots of live loops on it as if it were in costume pretending to be a knitting needle. If you think of Tunisian stitches as a grid, you can think of the forward loop-creating pass as making vertical posts and the backward binding-off pass as making horizontal lintels.
|    |    |    |    |    |

For class we were able to work swatches on regular crochet hooks. Please note, this technique is best executed on crochet hooks that don't have large handles and don't have big thumb rests. You need cable or a slender stick to hold the live loops, just as you would in knitting. If you decided to pursue Tunisian crochet, then a set of Denise crochet hooks would be your first stop.

Rita has instructions for Tunisian crochet in both her books, but I think the instructional pictures are better in Crochet for Knitters: A Marriage of Hook and Needles, especially pages 52-56, where she describes four basic patterns.

Tunisian simple stitch:

In this case, the forward pass is knitting up loops by inserting the hook right to left through the top of the vertical post, then binding the loops off on the backward pass. It forms a very firm square grid with an obvious right-side and wrong-side. This fabric is not stretching and possibly not draping, either. Choose wisely when to use this. It would make good fabric for jackets, upholstery, or bags. I've seen blanket patterns where you make an entire afghan this way, then go back and work a counted cross-stitch design on top of it. That's commitment!

Tunisian double crochet:

This is worked the same as Tunisian simple, except the vertical posts are now almost-finished double crochet stitches. This means you could experiment with Tunisian treble and taller stitches. Because this pattern is more open, it has a little stretch and a little drape compared to Tunisian simple. It has a right-side and a wrong-side, but the wrong-side of the work isn't too bad.

Tunisian cross stitch:

This pattern produces pretty star-like crosses at the intersections of the grid. It is worked the same as Tunisian double, except the stitches are worked out of order, just like cabling in knitting. Skip the next stitch, work the one after it, then back up and work the stitch just skipped. The backward bind-off pass is the same as other Tunisian stitches. While the fabric is attractive on the right side, the wrong side is a chaotic field of bumps.

Tunisian knit stitch:

This fabric looks very much like regular stockinette, but is thicker and firmer. If you want the look of stockinette but with no stretch, this is it. Unlike the previous three patterns, the vertical posts are picked up front to back, as if knitting. Backward pass is the same as the other stitches. The wrong side of the fabric resembles reverse stockinette, but with pronounced horizontal ridges.

Tunisian lace stitch:
This pattern is an outlier, in that it involves action on both the forward and backward passes. Also, Rita does not include it in Crochet for Knitters but instead has it on page 32 of Heritage Crochet in a New Light: Enriching Your Designs with Antique Lace Techniques. The backward pass involves creating alternating chains and clusters by chaining several stitches, then drawing through multiple loops on the hook all at once. The forward pass creates stitches in the chains. The result is a series of stacked clusters. Like the other Tunisian stitches, this fabric is firm and stretches only because it is open. The wrong side is different from the right side, but only noticeably so at close range.

I've written previously about Tunisian knit (rather than crochet) stitches in this post from February 2017.

21 May 2019

Broomstick and Hairpin Lace

On the first day of Rita de Maintenon's workshop we learned two related techniques — broomstick lace and hairpin lace. In all the pictures below, the swatches are oriented in the direction they were worked, from bottom to top.

a sample of broomstick lace

Broomstick lace is a technique where large loops are created over a broomstick or other oversized dowel, such as a size 35 or 50 knitting needle. As in knitting but unlike ordinary crochet, there are many loops. These loops are crocheted together in groups, as in the example above. You can see how a group of loops forms and "eye," with a "crown" of single-crochet stitches at the top. In the photograph below, loops have been crocheted individually to make a mesh reminiscent of condo knitting.

broomstick mesh alternating rows over two different-sized dowels

In either case, this is a technique that would lends itself to showing off a pretty yarn. I can definitely see this done with a ribbon yarn; and I am wondering how it would work for an art yarn? I am also wondering if you could work the big loops with a ribbon yarn but crochet them off with something plain? And then there is the question of adding long bugle beads? Or what if you made the loops and then wove them together? What if you woven a strip of fabric through the loops? What about different stitch patterns between the rows? What about working the eyes in a half-drop formation instead of lined up? What about using stitches other than single crochet for the crown? What about beads across the crown? As you can tell, there is a lot of opportunity for experimentation.

close-up of a strip of hairpin lace

Hairpin lace can resemble broomstick lace in that both make big loops grouped together. In hairpin lace the loops are created on a hairpin fork. There are two rows of opposing loops secured in their shared center by a crocheted spine. Something about hairpin lace reminds me of a centipede. Typical hairpin lace projects involve making strips and then joining the strips together, either by crocheting or lacing (what knitters would call Russian grafting). In the swatch below, two strips of hairpin lace have been joined by lacing clusters of four loops up the center of the swatch. Crowns of single crochet were worked on the sides to form eyes from the remaining loops. The effect mimics broomstick lace.

two stripes of hairpin lace joined at center and crocheted around edges
There can be variations. You can offset the spine so both sets of loops are not the same size. You can change how loops are laced together or join them alternative ways. You can use different-sized hairpin forks to make the strips narrower or wider. If you want the strip to be wavy, you can join single loops and then join a cluster together to cause the strip to twist to the side. You can even make a strip and gather all the loops on one side together for form a circle. Because of the long loops, this is another technique with the potential to show off ribbon or art yarns.

Because both broomstick lace and hairpin lace involve making rows of live loops, they lend themselves to collaboration with knitting. Rita's book Crochet for Knitters: A Marriage of Hook and Needles explores this. I can see the potential to use either technique to create insertions of unusual yarn in the middle of garments made from otherwise fairly ordinary yarn.

20 May 2019

Fiber Forum 2019

The first weekend of April I attended Fiber Forum 2019. This gathering is every-other year. Since it is weaving-focused, it happens in the odd-numbered years. Convergence — the big weaving gathering organized by the Handweavers Guild of America — takes place in even-numbered years. In fact, next year Convergence will be nearby in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Fiber Forum is held at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. From Atlanta, I prefer the drive up I-85, following the I-985 split into north Georgia and on up past Tallulah Falls, through Franklin, North Carolina, past the Cherokee reservation, then through Smoky Mountain National Park. Gatlinburg, Tennessee is, well, something to see. Very tourist-oriented. It is sort of like Las Vegas, but in Appalachia. And in that regard, Arrowmont is a bit like Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You come out of 30 miles of national park into Gatlinburg. You drive down a main street of glittering tourist-focused shops — places to eat, items to buy, attractions to see — and you have to be very aware of the exact place to turn right. It is as if you sneaked down Diagon Alley. In only a few dozen yards the narrow lane of crushed stone leads you up the side of the hill. Suddenly everything is much quieter. It is as if you have gone behind a movie set — maybe because you have? And there you are in this oasis of crafting education.

I decided to take Rita de Maintenon's weekend-long workshop on heritage crochet techniques. I believe I have bumped into Rita at SAFF. I know how to crochet; I just don't do it often. Rita is an evangelist for the range of things that can be done with heritage crochet techniques. These are the techniques in the neglected chapters at the back of the needlework encyclopedia. They are the techniques using strange tools found in the bottom of grandma's stash; directions explaining what these tools are or how they should be used having been lost long ago when the paper crumbled. Several of these techniques combine knitting and crochet maneuvers. Many of them would be best suited to borders, trim, and embellishment rather than making a whole fabric.

In addition to teaching in person, Rita has written two books, Heritage Crochet in a New Light: Enriching Your Designs with Antique Lace Techniques and Crochet for Knitters: A Marriage of Hook and Needles. Rita also has classes on Udemy, including Heritage Crochet Lace In Contemporary Application, which is essentially the weekend workshop she taught at Fiber Forum 2019.

The next few blog posts will show off what I learned. To finish out this post, I want to give you a review of Rita's two books. Heritage Crochet and Crochet for Knitters have significant overlap. Depending on why you want them, you might need only one or the other, not both. On the other hand, the pictures in each book are sometimes different, even if the text and technique are the same. They are complimentary resources.

Both books start off with a little review of basic techniques. The review section in Crochet for Knitters is more substantial, probably because it covers both knit and crochet. Then both books follow the review with good chapters on broomstick lace. Both have plenty of pictures of completed broomstick projects to provide inspiration. Crochet for Knitters has a helpful extra photograph showing how to transition from broomstick lace to knitting. Hairpin lace is handled similarly. Both books have some overlap. Heritage Crochet has more pictures of hairpin lace crochet, while Crochet for Knitters once again has a picture of how to transition from hairpin lace to knitting. It also shows how to use hairpin lace to create fringe. If all you want to learn is broomstick and hairpin laces, either book will work.

Both books cover Tunisian crochet and both books have instructions for Tunisian simple stitch, Tunisian double crochet, Tunisian cross stitch, and Tunisian knit stitch. I prefer the instructions in Crochet for Knitters because they have nice large pictures illustrating the swatches. If you want to learn Tunisian lace stitch, those instructions are only in Heritage Crochet. Once again, there is a picture in Crochet for Knitters showing how to transition from Tunisian crochet to knitting.

At this point, the books appear to diverge. Heritage Crochet has a chapter on thread crochet followed by Bruge lace, bullions and limpets, and filet crochet. None of those techniques are explained in Crochet for Knitters. Instead, Crochet for Knitters explores borders, such as single crochet, crab stitch, broomstick and hairpin laces as borders, and Tunisian stitches as borders.

But then, the books converge. Both have instructions for the Irish Rose of Sharon and an accompanying leaf. There is extra instruction regarding background mesh in Heritage Crochet and more pictures of finished objects for inspiration. Then the books diverge. Heritage Crochet covers Aran crochet (i.e. crochet cables) and beads, which are not explained in Crochet for Knitters.

Then both Heritage Crochet and Crochet for Knitters cover finishing touches including i-cord, braids, twisted cords, buttons and covered buttons, fringes and tassels, clam shell ends, Roman circles, and blocking. Crochet for Knitters also mentions i-cord, since that is a knit technique. Heritage Crochet has one more chapter at the end regarding making your own designs.

Rita is enthusiastic about improvisation. She rarely writes out patterns. Rather, she gives the student a general overview of how something was made. She expects you as a competent practitioner to try your own ideas and follow your own path.