Monday, May 24, 2010

Chan-neling Creativity in Public

I love to crochet in public, don't you?

Having crocheted for awhile (if you're new to my blog, awhile translates to seemingly forever), I am fortunate that as I crochet I can do so without needing to constantly watch what I'm doing. This makes it fun for me to watch others watching me crochet while I'm at various public events -- and opens the possibilities for discussion on crochet, other fiber arts, and so on. There is something about playing with yarn in public that helps people feel comfortable to approach you to talk about what you're working on, to comment that they or a family member did/does it, etc.

Yesterday I crocheted while in the stands at my children's All Star Track Meet with six other schools also running for the trophy. This would prove to be a 6+ hour event; plenty of time for me to cheer and to work on a new (small) crochet project. I decided to take out my "Crochet Lace Innovations" book by Doris Chan and start the The Ling Collar I mentioned in my last entry.

As I cheered and stitched the afternoon away, some of the girls from the kids school sat with me. They asked if they could look at Doris' book; I said they could. I showed them the The Bozena Dress Mini~Dee and I are thinking of making for her Confirmation next year and asked them their thoughts:

"Wow! I really like that!"

"You can do that? I never thought someone could just make something instead of going to a store and buying it!"

"Shouldn't it be in white? I don't think blue would be the right color."

I asked they ever thought of designing something for themselves. "Impossible!" they said.

Impossible? I think not! To prove my point, I asked them to close their eyes and tell me what their dress would look like; soon they were shouting out their ideas. It was amazing to "see" what they were envisioning! When they were done describing what they wanted I said, "Now see, you just designed! Now the next step is to learn the skills (as I held out my project) to make it reality!"

The girls were then called away to prepare to run their heats so that ended our discussion. As I cheered them on, and got in more stitches, I wondered why they initially had a difficult time envisioning designing something for themselves. I wonder if we, as a society, are programing our children to automatically think that everything must come from retailers. And, I wonder, just how much creativity is the world losing each time we thrust a cellphone, computer, electronic game, or ipod into a child's hand...

Seven schools competing for the trophy; one lone crocheter sitting in the stands; three minds opened to Chan-neling their inner creative selves. Yes, I do love to crochet in public! :)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Book Review: Crochet Lace Innovations

Being a member of the Happily Hooked on Crocheting Club, a Connecticut Chapter of the Crochet Guild of America, has it's perks. Along with getting to hang out with fun crocheters, we get to do cool stuff too. One of the things the Club does is it has various designers, instructors, speakers, and teachers come for meetings from time to time -- what a treat that is! In December 2009 the Club invited it's honorary member, Doris Chan, to talk to us about her newest book, Crochet Lace Innovations." Better yet, she gave us a sneak peek!

Upon falling in love with the book in it's proof state, Doris asked me if I'd be interested in giving it an official review on my blog. I gushed said yes, and not so long ago Mr. UPS was knocking on my door delivering the book hot off the press!

So why the delay in doing the review? Dang, Doris! You make this so tough! My Mini~Dee has a number of social events lining up for next year and in flipping through this book we can picture crocheting up nearly every pattern! As a self-imposed "crochet technique freak," (*because I believe the more you know, the more you grow) I love that Doris has expanded her exploded lace to include tutorials with smokin' hot patterns for the broomstick, hairpin, and tunisian crochet techniques!

Mini~Dee and I have been pouring over this book for days, flipping to this page and that, pointing here and there, and I think we've just about narrowed it down:

1. For her Confirmation: The Bozena Dress. In white. Maybe add crystal beads only to the bodice and to the bottom edging.

2. For the May Crowning: The Ling Collar, to be worn over (crossing fingers I'll win the ebay auction for it this time!) the dress Bella wore in the New Moon movie ...

3. For me: The Zhaan Wrap, of course Mini~Dee could borrow it for the 8th Grade Dinner Dance if the color were right for the dress she'd be wearing....

4. For the social dances: The Zoolin Belt, because Mini~Dee loves wearing belts and it looks like it would be fun for her to wear ...

Of course, the hard part, other than putting the book down, is deciding on which project to start first. Maybe it will be The Zoolin Belt because it would be a great project for us to do together (Mini~Dee could learn the broomstick lace technique, expanding her crochet knowledge! ... that and she has a dance to go to next month.)

As the book states, it has 20 Dazzling Designs; and I'm already hooked on 4 with more lusts to come! I rate this book a "must have" for those who love Doris' exploded lace look and are wanting for more -- in the exploded lace and other crochet techniques -- from this great designer! :)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Question from Reader: Flaxing over Wool?

In continuing our discussion from The Interlacing Technique ~ A Link to Crochet History?, Bobbins asks:

"I did wonder that linen was the chosen fiber, maybe cheaper, more plentiful, or common than wool?"

What a great question, Bobbins!

History tells us that some of the earliest uses of flax cultivation dates back to the Iron Age (12th century, bc). Flax was very valuable: it was used as a food source, to create linen, even collected as tax payments! Linen, made from the flax plant Linum usitatissimum, (the Egyptians called the pretty flax plant "woven moonlight") would prove repeatedly that it has superior qualities to that of cotton and other natural fibers. Every country, from Russia to Ireland, grew flax for creating paper and for creating clothing!

Some of the perks of Linen:
1. it can absorb and lose water rapidly; perfect for wicking perspiration from the skin, which is perfect for summer weather, and/or while wearing heavy armor during battle!
2. it is resistant to moths and carpet beetles (wasn't there a saying about not letting the bed bugs bite?)
3. it is easy to launder with minimal shrinkage. (can't say the same thing about wool, now can we?)
4. as it is laundered it becomes softer. Wool on the other hand, (remember, this is pre-modern times) can't make the same claim.

This, Bobbins, I think, could be some of the reasons they decided to use linen rather than wool. Thanks for the question! :)

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Interlacing Technique ~ A Link to Crochet History?

I love when I hear from my readers! Today I received a message from Bobbins who wrote:

"Dee, I don't know if you have seen this webpage regarding some possible history of crochet. It was listed on the yahoo spindler's list and reputed to be in latvian. The stitches sure look to be crochet... Love your blog, and look forward to seeing you on Getting loopy chat."

At first my Google translator did not want to cooperate, but once I selected the option for Google to figure out the language to translate into English for me, I was all set.

The article is about recreating the "shirt" worn under the metal armor in the 11th and 12th centuries. The job of the "shirt" was to help absorb some of the shock from heavy fighting. While the article states the exact dating of this medieval attire is under debate, what excited me was the technique they used to recreate the "shirt."

In looking at the photos they provide it sure looks like slip stitch crochet to me, minus the hook. When crochet stitches are made without a crochet hook it is called "Finger Crochet," and in fact, based upon a conversation with my BIL, when he was in the Navy the sailors had to finger crochet long lengths of cord to wrap around the polls. This would prove to be life-saving by providing traction on wet, slippery rails during heavy storms while out at sea!

Like I said, I am very excited about this! If there is truth/accuracy to this "Interlacing Technique," this would date our beloved fiber art form to more than a mere few hundred years old -- rather, we'd be talking that crochet could be confirmed to be many centuries old!

Thank you, Bobbins! ... and I'll see you soon in the Getting Loopy chat. :)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Question From Reader: Crochet in America

Can you please tell me why Americans changed hundreds of years of patterns and turned stitches into their own language, for example a double crochet became a single crochet - why?? It's very confusing, especially if you don't know there's a difference. Jo Ko

Good question, Jo Ko!

And the answer is a whale of a tale! Or rather, a look into early American history ...

When America was just a wee infant, with settlers just starting to populate the New England area, they noticed there were whales washing onto shores, making themselves available for easy harvesting. At that time the whales were important because their bodies contained two things the settlers needed: the whale's oil, which was used for making soap, lighting lamps and for lubrication of machinery; and balene, a precursor to today's plastic.

As time went on, the Americans started building ships, launching from the island of Nantucket, to whale hunt. These hunts would take from a week to a month in time. As more and more people came to America, and with England being a huge customer of the American whale products, the need to hunt for more whales grew and grew! (There is reference to America being able to afford the American Revolution due to whaling, but that's another story for another time.)

Eventually, as the whale population in the area decreased due to over-hunting, the need to go into further and into deeper oceans to find the whales was necessary. The whaling history shows that at one point demand was so high that it took a fleet of some 700 ships to sail from the shores of Massachusetts, down and around the tip of South America, deep into the Pacific Ocean, to complete the task of hunting and processing of the whales, taking some 11 years to do (eventually this would give birth to cities such as San Francisco)! As you can imagine, this left a lot of down time for the sailors, and after the whales were processed right on the ships, many sailors would take to hand-decorating and hand-carving the whale's balene into useful items, including creating crochet hooks and corsets used in the 17th and 18th centuries.

While this was going on, the Industrial Revolution in America was blossoming. With the invention of various machines, products such as fabric, trims, and even thread, were being mass-produced. This meant the time women previously spent to card, spin, and weave cloth by hand in order to clothe their families, could now be used as "leisure time." (As the fabric became more reasonable in price, the women's skirts got bigger, eventually to the point where traditional jackets no longer fit. This would bring about the need for crocheted and knitted shawls for both fashion and warmth which is still popular today!)

With this leisure time, needle arts were no longer a pastime for just the elite. With the aid of a family member or friend, or by paying for lessons, American women of all classes took to the needle arts to decorate their garments and their homes; passing the name of stitches and techniques by word of mouth. This is how stitches became renamed. ((This happens even in today's time! I've had many students show me stitches and call them by different names -- names provided to them by the person they learned from!))

As the growing interest in the decorative arts grew, publishers started providing patterns. Printed patterns started appearing in the States around 1840(I have one dated 1849); this would cause problems with beginner crocheters because they assumed the reader was experienced enough to figure things out on their own. Since the pattern designers in the early American publications were American, they used the terms familiar to them, eventually creating the American version of crochet terms and abbreviations we use (in America) today.

Today the good news is:
1. Whales, for the most part, are no longer hunted (the BBC news reports that the Alaskan Eskimo hunt is one of five still permitted by the International Whaling Commission today). You can visit Cape Cod and go whale watching.
2. Some whale populations are slowly returning. Recently a gray whale was spotted for the first time in the Atlantic region in 300 years.
3. The Craft Yarn Council of America is working hard to regulate the fiber crafts. You can visit to learn more.
4. In today's publications, one of the easiest ways to determine which set of crochet rules you'll be following (American vs. European) is by looking at where the material was published. It is also recommended you read the general instructions and stitch abbreviations prior to starting projects.

For further information:
Read: Historic reflections in crochet by Nicole H. Scalessa (your local library might be able to obtain it for you)
Watch: Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World
Visit: The New Bedford Whaling Museum