Friday, April 27, 2012

Crochet Corner with Dora Ohrenstein

Welcome to our new twice monthly Friday feature "Crochet Corner" with Dora Ohrenstein! We are so excited to have Dora working with us to bring all kinds of interesting and relevant crochet information to all of the crochet enthusiasts here at Jimmy Beans Wool. We hope you'll join us back here every other Friday in the "Crochet Corner" and please feel free to send feedback or crochet topic suggestions our way! Without further ado, we give you Dora Ohrenstein!


A Little Bit of History and Some Crochet Mythbusting


Stunning Irish Crochet
circa 1910 from
www.vintagetextile.com
We lovers of crochet find working with hook and yarn to be a very satisfying endeavor. We get all excited about discovering new techniques, trying a new stitch or project. We also turn to crochet because it's so calming to feel the rhythm of one's stitches, and feel the texture of yarn and hook working smoothly and harmoniously together, as a lovely fabric unfolds from our busy fingers. 

Irish Crochet wedding dress,
from the UK Knitting and
Crochet Guild's Collection.
The only less than marvelous thing about being a crocheter today is how often we still encounter certain myths and stereotypes about what crochet is and what it can do. Oh the pain of being told that crochet is too bulky for garments, only good for afghans, and not suitable for fine yarns and fibers. PUH-LEEZE!  Let's put all those myths to rest forever.

Look at the history of crochet, and how it was used. We really don't know when it was invented, but textile scholars have been unable to find any surviving samples nor any written references, older than mid 19th century. I find it quite plausible that crochet began at that time, though more basic slip stitching technique is probably far older. Knitting, on the other hand, has been around since medieval times, but crochet had a totally different origin.

Another item from the UK
 Knitting and Crochet
Guild Collection, a 1940's blouse. 
Capitalism in 19th century Europe gave birth to a rising middle class, and consequently more leisure time for women.  Needlework of all kinds was not only popular, but considered an essential skill for the marriageable young women, who was also expected too play the piano, dance, and sing, all ways to display cultivation and femininity. The ladylike arts included embroidery, tatting, macramé and a host of other crafts.

Modern Antimacassar (or doily)
made in Albania in 2006
Several highly skilled needle artists in Britain were responsible for popularizing crochet, among them Madame Riego de la Branchadiere, Cornelia Mee and Frances Lambert.  They published hundreds of crochet patterns, featuring, quite naturally, items that reflect the tastes and lifestyles of the Victorian home:  shawls and hats, lace collars and antimacassars. Now what exactly is an antimacassar, you may well ask. Macassar is a place in Indonesia where a certain type of oil was produced that men could use to manage their hair. The antimacassar was placed on the upper part of a chair to keep the oil off the furniture. Artful lacy antimacassars were a sort of precursor to the doily. All the crochet done at this time used very fine cotton or linen -- to see this work today is to be amazed at the delicacy and expertise mastered by Victorian hobbyists!

1975 design by Lillian
Bailey published in
Design Crochet,
edited by Mark Dittrick
So, just how and when did crochet become associated with clunky and bulky? Even as late as 1960's, gorgeous crochet lace and chic garments were being published in magazines. Yet, at that time, one hundred years after the Victorian explosion of needle arts, most women found themselves with less time than ever. Having it all - a job and family -- meant having very little time for anything else. Many women could not take up hobbies until their nests were empty. If there was some time for knitting or crochet, it was scarce. In response, yarn companies began to focus on heavier weight yarns, which crafters could work up into projects quickly and easily.

The problem is, crochet with bulky weight yarns can produce some very useful items, but may not be the most refined way to show off the craft. The beauty of crochet is really showcased with thinner yarns. The finer yarn you use, the more elegant your crochet can be.

Beau Blazer from "Custom
Crocheted Sweaters" by
Dora Ohrenstein
I don't mean to suggest that bulky yarns have no place in crochet world - oh no! There is nothing I'd rather wear on a cold day than a snug crochet hat made of worsted or bulky yarn! But, I do believe that the few decades where most crochet projects were shown in heavier yarns may have led to this misperception of crochet and all of its marvelous possibilities.

Thank goodness, we have so much more to choose from today!  A browse through the pages of this site yields a veritable feast of yarns in a vast array of weights and fibers.  Today's great designers, like Doris Chan, Kristen Omdahl and many more whose names are less well known, show how glorious crochet can be. The times they are a-changing, and that makes me so glad to be part of the new world of crochet!

We'll be busting a few more crochet myths in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, let me leave you with my crochet tip of the day:

DORA's TIP OF THE DAY:  Often I hear this dilemma when it comes to gauge: "I can match stitch gauge, but my row gauge is too small."  Here's what to do: make your stitches taller by drawing up the first loop of the stitch to the height of 1/2".  This is especially true for double crochet stitches, but will also work for any stitch - give it a try and you'll see what I mean!

_________________________

Dora Ohrenstein is an author, designer and writer whose most recent book is CustomCrocheted Sweaters: Make Garments that Really Fit. Her website Crochetinsider.com is a great source for articles, interviews and techniques, and she teaches online crochet classes there too.

11 comments:

Mercurygirl said...

Thanks for shining a light on some common myths about crochet, Dora. I still see people propagating notions such as the one that crochet cannot produce fabrics with good drape, even though your books and patterns have definitively proven them wrong.

I'm looking forward to many more columns and much more myth-busting from you!

Faina Goberstein said...

Very interesting, Dora. Thank you.

Amy said...

Great article, Dora. Keep on busting those crochet myths. I'll be visiting this site more often to keep up with your posts.

filo said...

Thanks for that tip, it's one of my big problems with gauge. Looking forward to more myth busting in the future. Thanks Dora

Carol said...

Thanks Dora. some great info.

BoricuaCrochet said...

Lovely article! Thanks, Dora! There sure are beautiful designs that you are contributing to this new era. Also thanks to Jimmy Beans Wool to include interesting articles like yours and providing with great choices of yarn.

Beth Graham said...

Thanks for the informative article, Dora. Looking forward to reading more about crochet history!

Anonymous said...

Dear Dora,
I love your beau blazer and way to go with the myth busting! Crochet kept my fingers busy on the bus today as I turned out a pair of orange wristees for my co worker who admired mine. Yay Crochet! Love, MsBusyFingers

Anonymous said...

Such gorgeous articles of clothing. I hope to see much more of your finds.

Kimberly and Abby said...

Thanks for the tip to change row gauge. I'll try it. :-) Ah, mythbusters, crochet-style, fun!

knot•sew•cute design shop said...

What a great tribute to the art of crochet!! Thanks for sharing!