Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Choosing the stitch: Rethinking yarn and hook combinations

Crisp gauge: #10 cotton, size 7 steel hook
Crochet is usually about the stitches, about stitch textures.  There's lacy stuff, with holes between stitches.  There's three dimensional stuff, with posts and popcorn and other raised stitches.  There's color work, too, seeing how different colors interact in the fabric.  But it's all really about the stitches and about how fun it is to make the stitches.

Threadwork, especially, has traditionally been all about the stitches, but most afghans are about the stitch texture, too.  The fabric draws attention to itself, which is great for making an accent piece to accessorize a room or an outfit.

A fabric that draws attention to itself is great for special occasions, but I'm have a quieter lifestyle and often prefer a more subdued fabric for most of what I make, not just accessories. That's when I remember there is another perspective:  the fabric.

Loose gauge:  #10 cotton, 00 (3.5mm) steel hook
As an example of the first idea, here's a sample motif I like to doodle from time to time:

It's a combination of granny square and pineapple motif ideas, with a hint of file crochet added at the end, so there are lacy and solid bits (no 3D bits for this discussion).  In order for this piece to look traditionally nice, I want to use a firm gauge -- a small hook with the small thread -- so the stitch texture is crisp and well defined.

Sometimes, I like the look of that texture, but I want it to be bigger and make up faster, so I go to a bigger hook:

#10 cotton, 00 (3.5 mm) steel hook - solid fabric,
maybe a bit too solid.
Problem with that is that the fabric I end up with is looser and the design is not nearly as crisp.  It looks almost sloppy.  But it is still drawing attention to itself, because that is what stitch texture is all about.

This is where a different approach to choosing the stitch comes in.  I like to do my random stitch.  It makes a fabric that isn't about how the stitches work together to make a design.  When I work it at a firm gauge, the fabric is very solid.   Great for making tree bark, which is where it started.  (I didn't make a sample of that for here.)  But when I loosen it up, a lot, it takes on a whole new personality, and I really like it.

#10 cotton, size 5mm hook - lacy, soft drape
With the more traditional thread bits, I used #10 cotton thread and a size 7 steel hook (for the first one) and a size 3.5mm hook (like a size 00 steel) for the looser one.  Then, switching pattern stitches, the tighter sample is made using the same #10 thread with the 00/ 3.5mm hook - and it's a bit too solid.  Then I switched to a gargantuan 5mm (huge!!!) hook in random stitch, and suddenly the fabric is all about the fabric -- it's not about the stitch at all.

Cobweb weight merino, 4mm hook
In the context of a shawl, over the large scale of the whole fabric, a pattern does show up -- the one in the picture below was a 100-gram hank of lace weight merino (about 1200 yards), worked with a 4mm hook, but it's not about how the individual stitches interact at the stitch level.  It's about the fabric.

A great way to get a grown-up fabric.  Funny thing about all this is that, with such a big hook, it works up much more quickly than any stitch-texture-based stitches - totally a win/win!



Santa Cruz Satellite Coral Reef at the Seymour Discovery Center

The official, professional Crochet Coral Reef exhibit, which has been travelling around the world for a few years, has moved on from UCSC.  But the closing of that show marked the opening of our own local satellite project, which opened at the Seymour Marine Discover Center.  Here are some pictures from the opening:

Some figures are more realistic than others.  Some are more fantastical.

Materials included yarn, thread, VCR and cassette tape, plastic bags, and twine.

White bits suggest bleached coral -- looks elegant but is actually not a good sign at all in our oceans.

At a technical level, this was a fun way to explore increases and decreases in crochet and thinking of the medium for three dimensional constructions.  I remember playing like this almost fifty years ago, when I first started stitching.  It is still fun.

The installation is a combination of lots - hundreds - of small bits along with larger pieces, all contributed by UCSC students and community members,

This exuberant display will be at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center through the summer and into the fall.






































Sunday, April 30, 2017

Tangle Meditation

For whatever reason, perfectly good balls of yarn sometimes end up in the thrift store.  Aimless, without context or purpose, they lie, waiting.  They get bounced around.  Even the structure of a label often gets torn off a ball of yarn, so there’s nothing holding it together.  And the more disheveled the yarn gets, the less likely anyone will want it.  And so it goes:  a tangle.

The process of untangling is calm and gentle and quiet.  There are tricks to it:  
  • Recognize single strands of yarn from double strands.  
  • Know the difference between a tangle and a knot.  
  • Never pull hard or use force.  
  • Look for an end, to start rolling a new ball.  
  • Differentiate the different yarns:  one white is slightly thicker or less fuzzy than another – they are different yarns.  
  • Move from yarn to yarn, when a knot is threatening in one place, loosen it up and see if another strand could use more attention for a bit.  
  • Remember:  they aren’t trying to be tangled.


As I coax out the separate balls of yarn, I see different projects for each.  A coaster, a scarf, baby booties, doll clothes, dish cloth, basket or bowl, or an addition to another, bigger project.


Once all the yarns are separated into their own balls, they are ready to start a new journey, to become something that goes out into the world.  And it is good.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Crochet Coral Reef exhibit at MAD in New York - traveling to Santa Cruz

A haul of garbage from the sea.
On a recent trip to New York City, I saw the exhibit at the Museum of Art and Design, which has since closed and is on its way the UC Santa Cruz.  I took pictures of a number of the pieces, some of which are in this post.

At the entrance is a haul of garbage, thankfully cleaned off.

When coral is white,
it has been bleached and is dead.
The bleached pieces are striking, but you have to remember that the white ones represent the dead coral.  It's not a good thing, no matter how elegant it looks.

A number of pieces are wildly colorful, with all kinds of shapes.  A trip to the aquarium reminds me that these pieces aren't that far from reality!

There is a Muppet/Dr. Suess quality to much of the exhibit.
But then, reality is like that, sometimes.

Each case included a plaque with the names of the people
who made the pieces, along with where they came from. 
The show is meticulous in giving credit to the artists/artisans who made the individual pieces.  Each installation can include pieces by many people, from around the world.
Small groups of pieces allow the viewer to focus on the 
techniques used, which include beading, netting, knitting, 
macrame, and mixed media assemblies in addition to the focus
on crochet.


It was calming, too, to see a piece where the elements were all similar, like this one:

I was surprised that there were no souvenirs to buy.  I would have been happy to buy a hook commemorating the exhibit/gallery.  But I guess that just makes me a consumer.  Oh dear.