>What I’m Wearing Today: Lacy Jacket

>After a storm front or cold front has pushed through this area, blasting away some of the mid-August heat and humidity, there’s a refreshing chill in the nighttime air that hints at delights to come. Autumn is my best season. That’s when I am the most energized and productive. Designing with wool, cashmere and alpaca becomes doable after a long hot summer of abstinence. Buried under piles of garment samples deep within the recesses of a storage closet, my favorite crocheted jackets and sweaters are once again speaking to me.

There is one event left in this detestable month that I really anticipate. Despite the fact that I know it is a non-event staged by retailers, totally commercial and crass, I truly enjoy the “Back-to-School” thing. Let me be clear. I detest school, always have. The mere thought of entering a school building gives me the willies. And I’m not talking about the migraine-inducing shopping one is compelled to do when there are kids at home. Now that my nest is empty and those headaches are a vague memory, I find I just love shopping for school supplies.

Is it heaven wandering up and down the aisles, eyeing the reams of loose-leaf and printing paper, stacks of pristine composition books, tabbed dividers and report covers, orderly racks of Sharpies (hey, you know they got Sharpie pens now that don’t bleed through???) and ink refills, boxes of fresh pencils. Doesn’t the smell of cedar pencil shavings make you drool? My favorite pencils are Ticonderoga, for no other reason than I have positive associations with the name. One of the loveliest rock ballads from my days as a disc jockey is the little known album track “Ticonderoga Moon” by Orleans.

One can easily rationalize excessive back-to-school buying. Prices are better. Many supplies being offered are useful and necessary for my work. At least that’s what I tell myself as I am loading up the cart (s). Aren’t pencil boxes amazing? Perfect for storing crochet hooks and double-point knitting needles and stitch markers as well as the odd pencil. Toward my goal of being less wasteful, I endeavor to work electronically whenever possible using as little paper as possible. But there are crochet design tasks that require pen or pencil and hard copies. I still scrawl patterning notes, diagrams and schematics in notebooks, filling them with abandon. If you have paper, you need paper clips, right? Wow, those clear plastic rulers are indispensable for measuring gauge.

And just like the yarn and crochet tool acquisition syndrome, it doesn’t matter how many packages of stuff you already have squirrelled away; impulse purchases made the same time a year (several years) ago. One can never be too rich or own too many spiral-bound notebooks.

But if I were going back to school (shudder), this is what I’d wear: jeans and T-shirt (why are you not surprised?) topped with the Caron Lacy Jacket. Because I can’t wear wool and other animal fibers, I often work in non-allergenic Simply Soft. So here’s mine in the shade Denim Heather. Cropped does not work for me, so I added three rows to the body length to get the peplum trim to hit at top-of-hip. And as I suggested at the end of the pattern, I steamed the lace trim to get it to lie smoothly.
What you don’t see is my most recent and prized back-to-school purchase. On my feet are my newest high-top Converse All-Star Chuck Taylors. One green and one blue. 🙂

>What I’m wearing today: Simplicity Top

>Of the many dozens of prototype garment samples I own, there are very few I should be allowed to wear. This is not one of them! WAY too snug. When you’re a professional designer you are often required to make things that do not necessarily look good on self. If I had the time, energy and materials I could revisit my own designs and make versions that fit me better, but what the heck. Life is short and I love this berry color.

This is the prototype for the “Simplicity Top” from Interweave Crochet Spring 2007. It is made in Berroco Glace paired with Lion Brand Incredible. I incorporated a few changes before cranking out the final design, one of them being added stitches at each underarm to keep the raglan-type arm shaping from cutting in so much. I was also cautioned to use yarns from one company only, so it was decided to swap Berroco Zen Colors for the larger gauge ribbon. The resulting sample garment fits so much better through the upper chest. Crochet, live and learn.

>BACKSTORY: Abydos Vest

>Not to be taken for Abydos, an ancient ruined city in central Egypt, this Abydos is named after the planet encountered during the first trip through the stargate (Stargate the film and Stargate SG-1 the series). Although the accepted pronunciation of the ancient city is uh-BYE-des, I prefer the less awkward AB-ih-dose as used by SG-1. Don’t think me odd. If you create a Venn diagram with science fiction fans in one set and crocheters in another set, you will find me (along with MANY others) waving at you from the intersection!

The Abydos Vest from Amazing Crochet Lace has nothing to do with ancient Egypt or science fiction and everything to do with exploded stitch patterns. The inspiration for this design was drawn from a pattern booklet published in 1970, Bernat presents Moods in Fashion; “The Open Look”, which my mom picked up for me at a flea market for, like, 50 cents. How cool is Mom!

What immediately impressed me was how these garments, considered trendy nearly 40 years ago, have once again become trendy. It seemed everyone was falling all over themselves to rediscover and resurrect crochet fashions from the 70’s. I was totally enthralled. With just a bit of tweaking, an injection of modern yarns, resizing for current body standards, nearly everything in that booklet could be made and worn today.

I started with one of the bold, open stitch patterns featuring rows of triple crochet shells and V’s, and worked out a pullover vest in my usual MO (seamless, top-down). It was astounding how quickly I could get a wearable to fly off my hook. That year I must have made half a dozen vests to give as holiday gifts to relatives and friends.

Those gift vests were crocheted with fairly thick yarns for cold-weather layering and in hindsight were a tad clunky. So a couple of years later, when I decided to give this design a place in my first book, I knew I had to swap out the yarn for something dressier and more refined. I considered two yarns that are sportweight, some might say fingering weight, and made two garment samples, one cropped short and one tunic length, worked in a relaxed gauge for maximum laciness.

GEE WHIZ, I couldn’t choose between the two yarns OR the two lengths, so I included both versions in the book. This vest is a cinch to adjust for length, so don’t feel you have to go with what’s in the photography. Heck, I didn’t when I made my own Abydos.

Mine is done in Filatura Di Crosa Brilla, #404 a milk-chocolatey brown. Doubledogdangit if I couldn’t match my own gauge, so I had to mess with the stitch count. I added one repeat each side when I got to the underarms. Yes, I cheated. So sue me! I also made mine an inbetween length; long enough to cover the midsection yet short enough so I can still reach my pants pockets.

Pineapples and Fish

BLUE CURACAO from Amazing Crochet Lace

The iconic crocheted pineapple has played a recurring role in my designs. I was not always so enchanted with them.
Native to the Caribbean, the pineapple was offered by inhabitants as a gesture of welcome to early explorers of the 15th century. If the natives had foreseen how screwed they would be by letting those guys into the neighborhood, they would have taken back their luscious gifts, I’m sure. But it was too late. On his second voyage, Columbus brought the pineapple back to Europe, where it was prized as a culinary delight.
Reverence of the pineapple later reached all the way back across the ocean to colonial America, where the fruit became the ultimate symbol of hospitality, an important part of colonial life. So costly and rare was this fruit that to merely display one as a crowning touch on one’s table was proof of the household’s taste, wealth, power and resourcefulness.
The pineapple worked its way into fine and decorative arts, in paintings, carved into wood, cast into metal, glazed onto china. Needleworkers also took to the pineapple and stitched, wove, embroidered and needlepointed it into treasured heirlooms and decorative items of all sorts. During the classic era of the 30’s and 40’s, the crocheted pineapple was ubiquitous, and it’s shape, wide at the base, dwindling to nothing at the tip, became a familiar and much beloved motif.
The next explosion of pineapple popularity came in the 50’s after WWII. Although not native to Hawaii, pineapples were successfully commercially cultivated in the Hawaiian Islands, and quickly became widely available and inseparable from Hawaiian lore. I suspect that the attack on Pearl Harbor and the ensuing war in the Pacific theater served to focus the nation’s attention on those peoples, cultures and foods. Today we’ve forgotten how exotic the islands must have seemed, and how much interest there was when, the way the pineapple was a crowning touch to colonial tables, Hawaii became the crowning glory as our 50th state.
Whatever the reason, through the 50’s and 60’s there was a fascination with everything Hawaiian. Loud Hawaiian shirts became associated with rude American tourists, don’t ask me how. Shot on the island of Kauai, the 1958 film version of one of the greatest musicals of all time, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific”, had us all humming the tunes. (My most treasured music box as a girl had a ballerina who danced across a little mirror to “Some Enchanted Evening”). In 1961 we flocked to see Elvis Presley in “Blue Hawaii” (Mom’s favorite Elvis movie). Native son Don Ho became a minor pop star and TV personality after his 1966 hit recording “Tiny Bubbles” (I know all the words).
Suburban backyards were routinely transformed into Polynesian wonderlands, bristling with tiki torches, the setting for luau themed parties complete with grass skirts, flower leis and drinks with pineapple spears stuck in them. I am not sure when, how or why those tiny paper parasols came to join the fruit. Protection against UVA and UVB? “Aloha” and “Waikiki” became real words. Hula girl icons danced on the dashboards of our cars. Hula-hoops. Need I say more? Pineapple crochet covered everything in the house, including ours.
Neither my mother nor I had any idea of the historical significance of the pineapple motif. Columbus who? We liked eating pineapple, but mostly it was out of a can; little tidbits mixed in with the fruit cocktail, chunks in my dad’s sweet and sour pork, or rings on top of a holiday ham. Even so, it didn’t make sense that she would have labored hundreds of hours with miniscule thread and hooks to celebrate dumb old pineapples. To me they looked like fish doilies. Now, fish I could understand.
You see, my dad went fishing. Considering how little leisure time he had, fishing must have been very important to him, as important as the baseball and football games on TV. Dad would have gone fishing more often, but he never took vacations or did anything that meant closing the laundry. He said if you give customers a reason to go somewhere else, they might not come back. So the fishing was limited to occasional Sunday mornings in summer.
We kids were welcome to tag along on Dad’s fishing expeditions, but Mom never went and I didn’t know why, since she put crocheted fish all over the house. Dad always seemed so proud of the fish he and my brothers brought home. I wanted approval as well, so one morning I decided to find out for myself what this fishing was all about.
I was woken up well before the sun came up. Dad cooked us a big breakfast, but I couldn’t eat, it was way too early. In the dark we were hustled into the car. Normally on long trips I would read to pass the time, but it was still so dim I couldn’t even do that. In reality it took maybe half an hour, but putting up with my brothers crammed into the back of the station wagon made the trip to the reservoir seem an eternity.
By then it was dawn, so I could clearly see what a mistake I’d made. I had to stand at the edge of the water, tall reeds and scratchy grasses all around my legs, yucky, marshy ground under my feet. I could sit if I wanted… on a slimy rock. I had to stick nightcrawlers on my hook. Well, I HAD to do this myself because in front of my dad and brothers I could show no fear or loathing. I was cold and hungry, squirmy and chewed to bits by mosquitoes, terrified of getting ticks. And worst of all, my butt was damp from the rock and there was wormy gack all over my favorite shirt. If there is a Zen of fishing, I missed the point and the fish knew it because I caught nothing.
It occurs to me now that Dad didn’t enjoy the process of fishing as much as he loved fooling with free fresh fish in the kitchen. I could have saved myself one hell of a miserable morning had I known that and just showed up later for the marinated charcoal-grilled catfish and eel dinner.
From that day on I was more inclined to see pineapples in my mom’s doilies instead of fish.

>What I’m Wearing Today: Cat’s Cradle

>Every day I try to wear something I’ve crocheted, that is, on the rare days I get dressed and leave my abode. 99% of the time I am at home and only need to throw a favorite shawl over my pajamas in order to make a mailbox run or grab boxes of yarn left on the front porch by the delivery guys. So much for the glamorous, action-packed lifestyle of a crochet designer!

In my continuing crusade to offer T-shirt and jeans as an acceptable mode of dress, I gravitate toward any sort of attractive layer: vests, tanks, toppers and shrugs. Not only are these little pieces relatively quick to crochet, but if ingeniously crafted they can hide a multitude of sins.

For example, here is the prototype for the Cat’s Cradle topper, from the January 2007 issue of Crochet! Magazine. If you’re wearing something lacy made in a wonderful yarn in an eye-popping shade of electric blue, then nobody notices the coffee dribble that stubbornly refuses to wash out of your white T-shirt. Trust me.

See the cat? See the cradle? See the coffee stains?????? 😀

I own many design prototypes, but hardly any garment samples as published. Not satisfied with mere swatching, I often dive into a pile of yarn and crochet a whole garment. That way I can “test drive” pieces by wearing the prototypes around before I even consider submitting for publication. Eventually I have to go back, pattern the thing and remake it in the required sample yarn. This is not the same as “pattern testing”; remaking your own written pattern or hiring someone else to do it in order to check accuracy. In my experience designers are never allowed enough time, materials or compensation to make that happen. More important to me than writing a perfect pattern is making sure that the clothes fit and function for real.

For this reason many crocheters (and technical editors!) find my patterns are nightmares to follow. Sorry about the mess. But if you have the heart to persevere I think you’ll end up with something that you’ll want to wear proudly.