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This week’s pick: The Crochet Sweater Book: Over 30 original designer patterns by Sylvia Cosh.
Publication date: 1987.
Status: Out-of-print but widely available online.
Condition: Very good with protective library-type plastic cover.
The Crochet Sweater Book is the first true crochet fashion design primer that I’m aware of in the modern era. (Notice I qualified that with “that I’m aware of.” Those of you with fantastic vintage collections, please feel free to jump in with suggestions to correct me.) Written by the extremely talented Sylvia Cosh (with, according to the inside but not the cover, James Walters), this book basically translates runway fashions onto your hook. (Ravelry members can see 12 of the designs from the book here.)
In her introduction, Cosh describes crochet as “one of the easiest and most versatile forms of fabric making” and reminds us that it’s “surprisingly easy, and very satisfying, to create different textural effects, unusual color combinations, original stitch patterns or an indvidual garment shape.”
This book highlights Cosh’s favorites from her collection of “hand-dyed crochet sweaters and cardigans…exported to Europe, the United States, and Japan” and shares the patterns in “yarns readily available in the shops.” In addition to her shop fashions, she includes
a range of complimentary, but rather different, designs, to ensure greater variety. However, one of my aims in preparing this book was to offer inspiration and to encourage experimentation… I hope you will use my patterns as a starting point for individual interpretation and eventually for creating your own crochet designs.
A woman after my own heart!
Two versions of the Basic Sweater, made with sport weight yarn, from the Simple Beginnings chapter.
The book begins with a section on Crochet Design, where Cosh describes some of her inspiration from nature and shares how she uses crochet stitches to interpret these themes. She also mentions her preference for “[l]arge batwing sweaters” that “seldom date.” Um, I’m not totally sure I agree with that assessment, but it is good to know what her preferences are! Cosh also explains that her garments are also predominantly made in the round to eliminate the dreaded seaming issue.
The next section, Before You Begin, reviews materials, measurements, and working in the round, and refers you to other section of the book for reference on colors, charts, pattern abbreviations, and techniques. She spends a full page on gauge, and includes a detailed insert on making a gauge swatch.
The next several sections focus on yarn and color section. Selecting Yarn has some great pictures of different weights, types of yarn, and colors. Yarn Texture shows swatches of double crochet and bobbles/dimensional stitches in a variety of textured yarns and explains different fibers and yarn textures. In Selecting Color, Cosh enables all of us stash horders by providing tips for “Building Up a Yarn Collection.” In Sources of Inspiration, Cosh shares pictures of yarn (in balls and wrapped) next to various inspirations including shells, pottery, flowers, mushrooms, and beads. It is a really interesting way to look at yarn colors and textures! For Understanding Color, Cosh provides a basic overview of color theory.
A fashion sketch of Silver Linings from the Simple Beginnings chapter.
The next chapter, Simple Beginnings, shares four simple patterns, including the Basic Sweater with two variations, Simple Stripes and Color Blocks, and Silver Linings, with a turtleneck and bobbled center panel. Many of the sweaters have a simple shape so the patterns are a page or two at most (including pictures!).
The Bobbles and Diamonds chapter is where Cosh starts exploring her wild textures and colors. The five patterns in this chapter combine yarn and color with stitch texture to create bold projects. My favorites are Hydrangeas, a vest with bobbled floral motifs, and Crunchy Creams, which looks like a totally radical ‘80s fashion fantasy come to life.
Stone Circles cardigan from the Circles and Stripes chapter.
In the next chapter, Circles and Stripes, Cosh plays with a Catherine Wheel pattern (the “circle”) as well as stripes. Her Midnight Circles and Stone Circles cardigans and Balloons child sweater use the same stitch pattern with different sleeves and colors for completely different looks. In her Gilded Pinks cardigan, Cosh shares tips for combining many colors for a stashbuster project while avoiding “a rag-bag look.”
The Geometrics chapter is where Cosh uses color blocking, highly contrasting stripes, and charted color changes to create exaggerated color effects.
City Squares, from the Geometrics chapter.
Cotton Jazz (left) and Jazz Lines from the Geometrics chapter.
The Chevrons chapter makes use of ripple or chevron motifs, often with added texture from post stitches.
The dramatic Butterfly Blues, from the Chevrons chapter.
The final chapter, Celtic Cables, makes use of bold cabled diamonds with encased bobbles.
Kids Cables from the Celtic Cables chapter.
In the back of the book, Cosh has a Crochet Techniques section with illustrated instructions and/or descriptions for basic crochet stitches, increasing and decreasing, working in the round, joining and working with multiple colors, and finishing. She also has a small gallery of textured stitch swatches.
Swatches from the Crochet Techniques section.
Throughout the book, you get a sense of Cosh’s warmth and creativity, and you can tell that she is a passionate freeformer. You have a feeling that even if you follow the pattern exactly, you will have a uniquely individual creation each time. I enjoy that feeling of freedom and whimsy that she shares in her writing – it doesn’t seem that you can do anything “wrong” with your crochet when reading this book.
My one gripe about this book is the subtitle. There are exactly 31 designs, and, as I mentioned, several are variations on other designs. Yes, technically over 30 but really right on the line. But this is a relatively minor complaint for a book with so much going for it. The Crochet Sweater Book has great, stylized photography that shows the details of each design. The patterns are frequently charted in addition to the abbreviations. Cosh shares design tips throughout and the layout is easy to follow and attractive to view. And, it’s a hardcover so it lays flat and you can crochet while reading.
Confession time: Way back when, I bought this book online for a few bucks. When it arrived, my inner-teenager had a fashion attack. (Parents/teachers, you know what I mean. You’re trying to show an important image or film from the past, and all the kids can talk about is how stupid everyone’s hair looked back in the day.) I looked through the pictures and many of them screamed ‘80s to me. I decided I would never use this book and ended up selling it to someone else online. Years later, I learned about Cosh and discovered she was a crochet genius so I probably needed to give this book a second chance. I ended up searching for it again and finally brought it back into my collection.
I’m telling you this story because if you were overwhelmed by bright colors or over-sized sweaters in the ‘80s, too, you might have this gut reaction. I urge you to work your way through the book anyway, because what you will find is exactly what Cosh promises in the introduction, a starting point for your own creativity to flourish, aided by her expertise as a designer and teacher. If you can get your hands on a copy, I strongly recommend that you do.