Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first get started crocheting?
Dora: When I was about 20, I lived in Amsterdam on a tiny little houseboat. It was the Age of Aquarius and everyone was getting crafty. I learned to crochet and since I had no background whatsoever, I just started making clothes without knowing what I was doing. But then I totally stopped for literally decades. I became a professional singer and that consumed all my time. I didn’t pick up the hook again until early in this millenium.
Dora: I wasn’t performing much by that time, and needed a creative outlet. I made a few sweaters and went to a CGOA conference, where I met Jean Leinhauser. She and Rita Weiss liked my stuff and bought several sweater designs for their books. Then Jean taught me how to write patterns, since I’d never followed one! (UC comment: Dora has a wonderful interview with Jean here.)
UC: Where do you generally find your creative inspiration?
Dora: So many places! Sometimes it’s a fashion silhouette, sometimes a yarn or stitch. I keep many swatches lying around and then one day I find the right project for them. I’ve also learned that once you’re a pro, you can’t sit around and wait for inspiration to hit, you have to be generating ideas constantly. I would also say my motivation often comes from wanting to continually grow as a designer, try new techniques and strategies in my work.
UC: Tell us about your motivation for launching Crochet Insider. What are some of the challenges and joys of publishing an online crochet magazine?
Dora: I haven’t really been publishing Crochet Insider as a magazine for a couple of years, it was just too much work once my design career really got going. But I loved doing it because of meeting and talking to so many interesting people. Challenges: it took huge number of hours and did not earn much, so it couldn’t continue indefinitely. There is still a lot of great content at the site and I wish more aspiring designers would read the interviews, because there is so much to learn. (UC comment: Besides the Crochet Insider interview with Jean Leinhauser I linked above, two of my other favorites are this one with Vashti Braha and this one with Myra Wood.)
UC: Your books place a lot of emphasis on teaching techniques and skills, along with the inclusion of patterns. Tell us about your decision to work this way rather than through pattern collections or historical work, which you’re also known for.
Dora: Many of these decisions are economic. I would love to publish a book on crochet history, but can’t afford to do so without a publisher. But no publishers wants such a book, because it will not sell in the numbers they need to be profitable. It’s sad but true. I try to get as much history into my books as they will tolerate. Hey, I’d love to go around the world and make film about crochet traditions, but again, where’s the funding? Publishers have been interested in my books that combine good designs with educational material, and I love teaching and empowering, so that works for me. In addition to being a designer, I teach singing and have for many years, so teaching comes naturally to me.
UC: You design mostly women’s garments and accessories. What appeals to you about designing wearables?
Dora: This comes back to my background in crochet, or the total lack of it! I never was exposed to afghan making, thread crochet, or any of those fine American traditions. My parents were WWII immigrants and craftiness was not their heritage. I live in NYC and never had the chance to shop at big box stores, which didn’t even exist here until a few years ago. I do love fashion and had discovered for myself that crochet could make great wearables. It was shocking to encounter the yarn industry’s negativity about crochet wearables. So I’ve been very motivated to change that viewpoint with my work. And I’m in some very fine company there of course.
UC: You’ve had a variety of roles in the crochet industry, including designer, writer, teacher, publisher, and social networker/community builder. What advice do you have for aspiring professionals?
Dora: I would say to aspiring designers, don’t be naive about this industry – it’s very tough to make money, very competitive, and takes tremendous perseverance and drive. I’ve done all these things to build my career and earn money. And I enjoy all of them too. But I’d be happy to restrict my activities and lead a more sane life if it were possible.
UC: What are your favorite crochet books (besides yours, of course) in your collection?
Dora: The books I bought when I started getting serious, about 10 years ago, are still my favorites. They are “vintage” ’70s and ’80s books by designers like Jacqueline Henderson, Sylvia Cosh, James Walters, Judith Copeland. (UC comment: I love those books, too! I shared several from my collection in my Vintage Needlecrafts Pick of the Week series.) I adore Japanese pattern books, and the Ukrainian magazine Duplet — I stocked up on about 100 magazines when I visited the Ukraine! I also use stitch dictionaries, any I can get my hands on, including the huge Linda Schapper book, the old Harmony Guides, and Japanese stitch dictionaries.
UC: Do you have any crafty websites or blogs you frequent for inspiration or community?
Dora: I have a crochet reference book coming out in the fall of 2014 by Storey Publishing. The working title is The Crocheter’s Skill-Building Handbook. They are fantastic publishers, I’m very excited about it. A reference book not just for beginners but for intermediate crocheters too, with lots of information on working stitch patterns, shaping, construction, colorwork, and flexible tension. What I mean by the latter is the ability to control tension so you can really sculpt stitches.
Crochet Insider will get a facelift soon and I will be enlarging my indie pattern line and store at the site. I also plan to develop video classes, sort of like Craftsy, but as an indie venture so I can go direct to students.
Get Hooked opens with a brief history of the craft (which, like most crochet histories, has gaps) and then moves onto an overview of different hooks. Then there is a written and illustrated tutorial of Tunisian crochet basics. As someone who learns best through reading, I found Sheryl’s detailed explanations of each stitch very helpful. My regular readers know that I personally find line illustrations useless for learning crochet techniques – my brain just doesn’t work that way. I can imagine that the lack of photo tutorials might make this book challenging for a true newbie who learns best through images.
Sheryl includes a troubleshooting chart right in this section, with causes and fixes to common beginner Tunisian crochet issues, and I applaud her for not burying that critical information in the appendices. Similarly, Sheryl includes information on increasing and decreasing and color changes right up front, rather than hiding it in the appendices. This formatting decision makes the book very beginner friendly, as you can see immediately what instructions are available to you while reading through the book.
Sheryl then dedicates a few pages to a discussion of gauge and blocking. I think her background as a knitting designer influenced her to emphasize blocking, which is generally discussed minimally in crochet books. For Tunisian crochet, which tends to curl, blocking can truly transform a project so it is great to see it discussed right up front. (Actually blocking instructions are in an appendix, however.)
The book then dives into the patterns. I count 17, while the book subtitle lists 13. There are a few patterns with multiple components (i.e., a pullover with matching handwarmers) that could be completed separately, which accounts for the difference.
1 beginner pattern,
10 easy patterns, and
6 intermediate patterns.
8 home decor projects, including 3 pillow covers, 2 bags, a blanket, placemats, and coasters,
6 accessories projects, including 4 shawls/wraps, a scarf, and a pair of handwarmers, and
3 women’s garments, including a cardigan, pullover, and jacket.
All of the home decor patterns use medium weight yarns, and the accessories and garment designs feature several weights (mostly lighter than medium weight). There is a diverse mix of yarns including some large brands and smaller, independent companies. Again, I think Sheryl’s background as a knitting designer made her (and her publisher, and the yarn companies) more open to including lighter weight yarns.
My favorite patterns are the Button Down pillow cover, the Motivated Heretic entrelac shawl, and the Rogue Ribs scarf. While Sheryl includes a range of pattern difficulty levels, the projects are beginner friendly. Most have minimal shaping, and for the entrelac project, she uses one, multi-color yarn rather than have beginners using many different skeins. Even the garments use simple construction techniques.
The book ends with appendices which discuss finishing (seaming, blocking, and adding “regular” crochet edges); charts for yarn and hook sizes, metric conversions, and pattern skill levels; and a list of materials resources.
Like many books which include techniques and patterns, your enjoyment of the book will be improved if you like the patterns and are enthusiastic about learning the techniques by crocheting them. (Ravelry members can see all of the patterns from the book here.) While the book does include technical information about Tunisian crochet which would be helpful to a newbie, it may not be enough to let the book stand alone if you don’t find some patterns that you enjoy. I recommend this book to new Tunisian crocheters, particularly those who enjoy working with lighter weight yarns, who enjoy learning the background details (the “whys”) of different techniques, and who learn from reading rather than primarily visually. If you are an experienced Tunisian crocheter, you should take a look through the patterns to decide whether this book may be right for your style.
Full disclosure: A free electronic review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. Although I accept free books for review, I do not accept additional compensation from the publisher, nor do I guarantee a positive review. My reviews are based entirely on my honest opinions. This also post contains affiliate links. You can read my affiliate and review disclosures here.
Every Tuesday during National Crochet Month 2013, I’ll be reviewing crochet books. Today’s post features a giveaway of my review copy of The New Tunisian Crochet by Dora Ohrenstein, courtesy of Interweave/F+W Media.
The New Tunisian Crochet opens just as anyone familiar with Dora’s writings at Crochet Insider and elsewhere would expect: with a history lesson. The first chapter, What is Tunisian Crochet?, reviews the appearance Tunisian crochet stitches in needlecrafts publications in the 1850s and discusses the possible origins of the craft. This section will delight your inner history nerd and will also appeal to your intelligence. Dora’s writing style assumes her readers have brains and she doesn’t feel the need to talk down. She sites her references and even includes a reading list. Dora also mentions some of the contemporary Tunisian crochet designers, such as Carolyn Christmas and Angela “ARNie” Grabowski, who have helped to re-popularize and reinvigorate the craft.
In the next chapter, Tunisian Crochet Techniques, Dora writes in a conversational tone and provides tips and explanations that are useful even to an experienced Tunisian crocheter. The book includes illustrations along with descriptions of the basic Tunisian crochet stitches. In general, I don’t find Interweave’s illustrations helpful and it is hard for me to tell where the yarn and hook are placed. I wish that these illustrations made use of multiple colors (as most of the Japanese stitch guides do) so that it would be easier for me to identify the difference between the previous rows and the current stitch. In many ways, the illustrations are in keeping with the general tone of this book, which assumes a level of knowledge of the basics of crochet and Tunisian crochet. More experienced crocheters will find this lack of review refreshing, but Tunisian newbies may need to consult other resources for more support.
Chapter 3, Tools for Tunisian Crochet, reviews the various available hooks and tools for blocking. Dora includes a list of web resources.
The next chapter, Special Techniques and Effects, is where things start to get very interesting. Dora covers a myriad of Tunisian techniques here, including basic double-ended crochet, short rows for circles, stranded colorwork, and entrelac. Each technique includes a small project or pattern and you will want to pull your hooks out right away and get swatching.
For all you stitch guide junkies, Chapter 5, Stitch Dictionary, is for you. This section includes 33 Tunisian stitch patterns organized into five sections: Basic, Intermediate, Lace, Textured, and Tunisian and Standard Crochet. Each pattern includes US abbreviations and international stitch symbols.
The final chapter, Projects, includes 12 project patterns. The project breakdown is
Women’s Accessories – 6 (a shawl, a hat, mittens, a scarf, a bag, and slippers)
Garments – 4 (a cardigan, a pullover, and a skirt for women, and a vest for men)
The book closes with a reference section in the back, which includes a key to the stitch symbols used throughout the book and a glossary of US pattern abbreviations. It also includes illustrated and written instructions for all of the basic crochet and Tunisian crochet stitches. Finally, a bio of each contributor is included.
Overall, this is a great book for a crocheter interested in going beyond the basics of Tunisian crochet. In addition to the wonderful tips and tricks, stitch guide, and history lesson, the book includes many great projects – several of which highlight or teach a specific Tunisian crochet skill. The stitch guide and the patterns use both US pattern abbreviations and international stitch symbols. The downside to this book is that the illustrations assume prior knowledge and are really just there to trigger your memory of particular stitches. Also, it is a softcover and it doesn’t stay open when flat. If you are a true Tunisian crochet newbie, you may need to supplement this book with something else (I would recommend Kim Guzman‘s Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Tunisian Crochet). I would give this book 5 out of 5 stars for any crocheter interested in learning more about Tunisian crochet.
Full disclosure: A free review/giveaway copy of this book was provided by the publisher. Although I accept free books for review, I do not accept additional compensation from the publisher, nor do I guarantee a positive review. My reviews are based entirely on my honest opinions. This also post contains affiliate links. You can read my affiliate and review disclosures here.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first get started crocheting?
Annette: I learned as a child, perhaps around 6 years old. My mother taught me, because I asked her to. All women in my family were doing some kind of textile craft (sewing, embroidery, weaving, knitting…) and both my paternal grandmother and my mother were avid crocheters.
UC: What inspired you to start designing?
Annette: After crocheting quite a lot as a child and a teenager, I became more of an occasional knitter. In my late twenties, an injury in my neck caused lots of problems with my left arm, and I stop fondling yarn altogether. But when I was pregnant with my second child twelve years ago, I couldn’t fight the urge any longer, and walked into a yarn store. I decided to try to take up crocheting again, since I could do this without putting too much strain on my left arm, which was still fragile at that point (I’m glad to say it is much better now!). This was twelve years ago, and there weren’t many crochet patterns to my taste around. I wanted to make a little jacket for my daughter, so I just winged it. It was my first crochet design!
UC: Can you tell us a little about how your experience as a Swedish designer in France impacts your design process?
Annette: From my Swedish background, I have a profound respect for all things handmade, and the feeling that you can make just anything by hand. I grew up seeing people making beautiful things themselves all the time, and I think that was very important.
From my life in France (and I have now passed the point where I have been living longer in France than in Sweden), I have (I think!) a sense of style and elegance and a love for beautiful materials. A wonderful thing about French culture is that it gives you permission to think that things like beautiful clothes and accessories or delicious food have a lot of importance – and they have! Enjoying a great meal with family or friends, wrapping a gorgeous scarf around your neck or wearing a flattering garment that makes you feel pretty are things that create beauty, wonder and joy in everyday life.
With time, connecting my Swedish background and my life in France becomes more and more important to me, on all levels in life. There are a lot of very interesting developments in Sweden and the other Nordic countries around traditional textile techniques. I have also started importing Swedish yarns to France, and their specificity and character nourish my design process.
UC: Where do you generally find your creative inspiration?
Annette: Sometimes, the idea for a design just comes into my head and I don’t know from where!
Sometimes, I get inspired by learning or exploring a specific technique. It can even be a knitting technique that I try to transpose to crochet that works as my starting point.
Other times, I find inspiration in a photo or a painting.
Or I just sit down and swatch different stitch patterns from a book, and start building my ideas from them. It’s so interesting to see how a stitch pattern evolves when you start modifying it!
What I think is the most interesting in my current design process is trying to free myself from existing stitch patterns and finding ways to create shapes in crochet myself. I’m currently working on a design where the stitch pattern is based on a picture of an exotic flower a friend in Florida sent me. The stole “Cirkel”, for which you can find the pattern in my web shop, is one of the first examples of finished designs in this vein. I wanted to design real, rounded circles on a filet background, which required quite a bit of drawing, swatching and creative use of stitches.
UC: Your blog is bilingual and your Ravelry group is trilingual. What do you see as the advantages and difficulties of maintaining a multi-lingual presence online?
Annette: Actually, my entire life is multi-lingual! I speak Swedish with my friends and family in Sweden, French in my everyday life, English with other friends and for work… Europe is a multi-lingual place, and if you want to be present on this market, you must communicate in several languages.
So, the advantages are that you include many more people, and get a bigger market. The difficulties? Essentially that it’s very time-consuming. Translations take time! Also, I only know three languages really well.
Today, I’m basically working with those three: French, English and Swedish. I’m rebuilding my website to adapt for multilinguism. The next step is to create a stronger presence on the Swedish market, and the step after that is to branch out to German, Spanish… But then I’ll need help!
UC: What are your favorite crochet books in your collection?
UC: Do you have any crafty websites or blogs you frequent for inspiration or community that you would like to share?
Annette: I have a lot of blogs that I read and enjoy, but I don’t have the time to follow them on a very regular basis. Of course, I use Ravelry several times a day! I’m also an avid podcast listener, be it when I crochet or when I do household chores. I recently re-painted my son’s room, and yesterday I painted a wall where I’m going to put a bookshelf for my cookbooks. My favourite podcast for painting is Jane and Jen Knit Funny!
When I do research on a specific technique, I come across lots of interesting sites and blogs. I’m always in awe of all the knowledge and inspiration that is out there!
Thanks so much for stopping by, Annette, and sharing your enthusiasm about design with us!