Vintage Needlecrafts Pick of the Week: The Crochet Sweater Book by Sylvia Cosh

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This week’s pick: The Crochet Sweater Book: Over 30 original designer patterns by Sylvia Cosh.

Source: PaperbackSwap.com.

Publication date: 1987.

Status: Out-of-print but widely available online.

Condition: Very good with protective library-type plastic cover.

Craft: Crochet.

Crochet Sweater Book 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.
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 in blue.
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.
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.
City Squares, from the Geometrics chapter.

 

Cotton Jazz (left) and Jazz Lines 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 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.
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.
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.

Year of Projects: Crochet Master Class – Year one finale in Bruges lace

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This post is part of my Year of ProjectsCrochet Master Class series. You can read the other posts in this series here.

I am having great fun with Bruges lace, which I’m learning from the master herself, Tatyana Mirer, in a three-week class at Knit-A-Way.  I’m the only person in the class at the moment, and it is a fabulous experience to spend the time with such an amazing teacher and designer.  Last week, I mentioned that I had bought a skein of Lamb’s Pride Worsted at the shop for the class, and it was more or less a disaster.  The yarn is actually quite nice, but it is really just not a good fit with Bruges lace swatches!

My Bruges lace square in Victorian Pink (which looked lavender to me when I bought it).

After the first class, I decided to use some Galler Yarns Parisian Cotton that I have on hand from some designs I have done for them.  I don’t use crochet cotton thread that often, but it is absolutely perfect for Bruges lace.  It was also just about the only yarn I cared to touch during the two days last week which were well over 95 degrees and extremely humid!

I should mention that I haven’t blocked any of these swatches.

A Bruges lace circle.

 

A Bruges lace curve.
A Bruges lace oval. I had a lot of fun with this one.
The first part of a Bruges lace wave.
A Bruges lace square in progress. I lost my trusty 00 crochet hook on the subway shortly thereafter :(.

My favorite technique was adding an insert to the Bruges lace square.  I see a lot of interesting possibilities for granny squares.

Bruges lace motifs are join-as-you-go, so I could avoid at least some of the yarn ends…

On Thursday, I’ll have the last class.  Tatyana will be showing me some tubular techniques, and I’ll also be starting the Sparkling Wave Scarf from The Complete Photo Guide to Crochet.  I plan to make it as a holiday gift for my friend, OB, as part of my Holiday Stashdown Challenge.

I’m surprised that it has been almost a year since I joined in on the Year of Projects through the Come Blog-A-long group on Ravelry.  Even though I had been planning to work my way through Crochet Master Class: Lessons and Projects from Today’s Top Crocheters anyway, I had a wonderful time joining in with other crafty bloggers along the way!  Next Sunday, I’ll share my plans for year 2 of the Year of Projects (which I’m still formulating in my head).  You might want to join in, too!

This year, I had a chance to try out many techniques from Crochet Master Class that I had never used before, like hairpin lacesingle crochet entrelacpainted crochetfreeform, and Bruges lace.  I experimented a lot more with techniques I had used before, like woven crochetTunisian crochetfilet crochetdouble-ended crochetIrish crochet, and the bullion stitch.  I so wanted to be like Minding My Own Stitches, a YOP blogger who faithfully completed every project in one book.  Alas, I found that I wasn’t inspired to work with some of the techniques from the book.  And there are other techniques that I didn’t cover that I definitely want to return to, like overlay crochet and tapestry crochet.

I’m very grateful to harleagh from When Did I Become a Knitter for hatching up the idea of blogging through a book, and, of course, to Rita Weiss and the late Jean Leinhauser for compiling a collection that really inspired me to push myself creatively and to further develop my crochet techniques.  I look forward to more exploration in the next year!

Year of Projects: Crochet Master Class – Bullion stitch blocks, week 4, and more

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This post is part of my Year of ProjectsCrochet Master Class series. You can read the other posts in this series here.

After weeks of ignoring my bullion stitch blocks, I finished one up on Friday.

My six inch bullion block.

Originally, my plan was to donate several bullion stitch blocks to Heartmade Blessings for the Crochetlist March 2012 charity challenge.  But after the unraveling fiasco when I learned that I couldn’t use black yarn, I wasn’t very motivated to restart my blocks.  This month’s Crochetlist charity is the Binky Patrol in Arizona, and the blocks are only supposed to be six inches.  So I actually had to pull out a few rows of this block to get it to the right size.  The pattern, Hybrid Peas by Margaret MacInnis, is way more exciting than this square would suggest, but a lot of the fun happens in the next few rows.

I also got a new camera yesterday!

I couldn’t capture the camera itself in the picture, so I hope the box will do.

Since I’ve been blogging, sharing one camera at home has become a challenge.  I take most of my photos outdoors on the way to and from work or during the day, and that means that either I can’t take pictures when I need to or that MC can never have access to the camera during the day time.  After a bit of research, I bought the Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS on sale at Best Buy yesterday.  It is super tiny, which is great for my little hands.

Now how does this all relate to Year of Projects?  Well, one of my long standing WIPs is the camera case I started during the freeform class I took with Margaret Hubert.

This flower was intended to be the focal point for the case.

I never got too excited by the project because I have been thinking about buying a new camera for a while.

Here is an intermeshing swatch that will potentially be part of a camera case.

So hopefully by next week, I will have finished my new camera case (which will go over the store bought camera case I got so the camera could have some extra cushioning).  I still haven’t completely decided what to do about the rainbow trivet I started last week, but I’d like to have two finished projects to share.

Year of Projects: Crochet Master Class – Intermeshing detour

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This post is part of my Year of ProjectsCrochet Master Class series. You can read the other posts in this series here.

Last week, I talked about exploring other crochet techniques which were not included in  Crochet Master Class: Lessons and Projects from Today’s Top Crocheters, and the general consensus in the comments section was that I should go for it!

So I started a little intermeshing project.

Sadly, the two reverses in my zig zags weren’t design elements but oopsies that happened while I was watching t.v.

I’m using two skeins of Donegal Tweed that I bought on sale at The Yarn Company.  If you’ve never tried intermeshing (also known as interlocking crochet or double filet crochet), here are the resources I recommend to get you started:

This will end up as a felted cozy of some sort.  One option is to turn it into the camera case I’ve been talking about for ages.  It somewhat matches my freeform crochet flower that is supposed to be the “focal point” of this case whenever I actually make it.

On the other hand, I’m contemplating buying a new camera, and there is no way MC will use a case with a giant flower on it.  I could make it into a case for my Kindle Fire instead.  I already have an awesome hand sewn case by Gothic Creations, so I don’t actually need a cover for it, but I thought it would be cool to have a crocheted one anyway.

Year of Projects: Crochet Master Class – Freeform Knitting and Crochet with Margaret Hubert

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This post is part of my Year of Projects: Crochet Master Class series.  You can find my other posts in this series here.

Two weeks ago, I spent my Sunday at the Lion Brand Yarn Studio as part of their Crochet Masters weekend.  After taking the wonderful Tartans & Plaids class with Jenny King, I had some time to browse the store.

Samples of fall-themed Lion Brand Yarn projects on display.
A glimpse of the Mochi Mochi Mochi Mochi Mochi installation by Anna Hrachovec.

(You can see more of Anna’s designs here, learn more about the display here, or visit the Mochimochi Land website here.)

My afternoon class was Freeform Knitting & Crochet with Margaret Hubert.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Margaret back in June, and have been a big fan of her many books and patterns for a while.  Margaret is the fashion crochet master in Crochet Master Class: Lessons and Projects from Today’s Top Crocheters.

I recently had an exploration into freeform crochet as part of my Crochet Master Class project and wanted to see how Margaret would teach the subject.  I’ll admit that I only did a bit of the homework.  (Yes, I was a bad student!)  I was having trouble imagining how all of these pieces would come together.  I’m a bit on the fence about freeform crochet – sometimes I think it looks like junk, while other times it looks phenomenal.  Margaret’s freeform work seems quite inspired, so I was anxious to take the class with her.

Margaret’s a very generous teacher. She gave each of us an extensive handout…
… and our choice of awesome button.
(My button from the back.)

It turns out that Margaret does some planning to give her freeform a more orderly appearance.  She shared three techniques she uses for making freeform clothing and other projects.

I ended up doing quite a bit of work in class – and not just because I hadn’t done all of the homework!

Margaret advised us to have a “focal point” for our freeform pieces, and I made this flower to serve that purpose during class.

I changed my idea about what I wanted to make and decided to work on a small case for my digital camera.  Silly as it seems, since I lost the case a while back, I have been alternately putting it inside of a fingerless cuff or a stray sock on the occasions where I’ve taken it out of the apartment.  (Like many crocheters and knitters, most of my projects are for other people and the items for me seem to fall lower and lower on the to do list.)

Here’s the start of my camera bag.

Margaret’s teaching style is very hands on, and she spent quite a bit of time with each of us.  She also demonstrated different stitches and, because she brought so much of her own work, she could show examples of many of the techniques she was teaching.  Margaret’s lovely samples included some sneak peek projects from her upcoming The Granny Square Book: Timeless Techniques and Fresh Ideas for Crocheting Square by Square.  (The projects were awesome, by the way!)

I ended up buying a copy of her Learn to Free-Form Crochet in the Lion Brand Yarn Studio with the student discount.

I confess, I’m addicted to DRG technique booklets!

I used Donegal Tweed by Tahki Stacy Charles (stash yarns) for the class, so I felt I should purchase something in the shop.   I was glad that I could see the book in person because I had been looking at it online.  I’m pretty happy with it so far!  I haven’t made much progress on my camera bag since the class, though – too many higher priority WIPs in the queue.

For more Year of Projects posts, visit When Did I Become a Knitter.

To find more blogs participating in Blogtoberfest 2011, visit Tinnie Girl.  For Blogtoberfest 2011 giveaways, visit Curly Pops.