I crocheted for over 25 years before I could really read a crochet pattern. Before that time, I copied my grandmother’s handwork (and other family members old doilies, table runners, and garments), and if there was a really good picture I could copy the stitch patterns. Granted, until about 15 years ago I wasn’t a “serious” crocheter, I dabbled here and there with the hook, always having it in my craft things, making “doodads” mostly, and of course copious amounts of edging for pillowcases, and hankies. I used to make those things for friends as we started out in life.
Before I was a “serious” crocheter, I was an embroiderer. Embroidery was my very first fiber love, I learned to hold needle and thread when I was very young, maybe four or five, and had French Knots mastered by seven or eight years old. I had little iron on patterns, though I never was much good at following inside the lines, I always preferred “eyeballing” my designs, as they turned out better. What can I say, I can’t and don’t want to color inside the lines either.
One of my first crafty related gifts, besides the kiddy craft kits, was a “stitch dictionary.” My great-grandmother presented me with one when I was about 10 years old. In this little tome of embroidery related goodness, I found all the inspiration a needler could want.
So, it was only logical as my craft life evolved and continued, that I sought out such things when I got more serious about crochet. Whereas, written patterns mystified me, stitch dictionaries for crochet gave me boundless inspiration.
I didn’t think of myself as an expert anything, for many years into my crafting life. I don’t know why, maybe it’s because it was just something I did, without too much thinking about it, I just made things. Sometimes they turned out, and sometimes, well…we’ve all had those projects now haven’t we? One of the reasons I didn’t feel expert was my inability to read patterns. I had never thought that I was doing the design work as I made up hats, scarves and little sweaters, dolls, purses and ornaments. I even made up my doilies straight from my own devious mind. Funny how you never take yourself seriously. I can tell you when I finally did think of myself as an expert crocheter, it was 2005 (not long ago eh?) when I was in a local craft store. Someone had a crochet question, and the owner called to me from across her store, “Laurie can you fix this?” she hollered, and then said audibly to the other person, “Laurie is our town’s crochet expert!”
As I whipped my crochet hook out of my bun (yes, I used to secure my then very long hair with a hook) and went to see how I could fix whatever hooking problem was out there to fix, I nearly stopped in my tracks…Expert? Me? Really? But, I wasn’t half as good as my late grandmother! If I can fudge weaving in ends, I do. I hide my mistakes, she didn’t make them. I mean, really … internal chuckle, expert! Hah! Sure.
I walked away that day thinking about what the lady said, and I asked a crafting buddy what she thought, and of course she told me that “Duh, of course you are.” When I protested she eye balled me, with a very loving but steely eye and said, “How can anyone do something for as long as you have and NOT be an expert?”
Well, heck and darn I hadn’t thought of it that way… Then I found the CGOA, and when I said I didn’t use patterns (and said it apologetically) I was admonished by some lovely people who said, “Oh, you’re a designer then!” (Truthfully I thought they were nuts at the time…but I knew they were well meaning nuts).
Now, do I say I’m an expert? Well, not much, but I know I am. I don’t really need to say it to know it’s true. I’m confident in my skills and my limitations. What can I say…but let me tell you, beyond the hours of creating lace as a young person, my stitch dictionaries have been my bestest crochet buddies. They are what are most responsible for my crochet expertise. (Well, that and hand spinning, because knowing your fibers is very important, but that’s another post).
To be honest, I’m still not much of a pattern user, at least not a pattern user in the keeping it inside the lines kind of way. I use patterns for ideas for shapes, and dimensions, flow and drape, I think I’ve managed to follow one to the letter, I can’t help it, I just can’t color inside the lines. When I write patterns, I secretly hope people tweak them to their own satisfaction. I like to give good construction and dimension information in the patterns, hoping to inspire someone to make the pattern their own! But hey, that’s just me.
For those of you who are beginning your crochet journey I highly suggest finding yourself a stitch dictionary. They are hardly ever entitled “Stitch Dictionary”, they are entitled things like “Bertha’s guide to 500 crochet stitches” (joke title), one of my personal favorites is the original James Walters & Sylvia Cosh, Harmony Guide to Crochet Vol. 1. I own many many stitch dictionaries, some of them small leaflets, and others large tomes of hooky goodness. They are my base line, there are the books I have closest to hand in my craft room.
Just as I can’t stand to follow patterns or color inside the lines, I don’t think I’ve made too many projects (other than those for which I write patterns) with only one or two stitches. When I make things for personal use, or gifts, I use at least four or five stitches per project! I love to mix colors and textures, as well as raised and relief stitches.
Oh and while you’re at picking up stitch dictionaries, get some books with great motifs in them! (Some people call them granny squares, but we have so much more than that available to us!)