Saturday, November 19, 2011

Vive la Difference! And a Brief History

What's the difference between knitting and crocheting? I'm asked this question nearly every time I am in public with yarn in my hands. The simple answer is that a knitter uses two needles whereas a crocheter uses one hook. But let's delve a little deeper, shall we? Knitting, by definition, is much more structured. A knitter works in neat, tidy, orderly rows, working logically into the next stitch on the needle. Crocheting affords one the freedom to hook into any stitch in any row, all willy-nilly. Crocheting uses more yarn (freedom has its price), but everything I've read and heard leads me to believe that crocheting is a helluvalot easier than knitting! Yay, my team!

I read a brief and fascinating history of crochet in Debbie Stoller's awesome book, The Happy Hooker. Crocheting is said to have been around for just over two hundred years. By comparison, knitters have been at it for about a thousand years. The exact origin of crocheting is unclear, but the first printed crochet pattern was found in a Dutch magazine (those crafty Dutch!) in the early 1800's. Crocheting became the working class' answer to the fancy laces that the wealthy were sporting.

Did you ever wonder why prostitutes are called hookers? Well, it's been suggested that lace manufacturers didn't pay their crocheters a living wage, so the gals were expected to turn a few tricks on the side to pay the bills! Merciful heavens! What would Grandma, the Ednas and the Mildreds say? This shocking state of affairs caused a slew of God-fearing women to learn to crochet for themselves so they were assured that their lace wasn't tainted with sin!

During the Irish potato famine, Ursuline nuns taught Irish women how to crochet with thread. This came to be know as "Irish Crochet" and was wildly popular, as it was obviously stitched with pious fingers. This craft was a great stimulus to the Irish economy.

Because of the amount of thread or yarn required, not a lot of crocheting happened during the Great Depression or World War II. Come peacetime, the gals dusted off their hooks with a sigh of relief.

This is baby Elan in the hat and blanket I crocheted for him! His parents Sarah and Ray met at a Cubs game, and the following season Ray proposed on the pitchers mound at Wrigley, so I knew what I had to make for this adorable little guy! I crocheted the Cubs logos too, because without them the garments just look super-patriotic!

This is the Tigger hat I designed and crocheted for a friend. These pictures got me an order for another one!

Coming soon: Awesome DOMO hat!!

Peace, love and yarn!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Glenwood Stitch 'n' Bitch, and the Tale of Bernard

As I mentioned in my last post, I host a Stitch 'n' Bitch every Thursday from 7-9 pm at The Glenwood Bar, 6962 N. Glenwood Avenue, in Chicago. What's a Stitch 'n' Bitch, you may ask. Well, in more Puritanical times they were called Knitting Circles or Sewing Circles. I find that Stitch 'n' Bitch suits my personality better! Whatever you want to call it (I will always default to Stitch 'n' Bitch), it is an event where crafters -- usually knitters and crocheters, but crafters of any stripe are welcome at mine -- get together and work on their current projects.

I have been to Stitch 'n' Bitches in people's homes, in yarn stores, and in cafes. People host them in churches and park districts and schools. I've heard that stitchers with office jobs organize lunchtime Stitch 'n' Bitches in their break rooms. Mine is in a bar.

I approached the owner of The Glenwood, the lovely and talented Renee Labrana, about starting a Stitch 'n' Bitch at the bar because I was crocheting there quite frequently anyway, and people would come up to me and say, "I crochet too," or, "I knit," or, "Oh, my grandma taught me to do that when I was a kid! I wish I remembered how!" Renee agreed with her customary enthusiasm, and we started the group the very next week.

I have had knitters and crocheters new and old join me for needlework and cocktails at the Glenwood. I've also started to teach a few friends how to crochet. It's amazing to see their faces light up when they accomplish their first stitch, their first chain, their first scarf.

My friend Bernard Holcomb, a very talented young tenor whom I dressed for last month's "Tales of Hoffmann" at the Lyric, saw me crocheting during a rehearsal and expressed an interest in learning. He wanted to make a scarf. On opening night, I brought him some inexpensive, light-colored sport weight acrylic yarn (inexpensive in case he hated crocheting, so it wouldn't be a huge investment for him; light-colored so he could more easily see how his stitches looked) and a hook. We started with an I-sized hook but moved up to a K because Bernard has large hands. I was astonished by Bernard's natural crocheting prowess! I had him chain stitch for a while, and when his stitches came easily and proved to be even, I taught him how to do the turning stitch and single crochet into the chain to create the first row. He went back and forth in single crochet several times on his own, and it all looked good!

Eight days later, I taught him to double crochet. When he'd gotten the hang of it, I taught him my favorite simple scarf pattern:


2 Skeins Bulky (5) yarn

K-sized Hook

Finishing Needle


Chain 21

Row 1: (Dc, ch2, dc) in 6th ch from hook (beg ch counts as dc), *sk next 2 ch, (dc, ch 2, dc) in next ch; rep from * across to last 3 ch, sk next 2 ch, dc in last ch -- 12 dc at end of row.

Row 2: Ch 3 (counts as dc here and throughout), turn, (dc, ch2, dc) in each ch-2 sp across to last dc, sk last dc, dc in top of turning ch. Rep row 2 until desired length. Fasten off. Weave in ends.

Yes, eight days after making his first chain stitch, Bernard started his first scarf with his practice yarn. That was on a Sunday. On Friday, we went yarn shopping to buy supplies for a REAL scarf. I started his first one for him (stitching into the base chain is difficult at first!!), and when I checked his work after a few rows, I discovered that it was not evident to the casual observer where my stitches stopped and his began. He also stitches almost as fast as I do. Over the month-long run of the opera, my darling Mr. Holcomb crocheted THREE REAL SCARVES!! I'm so proud of him!

Well, that's all for now! I hope to see you at the Glenwood Stitch 'n' Bitch on Thursday evenings! Peace, love and yarn!

Star Pupil Bernard Holcomb and Me!!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Brief Explanation

I crochet in bars. And coffee shops, restaurants, theatres, on El platforms, in cars, on buses and subway trains. I crochet in the dressing rooms of the Lyric Opera. I've been known to crochet backstage in a quick-change booth while waiting for the performers I have to dress. I've never crocheted in church, but I have crocheted in Bible study. I've crocheted in a shipping container in New Orleans.

Yarn makes my heart race. I love the way it feels, I love the way it smells, I love the colors it comes in, I love the awesome stuff I can make with it, I love the look on my loved ones' faces when I present them with handcrafted treasures. Crocheting for me is like a moving meditation. No matter what's troubling me, all I have to do is grab some yarn and a crochet hook and start counting stitches. My shoulders relax, my breathing slows, my tension melts away.

My grandmother taught me to crochet when I was a young girl. I'm an only child and she was my primary caregiver, so she wanted me to learn a craft that kept my hands busy and out of trouble. She had a weekly Lunch and Stitch (no good Christian woman would have referred to this type of gathering as a Stitch 'n' Bitch even if that term had been coined at the time!) with her friends Edna, Edna, Mildred and Mildred. They mostly made lap robes for the church to donate to "old folks homes." They primarily used sport-weight acrylic yarn and a size G hook. This is not what prompted my love affair with crocheting. We were friends, crocheting and I, but it didn't make my heart race.

I would revisit crocheting every few years when I needed something to occupy my hands, but it wasn't until the autumn of 2008 that I fell deeply in love with my craft. It was my first season as a dresser at the Lyric Opera. I had a lot of downtime while the performers were onstage, but I never knew when I might be called to stage with someone's glove or fan or something. Books were out of the question because my OCD wouldn't allow me to stop reading mid-paragraph if I were called to stage. Magazines proved to be too expensive, and crossword puzzle books, when completed, were just tossed away leaving me with nothing to show for my labors. And then it hit me -- I needed to crochet! I found a pattern (which I sometimes still refer to as a recipe) for a Granny Square afghan, bought some yarn and a hook. And the minute I completed my first square, I heard violins! Later, of course, I realized those violins were coming from the orchestra pit, as this epiphany transpired during a performance of "Porgy and Bess". But I digress!

Baby blankets followed. Scarves, hats, fingerless gloves, shawls, flower pins. I even crocheted myself a boa. It's become a way of life. I host a Stitch 'n' Bitch (all apologies to Grandma, the Ednas and the Mildreds) on Thursday nights from 7-9 at the Glenwood Bar, 6962 N. Glenwood Avenue, in the Rogers Park neighborhood on the north side of Chicago. I have yarn in my bag wherever I go. There's a skein of green worsted yarn in my bag as I type this!

And I decided that if I'm this passionate about my crocheting, there must be others who feel the same. And I meet a lot of interesting people when I'm out and about crocheting. I also hear lots of interesting things when people think I'm too focused on my stitching to hear! So that was the impetus for this blog. I'll post pictures of things I'm working on, share awesome patterns (which I sometimes still refer to as recipes), and tell stories of the road. I hope you enjoy! Peace, love and yarn!

The Supplementary Men's Chorus of "Lohengrin" in the hats I crocheted for them