The Art of Crochet, in Photos.
I learned to crochet almost by accident.
My mom had asked a lady from our homeschool group to teach her and my sister the craft at our weekly get-togethers. Naturally, being the curious and creative youngster that I was, I stood behind the sofa where they sat to watch the lessons. After a few weeks, having learned all the basic stitches and making it halfway through a pastel-colored baby blanket, my sister lost interest, and my mom decided that she would stick to quilting. I, on the other hand, had just discovered a whole new world of creative possibilities, and I was, quite literally, hooked.
I still marvel at how quickly I learned the craft. I’ve always been one to learn by watching and imitating, but this learning experience was complicated by the fact that our teacher was right handed while I am a lefty. Nevertheless, I managed to learn as a lefty despite the teaching geared towards right-handed pupils. Since my mother and sister’s lessons didn’t last long enough to learn more than the basics, we were never taught more advanced stitches and techniques, but because the basic chain, slip stitch, single crochet, and double crochet are the building blocks for almost every other stitch, I have been able to teach myself everything else I wanted to know simply by following directions closely.
In the months following those first lessons, I became a yarn fanatic and started more projects than I could possibly have finished. I even started creating my own patterns. Soon, I decided I wanted to learn to knit, too, so I went back to Mrs. Turba and asked for some knitting lessons. She kindly obliged, but though I learned to knit and still enjoy that craft, crochet was my first love, and I remain much more proficient with a hook than a pair of needles to this day.
During my first few years as a crocheter, I made pillows, baby blankets, purses, ornaments, dish cloths, and a few other odd creations that didn’t really turn out to be much of anything other than a means for me to explore the various techniques and creative possibilities of this craft. Before long, I had even graduated to full-size afghans.
As I grew older, my list of hobbies and interests grew and I found myself dividing my free time between crocheting, beading, gardening, reading, playing piano, writing, painting/drawing, and running. Once I reached high school and then college, my free time dwindled even further, so I established a few habits that helped me make time for this craft I love.
One of those habits combined two of my passions: literature and crochet. Audiobooks facilitated this new tradition, and I quickly amassed a respectable library of quality audiobooks through my audible.com membership. Not only does this habit of listening to audiobooks while crocheting allow me to indulge two hobbies simultaneously but it also adds meaning to each finished product. I often refer to a specific afghan by noting which audiobook I listened to while making it.
This will be my Ben Hur afghan.
One blanket with special significance for me decorates the back of an armchair in our living room: it is my Tale of Two Cities afghan. The pattern is one that my grandmother had chosen when I told her I wanted to make her an afghan. I remember sitting next to her on the floral sofa where she spent most of her time after a stroke left her nearly immobile. She had been an avid crafter and artist herself, and I relished the opportunity to involve her in my creative process. I had other projects to finish before I could start on her afghan, however, and she passed away before I could make it for her. I decided that, though she would never see it, I would make it in her memory, and I listened to A Tale of Two Cities while making it, discovering a great literary classic in the process.
Another tradition I have established recently is that of making afghans as wedding gifts for close friends. A handmade afghan is a perfect gift for newlyweds, partly because it provides the perfect excuse for cuddling and partly because I love knowing that my hours of work are helping dear friends build a new home together. And, though I sometimes don’t have a particular couple in mind but start an afghan simply because my fingers are itching to work with hook and yarn again or because I’ve found a new pattern I simply have to try, I can usually find a home for it besides my own before it’s finished.
I am currently working on a modified granny-square afghan. I started this one because I had the crafting itch, and it had been almost a year since I had finished my previous afghan — I needed to be crocheting again.
My iPad makes finding and storing patterns a cinch.
I scoured Pinterest and my pattern books until I found a pattern I liked. Then, (perhaps my favorite part of the whole process) I picked out my colors. I almost never pick out my colors before heading to the store to buy yarn. I prefer to spend a good thirty minutes in the yarn aisles of Joann’s or Hobby Lobby playing with various color combinations, deliberating whether this or that blue looks better with this green, deciding which texture I want for this afghan, and texting pictures to my family asking for their input. I settled on shades of grey with a contrasting yellow for this one—modern and minimalist with a splash of color. The closer I come to completing this blanket, the more I fall in love with these colors.
I fell in love with this color combo right away.
I chose the pattern from a picture I found on Pinterest, that rich repository of all things craft related. I had to do some digital digging to find the actual pattern, and after locating it, I realized that the pattern was for a doll-sized blanket. (Pictures can be misleading.) I remained undaunted, however, because I’m used to tweaking patterns. In this case I simply used a larger hook to accommodate a heavier yarn.
I usually stay away from granny squares because I feel they can become cliched from overuse, but I’ve been discovering some patterns with creative twists on the traditional motif, and this particular variation, with its larger-than-normal square size, slight twirl, and cable stitches (my all-time favorite crochet technique), appealed to me. I’m also a fan of working smaller pieces and then sewing them together for the final product. I feel a sense of accomplishment with each square I finish since each one represents a miniature milestone on my way to the finished product.
After I had made about fifteen squares, I realized that I should decide on their final arrangement so I would know how many of each color to make, so I got out my graph paper and colored pencils and had fun experimenting with various patterns. I posted the five designs shown below onto several of my social media channels and asked my friends and followers to vote on their favorite. Design E won the popular vote, so I planned accordingly.
This afghan is also giving me a chance to practice a technique I’ve never used before: blocking. In the past, I have either worked patterns that didn’t call for blocking or skipped this step because I was lazy and didn’t want to put in the extra work. But I decided to try it this time, and it is paying off. There are a couple different blocking methods, but the most common and the one I am using involves wetting the finished piece and pinning it down so that it dries in the desired shape. As you can see from the before-and-after picture below, blocking helps the finished squares maintain their shape and lie flat. I have learned that blocking isn’t nearly as time-consuming as I had imagined and makes for a much cleaner finished product.
unblocked (left) and blocked (right)
I’m enjoying working with such a fun pattern and colors, and Ben Hur is shaping up to be a new favorite book. I’m thankful for this relaxing pastime and thankful that my mom wanted to learn this craft all those years ago.
I’ll end with this time-lapse I took of my progress on one of the squares for this afghan. I was experimenting with this video, hoping you would be able to see the square growing as each round was added. Alas, my hands prevented the viewing of that process, but it’s still a neat video. Enjoy!
This article was originally published at Refracted Light.
Ethan Pyle is both an author and social media manager at Humane Pursuits. He is a graduate of Maranatha Baptist University where he studied theology, literature, and his favorite author, J.R.R. Tolkien. Inquisitive and amiable, he never wants to stop learning and loves to meet and learn from new people. He hoards books—meaning he never has enough bookshelves—and cherishes a dream of one day visiting Finland. He blogs at Refracted Light.