Monday, April 15, 2013

Adventures in thread crochet

As anyone who has seen my Etsy shop can probably guess, I love to crochet.  I learned from my grandmother when I was 8, and have been actively doing it as an adult for more than 14 years.  My yarn of choice is worsted weight, and I usually use a size I hook.  Sometimes it's fun to get chunkier yarn and pick up an N hook and feel like you're flying through a project.

My great aunt, on the other hand, worked on the smaller side.  I remember visiting her when I was a child and seeing the delicate lacy creations that adorned the backs of her chairs and her coffee table, the bookmark that she gave me that seemed as fragile as the leaves of paper it would rest between, and the hook so small you could hardly see the hook at all making such fine stitches with the thread she used.  It was amazing.

At some point in my crochet journey, between making afghans and baby blankets, scarves and bags, I decided to see if could even come close to imitating the intricate creations that my great aunt used to make.  I bought a few beginning thread crochet pattern books, a few balls of thread, and what seemed an impossibly small size 7 crochet hook.  It wasn't so hard- it's the same stitches as regular scale crochet, after all, but it was tedious.  An afternoon of work, and I'd have made something only a few inches in diameter.  I made a few pieces, but drifted away from it quickly- it was just too much work for too little reward.  Apparently I prefer more instant gratification.

7 hook and size 10 thread (left), I hook and worsted yarn (right)

Thread crochet is done with, as the name implies, crochet thread.  The sizes, like wire, get smaller in diameter the larger the number.  Size 10 thread, also known for some reason as bedspread weight (I can't really imagine crocheting something the size of a bedspread with thread!), is thicker than size 20, which is in turn thicker than size 30.  Thread goes to size 100, which would truly only be a thread.  The steel hooks are generally sized by number or in millimeters.  My size 7 hook- considered a beginner's hook and for use with size 10 thread- is a 1.50 mm hook.  In comparison, my usual size I hook that I use when making my handbags is 5.50 mm.  The smallest thread crochet hook is a size 14, or 0.6 mm.

The times I have found myself coming back to thread crochet is when I have a wedding to attend.  After all, what better time to give an heirloom gift, something that would be treasured by the recipient, a gift that is a bit more personal and special.  Besides, it saves me from ambling through department stores, registry list in hand, trying to decide between the frying pan set, the espresso machine, or the $100 trash can.

And so, as the year began and I realized I had multiple weddings on the calendar, I dug out my crochet thread and pattern books and started on a coaster set.  I figure they're useful as coasters, but also as small doilies or table decorations, and they're generally doable for me since they are small.   
Blocking coasters
Unfortunately, you generally don't make just one coaster, you make a set.  Which means I make seven: six for the set, and one to glue on top of a finished box to hold them and complete the gift.

Every thread crochet book will tell you the importance of blocking for a finished appearance. This is the process of washing the pieces in mild soap, rinsing, starching if desired, and allowing them to dry while pinned to a board that holds any rebellious stitches in place.  Typical thread crochet patterns often include small stitches called picots around the edges, and these like to sit askew unless they are held in place with pins during blocking.  I have found that a piece of cardboard works as well as anything for blocking.  And it's a good thing that I have a lot of pins- blocking seven coasters at a time takes a lot of pins!
The finished coaster box

In the past, I've finished the box myself, which means sandpaper, paint, polyurethane, and lots more time.  This time, I went the easy route and purchased an already finished box.  Much faster and easier, though my color choices were limited.

After completing one set of seven coasters, I realized that doing this two more times was just not going to happen.  Not only is that a lot of coasters to make, but I was already tired of the pattern.  I needed something different, and settled on doily bowls.  There are many patterns for doilies out there, so I picked a few I could find for free online and got to work.  I changed the patterns a bit, decreasing the number of stitches as the diameter increased to give it more of a bowl shape instead of laying flat.

Once my doilies were finished, I used fabric stiffener instead of soap and water.  Apparently you can make your own starch from sugar and water, but that sounded a bit too messy to me, not to mention that it just sounded like an invitation for getting licked by the family cat or chewed by the family dog.  I covered bowls from my kitchen that were an appropriate size for each doily with plastic wrap, and laid the wet doilies on them, trying my best to make sure they were laying flat and the edges were even with each other so the bowl wouldn't sit unevenly once it was finished.

My finished bowls are not perfect- the tops are not completely even, they are not completely symmetrical, but that is the nature of handcrafting sometimes, right?  And the truth is that perfection is sometimes overrated.  My gifts are from the heart, and I hope that the recipients will enjoy using them.  And I just may have been inspired to make a doily bowl for myself... though that project may have to wait while take a break from thread crochet for a bit.  Other projects are calling my name!


FabricGreetings said...

Robin - they are gorgeous. I am sure your bride and groomm will be far more delighted with these than a $100 trash can.

sewsouk said...

They are lovely and the box with the coaster on top is so nice. What a wonderful keepsake. Your article was a real pleasure to read- thank you!

Unknown said...

These are so pretty! I have many things like this from my granny and I treasure them all! Hopefully your recipients will do the same! I can't imagine making them though =)

Nancy said...

I love the vintage look of your coasters. What a wonderful and thoughtful gift they make. The bowls are awesome. Hopefully you can pass your crocheting expertise down to the next generation.

BeljaysFeltnArt said...

Great post. Now I have some idea of how the thread sizes work. And I love your bowls.

Lynn said...

Beautiful creations! Also very thoughtful gifts. I've never seen bowls like those; they're so lovely.

Anonymous said...

Your work is so beautiful ! I am just getting ready to start learning thread crochet and you're such an inspiration. Thank you for all the good information.