Sunday, October 21, 2012

Custom Crocheted Sweaters by Dora Ohrenstein

I have been crocheting for a very long time. I learned when I was 5, and I started crocheting small stuff - I remember making blankets for my dolls. As I got older, I started crocheting scarves - for me, my college boyfriend (in MY school colors - so he would have to think of me whenever he wore it), and baby blankets. Not sweaters, though. Whenever I saw a sweater that I wanted, I just asked my mother to crochet it for me. And usually she did. But eventually, I started crocheting sweaters, too. However, in those days, the default hook that was recommended for worsted weight yarn (which was sold in dime stores, department stores, and just about everywhere else), was a G/6, 4mm hook. You can just imagine the fabric I created with that hook. I hardly ever get rid of or throw out things that I make, so I still have most of those old sweaters and skirts. And yes - they can stand up by themselves! Here is a picture of a sweater I think I made in those days (although, my mother may have made it for me). You can see how stiff it looks!

This next sweater is one from Dora's book - it's called The Floating Tee. When I was looking through the book, I first saw the different styles of sweaters. I saw the Drop Shoulder style, and searched the book for the Drop Shoulder Sweater. This Floating Tee is the Drop Shoulder example. I looked at the schematic, and immediately thought of my sweater, which I had recently "found" when I was searching through my trunk of stuff. The schematic for my sweater, if there were one, would be the same as for The Floating Tee. But the fit for my sweater would be nothing like the fit for The Floating Tee. 

And the yarn I used for my sweater was not a wise choice. It "pools" (the colors clump together) and form strange patterns that are obvious when you change skeins. (Look at the body of the sweater at the bottom - there is a "line" just about in the middle of the sweater, where the color pattern changes. That's where I changed skeins.) And the color pattern is different on top and on the bottom. I know now how to fix that, or work with that. I teach classes on how to work with variegated yarns like this. But then, when I crocheted this sweater, I didn't know. So with that, and the stiffness of the fabric - I don't think I wore this one at all.

Later on, after I got my Ph.D., and got to crocheting again, the default hook to use with worsted weight yarn was an H/8, 5mm, not much better for drape. But after awhile, I just started using an I/9, 5.5mm or a J/10, 6mm with worsted weight yarn if I was making a sweater and I wanted a lot of drape to the fabric. 
At the same time, I started altering patterns, because I couldn't get the designer's gauge with the larger hook. But it was difficult, and I had to start over many times. And if I used the smaller hook, I didn't like the sweater fabric. Eventually, I just started designing my own sweaters. (I had been designing afghans, toys, scarves, totes, for a while - all those things that don't really need an accurate gauge and a specific size.)  When I started designing sweaters, I couldn't find any books published that spelled out the "whys" and "how-tos" for designing crocheted sweaters. So I had to figure out lots of things by myself - like how to make fitted armholes - not just for my size, but for 5 other sizes, if I wanted to publish the design. Or - how to accommodate various bust sizes. Or different sleeve lengths, or shoulder shapes, or neck sizes. For me, I'm happy with loose sweaters most of the time. But, sometimes I want something more fitted. So I needed to learn all those things and more, even when I was just making myself something to wear. 
When I saw Dora Ohenstein's latest book Custom Crocheted Sweaters - Make Garments that Really Fit, earlier this year, and was asked to review it, I knew that was the book that would have helped me then.  It really does teach everything you need to know about crocheting garments. All the above topics and more: altering length, changing waist placement, altering sleeve length, adjusting size by changing gauge (this would have saved me so much time and effort!), choosing yarns, blocking to your measurements, how to take your measurements....I could go on and on. Dora has some basic sweater designs in her book - like drop shoulder, top down, raglan and more - and for each sweater, she discusses construction techniques and how to alter the sweater to give you your unique look and fit. She also discusses how to pick yarn - for your first efforts, and for future ones. She has 10 sweater designs in her book, and if you read her "lessons" for each sweater, you will know all you need to know to make garments that REALLY fit! 
This is a must book for every crocheter who wants to make a garment. Refer to it along with the pattern when you're making your garment, and there will be no more second guessing the designer. No more UFOs (unfinished objects). No more wasted yarn. No more tears. This book will guide you all the way.