The Adventure of the Fallen Flowers: Part One
For an introduction to what goes on in this column, click here.
When I was drawing I Dream of Yarn: A Knit and Crochet Coloring Book, my friend and frequent collaborator John Mullarkey visited the studio and asked to watch as I worked over a piece from rough sketch to finished art.
I’ve seldom had someone spy on that process, which usually starts with a very light and wobbly sketch in pencil…
…followed by increasingly bold lines made by repeated goes with the pencil and a great deal of erasing…
…followed, with luck, by the slow process of inking the lines to make them permanent and printable.
John was struck by how many layers lay under what (I hope) appears to be a polished, unified final image.
Not everyone who draws follows that path, but I always have. Every finished drawing is the sum of a dozen unfinished drawings, one atop the other. To be terribly honest–honesty being a goal of these columns–one of the things that always drives me nuts about knitting is that it doesn’t usually lend itself to that multi-layered process.
Yes, you can swatch for knitting. And yes, I do. I also sketch and I plan–as I did for Rosamund’s sweater in our last adventure.
But when the sketches and swatches give way to the final piece you move from start to finish in a mostly linear fashion. You can rip back. And yes, I do. Boy, do I. Usually about a dozen times. For a hat.
But once a knitting project reaches an advanced stage, you can’t decide casually that it would be sweet to toss in a little cable action at the shoulders or move that stripe up four inches or narrow the color motif by two stitches without re-knitting the dang thing.
Please Feel Free
That’s one reason I love trying my hand at different fiber arts. Sometimes the nature and structure of knitting are precisely what I crave. Sometimes not. Sometimes I feel like messing around, changing directions, experimenting, reserving the right to go back and edit, add, and elaborate without a ton of ripping.
With that in mind I started checking out the freeform work that is the passion of artists like Australia’s Prudence Mapstone, whose designs are known internationally as the vanguard of the field.
Freeform pieces don’t follow a pattern in the commonly accepted sense of the word. You may have a template or a sketch; but aside from that, you just…go. One improvised motif or fragment or what-have-you (Prudence evocatively calls it a “scrumble”) of knitting or crochet leads to the next, and to the next, and the fabric grows as it will. Or rather, as you wish it to, bit by bit.
Prudence works in both knitting and crochet (often combined, as in the piece above). As I had just finished a mess of knitting I felt the pendulum in my brain swing from needles to hooks.
Inspiration from Edie Eckman
Then, at this summer’s edition of Stitches Midwest, I ran into Edie Eckman at the Makers’ Mercantile booth in the Marketplace. Edie was one of my first needlework teachers, back when I decided to try taking classes after a lifetime of learning on my own. Now we’re friends and colleagues, which I find both miraculous and humbling.
She was there to sign her crochet books–which are excellent, numerous, and famous (everyone who crochets should have The Crochet Answer Book)–and I decided to pick up a copy of Connect the Shapes Crochet Motifs.
I had admired the book since the year it came out, when Edie appeared at Stitches Midwest wearing this remarkable one-skein snowflake shawl from the patterns section.
I was tempted to mug her and run away with it, since at the time my crochet skills weren’t up to making one myself. Now, having got granny squares under my belt, it might be possible to try something that complex on my own.
In Connect the Shapes, Edie dwells briefly on the topic of working
freeform. I wondered if I might select an
hors d’oeuvres from her extensive buffet of motifs, then multiply and vary it to make an improvised fabric.
“Do you think I could do it?” I asked Edie.
“You can do it,” said Edie firmly. “And if you have questions, call me.”
Yarns, Hooks, and Plans
The more I thought about the idea of freeform, the more excited I got. My first impulse was to reach for Schoppel Wolle Zauberball, color 1993 (Chocolate Cream) – a series of slow shifts from warm black through cream by way of milky cocoa and tan.
Then I realized that nothing prevented me from mixing not only a different color, but an entirely different yarn. It could be a different fiber, a different weight, a different texture. Maybe all three?
This skein of Hikoo Tiara in color 74 (Amethyst) had been sitting here staring at me for ages.
This yarn is quirky. It blends kid mohair, wool, acrylic, and nylon with beads and sequins. I liked it as an art object, but couldn’t figure out what the heck to do with it. Frankly, I’m not a fellow who goes in for sparkle and fuzz. It might be useful, though, as a striking change of pace from the quiet rusticity of the Zauberball.
Should I? Beads? Sequins? Why not? In for a penny, in for a pound.
As to hooks, I will admit without hesitation that one of the reasons I chose to make this a crochet adventure was the chance to work again with the addi® Olive Wood hooks that I mentioned in the last column.
They’re pretty to look at and dreamy to handle. Can you blame me?
So I put everything on the worktable, poured myself a cup of tea…and froze.
Could I really charge forward without any kind of plan at all?
As much as I would love to make this a truly out-on-a-limb adventure, in which I crochet the day away without a second thought as to what I’m doing, I am not that person. I never have been that person. At my age, it is unlikely that anything short of being sucked onto a flying saucer in which long-fingered green aliens neatly switch my brain with that of Indiana Jones (or Prudence Mapstone) will turn me into that person.
And so we come full circle this week–back to my paper and pencils. I started scribbling and found my head was full of flowers. Maybe it was because fall has arrived here in Chicago, where I know I won’t see anything in bloom except mildew for about the next nine months.
I remembered a passage by legendary gardener Gertrude Jekyll, describing how with the aid of teams of housemaids she gathered thousands of roses to make potpourri. I remembered watching purple jacaranda petals fall and cover the sidewalks during my childhood in Hawaii. I thought of showers of white Mountain Laurel near my grandmother’s house in Pennsylvania, and pink cherry blossoms drifting across a Japanese scroll in my collection.
A carpet of scattered flowers.That’s what I wanted to make. To be used as…
To be used as…as…uh…
Well, I don’t know what it will be used as. I’m not even sure how I’m going to make it. Let’s talk more about that in two weeks.
Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue
I Dream of Yarn: A Knit and Crochet Coloring Book by Franklin Habit (Soho Publishing)
Connect the Shapes Crochet Motifs by Edie Eckman (Storey Publishing)
Schoppel Wolle Zauberball (75% Superwash Wool, 25% Nylon), 420m/100g ball. Color: 1993 (Chocolate Cream)
Hikoo Tiara (10% Kid Mohair, 5% Wool, 49% Acrylic, 22% Nylon, 10% Bead, 4% Sequin), 188 yd/100g hank. Color: 74 (Amethyst)
addi® Olive Wood Crochet Hooks