Read an Excerpt
Made it? Flaunt it! Crocheted clothes are not just for special occasions. If you crochet, then you can make garments to wear every day using the yarns you love. "Who would want to?" you ask. Well, think about it. You can't deny there's a great deal of pride and satisfaction in crocheting something, anything. To some extent we all seek the admiration, approval, and dumbstruck awe that skillfully crocheted objects inspire. But how many admirers can there be for pretty afghans and decorative items that stay at home? Or for those gorgeous but frivolous accessories you adore wearing, but that only come out during the holidays?
I see many possible reasons for not putting your yarn stash on your back more often. Never crocheted a garment before? We will fix that. Haven't met the right crochet design? Maybe we can fix that. Can't find patterns in your size? Ditto. Think you can't wear or don't look good in crochet? It's not you, it's the crocheted garment that's either too clunky and thick, isn't your size, or has no shape. We can fix that, too. Aren't sure how to mix crochet with your own clothes? I can't give you a makeover, but I hope the photos of crochet plus wardrobe staples will give you some ideas.
Extra Sizing Spoken Here
Nobody, no body is perfect. To be human-especially to be a human woman-is to have bulges. From birth we are told that some bulges are sexy and desirable, worthy of flaunting, while some other bulges are unsightly, best kept disguised. Who made those rules? How are we supposed to maintain any kind of self-esteem when our fashion icons are size 4 and the average American woman is size 14?
I am ashamed to admit that I totally bought into this worship of the slender. Until very recently I hadn't even considered sizing my designs larger than XL, with a finished bust around 44" (112cm). And for the most part, the editors and publishers for whom I designed were not much concerned about it. Today I am acutely aware of the need for good crochet design for other than tiny model figures. But, be assured, this book isn't for large sizes only. Every garment here is offered from small (to fit busts sized 32-34" [81-84cm]) through extra sizing (to fit busts up to 50" [127cm]), and some larger still. Many designs are Petite-able and Tall-able. If we aren't encouraged to rejoice in our various bulges, at least we can dress them in crochet.
This book is about options. Each of the following design chapters offers a basic clothing item, then runs through a gang of variations on the theme. Your perfect sweater probably won't be like any of the samples I have crocheted, because you are going to shop for the bits to do for yourself, sort of one from column A, one from column B. Add up the parts you want for the silhouette that works best for your body, whatever your size.
The Dreaded Raglan
Understand that I design garments from the neck down with raglan-type increases in pattern to shape the shoulders and arms. Many readers will appreciate my MO for the technical crochet aspects but will immediately dismiss the thought of raglans as intrinsically unattractive. And normally that'd be correct. Most real figures will look best in a shoulder that's more structured, with a defined shoulder line and set-in sleeves. But in order to hang properly and look good, structured garments require precise calculation of various slopes, perfect placement of the shoulder seam, and skillful seaming.
I never enjoyed crocheting garments this way because of the sewing. It's not that I dislike or disapprove of sewing or seaming in crochet; it's more that I've always been so lousy at it. And as for sewn raglan seams in crochet, they're the most horrible, unyielding, bulky, constricting, and restricting style imaginable. This raglan's different. This raglan is a gentle, almost invisible (or very pretty where perceptible) line of increasing stitch pattern. It creates a smooth, flexible, shapely shoulder that allows the fabric to stretch, drape, and mold to the wearer in ways a more structured garment could never hope to do.
Of course, there's no guarantee that it will look good on everyone. But I know for a fact that it is flattering on many who have worn my garments, and I hope you will at least give it a try.
What's Up with All the Shells?
Crocheted shells possess many unique qualities. The nature of a shell, consisting of multiple tall stitches all made in one spot, is that it wants to expand. I exploit this tendency by crocheting shell fabric from the top down. If allowed, the shells across any row tend toward maximum entropy by spilling out horizontally. Normally, each successive row or round of shell stitch pattern keeps this tendency in check, resulting in a straight, in-line piece of fabric.
However, if crocheted in a relaxed enough gauge, that room for expansion is always present-lurking. So, for instance, the shell may stay quietly in place, flat and perfect, going down the middle of the back. It may stretch out long and lean at the waistline, at the middle of your sleeve, or at the diagonal of a raglan shaping. Or it may give up its full potential for width around the top of the arm, across the bust and hip. Left unchecked, shells will make beautiful flares at the lower edges of your garment. Without much ado, you're creating a gentle bell at the bottom of your sleeve, a bit of room over the top of your hip where your sweater stops, and a bit of an A- line at the hem of your skirt or dress. This self-molding aspect of shells cannot truly manifest when you work from the bottom up.
Shaping shells is at times complex. There are the problems of how to fit them in, how to pick the pattern back up when the work has changed, and how to achieve the most elegant shaping within the amount of space available. Agonizingly, there is no magic formula-no brilliant algorithm that will give you the perfect number of increases and rows for every application. The more you mess around with your own pattern shaping, the more you come to realize how much variation there can be from stitch pattern to stitch pattern, from yarn to yarn, even from a yarn worked firmly to the same yarn worked loosely. No worries! Enabled by years of trial and error and a tiny bit of math, I have crunched the numbers for the designs in this book. Once you get the hang of increasing one flavor of shell, you should find shaping the shell variation in the next project much easier.
Substituting Yarns? Just Do It
Criticism of crocheted garments stems from outdated perceptions. It is true that once upon a time we were offered only pot holder fabric to wear-heavy, lifeless synthetic yarns worked with undersized hooks into clunky, frumpy garments. It is still assumed crocheters do not, will not, or cannot work with good yarns or luxury fibers, even when we can afford the cost. I was shocked and dismayed in a local yarn shop when I overheard a customer inquiring if she could crochet with a particularly lovely yarn labeled for knitting and being told no.
That customer should have been assured that any yarn that can be knitted can be crocheted. Anything you can wrap around your hook can be crocheted, including string, fabric, trash bags, wire, fishing line, or Twizzlers (don't ask!). Modern science has removed the stigma from synthetics. There are high-quality polyester and acrylic microfibers available. In a blend, microfiber adds strength, durability, softness, and sheen and takes away excess weight. The trendiest new yarns come from the fields, made from bamboo, soy, corn, and Tencel (derived from trees). The fineness, hand, and color properties of these alternative fibers rival those of silk, and can be found at a fraction of the cost.
Personally, I love messing with all kinds of yarns and fibers. I have my favorites as, I imagine, do you. For the purposes of this book I restricted the texture, color, and weight range of the yarns. I chose mostly smooth or slightly textured yarns so that the stitch patterns and the shape of the garments would come through. To keep the largest size garments from weighing a ton, I went no thicker than medium to heavy worsted weight, leaving the bulky and super-bulky yarns for belts.
Each of the design chapters begins with a Yarn Note that gives general guidelines for the most appropriate yarn weights. Then, for each pattern, I list the specific yarn and amounts used. I encourage you to substitute your favorite yarn or combination of yarns and colors. You want it in black? Make it in black. As long as you can achieve the stated gauge, switching hooks if needed, just do it.
If you're an adventurous soul and are willing to live with the results, you can break the strict gauge rule. I gauged up (used a larger hook and thicker yarn) on purpose to turn a pullover design into a heavier coat and loved it so much I put it in this book (see Shannon, page TK). But for the most part, try to stay close to the given gauge for each design, because when you stray too far, the proportions start to get hinky.
How do you know if your favorite yarn is the right weight? Annoyingly, not all yarns are labeled with either the CYCA standard ball band symbols (see Abbreviations and Symbols, page TK) or any hint at crochet gauge. If the label on the yarn you want to use is naked, it is possible to interpret the knitting gauge, which mysteriously enough most labels seem to have, and match that to a ball band symbol on the CYCA chart for the yarn weight. I may refer to knitting gauges when talking about what yarns are right for what designs as a further aid in identifying appropriate yarn weights.
To estimate how much of your choice of yarn you will need, look at the yarn listing info for a specific sample, and multiply the yardage by the number of balls or hanks needed. That's approximately how many yards it takes. Have on hand that many yards of your yarn, with extra for insurance, especially if you want to lengthen or alter.
Bear in mind that when you swap out yarns there may be unexpected consequences. There's no way I can predict for you how your yarn will react, finish, and block when it's done. The biggest glitch will be length. Often you can match the stitch gauge but not the row gauge. You can still make the pattern, but be prepared to adjust the length. Some of the other proportions may be affected, but not to the point where your results become unwearable.
Have a Fit
The most significant decision you will make is which pattern size to crochet, and for that you have to know yourself. It might seem as if choosing your size would be a simple matter. Unfortunately, this is never the case. My patterns do not conform to standard sweater sizes, such as S, M, L, or XL, or to American dress sizes such as 8, 10, 12, or 14. I use instead the finished garment bust measurement as the size. Due to the difference in stitch pattern width, the sizes may jump by as little as two inches (5cm) and as many as five inches (12.5cm) to the next size. How do you choose the right size? Each design chapter begins with a Size Finder, but here are general guidelines:
Measure your bust around the fullest part, wearing the bra you'd wear with the garment, one that fits properly. If you feel the crochet stitches in my designs are too open and revealing to wear over just a bra, then invest in camisoles with honest support-a built-in real bra, not the ones with bits of elastic called a shelf bra.
Next, focus on how you like your clothes to fit. Take out your favorite sweater and measure it. If you wear your sweaters small and snug, your size will be close to or smaller than your actual bust measurement. Want an oversized vest to layer over a sweatshirt? Choose the size that is your bust measurement plus a few inches of ease.
Begin with a design that is appropriate for your figure. My clothes are meant to be relaxed, made without much fussy fitting, but that does not mean they are all boxy or have no shape. I wish you could see and handle the fabric of each sample to realize how beautifully it will drape on the body. The piece should skim over your curves, taking its shape from your own. Note that I don't offer any waist shaping in these designs. If you want to emphasize a tiny waist, or suggest a waist where there is none, try belting a longer cami or pullover top or place a closure at the waist of an open-front style to nip it in.
Read the instructions, paying particular attention to any adjustment points. You are responsible for making these adjustments (or not) for your figure. The following will be most common.
Bust Short Rows: This adjustment adds a bit of fabric length to cover your bust while leaving the overall bust measurement the same. You know why we do this if you are constantly tugging at your top to keep it down in front. Most designs here offer this interior shaping, placed 11D2-21D2" (3.8-5cm) lower than the joining at underarms, 1-2"(2.5-5cm) in from the center at each side. This adjustment might not be enough for truly ample bust lines (bra cup sizes larger than DD). Your best option would be to size up.
Hip Shaping: Many women have told me that they could wear a size 14, but because of their hips they have to go up to a 16. It may not be an issue with shorter tops that end above the widest part of the hip, but for longer styles, if your hips are larger than the size you want to make for your bust measurement, consider doing hip shaping where offered. Also try side vents for added ease.
Sleeve Width: Due to the limitations imposed by the stitch patterns, the sleeves jump in width, with the smallest size being a bit tighter and the largest sizes looser than standard. So even when the design calls for a full-width sleeve, made straight down the length of the arm, I suggest tapering the upper arm in the largest sizes for a neater appearance and less bulk. See specific instructions for each design.
Sleeve Length: Shorten or lengthen the sleeve at the adjustment point. Feel free to make your sleeves whatever length you like-short, half, three-quarter, full-length-on any of the designs with sleeves. The raglan construction makes a yoke with a slightly capped shoulder, so any sleeveless option is actually a tiny cap sleeve. You can turn any style sleeveless by working only the first round of sleeve and ending there. My only suggestion is to not end a short sleeve right at the widest part of your bust.