Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Improving Your Skills - A Lecture

Chances are that this is going to offend some crocheters but I'm probably not talking to anyone reading this so don't get all in an uproar or anything.

Have any of you noticed that crocheted items are often held up as the example of crafts that require little skill to produce what is arguably crap on Etsy? Yep, I said it - crap. I'm not even talking about the crazy stuff that ends up on Regretsy or What Not to Crochet - I'm talking about poorly executed simplistic little stuff with no finishing details and loose threads hanging off of them. It's fine to find a niche selling easy washcloths, plain scrubbies and simple scarves that never require you to move past single and double crochet stitches because they're practical, popular and inexpensive but no one is going to improve their skills that way. You don't learn from doing the same thing over and over again forever. If you can stand the tedium of making the same hat 1000 times and are making money at it then you can stop reading now because I'm just going to irritate you. (But don't you want to learn to make those adorable baby ones that you saw yesterday?)

At least once a week I get a convo from another crocheter with comments along the lines of "I could never do that" or "that must be knitting and that would take months". Yes you could, no it isn't and no it doesn't - at least not if you take upping your game seriously, practice a lot and demand a higher standard from yourself. Your goal should be to have the skills to create whatever you can imagine without needing a pattern or you'll never be able to create original designs.

If all you can make is a square, rectangle or plain little circle and you've been doing it for more than a few months here are a few tips:

- Pick patterns for things that you've never made before and follow them accurately. Don't just blindly go along doing what you're told - make sure that you understand why what you're doing is going to result in the effect that you'll get. Even if you don't know where it's leading you at first go back when you're done and make sure that you logically understand every step. You won't forget what you really understand.

- Incorporate something new into every single design (other than items that regularly sell that you're doing well with). There are so many techniques to play with that this shouldn't be difficult and by the end you'll have one more thing to add to your bag of tricks.

- Every time that you find yourself thinking "I wish that I could do that" remember that you can if you'll just take the time to learn how. None of us with a lot of experience are doing magic.

- Work your way through every technique. Learn how to change colors in the middle of a row and back again. Start with using only two colors and work your way up to at least 4. Then it's just a short jump to tapestry crochet because as hard as it looks, it's just single crochet with lots of color changes and an intricate design.

- Learn to follow a stitch diagram chart if you want to make lace. IMO designing a complicated lace pattern from scratch is pretty difficult until you have a lot of experience at it because tensions change when it's blocked. Start with edging, then doilies (if you can stand the things) and eventually you'll be able to knock out heirloom large pieces like drapes and tablecloths. I even made a wedding dress once.

- Learn to make a flat circle because ripples look amateurish. All you have to do is start with a ring of n chain stitches and then increase one every nth stitch in each round for single crochet. If you're doing tiny tapestry work do it in a spiral so that you don't end up with an ugly seam that ruins the picture. You can reduce the last row a step down at a time so that you end it with a neat join. Once you have that down then you can start making pictures by changing around where in the n stitch group you increase. Make neat curves by using decrease/increases instead of stairstep stitches that make weird edges.

- If you want to make sweaters, start with a T shape. Personally I don't like that style very much because you end up with too much material under the arms but it's the easiest way to learn. If it isn't intuitively obvious then there are lots of patterns out there to follow. Then move on to setting in the sleeves. It looks harder than it is once you get used to it. Sweaters can be made in 4 pieces, 2 pieces or one solid piece and with a little practice you'll be able to figure out which is the best to use for any particular garment. Large motifs usually look better if the motif continues straight across the sleeves when you hold your arms straight out. Start adding more color and texture stitches to create visual interest.

- If you're doing sweaters, learn to make good cables or don't use them at all. If you look closely most of the crochet cables that you see are really mock cables using surface post stitches with some popcorns thrown in for good measure. Personally I think that they look like a poor imitation of knitting and aren't really cables. Real ones where the yarn is actually twisted are much harder but look much more authentic. I won't pretend that once you start doing complicated ones that you won't find yourself tearing your hair out when you work the back side and can't see the front easily but you'll get better with practice. Your hand will also get used to things like skipping stitches and then going back to do back posts in them and it won't always be as slow and awkward. There are a few decent books out there so grab one, follow the directions for a few and eventually you'll be able to logic your way through designing your own.

- Get a picture of a granny square and draw a giant red circle with a slash over it and then never use one again on anything but an afghan until you've mastered other techniques and have a choice. It's just too easy and helps you avoid learning other things.

- If you make a mistake, rip it out. Missing the hole in the stitch means that you'll have a gap by the next row.

- Read What Not to Crochet regularly so that you know what people are laughing at. Then quit making it unless you know they sell.

- Now stop using patterns and do some one of a kind work that you designed yourself. If you have the patience you can start writing patterns for people that are just starting out or don't want to move past following instructions.

- Last but not least is my own pet peeve. Your work isn't done until you've finished off the edges. Open stitches on the edge are really easy to catch on things and pull or tear. All it takes to close them off is a simple corded edging of crab stitch (reverse single crochet) and you'll get a neat and professional look. It's probably not a necessity for sturdy cotton household items and would look strange on most lace but it's definitely a must for fine yarns. If you don't want it to spread out your welt, collar or cuff ribbing then switch down to a smaller hook. Quit complaining that it's backwards, awkward and makes your hand hurt. You'll get used to it after the first 10 stitches or so.

So ladies, if you're looking at your uneven scarf with the sloppy stitches and dangling threads or thinking about how it took you a month to design that potholder and recognizing yourself here, with all due respect and affection - please try harder. You're embarrassing the rest of us.

Please come see my handmade designer plus size sweaters, sweater coats, capes and shrugs at MirabilisFashions.com

No comments:

Post a Comment