in the 80s, i was hooked on that stuff

Posted on Posted in designing, lace/shawls, projects

as the sorting and moving continues (we’re almost done with the moving), i’m having to open boxes that i don’t look at much and make decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of. it’s not that hard—i’m in the mood to get rid of a lot of junk right now. someone asked if i have come across anything i forgot i had and i haven’t really, but i am discovering that i can’t remember why i’ve kept certain items (which is good—if they’ve lost their importance, i can easily get rid of them).

one of the things that i open and look at every so often is a big box of crochet supplies i have—a blast from the past that i just can’t give up. i noticed as i was photographing it today that it even has a rim which looks to be mimicking a crochet motif.

we don’t talk about crochet on this blog much (ok, we never do), but that doesn’t mean i don’t respect it greatly. my grandmother and her numerous sisters were amazing crocheters—they even had a crochet club (with dues and everything) that met weekly for years while i was growing up.

in the tradition of many italian women of the past, they produced large quantities of fine cotton lace items when they were younger for use in the home—gorgeous tablecloths and bedspreads as well as smaller items to protect dresser tops, tables, and upholstery.

later, they gravitated toward crocheted afghans, clothing, and accessories in woolen yarns to bestow upon us, their granddaughters—it was the 60s and 70s and they were riding a totally trendy wave.

one of my all-time favorite christmas gifts was the long, crocheted vest and short, coordinating pink-and-gray plaid pleated skirt i received from my grandma in 1969. she was always on top of what was in style for us girls.

i learned to crochet myself that year and became immersed through my pre-teens (when i wasnt knitting) in making granny square vests, six-foot filet scarfs, and single-crochet cloches from worsted weight acrylic yarn in bright colors—easy-care yarn was new and we embraced it, along with gratifyingly speedy results from not too much effort (even my grandma never went back to working fine cotton crochet . . .)

that stuff went out of style pretty fast, though, and by the time i reached college, my crochet hooks were all but forgotten. then, the world of needlework turned its eye back to traditional fibers and methods. we began re-exploring the more painstaking kind of projects, the ones that have more lasting appeal. we became “process” needleworkers.

somewhere during the early 80s, i picked up a book of crochet lace patterns and some fine cotton thread to try my hand at finer crochet work. before long i was addicted—i enjoyed creating the more intricate patterns. and it was relatively inexpensive and portable to do—perfect for me at the time. i think this ball actually came straight from my gram; the one above came from a box of crochet supplies i purchased in an antique shop in ithaca, NY, summer of ’86, along with a box filled with hundreds of shell buttons for $10.

i crocheted manically for a while through one lace project after another (in between knitting; i always did some knitting, too) before realizing, eventually, that i was creating a whole lotta beautiful stuff that i was unlikely to ever use.

and in do mean a LOT. i gave some of it away as gifts, and used a piece here or there, but mostly, it was piling up. my actual lifestyle (one that included several roommates at a time) was not one that was gentle toward finery laying about on the table. i like furniture that is very simple and surfaces that hold as little clutter as possible (current living circumstances notwithstanding).

though lace doilies and whatnot are in complete conflict with my “decorating sensibilities”, that stuff was fun to make, and i have yet to puzzle out a reconciliation between the two. until then, i keep the fruits of my crochet period are stored away, taking them out once in a while to sort through as i would a box of old photos.

because i do forget, between times, how really pretty they are and what nice work is invested in each one.

this white pineapple doily is one of the first complex pieces i made, around age 22 or so (i know it was after i finished college). these pieces are not difficult to work, but it is difficult to keep the correct tension so that they don’t cup in the middle—something i remember struggling with. the weight of the cotton, the tension, and the length of the chains all conspired against the perfect balance.

different brands of cotton varied a lot at that time and nothing was labeled properly as to gauge or thread weight—every company used a different system to describe the diameter of the thread. i wanted to use threads that i found in thrift stores, but you pretty much had to use the exact thread a particular pattern book called for to get a good result (or know exactly what you were dealing with, heh—not me at the time). that was frustrating.

filet crochet (pieces worked in rows, rather than in circles) proved a little easier going. from what i have in the box, it looks like i settled in with this type of pattern for quite a while to gain confidence and knowledge before moving on. somewhere with my packed-away table linens, i have a six or seven foot table runner done in filet which depicts very intricate celtic knots along its length (i couldn’t find it for a photo).

my favorite of the whole lot is gone now because i gave it to a friend a few years back, but my favorite remaining piece is that yellow one on the left—i did finally discover that less openwork and more motifs made it a little easier to stick to the right tension, resulting in a flatter piece.

all of the nicest ones i have given away; the remaining ones may just need a proper blocking to be transformed. as they are, they’re nice enough for the purpose they serve now—mostly, to remind me that i once did this work. i just realized that even my own work would be considered “vintage”, while my grandma’s cotton crochet and knitting work is now “antique”.

for now i’m keeping the box with the pieces and putting the threads aside for a stash sale or some other purpose—i don’t think i’ll be using those supplies any time soon.

meanwhile, the new room is shaping up—david made me a winding station using the cast iron base from an old drafting table i had. this will replace the big work table we took down from the front room. it’s just big and sturdy enough for carding wool when i want to do that, as well (but not any bigger than i need).

and the front room is nearly empty—within a day or so, david will begin demo-ing in there, yay. there are several thicknesses of wall to remove, painted-over wallpaper, old wiring, and a dropped ceiling; the floor will remain and everything else will be redone.

i’m knitting too—a lot of secret projects on the needles right now, though.

last night i started the orange sock for the january installment of the dye dreams four seasons sock club.

the color is actually juicier than this picture shows; i’m still fooling around with my camera a lot, hahaha. but there will be more photos once i get going and have some patterning to show.

another cite neckwarmer in a discontinued yarn—this may end up being a gift, but i’m not sure. i’m also wending my way down the leg of my second flaming desire sock, but have no recent photos, sorry.

mostly, i’ve been organizing, but it’s a bad time—after just a few days of that, i’m behind. we have pretty much everything cleared away so david can work now; i can probably save the rest of the sorting for christmas week, when there might be less demand on my time.

for the rest of the week, i need to concentrate on christmas gifts (especially his).
and right now, i gotta scoot—i need to visit a friend in the hospital this evening.

56 thoughts on “in the 80s, i was hooked on that stuff

  1. What a lovely post, Anne, and such beautiful crocheted treasures! My maternal grandmother crocheted many decorative and wearable pieces, but unfortunately, I never learned the techniques from her (I was too obsessed with learning fancy embroidery stitches from her). I inherited all her crochet needles, but I’ve only managed to learn very basic crochet stitches on my own. My mom has a number of crocheted snowflakes that my grandma made for the Christmas tree, and one of these days I’ll have to sit down and figure out how to crochet them myself. She also crocheted edgings on pillowcases and dresser toppers, and I have several young friends who pay a small fortune for such things in stores – I often think it would be nice to learn enough crochet to edge some pillowcases as gifts for these “girly-girl” friends.

    Thanks for sharing your photos and memories!

  2. Hi Anne, I read your blog everyday but have never commented. This week my mom gave me a huge bag full of crocheted items I had made when I was still a teenager and a bag full of crochet thread. I was taught to knit, crochet and sew by my grandmother and your post brought back the lovely memories. In 2010 I will try to crochet more. Hugs.

  3. This is so interesting! I went through the exact same crochet-lace-doily phase but mine was in high school, not college. I made TONS of frilly things I knew I would never use, too! I think my mom still has some of those doilies in a box in a closet somewhere, but I got rid of most of them. After I moved onto knitting I pretty much never looked back at thread crochet, but it sure is fun and challenging to work. I remember particularly liking Irish-style doilies with lots of intricate flowers/leaves . . . haven’t thought about that in years, thanks for reminding me!

  4. I have a few pieces from my husband’s grandmother. I took 3 of them that were similiar in size and had them framed seperately. It makes a beautiful statement on the wall. I chose 2 round and a square. I love it and it makes my MIL smile when she sees it, remembering her mother.

  5. Thank you Anne for sharing these pieces. A little while ago I had told you about the pieces I found in my Mom’s house from 1900 and into 1914. You expressed an appreciation for this work and now I can see why. I also see the genesis of some of your current lace designs. Very nice work.

  6. I still dab in the occasional crochet project now and then, and I confess to being addicted to those pretty doilies. I bought a book of lace crochet patterns in Japan 2 years ago that I’m still dying to work a pattern from. Maybe this year will be THE year?

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