Archive for October, 2011
Have you ever wondered what crochet projects would be resting in Jane Austen’s WIP (work in progress) basket in her front parlor? Or, what garments she would fashion with hook in hand? Well, now there’s no need to guess any longer because crochet designer Melissa Horozewski has just released a beautiful collection of designs inspired by Austen and her six literary treasures – Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park , Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion.
Austentatious Crochet features a range of enticing projects that include elements from the traditional Regency period with a modern twist. There’s truly something for every crocheter in this collection – lacey shawls, regal tops and jackets, flirtatious dresses and skirts, “just for the fun of it” items like accessories and jewelry, home décor, children’s wear, and even lingerie.
This book, though, is more than just a collection of lovely patterns, it is a treasure trove of interesting facts and trivia for the most discriminating of Austen fanatics, such as myself. Austentatious Crochet is sprinkled with memorable quotes from our favorite Austen characters, excerpts from Austen’s letters to her sister Cassandra, beautiful period artwork, delicious recipes, and entertaining quizzes to gauge the measure of our love for all things Austen-related. For example, I quickly found myself immersed in words like huswife and learned the origin of common terms among stitchers, such as “cardigan” and “raglan sleeve.”
Fortunately, I recently had the opportunity to get to know Melissa a bit more and interview her about the inspiration for this book. “Well, I love books and I am particularly captivated by craft books that are visually stimulating and that take me on a journey,” she told me. “I wanted to do something like that using crochet as the medium, as sometimes crochet gets an unfair rap as being crafty. It is crafty, which is great, but it isn’t just crafty. It can be artistic as well, and it can be just as fine as any other method of stitching out there. I enjoy Austen books and I know a lot of other people do as well. Stitching was a common occupation for women during that time-period, so it seemed only natural to marry the two.”
In preparation for writing this book, Melissa reread each of Austen’s books and everything she could find on Regency fashions, colors, and styles of clothing, as well as the history of needlework during that time period. In fact, she details in the book how Austen found great inspiration from her needlework. Although the period during which Austen lived predates the debut of modern crochet in Britain, there is evidence that she may have practiced a form of embroidery called tambour crochet. Interestingly, as Melissa points out in Austentatious Crochet, tambour crochet is referenced in both Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey.
A Closer Look at These Austentatious Designs
For this review, I was hard pressed to pick my favorite designs from the book. But, finally I was able to settle on my top 6 – no, 7! Melissa was gracious enough to share a bit of commentary for each one – a glimpse into the story behind the design.
- Ball at Netherfield – This eye-grabbing, sophisticated top features a classic empire waist and panel insert with beautiful ribbon and button detailing for a Regency couture look.
“I knew I wanted to do a twist on the empire-waist gowns that were a staple of that time period, but yet it needed to be wearable today, so I took it up to the hip length and embellished it with all the fun accoutrements typical to that time period – ribbons and buttons,” Melissa added.
- Jane Bennet Skirt – This flattering skirt boasts an A-line silhouette with a fun and flirty ruffle accent in the back.
“That color of blue appeared so often in the Regency fashion plates I viewed while researching [for the book] that I knew I wanted a design using that color,” she explained. “Of course they would have never showed so much leg during the Regency period, but again the point was for this book to have a contemporary twist so that the designs would be completely wearable today. I wanted all the frills and adornments of that time period but again in a manner that someone would want to wear and I feel that the ruffles on the rear hem of this skirt add just the right combination of demure and flirtatiousness to the design.”
- Eat Your Heart Out Willoughby – Featured on the cover, this top is a show stopper with its exquisite lace cuffs and delicate appliqués of violets, roses and leaves.
“This design originally did not have the floral embellishments on the front. It did have the ruffled V, but even with the ruffle, I felt it was lacking a certain something,” Melissa commented. “I didn’t fall in love with this top until I added the appliqués. Everyone at the photo shoot commented on it and the model adored wearing it, saying it was so light and silky. It was a natural for the cover shot.”
- Dreaming of Mr. Knightly Pajama Set– this sexy chic lingerie set almost had me running to my hook right away – it’s gorgeous, original and classy.
“Who doesn’t dream of Mr. Knightley? And, that was the point behind this design,” said Melissa. “A design that is fun and flirtatious but not overly provocative – much like Emma herself. I wanted to replicate a bit of the knickers and corset look we often see when people costume that era of time in movies and books.”
- Off to Bath Capelet – What’s cuter than matching lace capelets for a young girl and her favorite doll? Don’t tell my daughter, but she may find this set waiting for her under the tree on Christmas Eve.
“My little girl, the model in the children’s chapter of the book, always wants to wear her sleeveless summer church dresses well into the fall here in Wisconsin. She also loves to match her American Girl doll, so she was my inspiration for this design – a capelet that could add that extra touch of warmth. Bathwas a resort place for English families and Jane Austen lived there for a time as well during her life. Since this is a design for a child and her doll, Off to Bath is a spin on the phrase ‘off to bed’, ” commented Melissa.
- Letters From Mr. Right – This design allows you to play with tambour crochet while making a detailed tri-fold pocketbook to hold those cherished love letters from that special beau.
“Jane often wrote letters and how we know so much about her as a person is through letters to her sister Cassandra,” Melissa continued. “I knew I wanted a design that represented the fact that letter writing was such a key means of correspondence both for her and that time period. This design spun from a photo of an eighteenth century silk pocketbook I found while researching the book.”
- Lizzy’s Lace Mantelet – This lacey sweater is simply gorgeous and would quickly become a staple in anyone’s wardrobe. Worked completely in the round, it is reminiscent of a beautiful doily yet fashion forward.
“Lace was a highly desired commodity back then and ladies often tried to create the look using several different methods, which in turn has created such a rich history of needlework,” she explained. “I set out to design a piece that would showcase that skill and element of Regency fashion. I think this one turned out spectacularly well.”
A Closer Look at the Designer
Like many of us, Melissa began crocheting at an early age and quickly found herself hooked for life. “My sister and I were raised by a single mother and each day after school we would walk to the hair salon where she worked and spend at least two hours waiting in a tiny breakroom for her to finish her shift,” she recounted. “One day an older woman, who would come in each week to have her hair set, took pity on my sister and I. She invited us to take crochet lessons from her, so from then on, once a week we would walk to her house after school and sit at her highly polished dining room table learning to work with a hook and thread.”
Melissa’s first project was a heart doily that she entered in her local county fair the following summer after learning to crochet. “The doily received a large purple grand champion ribbon and though I haven’t made another doily since, it got me hooked on crochet.”
In her early teens, she originally turned to designing out of necessity. “In the late 80’s, when I was in my early teens, there just didn’t seem to be a lot of crochet garment patterns for teens. This was before the internet was in most households and as I lived in a very rural area, the nearest big box store was almost two hours away. A yarn store wasn’t even on my radar [either], so my ability to find patterns was rather limited. That’s when I started creating garments for myself, designing on the hook so to speak,” said Melissa.
She later realized that she wanted to become a professional designer in her mid-twenties and put together several submission packages for Interweave, but was initially too nervous to send them to the editor. “As long as I never mailed them, it was a dream that could still be realized. If I sent them and was rejected, well then I thought that dream would be over,” she explained. “It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I understood that crochet is as much art as it is craft or anything else; therefore it is very subjective and as such, rejection is inevitable. I gave myself permission to be rejected and to be okay with that. As it turns out, the first two designs I submitted were accepted.”
Today, Melissa’s designs can be found on the pages of Interweave Crochet, Inside Crochet Magazine, Crochet!, Crochet World and Debbie Macomber’s Blossom Street Collection Books 1 and 2. She continues to find inspiration from her favorite literary characters, her family and loved ones, nature, fashion trends and interesting stitch patterns.
I wanted to share another sneak peek of my latest design using “Yet” lace (65% merino wool/35% tussah silk) by Miss Babs. My initial concept has evolved as I worked my hook, although the stitch pattern has remained the same. I finally feel that I am on track and I am getting quite excited as I now see the light at the end of the tunnel! I think I will name this one The Gardenia Capelet. Stay tuned for more soon!
Well, I have good news – crochet is no longer making me fat. In fact, it’s become just the opposite. I have been so wrapped up in getting all my designs out of the door on time that I have not been eating (or sleeping!) much. I finally got on the scale after about 6 weeks and I have lost 10 pounds. Now I know why all of my pants have been falling off….it seemed strange, but it did not dawn on me that I had actually lost weight. YIPEE – I think this calls for a celebration…..more hook time it is!
I am slowly but surely getting back to normal after nearly a week in “crochet heaven” at the CGOA Chain Link Conference in Greensboro, NC. One of the first things I wanted to share is some inspiration I picked up from Miss Babs for one of my latest designs. This is her “Yet” lace – an unbelievably soft blend of 65% merino wool and 35% tussah silk – in the colorway Filefish. Isn’t the mixture of rich colors amazing?
I will be having fun with this yarn all weekend as I work to turn my sketch into a reality. I can’t wait to share more details! And, thanks Miss Babs for the incredible fiber delight! Yummy!
This weekend I had the pleasure of taking a test drive with the new Knitter’s Pride Dreamz Interchangeable Tunisian Crochet hooks available through WEBS. Not only are they beautifully made, it is pure joy to stitch with them. The ergonomic design of the hooks makes them extremely comfortable to hold and the colors are absolutely mesmerizing. In fact, each size is color-coded, making the hooks easy to identify, grab and go.
The Dreamz Tunisian crochet hooks range in size from E (3.5 mm) all the way up to 12 mm and come in vibrant shades of purple, green, orange, raspberry and teal. Simply put – they are a must for every Tunisian crocheter’s upcoming holiday wish list. The basic set, which is less than $55, comes with 8 hooks (US sizes E, G, 7, H, I, J, K and L), 4 cables (one 24”, two 32”, and one 40”), cable connectors, 8 end caps, 4 cable keys and a clear carrying case.
Personally, I enjoy the feel of wooden hooks the most compared to metal or plastic ones – there is something about the weight and the natural texture that I find pleasing. The Dreamz hooks are made from densified laminated birch wood, which was selected with the test of time in mind. Birch wood is harder than other woods, like ebony and rosewood. It has minimal water absorption too, reducing the chances of warping and allowing the hooks to remain strong. Each Dreamz hook is topped with a low-gloss finish to enhance the intrinsic beauty of the wood and keep them smooth to the touch.
Well, I am sure like me you are asking – yes, these are pretty but why do I need another set of Tunisian crochet hooks. I asked Kathy Elkins, who owns WEBS along with her husband Steve, this very question. “The Dreamz hooks are similar to some other Tunisian crochet hook sets out there in all the ways we love – cords in different lengths, a great range of hook sizes and stoppers for each cord – but then they are different and so much better!” she explained.
The added bonus that comes with these Tunisian crochet hooks is the perfect blend of well thought out design elements – namely, a novel screw-and-key mechanism that allows the hooks to seamlessly connect to the cords, extra long nylon cords that don’t kink, and a streamlined shape for crocheting ease.
“Not only is the color-coding by size a terrific and unique feature, the join is virtually seamless and the transition from cord to hook is gradual and smooth with no step-ups or bumps to catch your stitches,” Kathy continued. “Since the join is screwed together and you have the locking pin to get it nice and tight, your hooks and cords won’t separate. Finally, the hooks themselves are fantastic with an inline shape, a nice deep throat and a not-too-pointy tip; so, you don’t have to worry about splitting your stitches. And while not as slippery as the Addi’s, I have tried almost every fiber with these hooks and NOTHING catches on the surface.”
Of course, I took this as a challenge and had to try the hooks out on a range of yarns in my stash too. The hooks glided through everything from mohair to merino to acrylic without a glitch. Here is a sample of one of the hooks in action with Gems, 100% merino wool yarn, by Louet. FYI – this is a Tunisian crochet lattice stitch pattern that I have been playing around with for an upcoming design. Stay tuned for more!
An American Success Story
Although made in India by KnitPro, the Dreamz line is part of the next chapter for WEBS, a true American family business. The full line includes single-end crochet hooks in 13 sizes, interchangeable knitting needles, fixed circular needles, as well as double pointed and straight needles.
The history of WEBS is a beautiful story and an inspiration to all of us who wish to turn our passion into a paycheck. “WEBS was founded in 1974 by my mother-in-law, Barbara, and her friend. It started in the basement of Barbara’s home and the focus was to teach people to weave,” recounted Kathy. “Eventually the family wanted the basement back and her friend decided business was not for her, so they parted ways. Barbara leased an 800 sq. ft. retail space in Amherst, Massachusetts; and, by the early 80′s, she added yarns for knitting and crochet.”
Over the next decade the business continued to expand and moved from a Victorian house in downtown Amherst to a larger location in Northampton by 1992. Ultimately, though, WEBS landed on some prime real estate in the virtual world after Barbara’s husband, Art, read an article on the importance of the internet in the Wall Street Journal and purchased the url http://www.yarn.com.
Eventually, by early 2002, Barbara and Art had passed the reigns to their son Steve and daughter-in-law Kathy. “Art and Barbara asked us a couple of times if we were interested in joining the business, which we politely declined. By 2001, Art and Barbara were ready to move on and had finally found a buyer. They came to see Steve and I that fall – one last-ditch effort to convince us to take over the business,” Kathy said. “They came with financials, charts, and projections – the works. I decided it was a good decision for us and it took a few weeks, but eventually Steve agreed that taking over WEBS was the best for us.”
Today, WEBS has grown from a small mail order business to the go-to online destination for all things fiber related. Kathy and Steve pride themselves on listening to their customers and constantly improving to meet their needs. “We consider ourselves very fortunate to do what we do. We constantly remind our staff that knitters, crocheters and all fiber artists have many, many choices of where to shop. So, we have to always be grateful when we are their chosen destination and make their shopping experience the best it can be,” concluded Kathy.
In fact, the Elkins back all of their products 100%, including the new Dreamz line, and will replace any broken or damaged parts. For more information on the Knitter’s Pride Dreamz Interchangeable Tunisian Crochet hooks, visit WEBS online at http://www.yarn.com/.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.
Clearly, the entire world has been touched by the life of Steve Jobs. It’s no doubt that he will remain an inspiration for generations to come and his business has revolutionized every facet of our day-to-day lives.
I was touched this morning by this quote of his during the 2005 commencement address at Stanford. I immediately thought of my passion, crochet, and how I want nothing more than to eat, sleep and breathe it all day long. Some of us stitch for fun and some of us stitch because we have to – it’s our creative outlet. It’s our gift of beauty back to the world. Much like the iphone, ipad, ipod, and Mac computers were all Jobs’ gift of beauty to us.
So, my point is that I resolve today to embrace my hook and live out my dream…no matter what. Thank you Steve Jobs for inspiring me to do. Rest in peace.