Irish Crochet is Boho Chic

Irish Crochet scarf dress

Irish Crochet scarf dress

I’m fascinated with lace and consider it a core element of Boho Chic design. In my exploration of lace and lace making, I have become enamored with Irish crochet. Complex designs are made from simple shapes that are either crocheted together or appliqued onto a crochet net background using nothing more than cotton thread and a crochet hook.

The Irish lace industry help Ireland survive the great potato famine in the middle to late 1800′s. Women were looking for ways to help support their families and most having been schooled in the needle arts, crochet and tatting were a relatively inexpensive and easily portable means to make a living. It was heavily influenced by the Venetian needlepoint laces (which despite it’s name, is nothing like what we know as needlepoint today). The Irish crochet industry remained popular until the late 19th and mid 20th century when machine made laces became readily available at a cheaper cost.

Irish crochet is characterized by two things – motifs which usually depict flowers, leaves and scrolls and a net background for thousands of permutations – only limited by your imagination.

If you want to explore this freeform expression of crochet, there are some wonderful resources still available, especially from Dover Publications (where would we be without Dover to keep those oldies still in circulation?). Also, check out The Irish Crochet Lab for patterns and tutorials.

 

Irish Knitwear Designer Cyril Cullen

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Cyril outside his window at Bergdorf Goodman’s in New York City

‘The word “knit” comes from the old English word “knotta” meaning “knot”. I was intrigued to discover that by putting a series of knots together, I could make any shape or design that world come to my head. Hence, I have always considered knitting to be both a craft and an artform.’ – Cyril Cullen

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, today I introduce you to Irish knitwear designer Cyril Cullen. I had never heard of him until I was in Ireland visiting a friend and on my search for some sort of book/pattern about Irish crochet (to bring home as a souvenir) I found a book about Cyril Cullen – Knot Sure: The life and work of Irish fashion designer Cyril Cullen by his daughter Margot Cullen (alas, I never did find anything about Irish Crochet)

Cyril began his career as a knitwear designer on a bet. An avid golfer, one of the women in his foursome was always knitting but Cyril noted that she wasn’t making a lot of progress on her sweater. He bet her he could knit a sweater in a week. With no previous experience or outside help, he won the bet. Knitting became a passion and after appearing on the first national television network and attracting the attention of Adele Astaire (Fred’s sister), his knitting empire was born.

By 1963 he employed 40 full time hand knitters. Initially Cyril was doing custom work while still working as a civil servant but a job transfer caused him to rethink his business model. He decided to create a limited number of exclusive designs to stores. He also starting designing patterns for yarn companies and continued his TV show where he demonstrated techniques in a “knit-along” style.

In 1966 he was employing 1200 hand knitters and finally decided to quit his day job and dedicate his time to his knitwear business. He started out in a derelict building in Carrick-on-Shannon and today operates out of Farney Castle where his creative focus is working with porcelain instead of yarn.

For me, the most interesting thing about Cyril is not his designs, though some would still be considered fashionable today (others, such as the Oyster Suit, are best left in the decade they were made). What I find fascinating about Cyril is the curiosity, creativity and passion he exhibits for whatever currently has his interest. Whether it be knitting or porcelain, he is self-taught and not afraid to explore and experiment with his craft.  As an Irishman, he takes great pride in his heritage and uses it’s rich craft and textile history as a source of inspiration. He liked to combine different techniques in his designs – crochet, embroidery and crios weaving. When he wondered how he could create a multi-colored garment without using dyes, his curiosity led him to Jacob sheep, a rare breed characterized by their contrasting shades of fleece.

Sweaters knit from yarn spun from Jacob sheep fleece

Sweaters knit from yarn spun from Jacob sheep fleece

The most fascinating thing for me about Cyril’s work is his signature Hand Knit Fill. While the book does contain several knitting patterns, there are no directions for this interesting trim nor are there any close up pictures of it. The only clue to it’s technique is a drawing which might be more “artistic” than technically accurate. While I may not have a pattern for it, it does inspire me to explore the idea on my own.

As a self-taught designer and educator, I think that’s the way Cyril wanted it.

 

 

 

 

 

A Few Knitting Hints

This picture is of two sleeves in progress (I had to rip out the first set because I tried something new and it didn’t work – oh well, live and learn).

Hint #1: I like to leave a VERY long strand of yarn (tail) when I cast on. I use this strand to sew up my sleeve seam and then sew it into the armhole of my sweater. But when I do this then I have to deal with that long strand which leads to my second hint.

Hint #2: use bread tabs to wind up the extra yarn so it isn’t dangling around and interfering with your knitting.
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Free Knitting Pattern – Fingerless Mittens

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I am always on the lookout for vintage pattern books. On a recent trip to Half Price Books I found part of a series of vintage patterns compiled by Interweave Press from a turn of the century publication called Wheldon’s Practical Needlework. The series contains knitting, crochet, embroidery, quilting and crepe paper (!) designs. I bought them because I had the idea of taking some of these vintage patterns and giving them a modern spin. At the very minimum, I hoped to be find some interesting stitch patterns.

The first project that I decided to tackle was a pair of fingerless mittens called “Lady’s Silk Mittens” (you can get my pattern here). The problem with so many vintage patterns is that the needles used then don’t conform to our current standards, the yarn is no longer available, we aren’t given a weight (i.e. bulky, worsted, lace, etc) or yardage, and there are no schematics nor gauge.

Experience helped me narrow some of my choices. I chose Patons Astra, a light weight (#3) yarn and size 3 double pointed needles. I just started following the directions as written. While the language was cumbersome (“procure some yarn…”) I understood the pattern without any problems. The problem came when I got into the hand of the mitten. I know I have small hands, but it was HUGE. I liked the yarn and the needle size though so I decided to size it down. The stitch pattern was a multiple of 8 so I took the gauge measurements, measured my hand and recalculated. Then I ripped it all out and started over. My calculations worked out fine and I was happy with my second attempt.

Another area I had to adjust was the thumb. If I had continued according to the directions the thumb would have had a 4 inch circumference and would have too long. This part was a little bit more fiddly but I managed to work out a solution so that the thumb depth and circumference were in proportion for my gauge.

I’m very pleased with the finished project. I was attracted to this pattern because of the design and a benefit of projects like this is seeing how different patterns are combined. For me, knitting and crochet is all about the stitch pattern. I like working in stockinette stitch because it goes fast and is relaxing but the advantage to knitting and crochet is that you actually get to make the textile. As a designer I would prefer to stick to a basic silhouette and let the texture/stitch pattern be the star.

Finding inspiration for your designs

Inspiration is all around you.

Today it came via the USPS. I got this book from the Ukraine:

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which is a wonderful smorgasbord of crochet delight. There are no patterns for the clothes. They are just there to show how you can use the motifs and stitch patterns in the book. And even though it is in Russian, there are diagrams and clear pictures so that anyone with a basic knowledge of crochet could figure it out. I already have several of these magazines and each one has more than enough inspiration to last a lifetime.

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Stamps from the Ukraine – inspiration all on their own

I also get a kick out of the stamps, which are often charming and inspiration in their own right.

The second book I got was from Japan. A quick glance through the book and I’ve already found motifs for several projects I’ve had dancing around in my head.

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But the wonderful thing is that inspiration is often in the unlikeliest places. I was waiting for a friend and noticed this fence. I’ve seen this fence a lot but this was the first time that I really noticed it. Maybe because I had been pondering crochet patterns and how I could mix and match motifs, stitch patterns and edgings. This time when I looked at the fence, I saw my pattern, except it was upside down. The top of the fence will be the bottom of my garment. The circles will be motifs and the vertical bars could be a lace insert or a cable or some other textured stitch pattern while the empty space would be a double or treble crochet.

Look around – what’s right in front of you that could be inspiration?

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Can you see the crochet pattern in this fence?

Profiles of Creativity – Susan Seitz

Susan_600pixI’d like to introduce you to Susan Seitz. I met Susan in my Kaizen Muse Creativity Coach class. In class, we were paired off so that we could each practice coaching and Susan was my coach. Susan has such a joyful spirit – she constantly brought a smile to my face. Her answers give you a glimpse into her jubilant personality. Enjoy!

How do you define creativity?

An expressive moment in time ~ where you get to witness and experience a transformation and share it with yourself and/or the World.

Do you think you’re born with it or can it be taught?

In my humble opinion:  Creativity is found in our DNA.  I’m pretty sure if we were to invent a microscope that could look closer into our DNA, we would find little tiny paintings filled with magical swirls of the rainbow.  How do I know this?  My creativity just told me so … and she never lies!

What is your favorite medium to express your creativity and why?

I’m smiling.  One … because I really don’t have favorites, I love them all, two … if I thought I had a favorite, it would be changing in the exact moment I thought it, three … refer to number one.  Currently working in acrylics, but love photography, watercolors, writing, dancing and singing … although dancing and singing in the super market with my children is never favorable!

What other ways do you like to express your creativity?

Every way possible … writing, speaking, playing, dancing, the way I look at the world, the way I view life internally, in conversation … every moment I can express creatively, is a gift to self.

What are you working on now?

Answering this questionnaire … it’s very entertaining!  I’m also working on some new paintings for an art show coming up in May, marketing for my Creativity Coaching, marketing for my summer workshops, and art camps, planning for new shows this year, website awareness, graphics for new business cards & posters … it is endless Fun!!!

Summer Joy by Susan Seitz

Summer Joy by Susan Seitz

Are you self taught or do you have formal training?

Don’t get me started!!!  LOL … Well … since I believe creativity is found in our DNA, I believe we can do whatever it is our soul desires … as long as you believe.  So I just pick up the paint brush … and paint.  I just pick up my camera … and take a picture; I just listen to the words in my head and type.  I create for me.  It’s really cool that others enjoy my work, but everything I create is for me and from me.  Therefore, no training needed.  And yes, along the way, I observed other artists, attended workshops, read books, watched videos and inhaled galleries ~ none of which I wore a tuxedo too!

Any pivotal moments in your creative journey?

Each and every day I experience one.  Each and every day I am in awe of how life unfolds in ways that are sometimes undesirable and somehow, I understand that it’s because of these moments that my creativity is fueled for another day.  On the flow side to ebb, there is much to be grateful for.  And it is in these moments that encourage and support and fill my wellspring with “ah yes, I am exactly where I need to be!”  These moments, each and every day ARE pivotal for me … as I embrace the process and experience my journey … one day at a time.

Did/do you have any mentors?

As much as great artists have influence my work, my most favorite is working with children.  They have such a gift to share … the ability to be free in their moment of creation ~ without judgment, without hesitation … a pure sense of Joy can be felt and witnessed when a young child adds color to paper.  They teach me so much.

How would you describe your creative process?

Along the Line by Susan Seitz

Along the Line by Susan Seitz

Standing naked in a meadow, on top of a hill, surrounded by a mixed forest filled with sounds that sooth the soul, smells that enhance the mind, tastes that entice the lips, sights that inspire the spirit and touch that reminds me of who and where I am … in this moment … the dance of all my being, ever present ~ without judgment ~ without expectations … unfolds … one small brush stroke at a time.  When I am in this space with my process … great things unfold as magical wonder!

What’s your favorite part and why?

I’m smiling … again!  Every part is my favorite … without each and every step … it wouldn’t be whole.

What is your least favorite part?

I am in Love with every morsel of it.  Seriously.  Without the perceived struggles, I wouldn’t experience the perceived highs.  It’s all a part of the dance and feels complete with all the twists and turns and twirlybirds.

How do you get through a block?

I walk up to it.  Introduce myself ~ and walk straight through.  The introductory part has a variety of lengths, depending of the block and the stage … but sure enough, as the path I leave behind me can contest … I eventually walk straight through.  I have found, it’s the only way to get to the other side.

Do you work on one thing at a time or do you have several projects going at once?

Oh most definitely working on several pieces at once.  And sometimes … on rare occasions … I will even eat a piece of cake at the same time!

Where do you look for ideas/inspiration?

Where ever my eyes take me … nature, mother earth, dust bunnies … they all have a little something to share in the creative process.  I just have to open my eyes and allow the journey to begin.

Oh to be Rooted by Susan Seitz

Oh to be Rooted by Susan Seitz

How do you celebrate the completion of a project (or the start of a project)?

The completion IS the celebration ~ the start IS the celebration ~ and all the inbetweenies.  To be in a creative moment in any given time IS the celebration.  Be with the moment … be with the process and inhale all that that moment has to offer … celebrating moment by moment is what this creative journey is all about.

How do you handle criticism and judgment?

I create a sound proof wall with a little peep window that has a sign hanging outside “Do Not Enter”.  The window is so I can stick my tongue at the “outside judgment world” once in a while … why?  Cause it’s a very cool, naughty creative thing to do!

What are your future plans?

I’m not the planning type … but I have this enormous intuitive ability that senses there is something really super duper juicyfruit explosively exciting waiting around the next field of daisy’s … I’m tempted to run to catch up to it … but then my creative soul reminds me of this moment that I am in … and all that really matters is now … and that in itself is very juicyfruit delicious!

Anything else you would like to add to the conversation?

Yes.  When you feel like life is getting you down, or you don’t know which way to turn.  Or things are thrown at you in such a way that you just can’t tuck and roll anymore.  Take a moment, and look inside.  There is a little voice that has been whispering … and sometimes we just have to be in silent in order to hear her magic.  We are all creative beings … it just might be your day to make a change ~ a creative change.  That is what I did.  That is how it all began for me.

You can find out more about Susan at www.susanseitz.ca