16 February 2014

Into Tapestry Crochet

Crochet has many fascinating sides, and one of them is tapestry crochet, or intarsia. The technique, similar to fair isle, involves changing colours mid-row to form intricate patterns, and gives much more freedom than simply changing colours at the end of a row. There is literally no limit to what you can create, from simple geometric shapes, like this pop-arty cloth by Jellywares (tutorial here)...

...to mind-boggling designs, like this one by Esther Holsen...

...to actual landscapes, like this one (unknown artist):

How amazing is that? There's even a whole website dedicated to it, by Guatemalan artist and master of the technique Carol Ventura.

In my early crocheting days, I spent hours on Pinterest going through hundreds of tapestry crochet pictures, gawking at them and wishing I could make something remotely similar.

Then, I bought this crochet book, where the technique was explained and illustrated in much detail. There was also a simple pattern to try your hand at the technique:

For some reason, I loved the look of it. Simple, but effective. Understated, yet original and powerful. I actually never got round to making it, and if was only much later that I realised it had inspired me for the project this post is about.

There is a special someone I know who loves the colour blue. Roughly around then, it was time to start thinking about getting him a birthday present. Only recently, he had treated himself with a brand new tablet, so the path to take was obvious. I would crochet him a tablet cover and I would do so in blue shades and in tapestry crochet.

I had a clear image in my mind, which I quickly sketched into my trusted notepad:

The letters are French - my first language - for the various colours: BF (bleu foncé) is dark blue, BC (bleu clair) light blue and BL (blanc) white.

Next, I drew a custom table in Word and coloured the cells with the appropriate shading, which I then copied and pasted in Paint:

In the meantime, I needed to find out how many stitches and rows would be needed to make the cover, which would in turn help me know where exactly I needed to change colours. After I made a swatch (I impressed myself there, I HATE swatching!), I knew I needed 29 stitches by 58 rows. So all I needed was to superimpose a rectangle made of 29x58 tiny squares onto my custom table.

I now know that there are special softwares that can convert images into stitch graphs, such as Knitpro 2.0, but I didn't at the time, so I went the makeshift route. I enabled the grid view in Paint and adjusted the image so it fitted over 29x58 squares and saved it as an image:

And that was the theory done. The actual crocheting was next, and I have to admit I was getting a little nervous about it. I had never used that technique before and I wasn't even sure I actually understood it. So I made another swatch, this time with colour changes, until I felt a bit more confident. The resulting item didn't look like much, but the Cat loved it, and it now has the official status of Cat Toy, hence its dreadful appearance and the reason why it can't possibly appear in this post.

And so I started the real thing. Boy, did I struggle with the first few rows! The three different threads kept getting tangled, and every colour change was slightly nightmarish, as I simply couldn't get the tension right. And I found the running of the "unused" yarn behind the work unsettling, accustomed as I had been so far to just cutting it and forgetting about until the project was finished. Plus, you have to remember to put the threads on the same side of the work, which can be a challenge when you have to turn it over with every row. Anyway, I slowly got there after a bit of sweating (and, yes, swearing). Here's how the wrong side of the work looked, with all the unused yarn carried over:

After a few rows, however, I really got the hang of the technique, and to my delight, the rest of the front panel worked up rather quickly, and most importantly, neatly. Here's a close-up look at the right side (oh dear, with cat hair, I'm afraid...)

Working a back panel was an absolute breeze after all this, as it was in plain dark blue. In about a couple of hours, it was finished and within another hour, joined to the front panel with a round of double crochet stitches in light blue:

I have to say it was quite refreshing and therapeutic to be able to work on uninterrupted rows of one single colour after all these strictly algebric colour changes for the front!

And so I was done! Ready for the big reveal? Drum roll, please......

TA-DAAAAH!!!! (I know I'm totally stealing Lucy's way of presenting finished projects on Attic24, but let's say it's a form of homage ^_^)

It was not prefect (especially as I realised I dropped a stitch at the end of a few rows), but in spite of this I have to say I loved it. I loved the fact that I'd managed to use a new technique and completed a project with it. And I loved, loved the idea that this physical, tangible item had started life as a mere pencil scribble in my little notepad. I couldn't quite believe it!

In the few months since completing this project, I have been meaning to start another tapestry crochet project, but have never got round to it. There has been so much more to explore, colour combinations, projects for friends, home projects... But I'm sure at some point I will get an unbearable itch to try the technique again, this time with different colours and/or different shapes.

Have you tried tapestry crochet yourself? I'd love to see your projects!

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