By Rita de Maintenon

www.heirloomtreasuresfiberarts.com

After getting bored with the same old crochet stitches and patterns I was inspired one day by a mysterious package in my friend’s attic. She found an old Irish crochet collar, doilies, handkerchiefs and some funny-looking tools that turned out to be her grandmother’s hairpin lace tool and a pair of wooden size 50 knitting needles. She gifted me the mystery box and a new inspiration was born – to check out how to use the hairpin tool, and also how to use the knitting needles as a broomstick tool. Apparently my friend’s grandmother knew how, as there was a broomstick wrap on the bottom of the box.

This entire kaleidoscope of treasures led me back to the old-fashioned techniques I glossed over as a child in favor of easy projects. I went in search of ideas to return to the heritage techniques, and ways to incorporate them in my more contemporary designs, and possibly combine more then one technique in a piece.

Since I also like to knit, Aran crochet fascinated me as a less difficult alternative to cables. Work on a base row of double crochet. In the next row start with 3 dc, then simply skip 3 stitches in your pattern, front post double crochet in the next 3 stitches, then cross over the three you just worked and go back to fpdc into the skipped stitiches, dc in the next 2 stitches, skip 3 and repeat. End with dc in the last 3 stitches. On the next row start with 3 dc, put a back post dc in each of the next 6 stitches, then 2 dc and repeat across. In the third row do your 3 dc, then front post dc in the next 6 stitches, then 2 dc and repeat across, this creates the cable effect.

Another great technique is Tunisian crochet, which can have the look of its knitting cousin. You start with a chain of the desired length and then the process continues with a forward pass of picking up a loop through each chain. Without turning, the loops are worked off in a reverse pass with either a simple pull-through stitch or a Tunisian Double Crochet. There are also variations on Tunisian Lace, which are beautiful on any edge.

Instead of working off the loops in the reverse pass, try picking them up with knitting needles and proceed with your desired knitting pattern.

Broomstick Lace was born out of the suggestion that even resting women sitting on the porch after sweeping have to keep their hands busy by working any handy yarn or threads around the top of the broomstick, only to form them into loops once time allowed.

As in Tunisian crochet, we start with a base chain and then pick up loops around the broomstick. After the broomstick is filled with the desired number of loops, you can work them off by putting 3 single crochet in 3 loops (or 2 in 2 loops of something fuzzy, like mohair) As long as the number of stitches and chains combined remains the same, your project will stay flat and retain its shape.

After forming the eyes, you can continue to pick up loops for more of the same or start working half doubles, doubles, or whatever suits your fancy, because at any time you can pick up loops around the broomstick again to go back to regular broomstick technique. Since I work a lot of baby designs I started using size 15 knitting needles, using the same technique; alternating the 2 sizes of needles makes an interesting design as well, as seen in the crib cover photo.

Hairpin Lace opens so many possibilities, and any kind of thread or yarn will work. I have worked one strip into a sash for a wedding dress (matching shoulder straps would be nice!) using mercerized embroidery cotton, making 4 loop eyes with beads inserted (see picture). On the opposing end of the spectrum I have used very fluffy mohair with just 2 loops per eye. As long as you adjust your hook to the yarn or thread and the number of loops to your eye, everything will stay smooth and flat. The fun here comes when we use a little math to make things interesting: you can use embroidery cotton to loop 9 together with 4 chains in front of the eye, 1 sc in the eye and 4 chains behind the eye. On the opposite side you can use groups of 3 – just be sure to have the same number of loops on your hairpin on each side or when making multiple strips – I am not too fond of adding loops or taking strips apart after the fact. Figuring the mathematical possibilities, once inspired, is lots of fun.

Of course, you don’t have to put several strips together in the conventional way, you can pick up your loops and work them like broomstick eyes, you can then switch over to large or small broomstick technique (as in the Christening gown hem) or even slide them onto knitting needles to start knitting. On the opposite side of the strip are more possibilities for fun, why not just cut the loops and create a fringe hem while working up on the opposite side?

Thread crochet is fun and doilies are a great way to start. Why not use a vintage pattern for a very small one to make a set of 6 interesting coasters? They don’t have to be white or ecru, in fact, bold colors look very contemporary and you can match them to your décor.

Thread crochet is still one of my top favorites. I love making pretty borders around handkerchiefs for bridesmaids’ gifts in colors to match the gowns or fold them in half and gather the fold side to create a baby bonnet as an heirloom gift. My christening gowns are usually worked upwards from an interesting hem, then the design develops and the gown tells me how to proceed and when to switch to another stitch or technique.

I love Irish crochet because of the freedom of creating the flowers and shamrocks to decorate a classic piece of work. That work can be free flowing and only your imagination limits you to design and color. Irish crochet uses lots of picots as well, and I love that combination, as seen in the Irish Rose christening gown.

Many people still like filet crochet, which is worked from a chart. The technique is quite easy but there aren’t too many possibilities to get creative, so I still own my one and only piece and take it to every show and workshop just to make a statement. You could make up your own chart and play around with a desired design………..

My most challenging thread crochet projects involve bullions. It is like growing little worms by wrapping your thread around a very small hook 12 – 20 times and then pull the working thread through that tube of loops. I found it works easier when grabbing the loops with the left hand and wiggling along as the hook slides through them. Each bullion requires a few attempts (the more loops the harder it is) but the result is so worth it, as you can see in the Bullion Baby Booties picture.

There are very good basic techniques and other historical information on sites such as Wikipedia and www.stitchdiva.com. You can find directions and patterns on www.dailycrochet.com, http://www.crochetcabana.com and many more sites. All of the techniques I described above are pretty easy to learn for an experienced crocheter. I would encourage anybody who loves to crochet to try and work with smaller thread and combine some different techniques within a crocheted or a crochet/knit project.

For the finishing touch, try to pick up loops around the borders of a project and continue with a broomstick lace border (see green sweater) or a Tunisian lace border. Also use the beautiful embroidery threads on the market now to create ties and flowers, edging for any project to give a Coco Chanel effect; use those threads for I cords and braids, you can even cover buttons to match your project.

So, if you love to crochet, try your hand at combining those fun techniques – any time you see loops or stitches, think outside of the box, forget the rules and create something really original, an heirloom or a contemporary piece of self-expression, such as my Stitch Galaxy.

“I do what I love and I love what I do”

Rita de Maintenon is a retired educator and now full-time fiber arts designer and teacher. She is a member of the Southern Highland Guild, HandMade in America, the Arts Council of Henderson County and a Blue Ridge National Heritage artist. Her specialty is using heritage techniques in updated, contemporary applications.

Rita de Maintenon
Heirloom Treasures Fiber Fiber Arts


Rita and her Hairpin tool


Aran style cables in crochet


More broomstick in this jacket


Broomstick close-up


Hairpin lace in doily


Details on hem of Christening gown


Full gown


Wedding sash


Irish Crochet details


Bullion Booties



Rita’s Star Galaxy, incorporating several techniques