By Ellen Gormley

I don’t know when my love-affair with motifs started. It can probably be traced to the day I was making a granny blanket from scraps in my mother’s yarn stash. I noticed that making a new color combination for every square, and discovering all the possibilities as the combinations unfolded, was quite magical. Fast forward 25 or more years and 100 blankets later, and I have written a whole book about motifs! I love the potential of overlapping stitches and colors.

There are so many great shapes for motifs that deserve attention. Mixing different shapes in one blanket takes it from very nice to truly spectacular. Go Crochet! Afghan Design Workbook describes all the crochet basics while offering 50 motifs that can be mixed together for unique results. Each motif comes with a little snippet of a story of how it came to be. There are 10 of each shape: squares, rectangles, hexagons, triangles, and octagons. The chapter introductions show various ways to fit the pieces together. There are also 10 full blanket projects to guide the way.

How do the motifs come about, you ask? The hexagons were the easiest to design, while making ovals for the base of rectangles was very challenging, but also inspiring. Most often the motifs were designed by grabbing a yarn, whatever appealed at that moment without too much analyzing, and a favorite hook, and just diving in.

Since motifs are most often worked in the round, I used the adjustable loop method for the beginning loop. I could adjust it to fit as many or as few stitches as I felt like making. Sometimes I would start with a goal in mind of a particular shape and sometimes not. Often the magic number is 12. 12 is divisible by 4 so it could be made into a square or rectangle shape, or can be divided by 6 to make a six-sided hexagon. If I wanted to make an octagon, I’d start with a beginning number of stitches that would encourage an eight-sided shape. From there, a little bit of experimentation, a little imagination and a motif would develop.

In designing, there is as much decision making about what to put in as what to leave out. Have I used the same stitches frequently? Should I try a new stitch? What haven’t I used lately? To achieve the “final” motif, sometimes it would take as many as 6-8 tries, each time tweaking the stitches and the color scheme until arriving at a happy finish.

After a motif is designed, there are still more questions to answer. What will it become, and how will the motifs be joined? Just about any project can be built from motifs: fantastic blankets, scarves, shawls, skirts and sweaters. I use a digital camera, copying and pasting a motif into a document, to help me see what an overall pattern of motifs might look like when put together. Color usage can be critical in helping the individual shapes stand-out or blend in. If the desired effect is to have the edges of the motifs blend into one another with no clear boundary, it makes sense to use one color for either the whole motif or just the final rows of the motif. Often I like the unique shape of the motif to “pop”. By using a contrasting color for the joining rounds, the join acts as a “frame” around the motif and emphasizes the shape. Changing the colors can dramatically change the overall look of the project.

Blocking motifs is a personal choice, but for a perfect finished project, blocking is a must. Blocking individual motifs is quick and easy. Motifs can be blocked as they are completed, so that they can be blocked in small batches. Join-as-you-go projects will need to be blocked after they are joined. Generally, I wet-block motifs, by dampening them with water and pinning them to air-dry.

Once the motif’s colors are chosen and many of them are joined, the question of edging needs to be answered. I love the natural contours of an irregular edge for a hexagon blanket for example, but it may not be as pleasing in a garment. Designing partial or “fill-in” motifs to smooth out the edges might be necessary. Stitch diagrams come in handy when making partial or half motifs to fill-in the edge spaces. With a stitch diagram, you can cover half the motif with a piece of paper and only view the piece you need to make. This will give you a good start to re-designing a partial motif to flatten out an irregular edge.

Read more tips on how to create your own motif afghan in the book, available now on Amazon, or signed copies are available on my blog,

Ellen stitched more than 80 afghans before beginning her design career in 2004. Now, Ellen has sold more than 100 designs, and been published numerous times in many crochet magazines including Interweave Crochet, Crochet Today, Crochet!, Crochet World and Inside Crochet. Her designs have been shown on the PBS show Knit and Crochet Now! Her first full length book Go Crochet! Afghan Design Workbook, was released in May, 2011 with F+W/Krause publishers. Ellen loves knitting, reading and chocolate cake.