by Renie Breskin Adams
©2008 Renie B. Adams

Crochet is a looping technique in which a single yarn interlocks with itself repeatedly in an endless series of convoluted loops dragged through each other with a hook and resulting in a very bulky fabric. The somewhat torturous self-involvement of this single yarn is a lot like my life and I love it. Most of my early art works were crocheted.

My mother taught me to crochet when I was little. She gave me a box of all her leftover yarns and I made a blanket. I loved crocheting—the process—and, as I worked, it never occurred to me to spread the thing out and look at it until all the yarns were used up and I was done. I must not have wholly grasped the instruction about making a chain stitch before starting a new row, because the end of my blanket was about half the width of its beginning. We decided to give it to our dog Inky who was not judgmental and seemed to thoroughly enjoy it. Since then I’ve crocheted more blankets, pillow covers, wall hangings, baskets, mats, hats, teapots, doilies, bacon and eggs, monsters, potted plant pillows, beef stew, coffee pots, ice cream sundaes, cups and saucers, pastries, pearls, and more—with varying degrees of success.

My crocheted blankets and other flatworks are explorations of color, pattern, and technique. Some of these pieces were constructed of narrow bands either sewn together or joined in process, the “turn-around” chain stitch of the current band pulled through the selvage of the preceding band. Many included pattern crochet, a technique in which two or more yarns are alternated within a row, sometimes actively making the stitches and sometimes carried passively inside the stitches. In all of them, I watched the patterns develop, absorbing the shifting relationships of the colors, like watching the actors in a very, very slow Technicolor movie.

My studies in color and pattern extended to basketry forms, in which I was also looking for a way to crochet firm, self-supporting 3-D structures. Here’s what works for me: using relatively non-stretchy yarns, crocheting the tightest possible stitches, and depending on the form itself to contribute to it’s own stability. By measuring and counting stitches you can plan where and how often to increase or decrease in the construction of a “perfect” sphere or cone. It’s not easy to collapse a tightly crocheted, well-formed basket into a floppy flat thing. Although I do remember one time when a small basket was returned to me from an exhibition smashed into a manila envelope! I have to admit, that one was fairly flat if not floppy.

In constructing a basketry form, a novel way of decreasing is to crochet the base of your basket with a big hook and multiple yarns, and then gradually switch to smaller and smaller hooks, eliminating yarns as you crochet up from the base. This also allows for shifts in color and texture and a fine edge at the opening of the basket.

If you want a pattern only on the outside of your basket, pull your single crochet stitches through just the backside of the stitches in the preceding row, which will result in rows of linear stitches lying on the outside surface. These can be used to anchor embroidery, e.g., a needle woven pattern, to the outside surface of your basket without penetrating the basket wall.

Birth of a Monster
One time I planned to make a beautiful textile for the wall consisting of vibrant double-half-hitched (macramé) color wheels set in a field of scrumbly white crochet. The color wheels, ranging from light to dark, were to be projected at varying distances forward from the flat white background cloth depending on how dark the wheels were. Well, I could see in process that my 3-D structure was not going to be beautiful as a wall piece. I thought about it and decided maybe it could be the figure of a beautiful bird in the round. So I manipulated the scrumbly white background cloth into a body adding passages of crocheting, including a beak. But, with a strong will of its own, my failed wall textile refused to become a beautiful bird and, instead, it turned into a silly creature, “Baby Beak-nosed Monster” or “Portrait of My Weaving Teacher as a Young Man”, complete with saddle shoes. (My weaving teacher and I were the same age and wore saddle shoes in our youth.) The birth of “Baby” was a happy accident and the first of several small crocheted pillow forms that served as an expressive outlet for the surreal content of my doodles and daydreams.

Crochet is great. You can turn yarn into a loopy line that can loop back anywhere onto itself or extend beyond its borders unendingly (or at least until your yarn runs out). You can use that line to make a myriad of forms in symphonies of colors, patterns, and textures. You can wrap yourself up in a big crocheted picture and crochet pillows in the guise of potted plants. You can make virtually anything! Right now I’m dreaming about making little looped charms. I’m imagining lumpy abstract tiny animals that you can wear on a string or carry in your pocket….

Renie B. Adams is a fiber arts teacher and pioneer in contemporary forms of crochet and embroidery. Her works have been exhibited nationally and internationally and are housed in public collections, including the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and the Museum of Art and Design in NYC. Visit her gallery at to see more of her works in crochet, knotless netting, embroidery, and other fiber techniques. Click on Renie’s blog for more art and essays.

In the summer of 2009, Renie will be teaching a two-week workshop called Crochet Made Personal. Beginning and advanced students are welcome; emphasis is on individual designing and expression. Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. July 5-17, 2009

Self-portrait of Renie with friends