15 March 2010

Deconstructing the Doily & Painted Crochet

With the deadline tomorrow and the competition entries safely delivered, it should be safe to talk about what I have been doing into the wee hours these past few weeks.

Crochet is still quite new thing for me. But because I was impatient to see what it would be like to crochet at a small scale, I cranked out a few rounds of a doily using a 0.05mm hook and some pretty, variegated cotton thread. Intriguing but painstaking. More thought, and a little more practice, was needed for this to work well.

Next, in order to better understand the technique of crocheting something circular and radiating, I tried a large scale, heavy gauge doily with cotton thread. This was ogled for a long time and finally coöpted by Baby. I think he digs the saturated colours. This project was my first stab at crochet in a doily format so I did each round in an alternate colour. This made it much easier to understand how each stitch (e.g., shells, bobbles, v-stitches) interlocked with the stitches of the previous round.

But the "doily" was going to have to be able to fit around the neck of a doll without removing her head so it had to be deconstructed. The easiest approach seemed to be to take a slice out of it, like a piece of pizza.

This one was left incomplete since I only had to prove the method sufficiently for the next attempt with some silver thread. However, I was having second thoughts about using the silver thread I had originally chosen. Would it be stiff enough to emulate one of Marina Bychkova's ornate and lovely metal collars? Or would it flop limply without being starched or sugared. To be safe, I placed an order for some fine sterling silver wire. I had read horror stories about how unforgiving wire can be when crocheted. Once hooked, it is permanently kinked and very difficult to adjust or undo.

The wire that arrived was much heavier in gauge than I had anticipated and even a bit dull. I was afraid that I might not have enough time to source something finer and have time to actually crochet it. So it was off to Britex to look for something metallic and readily available. The solution was Japanese button twist silk. It was a little thicker than I wanted but has a beautiful mettalic sheen and comes in rich colours. But there was no silver in stock that was bright enough. The gold thread they did have on hand was very beautiful so the silver colour scheme fell by the wayside.

With the collar done, it was time to think about the cape, tunic, robe, or whatever. Originally, I only had a vague notion about the form it would take but I did know that I wanted to try the technique known as painted crochet. This involves juggling three silk threads and gradually phasing in/out one thread at a time to achieve a very gradual colour graduation.

One of Marina's lovelier clothing pieces is actually one of the more concealing garments. She calls it Illumination. It reminds me of religious vestments and Tsarist robes (or what I imagine Tsarist robes might look like). I love how it hints at the lovely doll beneath, showing us only her lovely forearms and neck. It helps that the lovely, short-haired Edie models it too. Her short-haired dolls are my favourites.

But I have no experience with sublimation dying or metal casting so I wondered how I could create something in a similar mold with needlework. I decided to forego the heavy, concealing nature of the Illumination cloak. Not only was it out of line with my notions about the ensemble having a springlike, leafy or watery feel but something lighter seemed more feasible with the constraint of the approaching contest deadline.

So with vague ideas of new green foilage, watery rills, and even Rusalkas on my mind I began at the shoulders, letting the silky lace find its way off the hook and down the imaginary shoulders of an Enchanted Doll. I also liked the idea of making a mantle that both covered but allowed a view of the willowy doll underneath.

Another interesting twist was that as I cast on the foundation chain for the robe, I realized that my deconstructed doily technique would lend itself very well to the keyhole collar of a caftan. Landing the detail of the décolletage immediately suggested that the robe be in the style of a caftan. And a caftan would offer a nod to Marina's interest in Middle Eastern costume.

The collar itself was primarily half double crochet to provide a solidity that would emphasize its keyhole shape. The body of the robe was done in a trellis stitch that, I hoped, was evocative of growing tendrils, ivy, or moss. The colour at the neck was the darkest green and gradually transitioned, below the shoulders, to the brighter green and then, towards the edge of the caftan, to the lightest green.

Since hindsight is 20/20, what did I learn in making these? Button twist silk is not stiff enough to stand up like a metal collar. My poor golden collar, although very pretty when laying flat, was too limp and more of a capelet. Not even starch could overcome this. I would like to use this material again but perhaps for something other than a collar. It works up very well and comes in some beautiful colours. And the next time I try painted crochet, I must remember to choose colours that are very close to each other. I was pleased with the colours I used but the difference between the medium and lightest green was too great. As a result the gradient was not as subtle as it should have been and read more like a stripe.

One thing that I am still wondering about is the fit. I was using a scaled photograph of a nude Enchanted Doll. But a three-dimensional garment fits much differently on a three-dimensional doll than it does on a flatsie paper doll mock-up. Once ED HQ share their photographs, I will know better if the sleeves were long enough, ktl., ktl.

Winning and losing aside, it was great fun making this gift using the best materials I could source and the most intricate techniques I could muster. And it is also always enjoyable to make something for a new type of doll. I hope my measurements are close enough so that the caftan and/or the collar will fit on one of Marina's dolls. Perhaps she will even have some fun styling her dolls in them.

You can see Chad Isley's much nicer photographs of my entries here.

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