Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Elephant No. 135: Crocheted Lace

At my fibre arts guild meeting today, the theme was crochet, so I decided to try a piece of crocheted lace for today's elephant.

Crochet—French for "hook"—involves the use of a hook-like needle to create lace, garments, jewellery and more. Little is known of the early history of crochet, although some have suggested that it could have evolved from traditional practices originating in China, South America or the Middle East.

The first written reference to crochet-type stitches appears in the nineteenth-century book The Memoirs of a Highland Lady by Elizabeth Grant, who describes something called "shepherd's knitting". By 1824, crochet patterns were being published, and by the middle of the century crocheting had become a popular form of needlework, particularly among women.

Early crochet hooks varied considerably. Bent needles embedded in cork handles were widely used by Irish laceworkers, while wealthy women used silver, brass, steel, ivory and bone hooks, often set in elaborate handles. Many of these were not terribly practical—designed, as one source says, "to show off a lady's hands [rather than] to work with thread."

One of the more elaborate and beautiful forms of crocheted lace is known as "Irish lace". Interestingly, this type of crochet developed during the Great Irish Famine of 1845–1849, as a form of famine relief. Irish workers produced lace as a way of making money, and Irish lace was highly popular in both Europe and the United States until the First World War. These elaborate patterns were much sought after by the wealthy in particular, and I've been told that a dress made of Irish lace from the early twentieth century would have sold for the equivalent of $20,000 U.S. in today's currency.

Nineteenth-century Irish lace. This is a more elaborate form of Irish lace,
known as "needlepoint lace".
Photo: Alexa Bender
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Irish_crochet.jpg

Today's elephant is somewhat similar to Irish lace, although nowhere near as elaborate. I found a free Japanese pattern online, which I thought was kind of cute. It was also entirely in Japanese, which would have made it off-limits to me, but for a diagram that looked like it might hold a clue as to how it was made.

Not that I had any clue. I'd never seen a diagram like this before, and had no idea what the symbols meant. To me, it looked more like an embroidery pattern. Luckily, at the fibre arts guild there were people who knew exactly what it all meant—and what's more, gave me the equivalent of a crochet-English dictionary.

It looked pretty simple now that I knew what the symbols meant, so I took some fine crochet cotton and a tiny hook. I'm by no means an expert at crochet, and I'd never made lace before, but I figured it couldn't be that hard. I've always thought that crochet is far easier than knitting, so confidence was high. Silly me.

I started by making the head. Without printed instructions, I wasn't sure if that's where I was supposed to start, but this seemed to work out well enough.

It also seemed fairly straightforward to create the neck.

Then I got to the flowered body. I must have taken it out about six times. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out how the flowers attached to the body while being crocheted. After I ripped out the stitches for the sixth time, it suddenly hit me that, if I made the flowers separately, I could then crochet them into place and crochet some other stuff around them.

Easier said than done. One, my hands were getting kind of cramped from working so small. Two, I hadn't a clue as to how you attach flowers to the middle of nothing. I finally managed to figure something out, but I'm sure that if any real crochet expert had been watching me, they would have either laughed or rolled their eyes. Sometimes it's good to work alone.

Once I got the stupid flowers fixed in place, I worked more stitches around that part, added some legs, and a tail. I didn't think it would be very interesting to look at any of that in progress, so this is the final body.

The last touch was adding the ear, which is the only three-dimensional element. I couldn't figure this out, either. While I could easily see how the ear was made, I couldn't figure out how it got crocheted into the head. After about four attempts at this, I finally rigged something that seemed to work. I actually liked making the ear and think it's rather pretty, in the end.

I didn't enjoy making this at all, but that's mostly because I didn't know what I was doing and probably needed written instructions in a language I could read. I guess it's not really enough to have a diagram if you don't know how to make lace in the first place.

I really like the final elephant, however. It's only about 7.5 x 6.5 cm (3 x 2.5 inches), so it's rather sweet. I even forgive it for irritating me. I may try lace again sometime—but I think I should probably look for instructions in a language other than Japanese.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Like a number of other species, elephants appear to rejoice when reunited with others of their species—and particularly members of their extended clan. One writer has described the celebration as "raucous".

The elephants will run over to one another, flap their ears, spin about excitedly, and greet one another with a low rumble. Those who have witnessed the phenomenon have described it as "unabashed jubilation" and "unfettered joy".

To Support Elephant Welfare
World Wildlife Fund
World Society for the Protection of Animals
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Performing Animal Welfare Society
Bring the Elephant Home
African Wildlife Foundation 

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