Beyond the Basics: Crochet Charm Lace
Inspired by Irish crochet lace, crochet charm lace draws its spirit from freeform crochet. The motifs are made from patterns, but then you arrange them however you wish. It is perhaps most accurate to describe it as “freeform-friendly”; there are a few guidelines that lead to a more successful project, but the final product relies largely on your imagination.
Traditional Irish crochet project instructions call for specific motifs and a set shape, such as a collar, edging, or doily. In addition, traditional Irish crochet is worked in thread of a single color. Beyond the patterns, though, is the essence of Irish crochet: You can use any motifs you want, and the shape of the project is dictated by the shape of the template, which you control.
Crochet charm lace takes this freedom a step further, bringing in the possibility of different colors, weights, and textures of yarn. It’s a marvelous technique for using leftovers—even one yard of yarn comes in handy for making filler motifs.
In crochet charm lace, gauge is relatively unimportant. A motif with a gauge of seven stitches per inch will be perfectly fine next to one with a gauge of five stitches per inch. The tension of the individual motifs is up to each crocheter; I prefer a firm but not tight gauge, because a firmly crocheted motif holds its shape better, and its details look crisp and well defined.
MAKE A PLAN
Despite its name, freeform is most effective if you follow a few guidelines. When making a crochet charm lace piece, start by choosing a theme, focused on either a color or a subject. A theme will unify the project and guide you in choosing motifs, yarns, and colors. For instance, if you want to use many different colors, choose just two main motifs for your piece. If you plan to use many different motifs, choose a main color and add small amounts of one or two accent colors. Of course, you have the freedom to do what you like, and there is room to work outside these parameters.
In fact, the Spring Things table mat uses many colors and yarns as well as many motifs. But all the motifs are associated with spring: flowers, animals, rain, gardening, and sunshine. the Dogwood Scarf uses four colors of yarn and includes flowers-and-leaves motifs, but it has only one type of yarn. The theme, whether it’s color or subject, gives the motifs a sense of belonging together.
The retro Television Scarf finds unity this way: All the televisions are made with the same yarn, and all the stars are golden yellow, but the golden yarns are different weights and textures. After you select your theme—again, unified by either color or subject—decide on the shape and size of your project. Most shapes are possible with crochet charm lace; you simply cut the base fabric template to the desired shape or use a garment as a template. When you first start working with this technique, it might be best to stick to simpler shapes, such as a rectangle for a scarf or a circle, as shown in the Spring Things table mat.
If you like, first cut a template from paper and adjust it until you’re happy. Then cut the shape from a sturdy fabric, such as denim or burlap. (Note that the fabric is simply a template and will not be part of the _nished product.) To make the template for the Spring Things table mat, I traced around a sixteen-inch (forty-one-cm) serving platter. Then, the crocheting begins. Crochet enough motifs to cover the template. The Spring Things table mat includes umbrellas, birds, flowers, leaves, and rain boots, as well as clouds and a sun. Maybe your theme calls for insects or sea creatures. Seek out odd shapes for the loveliest, laciest final project, and remember that the open space between the motifs is as important as the motifs themselves. As you work the motifs, weave in the ends. And before arranging them, block each motif.
Now for the fun: Arrange motifs facedown on the template with their edges touching wherever possible. Fit as many motifs onto the template as you can, as if you were putting together a crocheted jigsaw puzzle. The motifs won’t fit together solidly, just at the edges; this results in the lacy effect. The motifs in Spring Things tell a loose story about rain and renewal. In this “rough draft” (at right), I decided that the sky needs a bit more adjusting. Often in this rough-draft stage, you will find awkward spaces—too small for a motif but too big to be left open. Or a couple of motifs need to be joined, but you can’t stretch them far enough. The solution: filler motifs. Circles of sc or hdc make excellent fillers for those odd spaces between motifs. (Find directions for crocheting fillers in the Dogwood Scarf pattern.) The color of the fillers can function in different ways: in Spring Things, the fillers echo the colors in the motifs; in the Dogwood Scarf, the fillers blend in; and in the Television Scarf, the fillers accent the other motifs.
Arranging the motifs is a creative process that might call for more than one session. If your eyes start crossing or you become a bit frustrated, step away for a bit. You’ll see the arrangement differently when you come back. When you are satisfied with the arrangement, pin the motifs to the template with a safety pin. At this point in the making of Spring Things, I decided the dark blue flower next to the sun should be on the rainy side of the piece. I unpinned, rearranged, and repined everything.
Sew motifs together wherever they touch, preferably using a color of yarn that matches one or both motifs. To reduce bulk when joining, split 4-ply yarns into two 2-ply strands for sewing. Skim the needle through the loops just inside the edge of each motif, so the stitches will be invisible from the right side. As you tighten the stitches, the motifs will draw together. Weave in the ends, cut, and restart the sewing thread as necessary. Remove safety pins as needed to make sewing easier.
When all your motifs are sewn together, remove all the pins and fabric and turn the lace right side up. And smile.
SUZANN THOMPSON, the author of Crochet Bouquet (Lark Books), Crochet Garden (Lark Books), and Cute Crochet World (Sterling), had more cute little crocheted things than she knew what to do with until Irish crochet inspired this technique.
This article originally appeared in Interweave Crochet Spring 2015. For more chances to try this technique, check out these projects:
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Featured Image: The Dogwood Scarf and the Spring Things Table Mat CREDIT: Harper Point Photography and Suzann Thompson
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