Crochet Art: Painting with Yarn
It was thanks to a girl that Pat Ahern learned both knitting and crochet. He wanted to impress someone he had a crush on by giving her a handmade item, so he asked his mom to teach him. He didn’t get the girl, but he did fall in love with needlework.
It wasn’t an easy start, though. Pat remembers both crafts being difficult to learn. He learned crochet first. He thought it was easier since it required only one hand, but now he says, “I’ve learned from teaching others that my yarn hand is working just as much as my hook hand. The motions seem so effortless now, but the difficult part was learning the coordination between the two hands. For knitting, it was much the same way: I had to practice holding the needles while handling the yarn.”
Pat’s mom has played a significant role in his crafting. She taught him the fundamentals, of course, and he remembers her being patient and understanding even though he was really frustrated by the initial difficulty. He says, “She would empathize with me and just told me this is what it was like. You’re going to make mistakes, and you’ll be able to fix them the more you crochet. I teach people the same way she taught me. Her encouragement gave me confidence and made me the crafter I am today.”
His mom still crafts, selling some of her work on Etsy. In addition to crochet and knitting, she is a stellar seamstress and has sewn the backing for all of Pat’s crochet portraits. “She lives back east now,” Pat says, “so I just send her the dimensions I need, and she sews them in a few hours and ships them out to me. My artwork would just be a rug without her!”
Painting with Yarn
Pat’s crochet niche is yarn portraiture. He does both facial portraits and full-length, sometimes life-sized, portraits in crochet. His detailed creations show expression, character, and creativity. He started with flat pieces and now also works in three-dimensional sculptural crochet portraiture.
Pat uses both black-and-white photos and color images for reference as he works. He measures the dimensions, eyes the shifts in colors, and works with different stitches to get results that look like the people he’s capturing in yarn. “Like with adjusting patterns, I change the picture a bit—changing colors, putting in other body positions and backgrounds to fit what I want,” he says. “I like to pull most of my yarn ends to the back of the piece, but I keep the ends out for other parts like hair and grass to give it more variation.”
“I use every stitch I know,” he says. “I love the half double crochet, and I use it the most. I like the look of using multiple stitches. Various combinations can create a unique foundation that can be filled in with other combinations of stitches. I think this is like a painting’s brushstrokes because it appears simultaneously random and calculated.”
The three most challenging parts of the process, he says, are the facial details, accurate sizing, and capturing the correct colors. The faces require the exact right stitches to look like the person, and sometimes it takes several tries to get the eyes right. Sizing and coloring are learned with patience, so it’s a good thing that he learned patience from his mom!
Pat has worked with different types of yarn as he’s honed his craft. He started with crocheter’s cotton but found that it distorted his images because it didn’t have enough elasticity. He really likes working with wool because of the richness of the fiber’s colors and textures. He doesn’t love acrylics (because he crochets tightly and they squeak!), but he uses them, as well as silk, for shine when areas of the face need highlighting. And he uses some chunky tapestry wool.
On Being a Dude
Pat honors the fact that crochet has traditionally been a woman’s craft but doesn’t feel awkward as a guy doing needlework. “There should be no question that it is a female craft form,” he says, “because girls and women are and have been the major contributors to the craft.” He says he thinks that this history may have benefited the craft because it allowed women a form of self-expression. “The worlds of cooking and fashion design are male dominated,” he notes, “even though their sole inspiration comes from their mother’s cooking and the female form.”
But crochet is a gender-neutral craft in the twenty-first century, he says. “It is a craft that can be for everyone and has seen more acceptance with teaching children of both genders because of its benefits for hand-eye coordination and understanding math.”
As for his own experience, Pat says, “Over the years, I was concerned that I was a novelty or becoming a gimmick because I was a man who knitted and crocheted. With the tapestries, I just do my own thing, and I have stopped worrying about what I thought others were thinking.”
Day and Night
At Pat’s house, he says, he’s surrounded by yarn and guitars. He usually crochets on his couch while either watching Netflix or listening to his iPod. Although he likes foreign films, he doesn’t watch them as often, because he doesn’t want to take his eyes off of his crochet to read the subtitles. When he’s not crocheting portraits, he enjoys making three-dimensional items, such as toys, puppets, and fruits and vegetables. He would like to learn Tunisian crochet. There’s always more to learn in crochet, he says. In knitting, he makes wearables and has a fondness for vintage patterns.
When asked whom he’d invite to a craft night, he answered his grandmother, John Lennon and knitter Yoko Ono, crochet portrait artist Jo Hamilton, yarnie Vanna White, and Amy Sedaris.
View more of Pat’s art on his website patahernart.com
Writer and crocheter Kathryn Vercillo is the author of Crochet Saved My Life (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012). She blogs at www.crochetconcupiscence.com
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