Crochet on the Runway: Craft, Slow Fashion, and You

“Crochet is having a moment,” say the fashion editors. This sort of proclamation can set your eyes rolling when you live and breathe your specific craft, but it’s never a bad thing when the needle arts rise to the top of trendtrackers’ minds. As a person who predominantly knits and has recently taken a detour from working in the yarn industry, I was excited to pick at this thread to see what it means for crafters who also happen to love fashion.

CROCHET + FASHION

Crochet seems to crop up on the runway every dozen years or so and almost always as an ironic twist on the granny square. Although I’m always happy to see yarn wrapped models, I wonder if hard-core crocheters feel that the bright multicolored squares, seemingly rescued from the backs of seventies sofas, overshadow the rest of a complex handcrafted tradition.

The small stable of designers who make the effort to incorporate handcrafted pieces support the predictions of leading trend forecaster Li Edelkoort, who has boldly proclaimed that fashion is dead. In early 2017, she delivered a so-called anti-manifesto to a rapt audience of fashion-industry leaders. Rather than a final word, her talk offered a way forward via craft. “It [fashion] doesn’t exist anymore,” she said, envisioning instead a return to couture, a focus on clothes rather than fashion, and a widespread craving for authenticity and the handmade.

CROCHET + BUSINESS

A shining example of craft-led commerce is the atelier of Isa Catepillán, a nomadic crochet designer and instructor from Chile who focuses on ethereal, bohemian wedding garments (find her Succulent Clutch pattern made for Interweave Crochet in the Spring 2018 issue). “When I crochet, I experience a beautiful flow of knowledge coming from within. The only way I can explain this is that most of the ancient cultures or tribes developed a simple or complex way of weaving,” Catepillán said. “And even now, most of us have a grandmother, auntie, or someone in our lineage who used to crochet, knit, or weave.” In workshops, Catepillán helps crafters connect to their own ancestral memories and develop an appreciation for the handmade.

Dress by Isa Catepillán at the Byron Bay International Fashion Festival. Photography by Daniel Cordero from CASJ Photography.

I asked Catepillán if her degree in economics informed her design work or her approach to running her own studio. She shared that although her academic background lends structure to the way she operates, she designs from a deeper, more personal space. “It comes from questioning things,” she said. “From seeing my mom sewing my dresses when I was a kid, making all Christmas presents by hand. It comes from helping my dad cook everything from scratch. From my relationship with nature and from my strong desire to know who I am, deeply.”

Catepillán encourages study as a precursor to experimentation. “A couple of times I bought a pattern from another artist, not to copy what they have designed but to understand other creative minds’ ways and from that expand my own ways of doing things.” Beyond this, the portability of crochet lends itself to impromptu crafting sessions, either solo, with friends, or with a newfound comrade-in-yarn (this always happens to me on public transit). “When I was a kid, it was normal in Chile that most of women would do something by hand,” Catepillán said. “They would carry their projects in their handbags and crochet, knit, or stitch every time they had an opportunity. It was normal to sit around aunties, grandmas, and neighbors to talk, laugh, and make something. It’s a shame that it doesn’t happen much anymore, at least in big cities and main regions.”

Dress by Isa Catepillán at the Byron Bay International Fashion Festival. Photography by Daniel Cordero from CASJ Photography.

CROCHET + ME

A surprising side effect of working in the fashion industry is that I am increasingly thoughtful about my purchases. More and more retailers are considering the full life cycle of a garment, creating programs that give customers incentives to recycle unwanted garments alongside new purchases. The rise of decluttering trends, capsule wardrobes, and minimalist lifestyles gives me pause when perusing fast fashion racks, and yet I definitely crave new. Enter crochet.

Just recently, I admired a dimensional ruffled sweatshirt at a fast-fashion superstore. As I ran my fingers through the dense flounces, I realized how easily I could replicate the effect at home. A bit of applied chain stitch, perhaps in a sturdy cotton, and I’d be off to the races. I thought of the admiring comments that might follow and the sliver of well-deserved pride that comes with saying, “Thanks, I made it myself.” I left empty-handed, totally happy.

Dress by Isa Catepillán at the Byron Bay International Fashion Festival. Photography by Daniel Cordero from CASJ Photography.


CIRILIA ROSE is a Seattle-based language and textile obsessive with more than a decade of design experience. She writes for www.nordstrom.com and volunteers with GeekGirlCon. Follow her at www.ciriliarose.com.

This article originally appeared in Interweave Crochet Spring 2018. To see more of Isa Catepillán’s upcoming designs, be sure to subscribe to Interweave Crochet and never miss an issue!


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