Crochet Me, Crochet You

In the Spring 2012 issue of Interweave Crochet, we started a new feature called Back Page: empowering crochet awesomeness. Our goal is to help you launch your own crochet awesomeness. And this blog is the empowering part of the idea featured in the Spring issue.

Those of you who have the magazine will see there something like this:

It's me, in pink/orange/red/yellow/brown. I like it. It feels like me, but it reflects the pink/orange I feel inside. You know?


Here's how it happened: I put a photo of myself into an iPhone app called LegoPhoto. Lego Photo renders the photo in pixelated form in different colorways. After I selected the colorway, I saved it and then printed it out. I used the pixelated photo as a chart for crocheting the portrait in Tunisian simple-stitch intarsia. Easy-peasy, right?

It actually is pretty easy. That's what I love about it. It's a really accessible way to do portraits. Here are some crochety-gritty details, so you don't have to learn things the hard way.


There are several great methods out there for crocheting portraits.

Carol Ventura, a pioneer in crochet portraits, uses tapestry crochet and tells you how to do it yourself.

Todd Pascal uses single crochet.

Jo Hamilton uses her own freeform style. 

And there are more, with varying levels of accessibility. Read over my ridiculously easy method and then Google around until you find the method that's right for you.

Getting started: The photo

Here are the three kinds of images you can use and the pros and cons to each:

1. An image taken with the Lego Photo app: You will have only the Lego-ized image. It doesn't save the photo at normal resolution and colors. And if you click the wrong button (it happens), you will lose the image.

2. An image taken with your phone camera: All the technology is in your hand. If the first photo doesn't work, you can retake it easily. I like this method best for folks who love the camera. For folks you have to sneak up on like a kitty, method three is best.
3. An image taken with another camera: For this method, email the photo to yourself, then save it to your phone's picture gallery so you can then import it to Lego Photo. A big advantage to this method is that if you have >almost< the best picture, you can manipulate it–cropping, for instance–before running it through Lego Photo. This is a great method if you happen to have a terrific photo of someone on another camera or if you want to do a stealth project.

The best photo to use

The best photos to use are uncomfortably close-up, in-your-face images. The subject does not have to be looking at the camera, but their face should pretty much fill the frame. Don't use the flash.

The best photo is not necessarily a portrait-studio shot. In fact, the images I selected for my children are self-portraits they took in moderately goofy moments. They capture their essence perfectly.

Be sure you love the image, because you'll be spending a lot of time with it.

The App

There are lots of pixelating photo apps out there. I used this program to make my QR code iPad cover.  With this program, you can get a black and white image right away. It will render the chart in color, but you may have to tweak the colors to bring them into a manageable range in order to match it to yarns.

Lego Photo's images are made up of distinct colors, ranging from four to a dozen colors, that you can translate to yarn. It creates some fun colorways you make not have considered, but are pretty great. In contrast, other apps use only true-to-life colors. For many of the other programs, the pixelations have such a range of color gradations that you could never reproduce it in yarn unless you spend hours at the dye vat.

When you click on the Lego Photo image, it will create a new colorway of the image. It cycles through nine colorways of the image. At any point, you can save an image. If you pass one you like, fear not; it will cycle through and return.

Getting your template

When you select the Lego version you like, email it to your computer, then print it out. This is your chart for crocheting the tapestry.

The Yarn

You'll want a yarn that supplies all the colors that are in the Lego image. I used KnitPicks Wool of the Andes, because it has a broad palette. The tones are a bit more earthy than the Lego photos, but the portraits turned out great.

I also liked the worsted weight for creating a statement on my living room wall. You may want to do wee portraits in thread or make an afghan in chunky yarn.

Explore to find your favorite yarns. Note that this is a very addictive thing and you may decide to do your whole family, in which case you'll want a yarn that will supply all the colors you may eventually use. The portrait of at left uses many more colors than the portraits above.

The Crochet Method

I used Tunisian simple-stitch intarsia to create my portraits. You can also use single crochet, working in rows, but you will lose some pixel integrity at the edges of the color change. You can also use tapestry crochet worked flat, which calls for either crocheting with your left hand or working single crochet in reverse (details on how to learn these methods can be found on Carol Ventura's site.) Working tapestry from one side only (that is, in the round) can result in a skewed portrait, which could be a neat effect or could freak you right out.

Some tips: I learned some things while I was crocheting the portraits. Here they are:

Love the chart
Slip the chart into a plastic sleeve (this way your chart-marking sticky note won't remove the color from the chart). Clip the chart to a clipboard. Use a long sticky note to mark the working row (I used two long sticky notes that overlapped). Place the sticky above the row you are working, so you can see where the new stitches are being placed in relation to the row you've just worked.

Stranding vs. intarsia
In my initial portraits, I did a lot of stranding, where you carry the yarn behind the stitches. No matter how hard you try, you can't give enough slack with this method. Tunisian tends to elongate the image, and stranding heightens the elongated effect (Ben's portrait above, the first I did in so many colors, shows this effect. Fortunately, he is a string bean and this just heightens that effect–that's what I tell myself anyway). To avoid giving your loved ones a facelift, I recommend intarsia, working with a new bobbin when the color resumes after more than say 6 stitches.

What's a bobbin?
You can use plastic shuttles to wind the yarn one. I tried this, but I found that the shuttles had a tendency to catch when I went to unwind them. So I switched to butterfly bobbins. To make these: Leaving a tail, wind the yarn around three fingers spread apart a bit. Wind 20-30 times to make a chubby butterfly, then wind the end around the middle and make about three half-hitches to tighten.


Bobbin management

After you have worked forward across the row, then the return pass, you will need to unwind the bobbins. After many hours of untwisting bobbins, and giving myself a wicked back crick, I hit upon a much happier method: Use a music stand. Place the clipboard on the lip of the stand. Drape the bobbins over the stand, half on one side  of the metal wickets that hold up the clipboard and half on the other. If you don't have a music stand, you should go get one. Really.

Before making the first stitch in the new color, twist the new yarn around the old yarn. If you don't, you will create a little hole. NOTE: If you find little holes after you've worked the piece, use a yarn end to weave it closed on the wrong side.

Often, the yarn makes a simple twist, like a chain stitch. To unwind, working from left to right, just pull the leftmost yarn and the loop should release. You may have to pull the butterfly up and weave it through several yarns to untwist it. For any remaining twist, slide your fingers through the yarn, from the work to the stand, then jiggle the bobbins behind the stand to remove any remaining twist (jiggle being the technical term).

When you're working the portrait, it may seem all crazy, like it will never be what you want it to be, but rather just a mess of colored nonsense.

Take a moment every now and then to view it from across the room, so you can appreciate the developing portrait.

Here's me again, in the same colorway as the rest of the family (yeah, I scare myself with this one, too. I think I'll sew my pink/orange self over it. What do you think?)


And here is the finished portrait over the couch. I crocheted the portrait together, then added a deep border. My son nailed together a custom frame, and then we stapled the portrait along the back edge. (why, yes, that is Lisa Naskrent's Moorish Mosaic Afghan on the back of the couch. You can find it in the Fall 2009 issue of Interweave Crochet.)

It would also be really great to take a single photo and work it up in four different colorways and then join them in a quadrant in a Warhol-esque way.

Try making portraits in thread or perle cotton. Try a big afghan in chunky yarn.

I can't wait to see what you create in your own awesome way!


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