Designer Q&A: Dora Ohrenstein

Dora Ohrenstein is the author of Crocheter’s Skill Building Workshop, The New Tunisian Crochet, and most recently, Top-Down Crochet Sweaters. She regularly contributes to Interweave Crochet and Love of Crochet, both as a designer and an author of insightful articles discussing the history of crochet and crochet around the world.  Read on to see how Dora got started, how she works, and so much more.

Associate Editor, Interweave Crochet

Designer Dora Ohrenstein | Photo Credit: Keith Putnam

Q: When and why did you start crocheting?

A: I started crocheting during the “Age of Aquarius,” [the 1960s and 1970s] when everyone was crafting. I was 21 and living on a tiny houseboat in Amsterdam. I taught myself but don’t remember how. No one told me that making garments was hard, so I just started making them and adding stitches wherever more fabric was needed.  Then I sold a couple of finished pieces to a boutique—I was amazed, as I had no thought of designing at that time. In fact, once I went back to college and got my degree, I didn’t pick up the hook again for several decades.

Q: What was your first crocheted project?

A: I think this is one of my earliest projects, and it may have followed a pattern from a magazine. This photo was taken in Amsterdam, when my dad came to visit, checking up on his hippie daughter.


Dora with her father in Amsterdam, during the 70s. | Photo Credit: Ohrenstein family photo

Q:What technique/s did you find hardest to master?

A: I don’t find any aspect of crochet stitching to be difficult, but it took me a while to figure out how to work with cables in crochet. That’s because I have a strong bias in favor of drapey fabric and often found that post stitch cables added too much bulk. This got me experimenting with alternatives to post stitches for creating cables and resulted in some unusual designs, such as Clematis Shawl, Tetrad Cable Capelet (a capelet in Tunisian stitch), and Peggy Pullover.

Q: Describe your first design.

Dora’s first design. | Photo Credit: Dora Ohrenstein

A: When I took up crochet seriously again in the early aughts, I found no books on garment making for crocheters, but located some from the seventies for knitters.  One recommended making a brown paper template of a garment from your own wardrobe that you could use to make a similar item in yarn. I used a jean jacket to make the template, and then developed my jacket design.  It uses a Lion Brand yarn now discontinued.  Its large button bands were not on the jeans jacket but came from a sudden stroke of creativity.  That’s when I knew I really wanted to design.

Q: What kind of yarn is your favorite to work with?

A:I prefer smooth fingering yarns because I mostly make garments and these insure the garment will drape nicely. I also love the look of single-ply yarns in crochet, because they give awesome stitch definition. Some sport and DK weight yarns also work, if they contain fibers like alpaca or silk. I am an alpaca nut—just love the softness and warmth it gives!

Q:Which designers inspire you?

A: For inspiration, I study runway designers who use crochet, such as Oscar de la Renta, Anna Sui, and Missoni. I find the work of a young designer from Brazil, Helen Rodel, very creative and inspiring. Browsing Pinterest for crochet usually incites new ideas for me as well.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring designers?

A: My advice for aspiring designers is to keep exploring what you love, remember that it may take time to find your niche in the crochet world, and don’t expect to make a fortune.

Q: What surprises and/or excites you most about the crochet community?

A: The most exciting things for me in the crochet community—although I would widen that to the yarn community—are 1) the gratitude I feel from fans and students, since it makes me realize that I am making a worthwhile contribution; and 2) the friendships I’ve formed in the industry with people I would otherwise not have gotten to know.

Q: What do you think crocheting will be like in 50–100 years?

A: My predictions for the future (provided the planet hasn’t burned up): 1. More fine artists will discover the sculptural possibilities of crochet and we will see more largescale works like those of Toshiko Horiuchi.  2. More yarnies will do both knitting and crochet and will have no problem whatsoever with combining the two, and also combining crochet with other crafts. 3. There will be amazing new yarns and tools we never imagined. 4. People will get over yarn bombing.

Q: Anything else you would like to add?

A: My most recent book is titled Top-Down Crochet Sweaters and people seem to love the garments in it.  A whole bunch of folks are making them and showing their finished garments in my ravelry group, crochet insider. Please join us, you’ll find lots of good advice from other crocheters and me!

One of the designs from Top-Down Crochet Sweaters. | Photo Credit: Melinda di Mauro


You can see more of Dora’s designs
here and here

Follow her on Facebook: Dora Ohrenstein

More of Dora’s Work