I absolutely adore vintage crochet books and magazines. This may seem odd considering that I actually almost never use vintage crochet patterns. (I’ve done so exactly once and ended up modifying it a lot). However, it’s really not so mysterious, because what I love about old crochet books isn’t so much their patterns or even their ideas as the fact that they often provide a terrific snapshot of crochet history that you can’t get any other way. That’s precisely why I’ve been super in love with an old crochet book I found at my library called Hard Crochet.
A Little About Hard Crochet, the Book
Hard Crochet is a book written by Matt Dittrick. It was published in 1978 by Hawthorne Books Inc. Dittrick was a crochet designer and crochet pattern editor who also co-authored Design Crochet with Lillian L. Bailey and Contemporary Crochet with Susan Morrow. In Hard Crochet, Dittrick shares his discovery of a new type of crochet, which he has called Hard Crochet. From what I can tell this is, in part, an early approach to Tapestry Crochet, although there seems to be a little more to it than that.
So What Is Hard Crochet, the Crochet Style?
Crochet Cowboy Hat by Mark Dittrick
Part of what I loved so much about this old crochet book was the discovery of what this type of crochet actually is. Throughout the intro, Dittrick explains how he started playing around with different crochet techniques and different materials to create a rigid, structural type of crochet.
First, he explains what hard crochet is NOT although it’s similar to these things in how it appears. Hard Crochet is not the old-fashioned 1920’s crochet that uses starching (which he describes as being done with a sugar water solution and a baking oven) to give shape and rigid form to crocheted items. Hard Crochet is also not necessarily crocheting with unusual materials that make rigid creations, such as crocheting with twine and leather or plastic, although it’s clear from his writing that Dittrick enjoys this modern (in the 1970’s) exploration of crochet.
So what is Hard Crochet? It consists of two components:
- Crocheting large yarns with a small hook using very tight stitches to create structure.
- Crocheting with a special “new” type of yarn … upon continuing to read further I learned that what Dittrick was talking about here was the brand new introduction of synthetic yarns to the market.
So Hard Crochet is basically just crocheting tightly with acrylic yarn to create items that have shape and structure. It’s not something new and probably doesn’t seem amazing as a style to most of today’s crocheters. But that’s what I love about Hard Crochet; it’s an old book that shows a snapshot of a time when this was a brand new exciting discovery.
The Discovery of New Old Things: Acrylic Yarn
See, the thing is that we can all say from today’s perspective, “oh, acrylic yarns were created and became popular for crochet in the 1970’s”. But that’s just a retrospective look at the timeline of crochet history. Books like this show us what it was like to be on the cutting edge of these old things when they were brand new and that’s what is so fun about them.
The main new old discovery in this book is the discovery of a type of yarn known as acrylic. Dittrick explains how he sent away for different yarns when doing the work on the Contemporary Crochet book and one sample he got was a unique type of weaving yarn that arrived on a cone. It was basically rug yarn (true rug yarn, designed to really make carpeting). The yarn he got was 70% acrylic and 30% modaacrylic. At this time, he had no idea what acrylic even meant except that it had something to do with paint so he started researching fibers in big manuals and that’s when he started learning what acrylic was. I find this interesting because regardless of whether or not you use it, you probably know exactly what acrylic yarn is today.
What is especially fun to me about this book is that Dittrick shares that some people will be turned off by the idea of acrylic yarn because it’s synthetic and not “all natural”. He says he was he apprehensive of sharing his use of this material with crocheters “because it’s an undeniable fact that some people (especially ultracraftsy types) will have nothing to do with anything that isn’t one hundred and twenty-five percent natura. For them, the term synthetic ranks right up there with red dye #2 and oil spill. And I guess it’s a feeling that’s only natural … in this no-preservative, no-additive age of Granola, spray can bans, and organic gardening.” Perhaps you can see why I get a kick out of this … because it could just as easily be said about 2012 as about 1977.
More New Old Things: Alternative Material Crochet
Another thing I think is great about this book is that Dittrick talks about how crocheters of this time are exploring with new alternative materials in their work. He talks about twine, cord, raffia, plastic, leather and “even wire”. I think this is a really fun topic because we are still using alternative materials in crochet today, including things that the 1970’s person wouldn’t have ever thought of, like cassette and VHS tape and variations on things they may have been using then (like plarn, an example of plastics). I also think it’s interesting to see which materials from that era became a mainstream crocheter’s tool (like wire) and which ones aren’t really used much anymore in crochet (like raffia). What he has shared here just peaks my interest. Can I find examples of raffia crochet? Or leather crochet? I’m eager to find out.
And Also The Newness of Felting
I don’t have any idea when crocheters started intentionally felting their work. And I don’t know when they started calling it felting. But I do know that in this Hard Crochet book Dittrick shares the term and it’s really new to him. He had made a crochet cowboy hat (something he got well known for at the time) and it had gotten ruined in the rain. He got curious about the effects of water on Hard Crochet and started playing around with water as well as with vigorously blocking “using a hot iron and lots of steam”. What resulted was something that felt a lot like leather to him.
And then he shares: “When a veteran crocheter friend, a woman very wise in the way of textiles, inspected a sample of the vigorously ironed and steamed material, she offered the opinion that it might have become felted. She explained how wool fibers, when subjected to pressure and moisture, mat together to form the tough, inelastic fabrics we know as felt. This is indeed not unlike what happens to the synthetic yarn used for Hard Crochet when it experiences a very similar treatment. For want of a better explanation, I accepted my textile-wise, veteran crocheter friend’s interpretation and began calling back-and-forth, super-blocked crochet “felted” Hard Crochet.
And There’s More
There’s more to this old crochet book than what I’ve shared here. This is just the tip of a great iceberg in terms of providing a lovely crochet history snapshot and a great addition to a vintage crochet library. Other goodies include tips on making a hook with a homemade handle, a guide to crocheting “the knife way” (though it’s not called that then) as opposed to “the pencil way”, tips for shaping flat rounds so they don’t stay flat, a guide to “superblocking” and photos, graphs and patterns for finished Hard Crochet projects.
Where to get it: There are copies of Hard Crochet on Amazon as of the writing of this article. Otherwise seek out this book from used bookstores.
What do you think is the biggest value of a retro crochet book?