When I first took a look at the crochet portraits done by Pat Ahern I immediately thought of artist Jo Hamilton, the only other crochet artist I know of who is doing similar work. After just another glance, though, I could immediately tell that this artist definitely has his own unique style that sets his work apart from Jo’s despite the similarities in their design. I had to know more about him.
About Pat Ahern
Californa-based artist Pat Ahern learned to both knit and crochet from his mother during his last year in high school. He started out crochet wearables but soon learned that he especially liked using crochet to create wall art. His work evolved into the crochet portraits that he does today. He does both facial portraits and full-length, sometimes life-sized, portraits in crochet, detailed images that show expression, character and creativity. His most recent work has been in going from 2D portraiture to creating figures in 3D. I like what I see so far and am excited to see his work develop over time. Ahern also does continue to knit and crochet some wearables and other items, which he sells in an Etsy store alongside vintage patterns.
Pat Ahern Q&A
I had the opportunity to interview the artist about his crochet portraits, the vintage patterns he sells through Etsy and more. Here’s what he had to say:
Q: You learned to knit and crochet from your mom when you were young … does she still craft?
My mom will always craft. She’s a master knitter, crocheter and seamstress. In addition to selling felted purses, kids’ aprons and blankets on her Etsy store, she’s the one who makes things for the whole family! She designed the sewn backing for all of my portraits (and made all of them) and she continues to inspire me.
This is a crochet portrait Ahern recently completed of his mom when she was younger. He notes: “Right now it’s a bit wonky - it still needs to be blocked!”
Q: Yes, let’s talk about your crochet portraits! This is a very unique area of crochet art. Jo Hamilton is the only other person I know of who is doing anything similar. How did you come to start doing these portraits? Can you tell us a little bit about the process of how you go from looking at a person to creating their crochet portrait?
Jo Hamilton is amazing! It’s funny, I was looking for similar crochet portraits a few years ago and I came upon Jo Hamilton’s art and I contacted her. We’ve been in touch from time to time over the years. I was happy to see that there was someone else making tapestries with crochet – and it was good to know that we were not alone. Jo is extremely talented and there is a link on my site to hers. We both have our own approach to it, so it is good for the art form.
It started for me with a picture of Clara Bow and my frustration with clothes construction. I figured I could crochet the different shapes by following the photograph. The result was not so good! I was using crocheter’s cotton which has no give to it and the image was distorted – like a crazy dishcloth. I collected a lot of wool because I loved the colors and feel of it, but it made my hats and scarves unwearable. I started to use more wool and acrylic and I got better results.
People’s faces are difficult to crochet because if you use the wrong stitches, the result looks nothing like the person. I use black and white images when I’m crocheting and color photos as a reference, along with a hook that will give me the desired gauge. I usually start with a ring – an eye in a portrait or bright point on an object. I measure dimensions and just crochet shapes using many stitches according to what I see, keeping with my gauge. Like with adjusting patterns, I change the picture a bit – changing colors, putting in other body positions and backgrounds to fit what I want. 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.
Q: Sounds like a complex, but fun, crochet process! What challenges are there in starting and completing a crochet portrait?
The first challenge is determining the size and the second is color. These things can easily end up 9 feet tall if you’re not careful! For me now its easier to make them life sized or slightly larger. Once I start crocheting, some things work and others do not. Human features like eyes and hands take a few versions. Creating the folding and draping effect of clothes and filling in all the spots just takes patience. The final challenges are blocking the piece and then sewing the backing. Blocking takes time, stretching, and a spray bottle – at least I can crochet while it dries. With my mom living on the east coast, sewing is challenging for me, but necessary so the portrait can hang and not distort.
Q: I see from your Etsy store that although your art is crocheted you do also still knit sometimes. I would love to know how you view the differences and similarities between the two crafts and what might make you choose crochet over knitting for a particular project.
Crochet was the first craft I learned, so it is right to say I am more comfortable with it. By using a single hook, it lends itself better to free-form work; you are not restricted to a grid by having all of your stitches on your needle like with knitting. I feel that I can accomplish any result I need with just a hook. The great thing about knitting is that I can always go right back to it without hesitation. The last thing I knitted was a while ago for 5 Second Films. My friend wanted me to knit some dynamite, but I told him I could also crochet it if he would like that better. I could tell he didn’t know what to say – but my brother said that I should knit it because it plays better on camera! I think more people know what knitting is, and they think crochet is the same thing. I have found that I can substitute crochet for knitting, but not so much the other way around. There is one portrait I have been working on that incorporates a knit hat I made years ago – so it still has its place in my artwork. I am a big fan of knit cabling and knitted sweaters always look nice to me!
Q: You seem to enjoy vintage patterns … what inspires you about them? Where else do you derive inspiration for your work?
Most vintage patterns are timeless. Many patterns today are reinterpretations or variations on patterns of the past. I would receive yarn and patterns from my mom’s friends who were cleaning out their closets. I liked all of the Bernat patterns and even old Workbasket magazines. These books were written in a language that only crafters could understand and it’s like being part of a club. Not to mention that some of the pictures in the old patterns can be quite entertaining!
I have met many crafters, including my girlfriend, who do not like following patterns. I never did either, but we all learn from them and now make our own patterns. The most important things I learned from my mom about crochet were maintaining gauge and the nature of stitches. These are the focus of every pattern; my tapestries are patterns. The vintage patterns are the same language, same stitches as patterns today and that is comforting. I find inspiration in yarn, family, art, patterns, and even work. I like challenges.
Q: Despite the fact that there are many amazing male crocheters today it is still widely viewed as a female craft form … any thoughts on this based on your own experience as a guy who crochets?
There should be no question that it is a female craft form because girls and women are and have been the major contributors to the craft. 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.
Unfortunately, throughout time I think that men have viewed it as a female hobby rather than a craft like wood or metal working. This may have worked in the craft’s favor because the women who have shaped it have been able to do so more freely. It is a unique craft because of its female dominance – the worlds of cooking and fashion design are male-dominated, even though their sole inspiration comes from their mother’s cooking and the female form. I have only been welcomed by the crafting community, women and men. We all inspire each other and that is what art is about.
I started crocheting to make stuff for a girl; I never got the girl, but I kept the craft. I did it because I enjoyed it, and it never bothered me that men would look at me weird when I would talk about it. Female crafters understood the language, so it was not an issue in the community. Over the years, I was concerned that I was a novelty or becoming a gimmick because I was a man that knit and crocheted. With the tapestries, I just do my own thing and I have stopped worrying about what I thought others were thinking.
Q: What a great perspective on the development of a female-centered craft. So glad you shared that! I agree that anyone who might have an issue with men doing needlework shouldn’t be someone to worry about, though. So … Where would you like to see your crochet art go in the next few years?
I would like to see my crochet art continue to evolve. I have been working on 3-dimensional crochet art and continue to crochet new things that are challenging for me. I would like to see my art go on more walls in the next few years!
Pat Ahern on Yarn
On his website, Ahern notes that it’s fun to explore with different types of yarn. He says:
“Yarn has many colors and textures. Many effects can be achieved with different yarns – like paint, and stitches – like brush strokes. I enjoy using wool tapestry yarn because of its rich colors and small yardage, which makes it easier to work with. Acrylic yarn is used for achieving other textures and effects, such as with clothes, and to fill in large areas of the picture.”
Other Similar Crochet Artists
As I mentioned, Ahern’s art reminds me a bit of Jo Hamilton since they both do the unique work of creating crochet portraits
What Ahern is doing is wall tapestries in crochet, so that also makes me think of the work from Rachelle Vasquez