When I show one of my crochet designs to a member of my family – you know, where “family” means “person who is biologically and morally obligated to look at my crochet designs” – the thing I most often hear is this:
“You made that up yourself? Like . . . you created it? I have no idea how you do that!”
Sometimes, I try to explain my design process to my mother / brother / 4th cousin twice removed from her own house and tied up in my living room to look at my crochet designs. Other times, I just sparkle mysteriously like The Stupendous Yappi from The X-Files.
The truth, however, is that I approach my work a little bit like a scientist. Or entirely like a scientist. I don’t really know, because I am an English major with a limited grasp of scientimery. At any rate, here it is, in science-like terms: I have learned that different stitches behave in different but predictable ways. Different and shifting stitch combinations create (mostly) predictable but sometimes unexpected reactions, making it possible for me to control the shape of what I’m making, if not on the first try, at least by the third.
Too general? Too abstract? Without boring the crap out of you (I promise), here’s how I do what I do:
Most of what I make is a derivation of the basic sphere. To crochet a sphere, you start with a flat circle with 5 or 6 stitches in it. In the second row, you add 5 or 6 more stitches, for a total of 10 or 12 stitches in that row. You sip your diet Coke. You holler at your kid to get off the xbox. You scratch your knee. Still with me? Awesome.
You add a 3rd row. That row has 15-18 stitches in it. See how this works? The more rows you add, the taller your object gets. The more stitches you add, the wider your object gets. To give you a visual, here’s my version of Gomez from the Addams family. His eyes are small, short spheres. His head is a giant one. His ears are flat circles. Underneath that suit jacket, even his body is a sphere.
Controlling the height and girth of spheres is the simple stuff of design. The exciting stuff – also known as the intellectually stimulating stuff – involves the effects that I don’t automatically know how to achieve, the ones I have to puzzle over, take apart, try and try and try again.
This week, I’ve been designing my three favorite characters from The Princess Bride: Vizzini (played by Wally Shawn), Inigo Montoya (played by Mandy Patinkin), and Fezzik (played by Andre the Giant). By last night, I had finished everything but Fezzik’s arms, which meant that I should have been done before noon today.
Except I wasn’t. I had to get fancy. I wanted Fezzik to be holding a boulder.
What’s the problem with a boulder? Well, a hand, like all of the other body parts, is a sphere, but one that leads directly into the arm. Here are Gomez’s arms in isolation, to illustrate the point:
To make those arms, I started with the same flat circle, added rows to make the sphere, then kept working in an upward direction into the arm. If I designed Fezzik’s arms in the same manner, I’d have to sew the boulder to the yarn equivalent of Andre the Giant’s knuckles. And as strong (and as sportsmanlike) as he was, I don’t think even Andre the Giant could hold things with his knuckles.
To avoid the knuckle problem, I figured I had to start from the flat circle and work down into the boulder, instead of up into the arm. But then . . . what about the arm? How could I design the hand so that I could work both upward and downward with equal facility?
The resolution of my problem is a little detailed for an audience of people who don’t crochet, but suffice it to say that it took me five hours and three tries. (Hey, man, those rows don’t crochet themselves.) Here is the end result:
Here’s Inigo, too, who was much more polite and posed no major logistical challenges:
The whole group together is just a trio of poor, lost circus performers intent on kidnapping and murder. And rhyming. And revenge. Given all that, I don’t even know how they manage to be so cute.
I do want some kind of a sticker, though, one that says, “This cuteness fueled by math and scientimery.” Otherwise, no one will believe me.