I was never particularly a fan of tartan - possibly because it's an integral part of most school uniforms, and nothing will put you off a colour (bottle green! burgundy!) or an item of clothing (knee socks! pinafores!) or fabric (gaberdine! tartan!) more quickly than a school uniform. Twenty years on, and having obviously recovered from the trauma of trying to keep a kilt down in gale-force winds, I was fascinated by Scottish tartans - and Edinburgh's Royal Mile is awash with tartan. I even escaped the clutches of a 40-strong group of students to go and have a look at a tartan weaving exhibition. It was very interesting: big machines and bolts of material - and cones of yarn everywhere. While the rest of the tourists tried on tam o'shanters and cashmere scarves, I fingered the yarn cones and admired the pretty colours.
|Spooky mannequins demonstrating Ye Olde Dyeing Process. Given my extensive Kool Aid experience,|
I could've given them a few tips - e.g. don't wear a white coat while dyeing. Just sayin'.
So when I got home, I was struck by a notion: would it be possible to crochet tartan? After all, I actually discovered that my clan (well, clan related very distantly) has a tartan - rather bizarre, when one considers that we're not actually a Scottish family and not even an Irish one originally: our behorned ancestors hopped off a Viking boat a thousand years ago, swinging their axes and looking for stuff to pillage. In any case, I knew crochet tartan was theoretically possible, because I even had a book to prove it.
In fact, this picture of the tartan blanket nonchalantly flung over wicker garden furniture was the main reason I forked out two whole deutschmarks for this book ten years ago. In my mind, I'm actually the type of person who wears straw sunhats and wanders around my charming country garden gathering fruit in a basket, before returning to my seating area (naturellement, we don't say 'patio' - it's common, darling) to enjoy a gin and tonic. Up till now, I never quite understood the technique involved in making tartan crochet, but last night when I re-read the instructions, it suddenly clicked.
You see, it's a three-part technique: you crochet a net of chains and double (treble) crochets. Then you crochet strips of chains, which you finally weave through the net. You have to take note of the number of rows you do in any given colour, because the tartan effect is achieved by weaving chains of colour in the same order. In other words, if I crochet 6 rows of red, one white row, 4 rows of green, then I weave through 6 chains of red, one chain of white, 4 chains of green.
|The basic net: DC, ch 1, DC, ch 1|
|Weaving through the chains to create a tartan effect.|
|Half-way there: the work has to be pulled into shape, as the chains are quite elastic.|
It creates a firm, cushiony fabric that still has a bit of drape (I used mercerised cotton for mine.) The disadvantage of this technique is that it's ... well, kind of dull. Crocheting the net is dull. Crocheting the chains is tremendously dull. The only real excitement is seeing the tartan pattern appear when you weave them through - but even that loses its appeal when faced with the knowledge that you have to crochet enough chains for another twenty rows. I simply cannot imagine how you could do this on a much larger scale than a 40 x 40 cm cushion cover without losing the will to live. But I'll plod on and finish this for you, dear readers, and maybe I'll be so overcome by pride that I'll be inspired to try it on a larger scale.
Just don't hold your breath, though. There has to be a more entertaining way to do this!