Sunday, May 22, 2011

Crochet Tartan

First of all, let's look at a nice photo of Edinburgh to put us in the mood:

Purdy, eh? Don't be fooled by the clear, blue sky. It was flipping freezing. There are no people in the picture to attest to this fact, but believe me, everyone was blue with the cold.

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.

Big machines!
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!


Anonymous said...

Very clever indeed. Looks like you arrived home inspired. ~Kelly

unDeniably Domestic

Anonymous said...

I love castles. They remind me of fairy tales. I wish I was seeing it in person. *jealous*

calknit said...

Sometime lurker, first time commenter here. I used to have that book! I actually learnt to crochet using that and made a small placemat using one of the designs - I think there's a tablecloth pattern in white thread crochet squares. I think there's a filet crochet pattern in the same book which I also tried but gave up. I never tried the tartan project because it seemed too big for me to attempt. I gave away the book but now I wish I had it with me

The Gingerbread Lady said...

Yes, that sounds like the same book! I bought it because of the tartan (also because it was marked down to next to nothing) but was disappointed because I don't like filet crochet and ... because it took me ten years to figure out the tartan pattern :-( I'd offer you my copy if you spoke German! (if you do, you can have it!)

calknit said...

Aah thank you, I gave the book away because I wasn't really using it but wished I had it now for sentimental reasons. I'd rather it be with someone who uses it more than I do, but thanks anyway! :)

tintocktap said...

Well, I'm a Scot and not fond of tartan either! But I do like the look of your crochet tartan. There's a blanket done using that technique in this book.

And I'm jealous that you've been to Edinburgh more recently than I have!

Paul & Carla said...

Interesting to crochet a tartan. However, based on your description of the process, I think I'll leave that one to a crocheter from Scotland, thank you.

The Gingerbread Lady said...

Yes, Carla, it's very time-consuming. In the interests of bloggery, I've done a bit of Googling and have found a few lovely blankets in this technique ... but it's just not my thing.

tintocktap: yes, Edinburgh is lovely and the people are so nice and friendly. I had a look at that book and continue to be in awe of anyone who'd take on the effort of crocheting all of those chains. I think I'll wait till I have kiddies, then teach them how to finger-crochet and start them off making the chains for me. My very own little crochet sweat-shop (evil laugh).

Marushka C. said...

Your tartan looks great, but after reading the description of the process for making it, I'm kind of glad my family doesn't have one :-)

Unknown said...

My sister has a scottish boyfriend, and he has a tartan. so as a gift i want to make her "his" tartan colors in a little hand purse. thanks for sharing this pattern, it will certainly come in handy as a refernece when i start. now its a matter of finding the exact colors. :)

Vicci Gates said...

Hi. Iyou have a book that I am searching for. I too had the tartan crochet book years ago and lost it. I had done a beautiful flowered doily in the back of the book (if memory serves) can you come to the rescue of this desperate Australian and either send me the ISBN number of the book, if you still have it, or an image of the page or even write out the pattern. I hope you get this. Thank you very much. Vicci.

The Gingerbread Lady said...

Hi Vicki, I've just turned the house upside down looking for my copy, but I can't find it. I would've gladly sent you mine, but it was in German, so it probably wouldn't have been much good to you. The good news though is that I found it with a bit of Google magic. It's called 'Take Up Crochet' in English, by a lady called Sue Whiting. She's also on, so you might search for her there if you're a member and see if the design you're looking for us in the database. When I Googled 'Take Up Crochet Sue Whiting', the book appeared on - I just can't post a link here as I'm on my phone. I hope this helps and if I find my copy of the book, I'll let you know ;-)