Dora's Crochet Corner- Exploring Crochet Motifs

My favorite Japanese motif book.

Do you enjoy making crochet motifs?  I've always admired their loveliness, but have only used them occasionally in my designs, at least till now. The reason is this:  I design mostly fashion, and I am terrified of my sweater resembling a table cloth or afghan!

The other concern I've had with motifs is that many were designed to be made with very thin crochet thread.  When they are blown up several sizes -- even with a fingering weight yarn -- they get so big it's not always clear what to do with them. 

The Cover
Lately I've become obsessed, however, with finding new and different ways to design with motifs.  I have quite a few motif books, but my favorites are Japanese.  One in particular has over 300 different motifs in a variety of shapes -- squares, circles, triangles, hexagons.  But even more impressive to me is that this book shows every single motif by itself, with a chart, and also -- get this -- a picture and chart of several motifs joined together!  To me it's invaluable to see what a whole fabric of motifs looks like, and to study how they can be joined.

Here are some of the motifs I've made lately.  I've been searching in particular for those that are unusual, with shapes or designs I haven't seen many times before.  To solve the problem of huge motifs, I've been looking for those that don't have too many rounds. 
Circle in Square Motif

The first is quite unusual, isn't it?  A large circle surrounded by a square.  I particularly like how the circle is made -- just chains and single crochet stitches, where the chains increase each round -- how clever!  This is made with Blue Heron Yarn's Bamboo Lace, actually more like a fingering than a lace weight yarn, and a size B 2.25 mm hook.  I haven't yet figured out what to design with this, but I really like it!

Little Star Motif
These little stars are quite cute, don't you think?  This is one of the simplest, quickest motifs I've come across, and I can see many possibilities for use in a design.  These are made with 2 colors of Manos del Uruguay yarn called Serena, a sport weight yarn I return to again and again because it's texture and drape are so perfect for crochet. The hook size is a C 2.5 mm.

Midnight in Manhattan
The dark blue motifs here are made with Madelinetosh Tosh Merino Light, a more robust fingering weight yarn, almost a sport weight.  I received a skein from my LYS, The Yarn Company, whose owner, Tavy Ronen,  commissioned this very special color called Midnight in Manhattan. I'm quite excited about how it looks and feels -- excellent drape on this one, made with a C 2.5 mm hook.  Maybe a shawl?  I need to put a few more motifs together and see how they look.  Can you find the booboo I made on this sample?

Figure and Ground motif
Another motif I love is this little gem, which appeals to me because there is a figure (the 4-pointed petals) and background; it's constructed in a non-traditional way and reminds me of Irish Crochet.  This is made with Aunt Lydia's Bamboo size 10  thread, and a 1.5 steel hook.  I am really enjoying this thread, as the bamboo is much softer and more pliable than cotton and therefore easier to work with.  I've only attempted this size thread and hook quite recently and it's getting easier the more I do it.  Another great help has been my brand new Ott Lite, which helps me see what I'm doing!  I'm including a photo of a second motif that hasn't been blocked -- as you can see, blocking is essential for these lacy motifs!

Duplet motif
with Solomon's Knot 
In addition to my Japanese books, when I want a real challenge I consult my Duplet magazines, which I got when visiting the Ukraine two summers ago.  I know for sure they will be unusual, but also that the chart may not be crystal clear. The Ukrainian crocheters are so skilled, the magazine sometimes leaves out little details like exactly how to start or finish the round!  When I do succeed in figuring something out, it's always a wonderful experience.  Here's a motif I especially like because it includes the Solomon's Knot stitch -- can you see them at the edges? This is made with Claudia Hand Painted linen, a fingering yarn. Because linen is stiff, I used a size C 2.5 mm hook, rather than a smaller size.

Duplet Motif Tencel Lace
Lastly, another Duplet motif I dug out of my huge pile of swatches. I know it's lost some of it's perfect shape but had to share!  It's made with a mystery Tencel lace (lost the label, dang!) and was probably one of my earliest efforts with thin yarn and hook.  Not perfect, but so very pretty.

Here are some pointers I've learned from my recent focus on motifs: 

            -- I work at a tighter tension than I normally use when making rows of stitches.  Firstly, because tighter stitches help the design emerge more clearly to the eye, and second, because there are more open spaces in motifs than when working rows, and therefore the fabric will drape naturally.

            -- Keeping track of stitch counts in each round can be a challenge -- I find it helps to study the whole motif and how it's put together, how the number of stitches in the first round relates to the finished shape.  I've had the experience of intending to make a hexagon and ending up instead with a pentagon! 

The world of motifs is really opening up for me, and I can imagine so many ways of putting them together and combining them with regular crochet.  I'm grateful for all the wonderful resources out there to study and learn more and hope to inspire you as well!

Happy Crocheting!

Dora Ohrenstein is an author, designer and writer whose most recent book is Custom Crocheted Sweaters: Make Garments that Really Fit.  Her website  is a great source for articles, interviews and techniques, and where she teaches online crochet classes.

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  1. I really like the last,the white one - it reminds me of fishnets and sea grass kind of waving languidly. ;-)

  2. Interesting post, Dora. I love the white and lavendar motifs with the four petals. I find motifs fascinating and will be looking forward to your future designs using them.

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