Last October I was invited to go with several local yarn enthusiasts on a tour of yarn stores called the Central Kansas Yarn Hop. The basic premise involved visiting ten or so yarn shops while accumulating stamps on a passport booklet which, when entered into a drawing, could win you some hefty yarn-related prizes. I doubted I knew enough about crochet to warrant such a trip, since I had only been crocheting for a couple of months, but it was a chance to get out of town with a bunch of fellow yarnies and it sounded like fun.
Between shopping at iYarn, 915 Main, and going on the hop, I was introduced to the wonderful world of real yarn. Real yarn is different from a lot of the mass-produced yarn you find at big chain stores, like the scratchy stuff your grandma might have used to make you a blanket back in the day. Real yarn contains real, natural fibers like wool, silk and cotton with synthetics sometimes thrown in. It handles differently than a lot of the less expensive yarn that's 100% acrylic and made from petroleum. To be honest, there are some very nice acrylic yarns on the market, but you typically find these in actual yarn stores which specialize in selling higher quality brands. Real yarn has a quality you can see and feel. It is generally more expensive, but worth it. Acrylic that has even a little bit of wool woven into it, say 25 percent, makes a big difference in the heft and quality of the yarn, ease of use, warmth, and, of course, the look and feel of your final product. (Perhaps once hemp production is in full swing again we will have more options for real fibers. Before the war on hemp began, spinning home-grown hemp fibers into thread and yarn for clothing was quite common. Hemp can also be grown and manufactured without the use of pesticides and chemical processing.)
Having gained this affinity for yarn, I began buying. I shopped mostly from the clearance bins and sale items on offer at the shops. I think I spent about $60, and most things I took home were in my favorite colors - deep reds, purples and greens. At every store we were allowed to pick out a small ball of free yarn which was part of the yarn hop theme. You were supposed to take each ball of yarn and use it to make the yarn hop project, a shawl. (I ended up making three of these shawls, mostly out of other yarns.) When I got home, I spread out all the yarn I had bought on the bed, plus the freebies, and had a look. I had a skein of this, a ball of that. I knew I wanted to make something special with these fibers of various colors, but what?
Over the years while learning other fiber arts like crazy quilting, I had come across a very artistic style called freeform crochet. Freeform crocheting involves combining lots of different styles of stitches and a wide variety of yarn into one project. Freeform items are typically made without the use of a pattern, so the goal is to allow a sort of free-flow of ideas that eventually form a final product, such as an afghan, garment or wall hanging. I suspect this style of crochet was born out of the need to use up the many scraps of yarn leftover from finished projects. To me, freeform crochet has a more artistic appeal, allowing the creator to go in a different direction than merely following instructions on a pattern that sprouted from another person's brain. For free spirits, freeform crochet is the only way to go, as rules are chucked, and you are limited only by your imagination.
I had never made a freeform project before. I had always lusted after the gorgeous textures and pattern changes created by freeform artists. Each piece I had seen was like a bizarre landscape of peaks, valleys and crevasses with waves and swells of yarn plunging here and rippling there. I didn't think I knew enough about crochet to attempt such a project, but then I found a picture of a coat online that changed everything. This freeform coat was wild and crazy, all setting sun oranges, yellows and pinks made into spirals, stars, flowers, baubles and bullions. The garment was jacket-style, ending at hip level and with long sleeves and a big ornate hood featuring a fantastic sun ray motif. This was a true work of art that took my breath away, and I knew at that moment I was making a coat with my yarn hop findings.
I sketched out a few ideas and, with the help of many a youtube crochet tutorial, I began my project.
The end result was a full-fledged winter coat that could probably compete with high-rated thermal gear. I'm not even kidding. Roughly 90% of this coat is made with yarns containing wool fibers. In January I put the coat on one night and took it out for a test drive. I don't remember what the temperature was, except that it was one of our coldest nights, single digits if I recall. I could feel a little bit of cool air through some of the holes in a few of the motifs, but I could have easily stood outside for hours and been just fine. The coat has also become a huge conversation piece. I get funny looks when I wear it out in public, like to the grocery store, but mostly people smile. It seems people love the coat, but also don't quite know how to take it. Is it a costume? Is it a feminist statement? Is it a joke? Is it a work of art? A lot of them don't know, so I just smile and say thanks when I get a compliment.
The coat, which I dubbed my crazy hippie coat, took me three solid months of work to complete and many more skeins of yarn than I originally purchased on the shop hop. It was easily the most complicated, complex and challenging project I've ever made. I entered it in the Cowley County Fair this summer and happily won a blue ribbon for my efforts.
I also entered my coat in the Kansas State Fair but didn't win a thing. And after this year's experience I will never enter anything at the state fair again, but that's another story.
This year's yarn hop began Tuesday and will continue through Sunday. You can check with iYarn (620-229-8381) for more information and to pick up a passport. My crazy hippie coat will be on display at iYarn during the hop.