I am still blown away by the results of the design contest. I am calling this the "little coat that could"! It turns out that good things can, and do come in small packages! I really love small details and creating a baby coat gave me the opportunity to showcase them. I also love mixed media, and this is the first time I experimented with combining fabric and crochet in the same garment.
In case you would like to hear about how I designed this garment, I am giving a detailed account of my process, here. My longest blog post yet, should you choose to read on further!
When I heard the announcement for the contest, I immediately began brainstorming as to what to design. I really love doing childrenswear, and the "Small Wonders" category was new to the CGOA Design Competition. So, I decided to come up with a baby design. My daughter used to have a little Kimono jacket that I loved and was my favorite thing to dress her in. I thought a kimono would give me many options for embellishment.
I then began looking for inspiration. I was inspired by a Japanese fabric print that gave me the idea to make ruffles coming from underneath that would mimick petticoats. I then found a beautiful stitch pattern that was lacy and had scallops and open areas for the ruffles to come through.
I went to buy yarn without any color scheme in mind. There isn't a huge selection of yarn in Kuwait, so I knew I would have to make it work with whatever I could find. First, I found the variegated pink to brown yarn. It was a chunky weight, but I really liked the color tones in it and I was able to find some solid colors that matched. I was planning to work in a freeform style, so I bought many different types of yarn. I just wanted to play with the yarn and see what direction that took me. I have found that what I think will be the best combination in the store, is often not what I end up using. I try to work with what I buy originally, and not go back for more yarn. Limiting myself can create design problems, but the solution to the problem is often the bright spot in the creation.
When I got the yarn home, I felt a little overwhelmed to map out the whole design. I just wanted to concentrate on one small area at a time. I began with the front and back lacy panels. Then, I set to work on the ruffles. These ruffles took weeks to complete! The main reason was because I wanted them to be in the variegated yarn. The variegated yarn was 12 strands. I only needed one strand to make the ruffles the right weight and scale. So, that meant separating the one strand from the 12. It was wool and the strands were slightly felted together. I spent hours and hours separating them. They broke many times, and I had to make several small balls. I started to wonder if it was going to be worth all the time I was putting in. As I was crocheting the ruffles, I really liked what I saw, so that kept me going. I crocheted many more ruffles than you see in the finished garment. I was so deep in the ruffles that I didn't stand back and notice that there were far too many, and they were loosing their impact. It was sad to rip out several hours of ruffle creation. Espescially after all the time it took just to prepare the yarn. It looked much better when I was finished though, so that made me feel better!
After that, I decided to work on some of the solid color pieces and was able to use the yarn as it came in the skein, so it was more relaxing. I could see it coming together, as I had the bodice and lower fronts and back complete. It was now time to tackle the middle sash. I had been looking forward to this, since it was to be the focal point of the coat. I tried mixing colors and stitch patterns and nothing was working. It was just too much with the ruffles I had already created. Again, I was wondering if I was going down the wrong path or if it was worth all of the time I was putting into it. Then, a light bulb went off. I could make the sash from fabric! It could still include crochet, if I made it in the crazy quilt style.
I hopped in the car to go to the fabric souk. A wonderful place in kuwait with rows and rows of fabric and notions shops. I took the ruffle and lace portion of the coat with me to find coordinating fabrics. I first found some high quality cotton men's shirting fabrics, and then decided to go into all of the men's tailoring fabric stores to find more. I found several and then decided I needed something floral. I went into the shops with the ladies dress fabrics and found a floral fabric that perfectly matched the stripes in the ruffles, so I was extremely happy. I decided that I had enough fabrics, and I went home and started cutting random shapes out of a paper pattern I made for the sash. I fused each section of them to one piece of fabric backing, then I set to work framing each little piece with crocheted chains. When I was finished with that, I embroidered a buttonhole stitch around the whole sash, so I could crochet an edging around it. I was so pleased with the finished sash. I laid all of the completed coat sections out to see how it looked together. Something wasn't right. The scale of the belt was too large. All of the crazy quilt pieces needed to be smaller. I made the difficult decision to make another sash. It was easier the second time and it looked so much better!
Next it was time to decide on the sleeves. I thought the sleeves would be nice with small multi colored stripes. I set to work swatching to find the best color and stitch combination. When I did, I made up a sample sleeve and laid out all of the coat pieces again. To my dismay, the sleeve was way too busy and took the focus from the lovely sash, so I decided to make plain sleeves, with detail at the bottom of the sleeve instead. This brought the focus back to the sash.
Next, I worked on the neckline. I made some crazy quilt panels for it, but again, it was too busy, so I decided on solid fabric panels. I wanted to have some ruffles at the neckline, so I pulled out my teeny tiny hook and 1 strand of yarn again and crocheted them along each bodice front. I didn't like the way they were laying, so I played with them and stitched them down. This became one of my favorite parts of the coat! Definitely turning a negative into a positive!
Finally, it was time to sew it all together and put in a fabric lining. My next challenge was the snaps inside the coat. I was thinking of crocheting covers for them, but in the end, I decided to cover them with fabric. I used one of the crazy quilt fabrics, and they became camouflaged within the sash. Perfect, as I wanted the judges to look at the crochet in the garment and I thought shiny metal snaps would be a distraction.
The moral of this story, if you have stuck with me this long, is that not all successes are planned or work out the way you imagined, and you should never give up! I thought of giving up on this project a dozen times. Thank goodness I didn't, because it was so amazing to see all of the separate parts of the design come together. I will be floating on a cloud for a very long time because of this victory! Thank you to the judges Edie Eckman, Jean Leinhauser, Bobbie Matela, to Doris Chan for organizing the competition, and to Coats and Clark for donating the generous prize!
Here is Doris Chan's blog post about the competition, including photos of all of the amazing winning entries. Be sure to have a look at my mentor Margaret Hubert's, beautiful "Fantasy in Purple and Lime" sweater with freeform crochet embellishments that won 2nd prize in the Daywear Category!