Today I share the design journey that resulted in the publication of my #sashikohappycoat, and it starts with a pin cushion and a table runner.
I had been wanting to design and make a statement fashion coat for a while. My self-imposed design criteria were that it had to be bold and feminine, and made with the regular basic set of crochet stitches, so it would be an achievable make for many crocheters.
Starting out, my concept was a knee-length, long-sleeved coat with a fabulous collar - a modern adaptation of glamorous 50s dress-coat fashion. I had also just crocheted a pin cushion (photo above), sewing cross-stitch into rows of dc fabric that had been inspired by Kirsten’s (Haakmaarraak.nl) Hygge Shawl. The repetitive stitches with needle and thread reminded me of when I made a table runner with a centre piece of Sashiko embroidery (photo below).
Then the "a-ha" moment happened when I thought how cool it would be to work Sashiko-inspired slip stitch embroidery into a basic fabric ground for my coat! Good use of regular crochet stitches – fancy without being fancy.
Rows of double crochet are a bit stiff though, and are wider than they are tall, and I needed something square. But what if I worked it in the front loop only? – that would stretch the stitch and make it taller – almost square, and improve the drape of the fabric. Winner!
I became obsessed with solving the geometry and engineering of how to get my favourite pattern shown above that I had worked into the centre of my Sashiko table runner to fit onto a grid. After a bit of trial and error, I realised the angles and intersecting lines were too-complex for my base fabric. Sad Face. Each slip-stitch of the embroidery must span only one stitch or grid point for the finished fabric to work well as a soft flexible garment, and the low flat angles were not possible with a square grid fabric. Fail. Try again – I browsed other Sashiko pattern charts to consider other effects.
My second choice for the Sashiko-inspired embroidery worked a treat! Much better suited to the (almost) square grid fabric. I LOVED the gentle merging of jewel like colours of the Scheepjes Secret Garden in the swatch below as the base fabric, and played with using Scheepjes Whirlette for the embroidery. This is my first “successful” swatch trying to figure out stitch paths and how to handle the edges. Thinking with a hook. I liked the visual effect, but trying to hide the tails of the smooth cotton Whirlette proved problematic. The yarn fibre choice for the embroidery needed to look good for more than just photography, and inherently work well with the base fabric. Cotton on a cotton-silk blend was a logical choice to use together, though this hiding-the-tails problem niggled at me, and I had another problem to solve.
Fabric constructed with rows of dc flo has more stretch vertically (up and down the stitch axis) than it does side to side (across dc stitches), so I planned to make the coat with the rows oriented vertically. This would mean the fabric could stretch best horizontally around the body, and minimise sagging under its own weight given it was going to be quite long. (I had learnt to make this consideration when sewing a stretch fabric dress for myself). I was worried the Secret Garden colour changes were going to be too short to work this well over the long vertically oriented rows of the coat, so I swatched again in a long strip to see how it behaved, and threw in some short rows to figure out how to shape the skirt:
I felt it was too stripey which wasn’t the effect I was going for, and also too flimsy. From previous crochet experience, both cotton and silk garments can keep growing a bit, and this already felt like it didn’t have the inherent structure to maintain its shape well as a longish piece of fabric. Beautiful yarn, but a no-go for this project. Hmmm….
I had really enjoyed watching new colours emerge when I had combined 2 strands of Scheepjes Our Tribe for my #pixiehoodbeanie pattern earlier in the year, so maybe that would work well? This is a longer colour change yarn that is 70% merino and 30% nylon. Merino is fabulous for its elastic spring so should perform much better to support its own weight – would working this double stranded make the coat too chunky? Only one way to find out:
I felt I was finally making progress – my idea was possible! Now the tail-hiding problem. I chose Scheepjes Alpaca Rhythm for the slip stitch embroidery because it is also an animal fibre, it has a lustrous range of colours (yay), and most importantly, the soft halo (fuzz) that radiates around the yarn core means the tails will “lock-in” to where you embed them back around itself at the back of the work and in the fabric ground. Now it’s a double-sided visual effect. Double-sided Collar anyone!?? Game ON! Now I was really getting pumped – in my head this was going to be so awesome!! (As it happened – this Alpaca decision was probably the key element that led to winning the Technical Merit Award in the 2019 CGOA Design Competition, as the legendary Lilly Chin (who was one of the judges) said my coat could be worn in-side out, and they could not find what I had done with those tails – whoop whoop!!)
At this point, I knew the coat could work, I had my swatch for calculations and just had to choose colours, so I set about drawing schematics for each piece of my coat, and embroidery stitch charts for the pieces. I wrote my first pattern draft including sizing (I have learned to size as I design – it’s a nightmare to try to figure this out after making the sample and still keep the instructions reasonably consistent between sizes). Then back to choosing colours.
The previous year, the navy blue for my #spiderlacemaxidress had kind of blended with the black carpeted room dividers for the display at the #cgoa2018, so I wanted a lighter brighter palette this time around. The swatch shown above used Our Tribe combining 980 Simy 2 with 970 Cypress Textiles for the fabric ground, and Alpaca Rhythm in 668 Disco for embroidery. I had really liked the flecks of green in the fabric, but when I added the yellow, the green hues seemed to disappear. Trying to avoid blue (one of my go-to colours), I figured instead that a red coat demands attention?
Final selection: After toying with combining Our Tribe 968 Happy in Red with 979 Heart (left in the above photo), I settled on Happy in Red double stranded as the coat fabric and Alpaca Rhythm in 662 Paso and 669 Cha Cha for the embroidery (right in above photo). When I made my coat, I chose two Happy in Red balls that were at different stages of the colour transition as much as possible to help it blend and create new colours and minimise striped effects.
All this thinking, swatching and planning had spanned a number of months – around October to early March. The actual making of the coat and initial edit of the pattern took only 3-4 weeks of March. Having planned it so thoroughly beforehand made all the difference! I knew I had to finish mine pretty quick in order to have others test my pattern. Enter two super-supportive hooksters Mariana (@marianamuller585) and Naomi (@dr_nome). I am so grateful to them as they worked so hard to help me get to pattern publication!
Once you can successfully embroider the swatch, you can make the coat - and the technique only gets easier and more natural over time. Naomi knew what she was getting herself into – she lives locally to me and had seen the finished coat.
I was worried how she might find slip stitching her swatch. I had to just give her the basic charts and notes in my pattern and the visual aid of my swatch, and see how she went. I had initially found it harder than I expected - would she curse at me and be frustrated? Well, she cursed a little that it did not feel relaxing to do the embroidery – but also sent a photo of her successful swatch in progress was a relief. She was into it!
Naomi was also newly pregnant with twins, and soon after was struck down with terrible flu type viruses, yet amazingly still managed to finish her lovely coat in around nine weeks. What a trooper! Thank you so much Naomi! She opted to embroider the collar and cuffs but not the bodice, and is feeling much better (and more heavily pregnant) now!
Then Mariana. When Mariana excitedly agreed to test my secret coat project, she did NOT know what she was getting herself into, lives far away from me in South Africa and we have never met! I just described it was a coat that was going to be made in pieces, the pieces would have some embroidery embellishment, then joined together – and she said an enthusiastic YASS! Then I sent her the notes, chart and photos for the swatch. (No coat photos, as I did not want her to freak out). Nervously I waited for her email with swatch photos. It is one thing for me to think this is doable, and another to have someone I have never met show me it really is.
Mariana had a little trouble at first, and threaded though some grid lines in a different yarn to show the square frames of each motif, which helped her keep the motifs symmetrical. Great idea! Only then did I show her my finished coat photos - which is when she DID freak out just a little bit - …and then proceeded to smash out a fully embroidered coat in around six weeks despite the stress of failed and delayed yarn deliveries!
It can be a long road from idea to publication, and I got there in the end with much appreciated help from Mariana and Naomi (and some outsourced tech editing from the amazing @caramedus). I worked hard on this design for a long time – I love it and am very proud of it. My testers pushed themselves a little through the initial swatch challenge, then completed the rest of the coat without any serious issues. I pushed my own boundaries to bring my idea to life and design something that is achievable for intermediate to advanced level crocheters. Your initial attempts at the embroidery technique could be a bit challenging, but once you can work the swatch, you’re set!
To make it easier for you as the maker, consider first working the instructions and slip stitch technique video demonstration as found on my Granny Square Day Part 1, then make your swatch as described in the pattern. Once that is correct, you should be good to go. The video demo shows just one motif, and in a bigger format, but it covers the principles of how to keep track of one stitch in the grid at a time.
If you are keen, my Sashiko Happy Coat pattern is available on Ravelry, and for the yarn:
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Super long blog post today – I didn’t realise I had so much to tell until it started pouring out of me...
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