Thursday, December 2, 2010

Low-rent photography studio

After a week or two of messing around with far less adequate improvisations, I've now got my roommate's camera atop a nice old tripod from craigslist, with the whole set-up conveniently adjacent to my comfy crocheting chair, and blazingly illuminated, when necessary, by the therapy light I use for my seasonal mood slump (this is the Pacific Northwest, where it starts raining in October, and doesn't stop until May).

Here we have my crochet/photography studio, modeled by Miss Thunderhead (she blames the sedating influence of the heated throw behind her for her somnolence throughout this major photo op.)

For some reason I don't trip over the tripod when I get up.

The therapy light turned aside to illuminate my mini-studio

A satin shawl I hadn't unfolded in ten years...

It was necessary for me to use the camera's manual settings to get decent stitch definition and 3-dimensional-looking thread contours. Here's how I understand how I set it up, in case someone else wants to try something similar.

Shooting (motionless) crochet using a (motionless) tripod allows one to slow the shutter speed way down, giving the camera's sensors or film time to absorb more light. Additional light gives one leeway to shrink the aperture, creating greater depth of field. A shallow focal range is a big problem in close-up photography (unless you can convince the viewer that this is some sort of moody special effect, as attempted in in certain Patricia Kristofferson doily pattern booklets. Augh!! If I'm going to spend a week or more crocheting the danged thing, I'd really like to know what it looks like in its entirety!! But I digress...). Additional light also lets one lower the ISO speed, which generates a less noisy image -- you can imagine how random pixel noise might confuse detailed close-up shots. 

For anyone interested in more in-depth understanding, try browsing through this guide to Using your Digital Camera. I found it very clear when I needed to review these concepts (that college 35mm photography class was a long time ago).

But I'm no digital photography expert, and if you know more than I do, and feel yourself brimming over with good advice for me and other aspiring photographers of thread, please do leave a comment.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

About me and this blog

I had a grandmother who was Irish, and a grandmother who did lovely thread crochet, but they were not one and the same. And I did not learn to crochet at my grandmother's knee, since my crocheting grandmother died shortly after her first glimpse of my newborn self.

Instead, when I was eleven, my best friend and I started taking a summer recreation program crochet class, but I was abducted for the family road trip before I learned anything beyond the chain stitch (which was pleasantly addictive to execute, but not terribly useful in isolation). While on vacation, I discovered a learn-to-crochet kit in a small town dime store, and by pestering my mother with this item during every errand to the store, I wore down her resistance until she bought me off. Although I never made the ugly blue hat, I used the yarn to unravel the mysteries of single, double and treble crochet, and thus I was fully equipped to generate my share of ugly early '70's acrylic granny squares, which doubtless persist in some distant landfill, resisting decomposition for centuries to come.

When I showed an unsuspected ability to sit still, read instructions, and stubbornly tweak at a project until I finally figured out how to make the stupid thing work, my parents observed that this quietly obsessive behavior on my part was far preferable to the wall-bouncing, attention-seeking alternative, and therefore made sure there was no shortage of needlework supplies in my tween to teen life. Instead my mother developed the irritating habit of saying "You could make that," whenever I coveted any sort of lovely textile.

Years and years later, that streak of stubborn persistence came in handy when decyphering instructions in turn-of-the-century Irish Crochet patterns. The stitch names not only differed from modern American usage, but also varied from book to book, and while it's logical that patterns might seem the most vague or obscure when describing the most interesting and unfamiliar maneuvers, it was still quite frustrating to experience on a repeated basis.

So it occurred to me that it might be useful for someone starting to explore Irish Crochet, if I took step-by-step photos as I reviewed how to make various Irish crochet motifs from turn-of-the-century instructions. Over the years I've gradually gotten over my intimidation and frustration with those old patterns, and branched out from roses and leaves into learning to manage my padding cord.

I must confess that I still haven't tried putting motifs together with a background mesh, but first I want to remind myself how to sculpt the motifs. The word on the street is that combining background and motifs is the hardest part, and I don't feel ready for that yet!

Let me restate at the beginning that I don't want to present myself an authority on Irish Crochet, just a relatively experienced crocheter who enjoys the challenges that this style of crochet provides -- plus I also enjoy making websites. There exists a decrepit old thread crochet site I made 10 years ago, and wow, I wanted and needed so badly to add demo pics when making that site, but we lacked a digital camera.

Next entry will feature the "photographic studio" I've contrived adjacent to my comfy crocheting chair, for taking pictures of the motifs as I go.