Crocheted fashions are Kay Grott's passion
By Leslie Grace / A! Magazine for the Arts | December 30, 2015Crochet may not be the first technique that comes to mind when you think of fashion design, but it is for Bristol native Kay Grott.
Her fashions are influenced by Ralph Lauren, Coco Chanel and Christian Dior. "I believe in keeping designs simple and let their elegance speak for themselves," Grott says. But these famous designers are not whom Grott thinks of every time she starts a new project. That honor belongs to Abingdon native Patsy Sue White who taught Grott how to crochet.
"She taught me during her junior and senior years at Abingdon High, while I was in my seventh and eighth grade. I know she graduated in the class of 1972. I would love to find her and share my work with her. I have made a few attempts but have yet to be successful in finding her. She influenced my life in such a positive way. I would love to share my heartfelt gratitude with her, as well as have a wonderful time to sit down, have tea and crochet."
The first thing White taught Grott to make (after how to hold the hook and yarn, and the first basic stitches) was a granny square. She then made a pullover vest with two large squares. "I wore that vest to school and made more. I eventually got tired of the granny square and moved on."
The challenge of mastering the technique was what initially intrigued Grott. "It was such joy for me the day it happened. I recall vividly simply chaining (a simple crochet stitch) away, working diligently and then my "ah hah' moment came about. I was thrilled. I knew then, I could progress to learn more. With this needle art, you can make so many practical as well as fancy garments and accessories."
Grott moved from crocheting as a hobby to a career naturally. "The switch from hobby to career came to me. I did not have to look for it. People were willing to pay me for my designs, work and instruction. Many of my clients have commissioned my services multiple times. There is no greater compliment than that," she says.
Her fashions are commission only. When a client commissions a piece, the process begins with a discussion. They talk about the process of design, how the piece will be used, whether casually or formally. They talk about appropriate yarns. Measurements are taken, and fittings are scheduled as the project progresses. Grott creates clothing for babies to adult men and women and "everyone in between."
She uses six basic stitches in her work. She chooses yarns based on the garment. For babies, she uses soft, easy to launder yarns, such as cotton, cotton blends or cashmere. For adults she prefers wool and wool blends with silk, cashmere and alpaca. Merino wool is a particular favorite for sweaters. Linen, hemp and bamboo are favorites for women's summer fashions.
"I have developed over the years my own techniques to accomplish the creative process. I tend to keep my stitches simple. I think there is such elegance in keeping things simple."
Grott also creates patterns for others, primarily her students. "I decided to design early on, because I did not like a lot of the patterns published. Often I thought the yarns chosen for the patterns were not well suited. Gauge of the yarn was an issue for me for many patterns. The drape was commonly an issue. It would be too firm instead of having a nice flow. In addition, I found it frustrating for patterns to be incomplete in their instructions. Later, I learned this was an editorial issue for print and not necessarily a designer making a mistake."
Creating a pattern is a complex process. The steps are deciding what to make, choosing the correct crochet hook size, swatching and gauge, measurements, math calculations and creating the written pattern with or without a diagram.
"Swatching is a definite must and is the lifeblood of pattern writing. Swatching is a sample cloth crocheted by crocheting a certain number of stitches for a certain number of rows to measure at least four inches square. Gauge is the number of stitches and rows per inch. Swatching and gauge go hand in hand. I like to make my gauge swatches at least six inches square. Predominately, all the math for the pattern is based on the information derived from the swatch.
"There are standard size measurements for clothing but, if couture work is done, the client's measurements are utilized in the making of the pattern. The standard measurements are a baseline guide. There is an old saying in construction, "measure twice cut once,' which somewhat applies to crochet. We do not cut our stitches. We are creating the fabric. I like to say, measure twice, then do a fitting to assure the measurements obtained do actually work. Often, measurements have to be done repeatedly. The give of the fabric can distort and throw off a measurement.
"Calculations for the pattern utilize simple math, algebra and geometry. Calculations have to be adjusted according to the stretch factor of the yarns and the amount of ease needed. Ease is the added looseness for the specific silhouette of the garment.
"A diagram of the pattern is often made noting the specific measurements for multiple finished sizes of the garment. This is known in the industry as pattern drafting. The pattern's written instructions coincide with the pattern diagram and note the number of stitches for each finished size of the pattern.
"Once the pattern is written it is given to a pattern tester to actually read and follow the instructions to make the designated item. It is during this time the extra set of eyes of the pattern tester are invaluable. Mistakes can be caught, and corrections can be made prior to submitting the project for print. Many times I will have more than one pattern tester to test my pattern. The more input initially, the better, is my thought. Designers do their utmost to have the patterns correctly written prior to print. If something does get missed, designers welcome the notification so corrections can be made," Grott says.
She is recognized as a professional designer by the Crochet Guild of America. A designer has to meet a certain criteria by the guild in order to be recognized as a professional designer. This means a designer's skills and work have been recognized professionally. For the client it means the designer is credible and has value. For students of crochet, it means their teacher has accomplished certain criteria to be recognized as a professional designer. "I take great pride in being chosen as a professional designer by the Crochet Guild of America," Grott says.
Just as White taught Grott, Grott passes her knowledge on to others.
"Predominately, I teach young people. I am intrigued with their wonderful curiosity when they watch me crochet just about anywhere I go. My 6-year-old great niece and great nephew wanted to learn from me this past summer. While vacationing this summer, they worked tenaciously to learn the basic skill of learning to hold the hook and yarn to make a long chain. I understand they both are crocheting on their own at home.
"I offer a crochet camp in the summer in Franklin, Tennessee. This year will be the fifth year in a row. It has been a wonderful approach for teaching crochet. Some of the campers have attended all four years of camp and have grown from beginners to intermediate. This past summer the intermediate campers made their first garment. They went through the process of completing one of my written patterns I designed just for them. They made a sleeveless sweater overlay.
"The campers have formed their own crochet group called the Loop-D-Loop Society. One of them designed the logo for the organization. We gather periodically during the year to crochet and learn new things. In this group, we have a high school aged young lady who is learning how to design a pattern. I am so proud of her."
She also teaches in independent and assisted living facilities, at community colleges and offers workshops and classes.
Grott lives in Nashville, Tennessee, but is proud of her Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia roots.
"Parents were instrumental to assure we got the same quality of education children received anywhere else. I venture to say, our public primary and secondary school education when I grew up in Bristol would be comparable to top-rated private schools today. We were encouraged as children to dream and dream big. Many did and have seen their big dreams become a reality. Being an Appalachian girl, I came to realize what that meant later in adulthood. I did not really realize the difference, until I would come home to visit periodically. I can remember, not too long ago, when the difference became so evident to me. The people of our area are hard working. If they make their minds up to do something, nothing holds them back to achieve. This is quite evident in the achievements of many.
"Creativity is alive and well in our area of the country. It is wonderful to see so many artists calling our home their home. I was taught a strong work ethic and to take value and pride in my work all of my life. Having your own business takes a lot of faith, belief in yourself, tenacity and hard work. I was also encouraged to "go for it.' I have and still am."
Grott can be contacted through her website, www.kaygrottcollection.com.
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Bristol native specializes in figurative sculpture
One of Kay Grott's custom crochet dresses.
Baby Sweater by Kay Grott.
Green dress by Kay Grott
Design by Kay Grott