The Fine Art of Crochet: Book review

The Fine Art of Crochet: Book review

Gwen Blakley Kinsler’s latest book, The Fine Art of Crochet, focuses on celebrating crochet as a highly versatile and exciting contemporary art form. It features the work and stories of 20 diverse modern artists, who have found success exhibiting in galleries internationally and jurying fine art and craft events. However, the author is keen to make clear that the purpose of the book is not to ‘promote’ or ‘showcase’ the individual, rather use the inventiveness and artistry of their work to demonstrate just how far crochet has come from the ‘old fashioned, trite hobby it was once considered’.

The Fine Art of Crochet by Gwen Blakley Kinsler

The Fine Art of Crochet by Gwen Blakley Kinsler

Crochet is a craft whose time has come – Gwen Blakley Kinsler

The book gets underway with a well-researched and informative introduction, which gives contemporary crochet a firm historical and cultural context. Crochet was born out of necessity and was mainly practised in a domestic setting until the 1960s; although there is evidence of creative crochet before this time, it has since moved well away from its previous purpose and has become more a means of expression and creation. To demonstrate the evolution of the craft into an art form, there is a brief but highly readable exploration of some important figures from the world of crochet and fiber art; Walter Nottingham, Julie Schafler Dale and Jean Williams Caciedo amongst others. A connection is not explicitly investigated, but as you flick through the images in the latter part of the book, it is clear how influential these artists have been.

Perhaps most interestingly, we learn how the formation of organisations such as the Crochet Guild of America has led to a bigger and bolder approach to crochet. Collaborations between artists from across the world have had stunning results. Images of pieces such as the Crochet Coral Reef by the Institute for Figuring and The Gas Station Project, where panels by various artists were sewn together to cover an abandoned gas station in NYC, demonstrate just how powerful this evolution in the craft has been.

The Gas Station Project

The Gas Station Project

The main bulk of The Fine Art of Crochet is rightly given over to the work of the artists. There is a detailed profile of their crochet history, covering training, notable achievements, publications they have been featured in, and galleries in which their work has been exhibited. What is particularly engaging is the exploration of how each of them has contributed to the crochet movement and its development. The artists have clearly been selected for innovation. The variety of techniques and materials used forces the reader to question any pre-conceived ideas about this particular craft; the results are a real eye-opener. From elegant jewellery and wearable art to bold and striking sculptures and installations; the range covered is breathtaking.

The quality of the work featured is also impressive. I was particularly taken aback by the untitled vessels of Pate Conaway as well as the unique way he works, seeking to break down ‘myths’ about creating art by doing it publicly. This incredible fusion of sculpture, installation and interactive performance demonstrates perfectly how contemporary crocheters are constantly pushing the boundaries of their craft.

I was also impressed with the mission of the young artist Nathan Vincent, who challenges the notion of gender codes and questions what it is to be ‘male’ through his work. This is demonstrated brilliantly in his piece Locker Room, a crocheted and knitted installation. The juxtaposition of the alpha-male environment created using what is traditionally a female technique creates compelling results.

Nathan Vincent - Locker Room

Nathan Vincent – Locker Room

The absurd and poetic work of Soonran Youn cements the idea that crochet is no longer merely the pursuit of traditionalists; she uses a variety of materials, including copper wire, to create sculptures of all shapes and sizes. As Gwen Blakley Kinsler states in her introduction: ‘Anything flexible enough to be pulled by the hook…births the most inventive of results’.

Whilst most of the book is dedicated to innovative and subversive work by artists such as Jo Hamilton, Yvette Kaiser Smith, and Karen Searle, there are nods to the comfortable and accepted notion of what crochet is; Renie Breskin Adams, for example, creates what might be considered more conventional work. For me though, this only goes to substantiate the claims of the author; crochet really is the most flexible of crafts.

pi Strands - Yvette Kaiser Smith

pi Strands – Yvette Kaiser Smith

I would say that The Fine Art of Crochet certainly achieves what is sets out to do. Readers will be taken on a fascinating journey of what makes various artists tick and how they realise their concepts in limitless and exciting ways. As well as being an education in the versatility of crochet, textile artists will find the book highly inspirational. It will encourage any practitioner to push the boundaries of theme and method and explore new avenues in the creation of their own work.

My one criticism of The Fine Art of Crochet: Innovative Works from 20 Contemporary Artists has nothing to do with the well-observed and engagingly-written content. I think it is slightly disappointing that the work of the 20 artists featured, the majority of which I’m confident would be awe-inspiring if viewed ‘in the flesh’, isn’t brilliantly translated onto the page. I suspect this has nothing to do with the images themselves, but more to do with the quality of the printing. I would have liked more vibrancy and perhaps larger, more sumptuous representations of the artwork.

This is a minor gripe though as the textual analysis is excellent; I would recommend Gwen Blakley Kinsler’s The Fine Art of Crochet to anyone interested in this fascinating art form.

Win The Fine Art of Crochet by Gwen Blakley Kinsler

The publishers of The Fine Art of Crochet, have kindly given us a copy of the book to give away to one lucky reader. To be in with a chance of winning all you need to do is leave a message in the comments section below letting us know who your favourite crochet artist is and why. The winner will be picked at random on March 1st 2014, announced in our newsletter and contacted about their prize. Good luck!

More great books featuring the art of crochet
The Fine Art of Crochet by Gwen Blakley Kinsler

The Fine Art of Crochet by Gwen Blakley Kinsler

How to Crochet: A Complete Guide for Absolute Beginners

How to Crochet: A complete guide for absolute beginners by Alison McNicol

Crochet bible The Crochet Bible: The Complete Handbook for Creative Crochet: The Complete Handbook for Creative Crocheting by Sue Whiting

A-Z of Crochet

A to Z of Crochet: The Ultimate Guide for the Beginner to Advanced Crocheter by Sue Gardner


Don’t forget to let us know who your favourite crochet artist is in the comments section below.

Saturday 23rd, September 2023 / 20:51

About the author

Joseph Pitcher is the son of textile artist Sue Stone. He is an actor and voice-over artist and has worked at the RSC, the National Theatre, West End theatres and several other leading regional venues across the UK. Find Joe on Google

View all articles by Joe



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23 comments on “The Fine Art of Crochet: Book review”

  1. Cami Smith says:

    Love her work! I was lucky to see Nathan Vincent’s locker room exhibit here in Florida !

  2. Julie says:

    I love Jo Hamilton’s work – great to see a book highlighting crochet artists

  3. Elitsa says:

    My favorite crochet artist is my mum;
    she doesn’t know any fancy stitches and techniques and she is no longer working on any knit nor crochet project. However in between getting her bachelor’s and raising me by herself she give me her love for arts and crafts. I knit, crochet and sew since I was five years old and not everyone has the patience or talent for this.
    I have always admired my mum’s work and its has always a pleasure when people would ask about it.
    My mum has always been my inspiration.

  4. There are many crochet artists whose work I love. Today my favourite is Joanne Vasconcelas. Tomorrow it may be someone different. I like my crochet artwork too. My mother looks at it and says “What a waste of good wool.” Perhaps that will be the title of my next exhibition. Now you can see why I would love to win this book!

  5. Karen Lintott says:

    I am an art student and crochet is my chosen medium for making work. I love the scale, colour and ambition of Carol Hummel’s work. Something to aspire to in my own artworks.

  6. I love Pate Conaway’s work. It is like Crochet in Public Day on steroids!

  7. Marta says:

    Can I be my favourite crohe artist? I’d love too 😉 I do some crochet & tight jewellery 😉

    But I also admire a lot Agata Olek – Oleksiak! The gigant forms crochet artist.

  8. Paula says:

    Shauna Richardson’s enormous animals show how versatile and skilled the technique can be. Would so love to meet one??!!

  9. Karen says:

    Jenny Dowde because she is a Freeformer

  10. lola dowd says:

    Lucy from Attic 24 is an inspiration as being real about achieving her crocheting combining with the demands
    of motherhood etc Her ability to write about her daily life and crochet are a joy to read.

    Her tutorial pictures of the step by step process of a crochet element are very easy to understand
    and one can see exactly the method.

    • Rebecca Rapport says:

      My favorite crochet artist is the one who crocheted fruit pot holders that you find in antique sales. She also made the absurd torso dresses to the dolls you found atop many beds in the 50’s. This artist crocheted Barbie furniture and chicken baskets. I would love to win this book because I would like to see how this artist inspired others to elevate crochet to fine art!

  11. So many great new artists, it’s hard to choose one. My grandma did beautiful, intricate crochet work that inspires me to this day.

  12. debby says:

    The crocheted fiberglass of Yvette Kaiser Smith is fascinating! I’d love to be inspired by this book!

  13. Cyndi Walker says:

    I am a fan of Prudence Mapstone and her wonderful freeform crochet. It is so very inspirational and flows like a river. It always feels like I am surrounded by nature when I look at her work! Such talent I only hope to achieve!

  14. Lala de Dios says:

    I love Joana Vasconcelos and Olek for the big pieces but I think my favorite is the crochet jewellery of Felieke van der Leest. They show creativity and sense of humour.

  15. Sharon Liddle says:

    My favourite crochet artist is Sharron Hedges. I love the textures and forms she creates with her free-form crochet works in ‘Yarn’. Her work has inspired me to experiment in this area myself – such a revelation having worked with traditional crochet for so long. Would also love a copy of this book which sounds so interesting, informative and inspirational – thank-you for reviewing it and bringing it to my attention.

  16. meta says:

    Jo Hamilton, I love her faces.

  17. Erica Portelli says:

    In a galaxy far far away, in another century, I picked up a book by Sylvia Cosh and James Walters, and was introduced to the concept of freeform crochet. What a revelation! Since then I’ve freeformed jackets, wraps, scarves and coral reefs and wire jewellery… and there is no end in sight – thank you Sylvia and James for leading the way to all those who came after you.

  18. I’ve been a long time fan of Carol Hummel – love seeing her represented in this book! Some great stuff in this book…

  19. Ann Morgan says:

    I am a huge fan of Dorothy Ann Daly and love her delicate work including mixed media!

  20. Dianne says:

    Using words like ‘trite’ to describe the hobbyist use of crochet does not help the attempt to elevate it to an art form. While I agree that fine craft sometimes gets a bad wrap, there is no value in putting down the more common use. It simply says that the reviewer’s opinion is not in a more sophisticated class but is attempting to use ‘snob appeal’ ( a fallacy of logic) instead of describing what is of such such significant value in the craft that it should be embraced as an ‘art form’! As a technique crochet will always appeal to the masses because it is simple to learn , quick to do and has endless varieties for use of the end product, functional, decorative and aesthetic. What makes fine craft ‘art’ is not that it happens also to be functional but that the true ‘artist’ can use materials and skill to transmute a technique like crochet into an array of symbolic forms to captivate mind, spirit, imagination, and senses. Crochet like art has no limits and can have deep aesthetic appeal for the creative spirit!

    • Joe says:

      Hi Dianne. Thanks for your comment. I am the reviewer and just wanted to make it clear that ‘trite’ is not my choice of word, but is part of a quotation taken directly from the book The Fine Art of Crochet. In defence of the author, I don’t think she is attempting to use ‘snob appeal’, but rather to celebrate how far crochet has come. There is no sense of ‘putting down’ anyone who practices crochet as a hobby – the sentence actually reads, the “old-fashioned, trite hobby it was once considered” – I think the vital word here is “considered”; it is not the opinion of Gwen (the author), but I don’t think there can be any argument that certain factions of the ‘art world’ have not given crochet the respect it deserves as a means of creative expression.

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