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Crochet Casts Net of Cachet

April 23, 1993|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

This spring, fashion designers are hooked on crochet.

They're weaving everything from old-fashioned crocheted sweaters that look like something your grandmother made to sexy black crocheted dresses that would have made that same grandmother blush.

Vests, sweaters, dresses, pants, tank tops and even swimsuits have all come out in crochet. The airy creations are the perfect accompaniment to the season's vintage-style floral dresses and other soft, unconstructed clothes.

The trend began with young, up-and-coming designers who started a cottage industry by buying up old crocheted linens and turning them into vests, dresses--whatever caught their fancy. Crochet then worked its way up the fashion chain until even top designers such as Karl Lagerfeld, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein were incorporating granny's handiwork into their creations.

Not since the '70s has crochet been so popular, but this is no rehash of the hippie look. The '90s crochet pieces are lighter, made from thinner yarns dyed in neutral colors such as taupe and ivory. The delicate pieces are more reminiscent of the '30s, when crocheted clothes were works of art made by hand.

"I never wore crochet in the '70s. Now I wear it all the time," says Deborah Wiley, a San Diego-based designer who has been experimenting with crochet for more than a year.

Her latest collection features a bolero jacket, bolero vest, a long, off-the-shoulder tunic top, T-shirt and pants--all out of crochet. Wiley's designs are carried at Saks Fifth Avenue and Sloan & Katcef Inc. in San Juan Capistrano.

"At first it was hard to even find crochet. I finally found some tablecloths at The Broadway, and I've been doing it out of tablecloths ever since," Wiley says. "Crochet makes an outfit look elegant, and you can throw it on over anything."

Flora Hills, owner of the Flora Hills boutique in Corona del Mar, remembers wearing crochet in the '70s but prefers the '90s styles.

"I wore a crocheted outfit to the opening of (the musical) 'Hair,' " Hills says. "Crochet in the '90s has become much more refined. The difference is in the way we put the pieces together and the fabrication. Back then the yarns were thicker and crochet had a whole different attitude."

Today's crochet is wispier, with intricate weaves and detailed patterns.

"The best crochet looks like some old lady sat in a back room and made it," Hills says. "If it's machine-made, it better be a darn good machine."

Among the handmade crocheted styles at Flora Hills: a long, full skirt in a floral pattern, available in black, ivory or taupe ($164); a lined tank top ($88), vests with tiny capped sleeves and scalloped edges ($94) and scarves ($66).

"We don't promote tip-to-toe crochet," Hills says. "It's more for accent looks--skirts, hats, vests mixed with other fabrics. You can have a crocheted handkerchief tucked into the pocket of a denim jacket or blazer. Your whole body doesn't have to be covered with it."

The pieces blend well with the soft chiffons, cottons and rayons used in vintage styles.

"Crochet has such a feminine look. It's very lightweight and has an airy, soft feeling. It's working well with all these romantic prints," says Trudie Sloan, co-owner of Sloan & Katcef. "People are layering crocheted vests and little sweaters over those flowy floral dresses."

Often just a wisp of crochet adds romance to an outfit. Sloan & Katcef carries a line of vintage menswear vests that have pieces of crochet attached to their collars and fronts to give them a feminine mystique ($175-$200). For just a touch of whimsy, there are lacy accessories including a crocheted clip ($14) for drawing in the waist of a unconstructed dress and crocheted scarves ($32) made from patterns of old table runners that can wrap around the hips, waist, neck or head. They're available in black, beige or off-white.

Most crocheted pieces are done in soft, neutral colors to make them appear antique.

"Black, natural and antique white are the preferred colors for crochet," says Liz Menzies, owner of Swept Away in Irvine. "Pure white would be too new. Crochet should look like you got it from a place long ago. You don't want to look like you just walked out of the store with it."

Swept Away, another source of drapey, romantic clothes, carries a long-sleeved pullover tunic in black and cream-colored crochet ($50), a hip-length vest ($50) and short tops ($30-$60).

"They can wear the crocheted tops over a slim dress or palazzo pant. The idea is to have a couple layers going without looking too bulky," Menzies says.

Why has crochet made a comeback? Hills cites the pressures of the economy and an increasingly stressful world.

"A woman needs softness," she says. "That's why the fluid lines are in. Things are tough out there, so things become softer on the body."

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