Book review, Go Crochet! Afghan Design Workshop

Ellen Gormley's new book, Go Crochet! Afghan Design Workshop brings 50 new motifs to the world of granny squares (and rectangles, triangles, hexagons, and octagons). I confess I've always been rather indifferent to granny squares and motifs in general, mostly because there are so many ends to weave in (yes, I know you can crochet over them but I get a more elegant result sewing them in afterwards with a tapestry needle) and because most of the time you have to seam them together--not my favorite thing. Even with join-as-you-go, there are still plenty of ends. However, I appreciate the positive attributes of motifs, which Ellen notes in her book:

• portability--don't have to drag a ton of yarn around with you • opportunity to experiment with color and pattern • great way to use up scrap yarn • perfect for multiple people to work on different parts, then assemble together • easy to customize • not too taxing mentally--easy to pick up and put down • fun to make.

The book has a very thorough introductory section about fibers, hooks, and other tools. Experienced crocheters will probably be able to skip over some of that, but lapsed or newly minted crocheters will benefit from the information. Next there are helpful suggestions for working with color, creating your own design, and buying yarn. The page on "Assembly" has clear illustrations; photographs for each technique would have been useful so we could see which seaming method is neatest and what the reverse side looks like. Is one style better than another for certain shapes, or are they interchangeable? What's the best way to choose?

The real strength of the book is the "Motifs to Go" section, divided by shape. Each of the 50 motifs has a clear photograph of the finished item, along with written and charted instructions. Ellen gives the weight of the yarn needed for the motif, and lists the yarn she used for the sample. As most of you know, I am a stickler for clear instructions, and Ellen does not disappoint--I had no trouble following either the words or the diagram. I heartily approve of how she lets us know how many of each kind of stitch we are supposed to end up with at the end of a round! This "early warning system" to alert us if we've made a mistake is a very caring addition to the instructions, one that I wish other designers would adopt.

I also admire Ellen's creativity. Just when you thought there was nothing new under the sun, motif-wise, she has come up with fifty (50!) new ones in interesting color combinations, stitch patterns, and shapes. Beginners will find motifs they can execute successfully; more skilled crocheters will find popcorns, post stitches, stitches that are worked in the front or back loop, and reverse single crochet--the variety keeps things interesting. It's nice to see octagons, many of which are more like eight-petaled flowers than the straight-sided stop sign shapes, along with hexagons and triangles to supplement squares and rectangles.

One useful addition would be to tell us whether it's best to join each new round in the same general area or in a different spot (or doesn't it matter?). I'd love to get Ellen's expert advice so my motifs don't come out lopsided. It would also be good to know what to do if working a motif all in one color. Since fastening off would be unnecessary, what's the best way to finish one round and begin the next in the same color?

I picked a random rectangular motif to practice, "Gift Package" on p. 53. The skill level for it is listed as "Advanced." (A slight digression--the use of "Advanced" is odd because on p. 15 the highest level is given as "Experienced," which is what the Craft Yarn Council of America uses. The CYCA allows writers to use their standard symbols and terms as long as proper credit it given; no reason not to. I'll show my writerly bias and blame the inconsistency here on the editor!)

Anyway, I found the written pattern clear and easy to follow, though the print is a little on the small side for the bifocal generation; the chart was also correct and easy to use. Here is a picture of the back in progress, showing the ends, then a photo of the finished motif. For each pattern, Ellen suggests other motifs to mix and match. I love this idea, but I didn't find any photos or diagrams of how one would arrange vastly different shapes into a coherent afghan (except for the final, all-motifs-on-deck project, which is not what most of us would have in mind on a regular basis). Of the ten designs in the "Afghans on the Go" pattern section, most stick to one shape. "Reflected Sunlight" and "Spring Octagons" use octagons and little squares; "Brilliant Starburst" incorporates hexagons and triangles. The final project, "All Call" (with the skill level "Very Advanced," which again is a term that's not generally used--although it gets the message across) does use every motif in the book. It's a cool concept, but I think it may be stretching things to try this. The photo on p. 125 shows an afghan with nice straight sides, but the top and bottom are a little untidy for my taste, which I think is unavoidable given the number of motifs and their different sizes and shapes. I do like the monochromatic look a lot, though.

The other projects are attractive and creative. Blue and yellow tones are the perfect choice for the "French Country" afghan, which drew me in right away. The 3D aspect of the "Pick a Posie" motif in that blanket gives it added interest. Like the motifs, the projects are photographed clearly with excellent detail.

The construction of the book itself is wonderfully useable--it's spiral bound so the pages lay flat, but the cover is hard enough so the top of the spine doesn't get crushed.

I recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of motifs and is looking for new shapes, colors, and stitch patterns to join into beautiful afghans (or smaller projects like dishcloths or placemats). Ellen Gormley is an experienced designer whose work has appeared in major crochet magazines and on television. Her commitment to new designs and careful pattern instructions is evident here.

The cover price for Go Crochet! Afghan Design Workshop, published by Krause Publications, is $24.99. Ellen's website is