Vintage crochet and afternoon tea

Afternoon tea – how it came to be

A couple of years ago a friend was hosting a house-warming party; for entertainment, she had booked a well-known crochet tutor to teach a workshop. Unfortunately, the tutor had to pull out a few weeks beforehand, so my friend was wondering what to do. We came up with a few ideas, then without really thinking, I said “I could run a crochet workshop if you like”. One thing led to another and soon I was planning a workshop with a theme of milk jug covers.

I imagine that some of you are wondering what such a thing is. Well, they are a vintage crochet item, with a circle of net that sits on top of a milk jug (to keep flies out) and a crocheted mesh around the sides weighted down with beads. Nowadays most of us have fridges and few of us use milk jugs, so they are not commonly seen. But with the popularity of all things vintage, tea and cakes, they may make a mini-comeback. So, I looked at my collection of vintage crochet patterns for inspiration.

Vintage crochet patterns

Vintage patterns use fine crochet threads; a number denotes the thickness of the thread. It seems somewhat illogical, but the higher the number the finer the thread, and therefore the smaller a hook that is required. So, a number 10 thread requires a 1.50 mm hook, whereas a number 60 thread requires a 0.75 mm one. Such fine hooks are made from steel. I have a few that I inherited from my great grandmother. They are beautifully decorated, but the the sizing is a pre-metric English system and is inconsistent so that hooks with the same number are in fact visibly different sizes. So I just admire these vintage hooks from time to time, but use rather plain new ones.

Vintage crochet threads

I came up with three designs for the workshop. First, I adapted the blue one from a vintage pattern for a milk jug cover. Then, I adapted the multicoloured one from a vintage pattern for a potholder. Finally, I adapted the cream one from a vintage doily pattern. Fortunately, everyone bought small jugs with them and they all started with a small version of the blue one, then they chose one of the others to make.

Three crocheted milk jug covers

The new afternoon tea

Since then I have modified things so that now there are two projects. The first is a small beaded milk jug cover.

Beaded milk jug cover

The second is a doily.

Vintage style doily

I was booked to run the “Afternoon Tea” workshop at Rufford Craft Centre last weekend and advertised it as vintage crochet including tea and cake. What could be more relaxing – a day spent crocheting, drinking tea and eating homemade cakes?

Materials for Afternoon Tea workshop

Things do not always go according to plan, and this did not. The first hiccup was that only one person booked – and there may be reasons for this, such as the name of the workshop being a bit cryptic, me being relatively unknown as a tutor (my first time at Rufford) and the timing of school holidays. I was keen to visit the venue so I chose to run the workshop.

The next hiccup was that my student was a non-crocheter, but very keen to learn. This was not a problem given the lack of other students; we just swapped the fine thread for double knitting yarn and the steel hooks for thicker hooks and did a beginners’ crochet class.

Vintage tea cups and saucers

Teaching beginners is always interesting. As a teacher, I have to be able to demonstrate techniques and explain what I’m doing. I also have to observe what each student does carefully so I can help them when they struggle. Beginners usually know when things are not quite right. However, they cannot always see how what they are doing is different from what I’m showing them. Often I have to find ways to make it easier for them until their hands start to do what their brain is trying to tell them!

So we started with a very loose chain. Then we added double crochet to create something that did not really resemble any known crochet stitch. I realised that the crochet was twisting back and forward and from side to side. So I hung onto the yarn tail while my student practised. Slowly the movement of the hook became controlled, the hand holding the yarn managed to control the tension and other fingers pinched the crochet so it stayed where it should. Then suddenly there were two rows of double crochet that looked very similar to my sample. My student was delighted since he had unsuccessfully tried to learn to crochet before. I introduced him to crochet symbols. Then I used symbols to demonstrate that he had learnt all the stitches required to make the milk jug cover. It may look complicated, but once you have the hang of the fine thread and hook, it is easy to make.

We didn’t abandon the tea or homemade cakes – banana cake and Victoria sponge. Now, this student has the impression that I always bake for my workshops. He’s booked for the “Glorious Grannies” workshop next month – we shall see! I already owned one teacup, saucer and plate. Then I was lucky to find a set of four cups, saucers, plates and shallow bowls in a charity shop for £2.99. What a bargain! So next time we shall have afternoon tea in style!

I’m now looking for people who would enjoy a day of crochet and cake. I shall be changing the name of this workshop to “Vintage Crochet and Afternoon Tea” to make it easier to understand.

Crochet, beyond the basics

In two weeks I’m teaching a crochet workshop for intermediate crocheters. This workshop is “Crochet, Beyond the Basics”.This is suitable for anyone who can make a chain, double and treble crochet as well as a granny square. This workshop is at Threads of Life, a yarn shop in Castle Donington on the border of Leicestershire and Derbyshire.

Upcoming knitting and crochet workshops