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I have crocheted for years and make my own patterns, but recently I stumbled across 'Freeform Crochet' on flickr.  As soon as I saw this arty style of crochet I wanted to have a go! I upcycled a plain bag by covering it over with my own freeform crochet pieces.  I hope to inspire any fellow crocheters out there to have a go as it is a lot of fun!

Step 1: What Is Freeform Crochet?

In simplest terms, freeform crochet is like doodling with yarn!  You don't follow a pattern but make decisions as you go along, changing the yarn/fibers colour and thickness, type of stitch, and even direction of the crochet as you work.  A panel of freeform crochet is made up of many smaller 'patches' or 'scrumbles' (the word coined by Sylvia Cosh and James Walters) which are then joined together.  By nature the scrumbles are irregular shapes and sometimes as the scrumbles are joined up, gaps appear and require small irregular mini-patches to be made or a few inpromptu crochet stitches to be added into the piece (it's all part of the fun of freeform).  I was surprised to learn that freeform crochet dates back to the 1960's and 1970's and probably had it's origins in Irish Crochet.

Step 2: Materials Selected for Freeform Crochet:

In freeform crochet you make decisions as you go along and this includes the choice of yarn and fibers you use.  In planning this project I rummaged through my stash and selected a wide variety of different yarns and fibers.  I knew I wanted to keep to a colour palette of blues/greys, browns/beiges and greens as my design idea was to layer the freeform bag to be inspired by the 'sea', 'shoreline' and 'land'.  Don't think you need all the yarn choices shown here... but you do need a pool of fibres to dip into (especially different thicknesses of yarn).  I had been given a large bag of mixed tapestry wool skeins from my elderly Scottish relations and in making the project kept dipping into those skeins time and again.  I didn't use every yarn photographed here but every type of yarn was used in the project i.e. wool, cotton, bamboo, soya, and eyelash yarn and the raffia and hemp.  There is also some home-spun wool made on drop spindles (mentioned in step 11) and silver acrylic yarn on the bag too.  In summary you need...

* A wide variety of yarn fibers in your chosen colour palette
* A variety of hooks (I also made two modified hooks for bullion stitch which is explained more in Step 6)
* Darning needle
* Sewing needle
* Strong sewing thread
* Scissors
* Upcycled bag to cover with the freeform crochet.

Step 3: What Is a 'scrumble' and How Do You Make One?

Scrumbles are the various patches of crochet that are joined together to make a larger piece of freeform crochet. In this step you can see it took 12 stages to make this brown scrumble.  You will see the yarns, hooks, stitch type and direction is constantly changing.  This gives the scrumble it's appealing variety.  Sometimes a new yarn is joined in and the work carries on, sometimes it is necessary to break off the yarn and begin again with new yarn in another place on the scrumble.  These are decisions made as you go along.  I stayed in the brown/beige colour palette here because it fitted my design idea of the sea/shoreline/land.  In the next step I will explain how this scrumble evolved in more detail. 

Step 4: Evolution of the Brown Scrumble in Detail:

A freeform scrumble does not follow a pattern because the fun is in making decisions as the scrumble evolves, but for the purpose of this tutorial I have added detail to the photos of the scrumble so you can understand how it was made.  Sometimes the crochet is the RIGHT SIDE of the work and sometimes the WRONG SIDE of the crochet.  As I made this scrumble I turned the work over whenever I wanted to change direction and sometimes only worked into the front loop of the stitches below.  Whenever possible, carry the loose ends of the yarn along in the work to cut down on sewing up too many loose ends.

Step 5: The Joy of Scrumbling!

This step hightlights three different scrumbles and illustrates how the sections were built up/ordered.  Part of the joy of freeform crochet is changing stitches and working a variety of different stitches on the scrumbles. These three have sc, dc, tr, bobbles, shells, a texture stitch called 'lemon peel' and raised stitches.  I suggest you look on you tube for videos explaining these stitches in detail if you want to use them or other texture stitches.  Learning new and unusual stitches has been part of the fun of freeform.
 

Step 6: Circles and Pebbles Add Dimension and Fill in Gaps in Freeform Crochet:

I made a pile of small circles and pebbles to fit into some of the gaps created when the scrumbles are pieced together.  They can be crocheted in a variety of ways with different yarns and really do add texture and dimension to the finished freeform piece.  They all begin with two chain then the first round works into the second chain from the hook.

(1)  One round of 10 sc stitches (in very chunky yarns).

(2)  7 sc stitches in the first round, then 2sc stitches into each stitch below, then in the third round just one sc stitch into each stitch below which makes the pebble curl upwards.

(3) and (4) These are the same as pebble (2) with an extra 4th round of sc stitches so they really curl.

(5) 6 sc stitches with no increase for three rounds, change yarn and do another round of 6 sc.

(6) and (7)  6 sc stitches with no increase for three rounds.

(8) 7 sc stitches in first round then do 1 bullion stitch into each sc below with 1 sc in between each bullion stitch.

(9) 11 sc stitches then do 1 bullion stitch into each sc below with 1 sc inbetween each bullion stitch

Step 7: My Modified Hooks for Bullion Stitch:


Bullion stitch adds great texture and variety to freeform crochet.  It can be awkward to do because of all the wraps around the hook.  I made modified hooks to make bullion stitch quicker and more enjoyable.  In this youtube video I explain how to do the bullion stitch with modified hooks. 
I want to credit Teresa Richardson as it was her original idea that I modified (my video gives web links).

Step 8: Choosing and Arranging the Finished Scrumbles to Make the Front and Back Panels for the Bag:

Once the pile of scrumbles is big enough it's time to lay them on the bag so they can be pieced together into panels.  Hopefully you can see my design idea for blue/grey 'sea', brown beige 'shoreline' then green 'land'.  There are large, squarish scrumbles for the sides and two long thin patches for the top of the bag, either side of the zip.

The handles were wrapped and slip-stitched with a variegated chunky yarn.

Step 9: Sewing the Scrumbles Together:

The scrumbles were sewn into two large freeform panels to cover the front and back of the bag.  Wherever possible I joined the scrumbles with slip stitch and a suitable crochet hook and complementary yarn.  Hold two scrumbles together with wrong sides facing and slip stitch along the edge to join them.  A noticable, raised, but neat row of crochet joins the scrumbles.  Where this is not possible, sew the edges together with a darning needle by holding the wrong sides facing (keep these stitches invisible).  On the last two photos  you can see where I lay out the sides and base pieces.

In the next step I will show a step-by-step how to sew up the front panel.

Step 10: Sewing Up the Front Panel Step by Step:

These photos show how the scrumbles were added and stitched up (there are some pebbles sewn in too).  The right side of the panel needed to be wider and you can see where I crocheted a row of dc stitches straight onto the piece.

When the front and back panels were finished, it was time to sew these panels to the bag itself.  I used strong sewing thread and a sewing needle to sew down through the panel of freeform, sewing it to the bag.  These small stitches were not visible.  Sometimes I had to put my hand inside the bag, pull the needle and thread through, then poke the needle back up through the bag and crochet panel.  It's best to keep these stitches small and stitch a few together, every few inches apart on the panels.

Step 11: Sewing Up the Edges and Closing Any Gaps:

The edges of the panels have to join up with the base crochet and side pieces of crochet.  Where the crochet edges met neatly, I sewed them together (see the photos with red stitch-lines).  However there were gaps where the edges did not meet together and these gaps needed to be filled with small patches of crochet and /or pebbles. There are yellow dots on one of the photos to show where a large gap was patched.

See the 'before and after' photos that show where gaps were filled.

In this step I have included a photo of some drop spindles that were made a while ago as a home-school project.  The homespun yarn was still on them and was very varied in thickness and had several colours spun onto each spindle.  I thought this was a good opportunity to use some of this homespun yarn to make small patches during this sewing up phase of the project.  I decided to include a photo of the drop spindles (with labels) as I thought someone may find it interesting if they are planning on making their own drop spindle.

Step 12: Finished Freeform Crochet Bag:

Here's the bag from different angles. The raised pebbles were stuffed with leftover yarn to make them full.

I just want to say thank-you to my beautiful daughter for modelling the bag (she has her eye on it!!!)

I hope you can see how much fun it is to freeform crochet (I need to get a T-shirt with 'I love freeform' on it! lol)

<p>This is so beautiful !</p><p>How did you attach it to the handbag?</p>
<p>That is a most awesome recycling, up-cycling crochet project!. I'd heard the word Freeform crochet, but had never seen it until this post. I have great bags and totes for style and size, but the colors are never right. I can't wait to dress up my bags. Thank you. </p>
<p>So Cool!</p>
Your bag's awesome! I have so much scrap yarn, and seeing your bag finally gave me an idea how to use the scraps. Thanks! :D
<p>Wow....Very well done....I hope I could also make one like this one day...Am interested trying the free form crochet....thanks for sharing this with all the details....</p>
<p>This is a great way to use up all those scraps of yarn we needle workers always have on hand. </p>
<p>This is gorgeous!</p>
<p>Absolutely beautiful! I hadn't thought of using my old bags. You could even buy bags at the thrift store for this! Thanks!</p>
<p>Amazing</p>
That is the happiest tote I've ever seen! Congrats on the contest win!
Thanks! It was a lot of fun to make :)
Well done, you are amazing, so proud of you. xx <br>
I love this!!
Congratulations on being a finalist in the fiber arts contest!! Good luck to you!
I love free form crochet. It's so much more artistic. Your bag turned out great!
When I first saw your post, I thought it was a sea scape with an octopus. I love it! I think this may qualify for the &quot;Sew It Warm&quot; contest. Have you thought about entering?
Gorgeous and unique!!!!
Oh, I just love it! Looks like so much fun to make!
This is beautiful! My daughter and I recently played around with this style. You have inspired me! Thanks for sharing. <br>Sunshiine
Gorgeous purse! I've never tried freeform crochet, it looks like a lot of fun and a great way to use up bits of left over yarn.

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