Meet the Designer: Dora Ohrenstein

I would like to introduce you to crochet designer, Dora Ohrenstein. With six books and over 200 published patterns to her credit, Dora’s fresh take on classic styles appeal to many crocheters. Dora gives us a peek into her life and shares about her love of both crochet and music.

Crochet World: Dora, tell us a little bit about yourself. When did you learn to crochet? Have you always been interested in crafts?

Dora: I learned to crochet when I was about 20 – I taught myself from a magazine. This was in the “Age of Aquarius” — a time of renewed interest in crafts. I was living on a tiny little houseboat in Amsterdam, and a friend who had a weaving shop gave me some gorgeous yarn to work with in lots of colors. I started making garments because no one told me it was hard to do. But after that time I did not crochet again for decades.

CW: I know you are a multi-talented woman. What did you want to be when you were a child? What interested you in college, your early career? Tell us where you career path has led you currently?

Dora: My parents started me on piano lessons at age 8 and I always loved music.  When I had enough of houseboat living in Amsterdam, I finished my BA at Barnard College and decided to major in music. Then I started taking singing lessons. I was already quite a good musician, so when I graduated I decided to pursue a career as a singer. I sang professionally for about 25 years, doing all kinds of music but most notably I was the solo singer of the Philip Glass Ensemble for 10 years and travelled all over the world in that role. I have also been a singing teacher for the last 20 years, and I teach two full days a week, giving one-on-one voice lessons, at a college in Staten Island. I find having these two different lives – in music and in crochet design — quite stimulating!

CW: When did you begin designing? What was your first published design?

Dora: Around 2003 I suddenly was drawn to the crochet hook again. I wasn’t performing much any more, and I yearned for a new creative outlet. I never used patterns and always designed everything from scratch.  My first published designs were in a book produced by Jean Leinhauser and Rita Weiss –  2005 or thereabouts. I met them at a CGOA conference and they were great mentors who helped me break into the designing biz.

CW: What excites you about crochet and keeps you designing?

Dora: I love the architectural qualities of crochet – how you can build anything working in any direction. I also love the zillions of lovely stitch patterns and motifs. I enjoy trying different stitches, then changing them a bit, or a lot, or combining them with other stitches. The possibilities always seem endless in crochet and that keeps me designing.

CW: What does your design process look like? Where do your ideas for designs come from?

Dora: Sometimes from a pretty swatch I’ve made. Other times, walking the streets of New York City where I live, I will see fabulous fashions in a shop window, or on someone and that will inspire me.  I also follow high-end knitwear designers like Missoni or Anna Sui and try to capture some of their sparkle in my own work.

CW: What is your favorite fiber or yarn to crochet?

Dora: Don’t ask me to pick one!  I do love alpaca, pima cotton, cashmere – you know, all the expensive stuff!

CW: You have some beautiful designs in the both of the spring newsstand specials from Annie’s. The Antonia Vest from Marvelous Crochet Motifs is a beautiful combination of Tunisian crochet and motifs. Tell us more about the design.

Dora: Antonia is based on a swatch I had for years, where I combined a square motif with Tunisian crochet using self-striping yarn. The idea was that a simple motif gets more interesting when working it with self-striping yarn, as you get different colors at the center and outsides of each motif, but they all go well together. The rows of Tunisian produce more conventional stripes, and combining motifs with striped Tunisian fabric was a cool way to exploit many color possibilities.   I just never knew exactly what item to use it in.  The concept finally came together with this vest. It was quite a challenge to get the Tunisian stitches to fit into the motifs tidily.

CW: Any suggestions for those that want to tackle this challenging project?

Dora: I don’t think it’s so very challenging if you take it one step at a time and trust the pattern. Sometimes people overthink or second guess the designer, but usually this gets them into trouble. The motifs are quite easy, and the basketweave Tunisian stitch is just a little more advanced.  I recommend making one motif and then adding some Tunisian crochet to the motif, to see how all how your Tunisian stitches will fit into it.  Then practice the Tunisian basketweave stitch by making a swatch.  Once you’ve done this prep, the rest will come without much difficulty.

CW: Your Wanderlust Top on the cover of Easy, Breezy Crochet Lace is also a motif design. It looks so light and airy and perfect for summer. This is one of those designs that you could make over and over again in different yarns. Do you have any suggestions for our readers?

Dora: This one too is all about using self-striping yarn with a motif.  Because the stitches are open the fabric is very flexible, so anyone should be able to get a nice fit on this garment.  Pick a yarn that is not stiff at all, and make sure that it’s a self-striping yarn.  Not all variegated yarns create stripes – some have only short lengths of any color and are meant to create a mottled effect. This will make the elements of the motif hard to see and is not recommend. Rather, look for yarns that have long lengths of each color to get the best result.

CW: In that same issue, there is also a beautiful shawl you designed.

Dora: The inspiration for Fantasia Wrap was a really pretty stitch I found in a Japanese stitch dictionary that I had not seen used in any designs I came across. When you design a shawl, you have to find something special to do so that it stands out, and the added wide ruffle was the special element I introduced for this design.

CW: If you were given unlimited resources and time what would be your ultimate crochet design?

Dora: It would be something where I didn’t have to think at all about writing a pattern and someone else following it. I have many ideas that have to be restrained because I know it would be hard to write the instructions, or make sizing work. Now I am not complaining because creating patterns is my job.  But since you are asking what I would enjoy if time and money were not considerations, I would like to see what I’d come up with if I didn’t have to write a pattern — and some day I will do this!

CW: What is your idea of a perfect day?

Dora: Strong cup of coffee, reading the paper, yoga class, big bowl of fruit, teaching singing for a couple of hours, crocheting for a couple of hours, dinner and wine with a friend, reading a good book, a bit of TV before sleep.  Something like that.

CW: Thanks Dora, for giving us a peek into your life as a designer. If you want to see more of Dora’s designs, make sure to check out her Ravelry page and new book, Top-Down Crochet Sweaters.

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