Well, here in England we are back in lockdown, though to be honest that doesn’t really change much for me. With my mum extremely clinically vulnerable, and me just ordinarily clinically vulnerable, we’ve basically been shielding all along, hospital appointments/visits excepted.
However, to combat the doom and gloom of the wider world, here in my house something very exciting happened on Thursday.
The frame arrived for Wheatfields!!!!!!!!
I actually finished this a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t blog about it because I wanted to get it framed first, to really show off how incredible it is (though I do say it myself!), and I needed to order a custom frame, as I did for The Starry Night. Once again I used PicFrames, who make custom-sized frames with all sorts of finishes. I went for a white box frame, to match The Starry Night.
So, in all its glory, here it is:
Van Gogh’s A Wheatfield, With Cypresses, reproduced as faithfully as possible in crochet.
Ohhhhhhhhh wooooooooowwww!!!!!!!!!!!!!! How incredible does that look?!?!?! I am full of pride and happiness and glee. I knew framing it would transform it from ‘piece of crochet’ to ‘piece of art’, because I had that transformation with Starry Night, but really, wow.
I thought I’d recap a bit some of the more technical side of ‘how I did this’, and possibly go into a little more detail of some of it. Bear in mind that this is not a how-to, and there is no pattern for this. But I don’t want this to seem like some kind of mystical process that you couldn’t possibly replicate.
If you can work amigurumi-style, if you can work chains, single crochets and slip stitches, and if you can break down an image into rough shapes, you can do this too.
So, the basics. Yarn!
As I mentioned right at the beginning of this process, I used Stylecraft Special DK for this, as I did for The Starry Night. I love Special DK, it’s my go-to yarn for pretty much anything, and one reason for that is the incredible range of colours.
For this, I used a whopping sixteen colours – though some only very sparingly! These were: bottle, cypress, meadow, spearmint, lincoln, mustard, citron, lemon, buttermilk, duck egg, cloud blue, bluebell, parma violet, bluebell, white and lipstick.
My colour references came from a print of the painting I bought, and my detail references came from this fantastic scan of the painting by the National Gallery, which is massively zoomable and meant I could really get in and work on mimicking the brush strokes as much as possible.
I used a 4.5mm hook for the vast majority of the work, with a 3.5mm hook for much of the surface crochet detail. I also used a tapestry needle and did some embroidery in the form of chain stitch (distinct from the crochet chain stitch). And obviously the needle was used for the mountain of ends that had to be sewn in along the way.
I used single crochet for almost all of the base work (ie, before surface crochet went on top), but in a few places I did use some hdc stitches where I needed to add some height to a curve. I didn’t use anything taller than that though – no dc stitches, for example. This was a deliberate choice, in order to keep each row or round or cluster of stitches looking like a brush stroke – taller stitches reduce that effect, and also would create a much looser fabric, which wouldn’t work for something like this.
I used foundation single crochet and/or working into chains in various places, mostly around the cypress tree but also around the bush, where I needed to create branches or fronds of greenery. I also used surfact crochet, once the sky was in place, to really make it look like the branches were growing up into the sky, rather than being wholly separate from it. I really wanted to recreate the sense of movement in Van Gogh’s work, and I’m pleased with what I managed to achieve.
In terms of surface crochet, you may be able to see in these pictures that some areas involved a lot more surface crochet than other areas. Notably the wheatfield. Oh god that wheatfield. It almost sent me insane. That part of the actual picture involves multiple colours and a million short, angled brush strokes making up the shafts and ears of wheat (I may exaggerate, but not by much). So it was impossible to do by, say, crocheting a circle and building up shapes that way, as I did in most of the rest of the piece. There were a few places where I could build up from circles, but mostly it was short, straight rows and an awful lot of layering of colours to get the right impression – that is, to recreate Van Gogh’s exquisitely painted wheatfield.
Surface crochet on top of surface crochet to create the colour and brush stroke effect, on top of a base layer that worked to build up the shape and structure of the wheat. It drove me mad. It drove me absolutely mad. However! I am extremely, extremely pleased with the outcome. It’s a thick fabric, it was more ends than I care to remember, but it worked so well.
The sky involved a lot less surface crochet, because it involved large swirls that by and large involved only one colour (or, in a few cases, just little touches of a second colour). It worked up much more quickly, and I’m really pleased with how it came out. The central swirl was a little more complicated, as the cloud there is definitely multi-coloured, but I feel I achieved that effect nicely.
The cypress tree and bushes across the middle of the painting, as I mentioned, involved a fair bit of foundation single crochet and/or chaining and then turning back and sc-ing into the chain. This helped me recreate the taller structure and also the branches of the tree. I also used quite a bit of surface crochet here, to bringin the different colours within the cypress tree.
In terms of how I actually tackled the picture, I began at the bottom righthand side with the crop of bushes there. It’s a section of the painting that could be easily broken down into shapes, because Van Gogh helpfully painted lots of circular bushes! I then skipped up above the wheatfield to begin the bushes above, deliberately leaving the cypress tree itself for later.
I had to begin the wheatfield then, to bridge the gap between lower and upper bushes. And ohhhh boy this took me a long time, essentially because of the surface crochet. It took time, it took a fairly painstaking attention to detail, and it took the last remnants of my sanity (I joke….maybe).
Once I had a good chunk of the wheatfield done, I worked some more on bushes – specifically the big bush at the lefthand side of the picture. That was a relief after so much wheatfield – lovely circular shapes again. These circles are where amigurumi techniques really came into play – increasing in a circle without joining rounds. Ahh, lovely circles. It was such a delight after so many short, straight rows!
Then I finished up with the wheatfield (I say, as if it was fast or easy…), and did my best to square up the whole bottom part of the picture. Easier said than done. Lots of putting it down and lining it up against a convenient straight line (usually a floorboard!).
The bushes on the lefthand side involved quite a lot of frond-y branch-y things, as I showed earlier, but I had to start on the sky at this point as well, to anchor the branches in. So I began to use some blues! Sky and hills. I actually mismanaged my proportions here, and the hills are both shorter and less wide than they should be, strictly speaking, however I am choosing to ignore my failing in this respect 😀
As I began to work on the hill and the sky, I began on the cypress tree as well, using the tree to anchor the sky and the sky to anchor the tree. The tree shape was actually pretty easy, comparatively, and as I said before, the sky, with its lovely wide sweeps of single colour was definitely easier than the wheatfield! There are clearly definable shapes in the sky, which helped me a lot. I made a lot of circles, which I then built up into wider swirls and joined together.
The hardest part was keeping everything square. Because there were so many rows of single crochet in the sky, the work tended to lean, and the sky also ended up a thinner fabric than the wheatfields, because of less surface crochet, and it definitely ended up a bit skewed. I had to do extra work on each side to build it back into a proper rectangle.
The final touch was the sprinkling of red poppies towards the bottom of the picture. I embroidered those with chain stitch in that lovely lipstick red. It suddenly lifted the whole picture into being.
It worked out as 53.2cm wide and 40.5cm tall – about ten centimetres bigger than Starry Night, both ways. I measured and measured and measured, many times over, to make sure I got it right. I did end up needing to stretch the top a little to be square with the bottom, but I knew it would be okay once it was in a frame, so I went ahead and ordered.
It took a little while to come, thanks to covid (safe working practices meant a slower timescale), but it’s here now and it’s perfectly sized.
And woooooww, I am so happy with how it looks. It was worth it. Every bit of agony, every ‘argh’ moment of having to rip or even cut out mistakes (and yes, there were several places where I ended up cutting it out and redoing it), it was all worth it. Voila, a work of art!
Some eight months in the working (with time off for other projects), quite possibly hundreds of thousands of stiches, and it is done.
I am so, so happy 🙂 and I swear, I will never ever do this kind of project again*.
*until the next time