Crochet Entrepreneurs: Dora Ohrenstein

Date: 2nd November 2016 | Category: News

Images excerpted from Top-Down Crochet Sweaters © 2016 Dora Ohrenstein. Photography by © Melinda DiMauro. Used with permission by Storey Publishing.

Crochet designer and author Dora Ohrenstein is a lifelong New Yorker – she has lived in the same Manhattan studio apartment for more than 30 years. Over the 12 years she’s been crocheting she has created a multitude of glorious clothes and accessories patterns that she features on her website as well as Ravelry. Dora particularly enjoys designing fashion crochet. “I want to show the world how lovely, fashionable and non-bulky crochet wearables can be,” she smiles. “I’ve written five crochet books and the sixth is just about to be published.”

Dora wasn’t always a crochet designer, though – she used to be a performing artist. “I was a professional soprano and I toured the world with various classical ensembles,” she says. “Now, I teach singing at a college twice a week and love it.” Then, 12 years ago, she picked up crochet again. “I learned to crochet many decades ago, from a magazine I think. My mom was not crafty. After that, I didn’t crochet for a long time.”
It was a chance meeting at a Crochet Guild of America conference that kickstarted her design business. “I never followed patterns, I figured out how to make garments by taking measurements and experimenting. At the conference I met the late Jean Leinhauser. She and her partner, Rita Weiss, bought five designs from me.” Jean became Dora’s mentor and taught her how to write patterns and how to size a garment. “She was a great lady who was ahead of her time: a single woman who forged her own path. She was the founder of Leisure Arts publishing company, and the first to develop consumer patterns outside of yarn companies,” explains Dora.

Nowadays, Dora draws her inspiration from a variety of sources. “Sometimes it’s a fashion look that gets me started – say a lacy yoke, or an interesting silhouette. Other times it’s a stitch pattern, or a very special yarn. When you design professionally, you have to generate a lot of ideas and can’t really wait for inspiration to fl y in through the window! You have to make it happen.” Two of Dora’s most popular designs include her delicate Afternoon Tea Fingerless Gloves, and the Galatea Lace Top, a gorgeous top with a cowl neck that’s worked in the round as a tube with no shaping.

Running her business requires long hours and she confesses the organisational side can be challenging: “The worst part is keeping track of a million different obligations and deadlines. It can get overwhelming!” But there are huge rewards to be gained. “The best part is being my own boss. I also love creating books, having a big project like that to work on for an extended period and seeing it come together.”
So what’s round the corner for the rest of 2016? “The release of my new book in October,” she says excitedly. “Top-Down Crochet Sweaters has 14 designs and many pages explaining how to master the top-down method, how to make sure your garment fits the way you want it to, and how to adapt the patterns. The models come in all sizes so readers can see how versatile top-down garments can be.”

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