Del Pitt Feldman, whose crocheted designs helped redefine a homegrown technique that had been relegated to potholders and simple scarves as a respected medium for fashion and art, died on Jan. 14 at an assisted living facility in Mechanicsburg, Pa. She was 90.
Her daughter Melissa E. Feldman confirmed the death.
Ms. Feldman was best known for creating hand-crocheted garments with unfussy silhouettes and a breezy, confident ease; the tactile drape and raised texture of the material became a key element of each item’s design. Her pieces frequently used intentionally wide stitchwork that resembled oversize fishnet; it became a trademark.
The clothes were sold mostly at Studio Del, a boutique she opened on East Seventh Street, in Manhattan’s East Village, in 1965. The garments — including open-weave vests, string bikinis, minidresses and capes — seemed to capture the freewheeling spirit of the neighborhood, and of the 1960s counterculture. The store’s clientele included Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Grace Slick and Andy Warhol.
High-profile women like Cher and Lily Tomlin also wore her clothes, but Ms. Feldman was unimpressed by celebrity status. When Ms. Joplin walked into the store and asked to try on a small top that was hanging in the window, her daughter said, Ms. Feldman declined, telling her she was too big for its trim dimensions.
Ms. Feldman’s work, which also included hand-crocheted items for the home, tended to be in free-form patterns instead of more traditional straight lines. That style resonated in the hippie era.
“That was the point: that it was not granny squares and doilies and all kinds of things we associated with our grandparents during the 1960s; that it could be contemporary, that it could be creative,” Dilys E. Blum, co-curator of “Off the Wall: American Art to Wear,” an exhibition currently on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, said in a phone interview.
Ms. Feldman’s narrow store, decorated with vintage wooden furniture found at junk shops nearby, had a homey feel. More often than not, Ms. Feldman would crochet there, sitting in a large rocking chair. Classes were held in the back; a wide array of yarn was also for sale, as were tools for knitting and crochet.
By the early 1970s, the store had become a de facto clubhouse for a group of female artists who were working in crochet, among them Dina Knapp, Sharron Hedges, Arlene Stimmel and Nicki Hitz Edson, who was also, for a few years, a store employee. Ms. Feldman, who was older than those women, called herself “the mother of the movement,” her daughter said in a phone interview.
“Her space was a magnet for these young women who were interested in using yarns to create innovative new forms and wearable pieces,” said Julie Schafler Dale, who founded the influential Manhattan store Julie: Artisans’ Gallery in the early 1970s. “That was key in sustaining what people were doing at that time.”
Ms. Feldman also wrote books, which included instructions, images and encouragement to work beyond the constraints of standard patterns. “Crochet: Discovery and Design,” published in 1972, was praised in The New York Times for going “beyond baby booties and into ideas that could turn into works of art.” A follow-up, “The Crocheter’s Art: New Dimensions in Free-Form Crochet,” was published in 1974.
“She did want to teach people the basics and then encourage them to go off on their own: to be creative and ‘don’t be afraid to try things and just see what your mind can conjure up with your crochet,’” Gwen Blakley Kinsler, founder of the Crochet Guild of America, said by phone.
Delores Pitt was born in Chicago on Feb. 23, 1929. Her parents, William Pitt, a kosher butcher, and Serene (Davis) Pitt, a seamstress, were both immigrants — her father from Poland, her mother from Hungary. The family moved to the East Flatbush area of Brooklyn a few years later.
The household was frugal, but even as a child Delores was creative and resourceful: When she was around 10, because her mother considered buying a Halloween costume to be a frivolous expense, Delores crafted her own makeshift Tin Man ensemble using aluminum foil from the kitchen. She also learned to crochet as a child.
She graduated from Samuel J. Tilden High School in Brooklyn in 1945 and the next year married George Feldman, an advertising copywriter. Before focusing on crochet, she was an amateur sculptor and studied with Chaim Gross and Bruno Lucchesi.
By the early 1980s, Studio Del had closed and Ms. Feldman had developed bursitis, which put an end to her professional crocheting. She was a spokeswoman for DuPont’s line of yarn for a few years and also took up pottery, which she occasionally sold. She suffered from worsening symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease over the last decade.
Her husband died in 2013; a daughter, Lori Feldman, died in 2006. In addition to her daughter Melissa, she is survived by a son, Geoffrey; a sister, Florence Harris; and three grandchildren.
Even after she officially gave up crocheting, Ms. Feldman sometimes made pieces for her family, typically with her usual disregard for convention. A sweater for her first grandson, for example, was made with Velcro patches affixed to small crocheted stuffed animals to keep him entertained.
“She wasn’t afraid,” her daughter said, “to go monumental or outrageous with anything that she was doing.”