February 4, 2011 at 9:50 pm (crochet)

Every hooker remembers her (or his!) first time. It’s rarely what you would call “pleasurable,” but that comes later.

When I was 11, I was being homeschooled for the first time, and I believe my grandma was newly retired and had a lot of time on her hands. I’d seen her plenty of times with knitting and crocheting in her hands, fingers flying as a garment or blanket practically materialized right then and there.

Was I interested in learning how? Oh yes. It would be cool to learn how to do that. To make something, like the blankets I had from her or the owl vest from when I was a wee thing to the mittens and scarf I used to bundle up in during the winter–how awesome.

So during quiet afternoons that were partly comprised of math lessons and watching old Columbo episodes, she taught me to crochet. Learning to make a basic chain was simple and fun; indeed, like my younger sister a few years later, I probably spent a chunk of time making chains that were yards long, much too long to be of any practical use.

The next step was a pot holder in single crochet, worked around and around until it was big enough to sew the sides together. That was a valuable lesson in stitch count. Specifically, I learned that adding an extra stitch or two makes the “fabric” of the piece bulge, and dropping stitches draws it in. The finished product was lumpy and uneven, and I had yet to master tension: my stitches were very tight. I gave that potholder as a gift to someone who later moved away and was never heard from again, and I wonder in retrospect what she thought of that lumpy little potholder, if she appreciated it as the culmination of eleven-year-old pride in the accomplishment of a new skill. I’ll never know; at any rate, I’ve become a lot more discriminating in who I give my handmade wares to.

One potholder became two and so on, and I learned new stitches and new combinations. My projects became more sophisticated, and any time I had a question, I knew I could go to Grandma to answer any question I might have.

Years continued to pass, and my projects grew more daring–a cloak, a sweater, scarves with novelty yarns… Something was shifting though; at times, the questions I’d bring my grandma stumped her. “Reverse single crochet? Never heard of it.” Other times, if I’d show her a problematic part of a project, she’d be unable to see it clearly enough to tell me what was wrong. Her own crocheting slowed down too. Between low vision and two rounds of chemotherapy that left her with neuropathy in her hands, her once-prolific output dwindled to nothing. She could at least crochet vicariously through me, stroking the increasingly fancy yarns I started buying, marveling at the crazy antics of various eyelash yarns, wondering at all the colors and textures and fibers that had exploded into the world since she first picked up a hook herself.

And that too ended with her death late last year. I’m on my own now, and I miss showing her what I have on my hook at any given time. It’s human nature, I think, to cling to the memories of loved ones, and I have a lot of lovely memories. But I have tangible old ones, too, in the form of blankets she’d made me over the years that are still as warm as they ever were. More dynamically yet, every stitch I crochet, every project I complete, is a realization of the legacy she left me: the gift of taking yarn and with some deft twists of hand and hook, creating something beautiful that will hopefully become someone else’s beloved keepsake.

I think she’d be proud.


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