April 21, 2011 at 10:44 pm (crochet)

When she was teaching me to crochet, the advice my grandma gave was to “hold [my] hook like [I] would a pencil.” To this day, my hook sits neatly in my hand, the tension light, leaving my hand able to crochet for long periods of time without cramping.

Now I just need to learn how to hold my pencil like I do my hook…


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March 11, 2011 at 11:34 pm (crochet)

It seems like any crochet project has several distinct stages. Your mileage may vary, but here are mine:

1. Stash (a.k.a. raw potential): Of all the stages, this one varies the most wildly in length. In stash stage, anything is possible. That skein that you keep wandering by and rubbing against your cheek can be absolutely anything you put your hook to. It can go from scarf to cowl to wristwarmers with just a bit of imagination. And it’s pretty. And soft. You can’t keep your hands off that skein, and if it had hands, you’re pretty sure it’d be all over you too. Other people are probably a little uncomfortable watching the two of you.

2. Planning (a.k.a. potential, part two): Sometimes this overlaps with stash stage, particularly when one is disciplined enough to buy yarn with specific projects in mind. Other times, eh, it takes a little more time. One thing is certain: once you have the pattern, you know the inevitable conclusion: you will see it through to completion, oh yes, whether it knows it or not. I mean, come on, you’ve got the hook picked out and everything.

3. Beginning of project (a.k.a. the “ooh shiny” stage): This is the honeymoon period of a crochet project. Everything is amazing. The yarn? Amazing. The pattern? Amazing. The project just beginning to take shape and emerge as a beautiful project butterfly from a yarn cocoon? A veritable miracle. At this stage, people tend to ask questions like “Oh, what are you making this time?” And like any blushing newlywed, it’s the opportunity we hookers have been waiting for: “This is my new project. We’ve been together for two days, and I couldn’t be happier. I never believed in happily ever after until I started the base chain, and then, oh god, it was like destiny. I don’t know what I did with myself before he it came along.”

4. Reality (a.k.a. grumblings of discontent): Just as the newlywed realizes that her new dreamboat leaves his toenail clippings on the floor and the dishes a mere two feet away from the dishwasher instead of finishing the job, so too does the hooker realize that the formerly shiny project wasn’t actually quite so shiny. A frustrating row pops up in the instructions, or the yarn has unwelcome knots in it. Maybe the pattern repeat isn’t quite committing itself to memory as easily as one hopes. At least those irritations show there’s still an emotional attachment. Better that than…

5. Tedium (a.k.a. the “that new shiny project is looking awfully appealing” stage): “Oh,” you say to your project upon reuniting after a long day at work, “it’s just you.” Nothing is new, endearing, or even surprising anymore. It’s the seven-year-itch of the crafting relationship. You can go one of two routes from here:

6a. Grim determination (a.k.a. the “we’re stuck until the project grows up, so let’s just get through this” stage): At this point, you realize that the end is in sight if you can just make yourself do a set number of rows each night until it’s done. This may not be the most thrilling course, but as the end gets closer, some of the old excitement is rekindled. You remember why you fell in love in the first place and look forward to growing old with your completed project or giving it to someone you care about to grow old with. This is the logical, straightforward, pragmatic approach. However, there’s another way.

6b. Distraction (a.k.a. the “harmless little fling”): “Hello there,” you tell that skein of sock yarn that’s been making eyes at you from the yarn bin. “How you doin’?” You look over your shoulder at the once-so-promising project and sigh wistfully at what could have been. You may even feel guilty. But right over there is a shiny new project waiting, and if you’re honest with yourself, you and your little fling were already skipping merrily through steps 1 and 2 long before this point. You already had the hook picked out, didn’t you, scoundrel? And besides, it’s not so bad, honest; you’ll go back to the other project originally.

Once a hooker reaches stage 6b, anything goes. Monogamous crocheting becomes a thing of the past. Is there a way back from such debauchery? If I ever find out, I’ll let you know.

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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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