My first crochet project, a poncho made up of 32 granny squares, was aspirational to say the least. I was somewhere below twelve years old, and my mother was skeptical that I would complete the project. Still, she let me pick out three colors I was convinced would keep my attention, and I walked out of the shop with a brown paper shopping bag full of old-fashioned loaves of wool.
It was an extravagance. I don’t remember the actual colors I chose (though I faintly remember a fall-ish palette), but I know it was wool, because my mother was a believer in natural fiber. At the time I found her obsession with things sourced from the earth really annoying. Acrylic and Orlon were big in both the attire and the footwear worn by my peers. And that wool, I’m sure, was not soft.
We bought our yarn at the same shop where we bought needlepoint canvases and the fabric my mother used to sew capes and dresses for herself. The shop was owned by a Russian woman named Jean. I don’t remember there being any kind of sign on the outside of the shop; the only shop window was covered. In other words, the lighting was terrible.
Still, we went. “Let’s go to Jean’s,” I would say whenever I yearned for something new. Even then I found inspiration in fiber. We never went anywhere else to buy our yarn.
I crochet for many of the same reasons that I knit. Lovely texture and color pass through my hands over and over and over again. The repetitive motion lulls me into a meditative state. I relax. I’m making something! Crocheting is better than brooding over, well, anything really.
Some of my reasons are unique to crochet. The granny square, for example, allows for all sorts of color and shape combinations. It provides endless variations of stitches and spaces creating either an airy and colorful patchwork, or a packed, solid shape.
Airy and colorful: mohair crocheted into log cabin blocks. Magic!
You can use one color or change colors every round. A circle or star or heart can be composed alone, or framed by a square. And if something you thought would look great looks awful, you can easily and quickly adjust.
A granny square is complete, in and of itself. When you crochet granny squares, you finish what you’re doing over and over again, in a relatively short amount of time. It’s extremely satisfying.
Complete, in and of itself. (But you can also keep going.)
As a child, I wasn’t allowed to watch commercial television (along with not being allowed soda, Pop Tarts, and processed cheese). What this meant was that while either of my parents was in the house, I had to be doing something other than watching commercial television or eating processed foods. This resulted in both a voracious appetite for all things written, preferably a good book series, and all forms of creation.
When I was five, someone gave my friends and me some yarn. I imagine that it was one of our mothers handing it to us as we walked out the door. My world was both small and large, with most of my needs able to be met within a four-block radius. All my friends lived on my block. We sat at the base of the narrow cement driveway between two of our homes happily looping the yarn around sticks we collected from surrounding trees.
I’ve got this need to create. The colors and textures I experience as I move through my day inspire my need to recreate the emotion they evoke. Every bit of fabric and fiber I touch inspires thoughts of what I could do with it. A mossy, crackling building façade soothes me with its combination of greens, grays and faded coral. The pleasing textures and colors, and the feelings inspired, become a loop in my head, as I try to imprint them for later use. I know that I will soon be trying to reproduce the effect in one medium or another.
Crochet is hands on. Literally. Your non-hook-holding hand is touching every stitch you make, often brushing the edge of the entire piece.
Crochet is forgiving. Can’t find a previous row’s stitch? Put the hook in the approximate place you feel the stitch belongs. Short a stitch? Just throw one in there. Corrections that would stick out in a knitted fabric pass unnoticed in crochet.
One day there was a fire at Jean’s. She reopened after several weeks to sell what was not directly burnt, a literal fire sale. Everything smelled of smoke. By this point I was old enough to walk the few blocks alone, but this last visit was made with my mother. I remember being excited at the prospect of yarn on sale, and then terribly let down to find that all the color was gone. I had a sense that a significant time in my life had ended. It wasn’t until I graduated from college that I entered another yarn store, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This one bright and cheery. But that’s a story for another time.
I have two daughters of my own now. They are old enough to drive to any store they choose. When they were younger, they happily accompanied me to yarn shops in every city we visited. They liked to wind the yarn when I worked at yarn shops. Seduced, like me, by the colors and textures before them, they would beg me to buy them yarn. When I questioned their commitment, they assured me that they would complete each project. I would be certain that they would not. But, I bought them yarn anyway. It seemed an important rite of creative passage.