crochet body project

A writer and art educator sets out to crochet a full-body self portrait.

Monday, October 02, 2006

learning to crochet

I've been so overwhelmed with my "real" jobs that I haven't made much progress on this blog or on the crochet body lately. Hopefully this week will allow me a little more time to focus. Now that the practice head is complete, I've got new yarn for the next stage.

I recently wrote an article about crochet artists in Houston. What struck me while interviewing artists (and in talking to many people about crochet) is that most of us learned to crochet from a family member when we were children, but did not develop a love for the medium until later in life.

My mother taught me crochet when I was about nine or ten years old. My mother is an active crafter who can crochet, knit, embroider, and tat, among other things. No matter what else is going on in her life, she always has some sort of project in process. "I can't just sit and watch TV," she says, and it's true. If her hands aren't busy, she just doesn't feel right.

At my mother's insistence, I had learned embroidery and cross stitch by the time I was ten, although I gave up on both after resentfully completing a couple of minor projects. I also learned to sew, which I somehow stuck with through the years, and which has been a most useful skill. I still feel the frustration of the hours I spent learning to stitch a straight line by guiding sheets of notebook paper through an unthreaded sewing machine.

My interest in crochet, however, started with a long piece of yarn. I had been playing around with a friend of mine, and we discovered we could make a "braid" by looping a strand of yarn around our fingers in a particular way--essentially, we were making a chain stitch with one finger serving as the crochet hook. I immediately became obsessed with creating a long "braid," as long as I could manage, and soon I had made one that was several feet long. When my mother saw it, she decided that I needed to learn to crochet "the real way," and she started her tutelage.

For my mother, exploring a media is not of much use--one must have a defined project to complete. Soon I found myself confronted with a book of crochet patterns, a tiny hook, and thread. Forced to choose a project from this book, and told that my first few choices were too difficult for a beginner, I ended up with the task of creating a trivet shaped like a bunch of grapes--the "grapes" were crocheted rounds that covered bottle caps. I struggled with that tiny hook and thread, invested several hours in creating a single "grape," and decided that I was done.

All I'd really wanted to do was to make a long long chain of yarn, to feel it scrape against my fingers as I lost myself in the process. The intrusion of the hook, the unmanagebly small thread, the stoilidly utilitarian goal of a trivet--none of this had any appeal.

In college, I taught myself to knit for a while. Approximately half a scarf later, I got too busy with other things, and by the time I returned to the scarf, I found that I'd forgotten how to knit.

It wasn't until about seven years ago, while going through a divorce, that I picked up a hook and thread again. I was living in a new city where I knew no one, I had a lot of time on my hands, and I was tired of crying into mugs of hot tea while watching TV. I was still healing, and wasn't ready to try to date, or even to do much socializing. I thought of my mother's busy hands, and I realized that mine needed to be busy as well. I soon found myself at a craft store, spending what little budget I had on a few skeins of yarn, a hook, and a little "how to" pamphlet that contained several patterns. I was determined to make a blanket that would be my comfort now that I was alone.

The wonder of this purchase was immense. I spent my evenings rocking and crocheting. It came easily to me now, and required enough of my concentration that I could no longer dwell on my misery. I stitched every bit of resentment and pain into that afghan, and when it was completed, I felt renewed in my accomplishment. I gave it away to a friend. I started another, but soon the divorce was finalized, and I was ready to move on. As my social life took shape, I wasn't home often enough to complete another large project.

Over the years, I turned to crochet whenever I needed to work out some stress. My second graduate degree produced a bevy of cotton dishcloths, each a sort of sampler as I experiemented with new stitches. As soon as my son was conceived, I began work on a baby blanket for him. Delighted with it, I started another, but had to give it over to my mother when I realized that I was too preoccupied with other preparations to be able to finish it. She completed it in the hospital waiting room as I was giving birth.

This year, in addition to starting the crochet body project, I crocheted a purse, scarf, and a few hats as raffle prizes for my nonprofit's fundraiser. I created my own "sock monkey face" pattern (not satisfied with the one given in The Happy Hooker, which doesn't look much like a sock monkey to me), and even created a baby hat that was a wearable sock monkey head. I like picking up yarn and a hook and seeing where I can go. It's not very far from the feeling I got when making that long chain, discovering for myself what dimensions can be created from a single strand.

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