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Crochet and the Power of Gifting

Several years ago, I was inspired by memories of my English born paternal Grandmother, who was an avid knitter and crocheter, to create an Afghan made out of bright, cheerful colours.  When I completed the first one, I began a second one for my Mother’s bed.  It took me ninety hours just to complete the multi-coloured Granny Squares and then it took more time to weave in the stray pieces of yarn and crochet them altogether in a way that satisfied my eye aesthetically.  When it was done, I gifted it to my Mother and she used it on her bed daily.  She had a friend who would visit.  Often her friend would get up and go and lay on my Mother’s bed where she would remain for a few hours.  Then she would get up and return to her own apartment elsewhere in the building.  This had been going on for about a week and I visited my Mom one day, saw the Afghan on her bed and ran my hand over the squares, proud of the work I’d done in making this gift for my Mom. And then I felt it - a hole that didn’t belong. And another. Then another.  Upon closer inspection, it looked as if someone had taken a pair of scissors and systematically cut holes into the Afghan.  I called my Mom and showed her, consulting her to see if it was an error on my part and my stitches had come loose.  I didn’t want to believe someone had been so malicious as to vandalize what I considered a piece of art, an heirloom and a tribute to my Grandmother and Mother, the woman who had taught me to crochet Granny Squares in the first place.  I still haven’t figured out how to repair the Afghan. When I do, it will still be beautiful and the repairs will be a part of the story that is the legacy of all quilts made by hand.  Each piece has a story to tell.

As I mentioned, it was my Mother who taught me to crochet.  I’m unable to read a crochet pattern so everything I know is from her, off of YouTube videos (that’s where I learned to make hexagon Granny Squares and squares with heart shapes in the middle) and from a crochet group I joined a few years ago on Facebook.  It is from the ladies in the group that I have been both inspired and intimidated.  These friends vary in their crochet abilities - some are just learning while others have been practicing the art for several decades.  And while I’m the first to admit I’m not a seasoned crocheter and I’m certainly not a master stitcher, I do have a knack for putting colours together and finding a pleasing pattern that results in a warm and beautiful Afghan when I’m done.  That is the reward for devoting so much time to the craft. 

When I first joined the crochet group, my head would ache after I’d spent more than thirty minutes reading the ongoing conversations amongst the people discussing their projects.  The acronyms and references they made to their work left me stumbling and wondering what they were talking about.  Let me give you a few examples of what I’m referring to.

HOTH.  I had no idea what that meant and in the post, that would be the only “word” listed along with a photo.  It took me a long time to realize this acronym meant a project had been completed and it was “HOTH”... Hot Off The Hook.

Magic Circle.  What is that? I wondered as I read about someone having the worst time getting theirs just right and now they were ripping out all their work and starting over.  Apparently it’s not uncommon to teach beginners to crochet by making a Granny Square.  The pattern begins by crocheting a single chain of about six stitches and joining them together to form a circle.  The design of the square begins from this circle and it is the foundation of the square.  Why it’s referred to as being “magic” is a mystery to me but it is the one thing I don’t have trouble creating.  And I’m thankful for that because I would hate to have to rip out my work because my circle wasn’t quite right.

“Should I FROG this?”  This is the most confusing question most often posted in the group and I still don’t really understand what it means.  Usually there is a photo attached to this question.  The photo is supposed to be obvious as to what should be “FROG”ged but I simply don’t see the error being referenced. More often than not, the crocheter didn’t notice the error until they were several rows ahead in their work and now they are contemplating ripping out several hours of work to fix something no one will likely even notice.  One lady replied that if the work was ripped out, she found for herself that redoing the work seemed to progress faster the second time around.  I loudly protest at that observation.  Perhaps she’s pulling her wool too hard and has begun to hallucinate if she thinks ripping out work and redoing it speeds the process of creating a finished piece.  The only thing ripping and redoing speeds up for me is my impatience and then my temper.  So I think one of the reasons why I don’t want to be better acquainted with what “FROG”ging might mean is that I’m concerned it will mean I too will take up the practice.  While I check my work often for mistakes, and fix them, I can’t fathom ripping out rows and rows of stitching because I missed one stitch.  As I said earlier, each finished piece has a story to tell and that missed stitch is one of them, FROG or not.

My friends in this group are very talented and some are incredibly gifted.  They can look at something that inspires them and create a crocheted project from a picture.  Others create their own patterns for clothing, accessories, toys and stuffies.  It is so amazing to see all the things they can create with just some yarn and a crochet hook.  I really enjoy admiring their work and reading as each of them discuss how much they should charge for their finished project.  It seems the going rate is the purchasing cost of the materials multiplied by three.  So if the yarn cost $10, the finished project will be sold for $30.  And when one considers the time put into creating a project, it is clear the artist isn’t even earning minimum wage by selling whatever they’ve made.  But most crocheters don’t sell to make a profit.  They create because they love what they do, they enjoy sharing with others and whatever money they receive is usually reinvested to purchase more yarn.

Crochet helps me keep my fingers limber, and some days I am able to work faster than those days when my fingers are stiff and swollen from arthritis and Fibromyalgia.  Right now I am in a flare up so I’ve had to set my hook work aside.  Even typing is a literal pain and it is easier to hold a couple pencils in my hands and type using the pencils rather than attempt to force my fingers to punch down the keys.  It is when I’m unable to work on my own projects that I’m especially thankful for the women in the crochet group.  They continue to mentor and inspire me, teaching me even when I can’t practice and encouraging me when all I can do is a couple of stitches before setting aside my work until it’s easier to manipulate the wool and hook with my hands.  They cheer me on and cheer me up no matter how challenging my day may be.  And that is actually one of the benefits of crochet I hadn’t expected... the support system and friendships I would make.  I may not know how to read a pattern just yet, and I’m not nearly so talented that I can create a project just by looking at one, and I certainly don’t know if I’ll ever have the patience to crochet a dress or sweater for myself and none of that matters.  It isn’t about how well I crochet or even how many projects I complete in a year, it’s about finding something I love to do and seeing where my inspiration takes me.  And these women do inspire me so much.

Not only are they kind and generous with their words of encouragement, mentor ship and teaching, they find ways to use their talent to help others.  Some crochet “lapghans” and donate them to nursing homes in their community.  These small afghans are meant to be placed over the knees to help reduce joint pain and keep elders warm.  Others collect plastic shopping bags and crochet “sleeping bags” and “mattresses” so homeless people don’t need to sleep on the ground or concrete. Then there are those who knit outfits for preemies and donate them to hospitals in their community.  The outfit includes a sweater or onesie, boots and a matching hat along with a blanket.  When the baby goes home, they take this gift with them.  I know when I brought my boys home, I really appreciated having hats someone had donated to the nursery.  It kept their head warm and gave them a bit of security as they transitioned from being isolated in the security of the nursery to entering the “big” world of sleeping in a crib and bed rather than a bassinet.  And maybe the hats gave me an extra boost of reassurance too!

It’s really beautiful to experience how a hobby can have far reaching effects that benefit the artist and those who receive the finished project, once it is ready to be gifted or sold.  From a skein of yarn mounted on a hook to an Afghan, doily, toy or clothing there is nothing but love and good wishes cast with every stitch.  So when you next see a crocheted gem someone is wearing or has on display, stop and really look at the item.  Take time to appreciate how much of themselves the artist puts into their craft to create such a lovely treasure which can be used and appreciated for generations to come, if it is well taken care of.  Sometimes we practice a craft to fill a need within ourselves - and then we learn the project isn’t just about fulfilling our own need, it’s about finding a way to meet the needs of someone else too.  And that might be the greatest benefit of sharing our projects with others - how great we feel by sharing a piece of ourselves with others. That could be the kindest act of all - being selfless with the talents we have been gifted with.

Take care and have a great week, everyone.

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Wednesday September 22, 2021