Thursday, March 11, 2004

Grandma, where are you?

This is a way too long comment to post to Vera's blog entry for today. You can read it here.

I learned to crochet several years ago, soon after graduating from high school. I come from a long line of crafters on both sides of my family. My maternal grandmother sewed, knitted, quilted, did embroidery, all kinds of general crafts. My aunts and mother followed in her footsteps as they would, my grandmother taught them after all. My paternal grandmother was a weaver, and later, she became a wonderful pottery artist. I can remember watching her use a loom, she had two in her home. I think, though I didn't know it at the time, that she must have spun her own yarns from looking at the only woven piece that I have that was one she made. I grew up with all these wonderful women, influencing me, inspiring me to be "crafty". Unfortunately I didn't seem to have much inclination or talent for quite a long time.

When we were little, my sister and I, my family moved to Florida from Michigan. Family vacations back to my mother's family were mostly taken up with the latest projects. I watched these women (and even my grandfather) show off what they had been working on, and then we'd all scurry to the craft stores for further inspiration. I just couldn't settle. I wanted to participate, loved the idea of it, but sewing machines didn't really interest me and nobody wanted to sit and show a young girl how to knit. I did learn at some point, I don't mean to imply that they wouldn't teach me. But these were once a year visits usually and there was little time to spend on teaching. I think because of this, because of the feeling of wanting to be included yet not knowing how, I felt drawn to crochet. Nobody in my family really knew how to crochet. Granny squares, they could do basic granny squares and I learned the basics of that, but nobody could really comfortably read a pattern. I bought books, bought yarn, bought hooks. I'd start things, never getting anywhere but frustrated. I vaguely remember the looks between each other, the "Oh here she goes again, she won't figure it out, I wonder why she keeps trying" - but they encouraged me. They would rather I did something they did, would be able to help me with but I was stubborn. I had to be unique.

After I graduating from high school we moved from Florida to Georgia. I made my first afghan in one day, literally. I had no job yet, so I planted my butt on the sofa and worked almost non-stop for one entire day. I learned gauge - I still have the afghan - it starts out very tight and gets looser about halfway through. (I drag it out to show people now when they get frustrated that they can't get anything to turn out right.) I don't think I made anything else, crocheted, for almost 10 years. It's like I hit my goal of creating something, did it, finally, and that was good enough for me. But my crafting genes finally kicked in and I wanted to work. I wanted to create. I spent my early twenties immersed in cross-stitch. I still love it and have plenty of UFO's around, waiting for me to pick them back up.

At 28, just before one of our yearly family trips back to Michigan, I decided I wanted to try my hand at crocheting again. I'd been gifting the family with cross-stitched items for years and even I was getting tired of it. Only so much wall space to go around, you know? So my mother and I bought a ton of yarn at Walmart and she said she'd teach me to make a granny square. It was the only thing she knew how to do. My family sat and watched me make square after square in my grandparent's living room. I got good at it, comfortable and fast. Aunts and cousins starting placing orders for things they wanted. Even I started getting optimistic - I can do this! And look at all the old 70's stuff they have laying around, those trendy 70's greens and oranges. I had a skill and they wanted it! I could finally contribute!!

And then we went back home. And I started to join all those squares together.

I had no idea how to do it, I wasn't patient enough to read a book and understand it. My mother gave me a rough idea and turned me loose. I hated it. I still have it but the squares are falling apart, the colors are not my ideal and I didn't pick up a hook again for three years.

What inspired me? I'm not sure. I don't know why I thought to crochet rather than cross-stitch, which I had started doing again. I was deep in a new relationship, in love for the first time in my life, and after the initial "I just want to sit next to you, breathe when you breathe" stage was waning, I thought I could craft and still breathe when he breathed. And so I do. I think I wanted to make him something, it was coming on towards winter and growing cold. We live in the North Georgia mountains and I knew that it was going to get plenty cold. An afghan would be the perfect thing to make, plus it was something for us, something practical. The two afghans I had, my first post-high school attempt (too small) and the granny square (yeah right, you can stick your knees through the spaces where it is pulling apart) just didn't enthuse me. New yarn and shiny hooks did though.

My sweetheart is very encouraging, and over the next year I learned to read a pattern, how to get pretty darn close to gauge, how to make hats and baby blankets, how to mile-a-minute my way through the evenings, and most importantly, I learned (drum roll please) how to crochet!! Soon enough the women at work wanted me to teach them, wanted me to make things for them. My family remembered that I once promised gifts so I'm doing my best to catch up. And I love it. Three years of steady crocheting has improved my skill and technique, I'm not as nervous to attempt new things and love the thrill of success.

I love that some people are finding it "hip" to play with yarn now. It's nice to be able to talk to people about it. I think I understand how hard it is to pick up something new, and how long it can take to have it become a part of you. I don't claim to have been crocheting since I was a teenager, or since graduating high school, or even since that pitiful granny square afghan six years ago. Only for the last three years. But the desire was there much longer than the latest trend, the urge to create was deeper than the latest magazine on the newsstand.

I love what I do.

I think I've always wanted to play with yarn. I'm still the only person in my family to crochet, and nobody actively knits. Someday, maybe, I'll inspire one of my cousins to pick up a hook and try. And who knows, maybe someday they will realize how comfortable that hook can be in their hand, how nice the yarn feels sliding through their fingers. I hope so.