Friday November 1st 2013

Crochet: A Love Story


First published here for Bea Magazine in October 2013.

If there’s anyone out there that has read the majority of my posts for Bea, you’ll know that most often, I tend to quite angrily tackle something from a feminist perspective. It’s because I am indeed a feminist who is angry, and who sees sexism everywhere she looks. I am also beset by anger about myriad other things: death penalties, injustice, racism, ablism, any kind of different-ism, cruelty to animals, poverty, repression, slavery, the self-interest and messed up policy making of our elected politicians, people making annoying grammar or spelling errors, violent and aggressive behaviour, pointlessly rude behaviour… the list goes on.

And if you are wondering, I write more about feminism because it includes topics I feel I know best. I’m planning to get around to all that other stuff at some point.

Anyway, just read that long list again. Go on, go back to that paragraph and read about all those things that I spend all my time worrying about. There are a whole lot of things. You might read that list and think “yes, I am angry about all that too”. Let’s face it, most people must be at least a little angry about at least some of those things.

And… isn’t it exhausting? I get exhausted just thinking about it. I get beset by guilt, for not doing enough to change the world. And it’s awful.

I try to do some things to change the world. I can’t deny that a lot of what I do might be regarded as ‘slacktivism’. I share links, because I want my contacts to read about the thing that is getting me angry. I hope that they will get angry too, and that if enough of us get angry, and voice our displeasure, something will happen. I sign petitions, hoping that they will achieve an aim. I write letters of support, letters of complaint, I write to people who I think CAN make a difference to ask them to try to make a difference with regard to particular issues. Sometimes I take to the streets to involve myself in a march or demonstration (it can be quite hard to fit that sort of stuff around dealing with young children but I occasionally manage it), and I give money to causes that I believe in. I want to do more, but I don’t know what to do. Suggestions in the comments are welcome.

So, I get exhausted by the problems themselves, and I get exhausted by the guilt generated by not doing enough to fix the problems. They never go away. They keep popping into my mind. When I’m in the shower, when I’m writing, when I’m editing, when I’m out for a walk or a ride on my bike, when I’m on the train, when I’m playing with my daughter… they still keep popping up.

I’m not looking for sympathy, by the way. I know that there are loads of you out there, people who also can’t stop worrying about the state of the world and its people, and you’re probably doing more than I am to try and fix things. But I just wanted to say that I think we ought to allow ourselves the odd moment to stop worrying, and just be.

And, I achieved this with crochet. Not sure why. I think it’s because I’m not that good at number things, and so a lot of the time I have to concentrate incredibly hard to make sure that I’m counting the stitches correctly. Or it might be that, when I’m doing the simpler things, that don’t really need counting, that I can watch the TV at the same time, and combined, they make me stop thinking.

It’s funny how I came to crochet. My whole life I have tried to knit and failed. I am AWFUL at it. Every row I knit becomes tighter and tighter as I go along it, and I sit there, tense and hunched, angry that it’s not going well (yes, another thing to add to my angry list – not being good at knitting). Grim.

But, you know, I tried to be pragmatic about it. I have the skills I’m paid for (writing, editing, proof-reading, etc) and in addition to that, I’m quite good at watercolours, which is nice. I’m not bad at embroidery. I’m quite good with clay, and with crafts in general. I bought a sewing machine and worked on getting good at that. I tried to tutor myself a bit in the ways of gardening. I’ve got very good at cooking and baking. I can swim well, run pretty fast, and walk long distances. I know lots of facts that come in handy for quizzes, and am really good at estimating the height of celebrities. So what if I had to turn my back on yarn?

I still looked at the yarn, though, every time I was in a crafts shop. I eyed the colourful skeins and balls jealously. But I knew it was hopeless. If I bought it, what would I do with it?

About two years ago, my step daughter received a Christmas gift which turned out to be a craft kit, to make a crochet dog. She opened it up, tried to follow the instructions and failed. She asked her dad to help. He tried to follow the instructions, and failed. They turned to me and said “you’re the crafty one, you work out how to do it”. So I tried to follow the instructions. And failed.

My step daughter was disappointed, and, given her reliance on me to be the-adult-that-can-show-her-all-the-craft-stuff, I felt like a terrible failure. So I said “I will learn to crochet, and then I will teach you to crochet. I will do it soon”.

About a year later, my step daughter found the crochet dog in the craft cupboard (yes, I have a craft cupboard) and said “have you learned to crochet yet?”. I sighed (inwardly) and said “I PROMISE you I will learn how to do this this weekend”. I wasn’t optimistic, though. I completely expected crochet to be just like knitting. I would fail.

And as it happens, I didn’t. What I wasn’t really expecting was the vast number of free instructional video clips available to me on YouTube. It took me a while, quite a few watches, to get the general hang of it, but once I had it, I was amazed. This was something I could do with a small hook, no great long knitting needles knocking at my elbows, I could practically lie down to do it. I learned basic stitches and passed them on to my stepdaughter (who herself got ‘hooked’ – it’s her birthday soon, and one of her pressie requests was a bag of yarn).

Before long, I felt like following a pattern (lots of free ones on Ravelry), and tried that, got through it, and tried another. I suddenly discovered that crochet doesn’t actually have to look like those fusty old things my grandmother used to make… there are all sorts of things, useful and attractive and cute (amigurumi, anyone?) that you can make with crochet. And you can crochet with any kind of yarn, with fine cottons, with cut up strips of t-shirt. I’ve even been crocheting with twine and string.

And, it takes my mind off almost everything.

I think there’s a lot of unfair pressure on women these days to be good at crafts. I mentally call it the CathKidsonCupcake explosion, and it’s a vague social movement that seems to have the effect of making women feel a bit of a failure if they can’t make amazing looking celebration cakes, knit their own jumpers, grow their own fruit, churn out chutneys, and also whip up a delightful drawstring PE bag for their shiny faced, vegetable-eating offspring, all whilst looking healthy and perfectly dressed, and keeping a perfect, tidy house with shabby chic dressers and a pair of green wellies that lives conspicuously by the picturesque looking garden door. I suspect they’re also supposed to hold down a job too, while their partners just have to have a job and go fishing at the weekends. Or something.

I certainly can’t manage to find the time to do all of that, even if, in theory, I’m about capable of a fair amount of it. And in writing this, I’m not trying to sell anyone that kind of lifestyle. But I kind of am trying to sell crochet as a nice relaxing thing to do with your fingers when you find yourself at a loose end (I love doing it when in the passenger seat on long journeys). I love the way it’s a craft which travels so easily (one ball of yarn and one small hook) and I like what you can do with it. I love the concept of crochet squares: small ones can take something like twenty minutes to accomplish; do one here, do one there, eventually you have enough to make a blanket.

So, if you need something to close your mind down from the things that worry you for a few minutes, I think you could do worse than crochet. Yes you, you there. Reading this. You.