Monday, March 20, 2006

The Alchemy of Crochet

I've been obsessed by crochet, and also obsessed with being daunted by the thought of learning crochet. What? you ask. I'm a good knitter. I've been knitting on an off for about--can this be true?--fourteen years now. More on than off during the past two. Nothing scares me about knitting, anymore. Stitches might fall off my needles, but I'm pretty confident I can fix them again, though I might lose a row or two in the process. And then crochet entered my life.

My friend Anne crochets. She's the type of person who just picks up a skein that catches her fancy and starts embellishing the bottom of some tired old sweater and makes it into something uniquely hers. I'm not like that, as much as I might wish I were. But from time to time I'd catch a look at her handiwork. One day last spring Anne gave me my first lesson with the old hook. I liked it, it was interesting. And then I started seeing crochet everywhere. For a long car trip to Michigan last summer I bought myself a crochet book (Kid's Crochet, you have to start somewhere) and thoroughly taught myself the essential single crochet. I also taught myself to single crochet through the front or back loop and thereby make crochet ribs. I was literally hooked, fascinated by the fact that there was only one live stitch in a piece of crocheted fabric, so much less danger than knitting. And you could branch off in any direction, add to it, make circles, and those things from memory lane that I began to covet in their elusiveness--granny squares.

But then, for a bunch of months, I started obsessing about not knitting. I felt like I'd forsaken an old friend, and I turned in my hook for my needles and relegated my newfound passion to the far recesses of my mind. But then this fall my mom gave me this gorgeous granny square afghan that my great-grandmother, my grandma's mother, crocheted. It's got a black background, but the centers of each square are crocheted in a multitude of colors and combinations. It's like a bursting kaleidescope of color, no two squares alike. Again, I began to think about crochet--why oh why had I forsaken her? I was ready to begin our relationship again. I went to the bookstore one day and found, to my great delight, that Debbie Stoller, that hip knitting maven whose book Stitch 'N Bitch I refer to over and over, had just put out a new volume, on crochet, no less--The Happy Hooker. I was ready to reenter the world of crochet.

But despite Debbie's funny and encouraging tips and techniques, a strange and disturbing thing happened--I could not make myself progress beyond the tried and true single crochet. It began to verge on a mania of self-doubt and envy. I would never make a granny square. I even started dreaming about it. And I know enough about dreams to know that if I'm dreaming about being blocked and unable to learn to crochet, it must be talking about something else entirely. Let's review the facts: I try to pick up a new skill. I have some success. A voice says, "No, you don't want to do that, what about your old friend knitting? What will she think? Why do you want to learn something new?" And then, a long reprieve (a victory, that is, on the part of that voice who wanted me not to crochet). But suddenly I'm drawn back, determined once again, desirous of that elusive accomplishment--the granny square (and beyond that to lacy bolero jackets and the like). I find the perfect teacher (Debbie You-Can-Do-Anything-with-Yarn-and-Have-Great-Fun Stoller). Yet I balk. That voice again, "You can't do it, you can't learn, no, no, no, don't even try. It will be boring and frustrating and take too long." I began to long for this thing I feel will never be mine--the ability to read a crochet pattern and make whatever I want, just like with knitting. The first thing I will make, I think, is a granny square scarf. But no, this will never be because I am stupid and too old to learn and too lazy and, and, and...

This is not just about crochet, dammit, this is about giving up on myself. Not believing that adage that I want so much to live by--you create your own reality. All I know is this: by learning to crochet, really sticking with it and trying out the stitches one by one, making my way through the world of hooking with Debbie, and it all culminating in the successful creation of a granny square scarf will transform me somehow like some alchemical process. I will have fought some battle within myself and come out the other side that much stronger and more capable. I will be that much closer to embracing my life, taking its reins, doing the work I need to do. Yeah!

So last night I began my journey. I knit three fab swatches--not a granny square yet, but we're getting there. First, the single crochet (yes, I know, I already learned that one, but I was just warming up, and I made it in all the colors I'd purchased of this loverly Tahki cotton. Next, I branched out and tried my hand at a new stitch, the second Debbie recommends, the half-double crochet. It was pretty! (I'm a natural, I began to think.) And then, the big time--double crochet, my favorite swatch yet. Finally, before getting too sleepy, I attempted something really cool--a circle. I had to rip it out a few times, but I did it.

Still no granny square to report, but there was this: last night I dreamed of making granny squares, and for the first time it was flowing and easy to understand. I woke up thinking, "It's all about the double crochet--that's what gives you a little height!" I got up and flipped through Hooker to the granny square page--I was right! It is all about the double crochet. (Interestingly, I think I've diagnosed part of the reason for my slowness to advance--that darn Kid's Crochet book, lovely and useful as it's been, doesn't ever introduce double crochet [or the granny square no less]).

Yarn is a metaphor, isn't it after all, for life. A wound skein is potential, balled up. It needs to be woven into a fabric, into stories and connections and a unique pattern. Knitting is linear and back and forth and steady, and vulnerable, too. I like to think I am moving into the crochet period of my life, more free form, more whimsical and unpredictable. But sturdy and relatively secure, not easily unraveled. Through crochet, knot by knot, I will form a new foundation for myself.

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