Monday, August 22, 2011

Crafting & Me: The Early Years, Pt. 2

It’s kind of muddled up in my memory which craft I did first. Crochet? Cross-stitch? I have early memories of both. Each gave me so much: mountains of pleasure, peace, stability, creativity, a sense of accomplishment, pride, and a connection with the most influential person in my life — my Grandma.
My grandmother is still an excellent crafter, even though she doesn’t make as much as she used to. She possesses a great sense of color, has an excellent eye for detail, and the skill that only decades of experience can bring. She didn’t teach me everything I know about design and crafting, but she was my first mentor in these areas.
The first memory I have of her happens to also include an item she made for me. Dad, Mom, Brother, and I were living in Denver. Dad and Mom were separated, but not yet divorced, and Dad lived in the house next to where Mom, Brother, and I were living. One dreary day I walked from the backyard of our house to Dad’s house, went into the kitchen, and met my grandparents. Grandma took turns holding Brother and I on her lap and then she pulled out her present for me—a handmade, crocheted shawl poncho (which was quite stylish back then.)

A couple of years later, Brother and I moved to Peoria to live with Dad, Grandma, and Grandpa. I would watch her crochet blanket after blanket, always enthralled with the movement of her right hand as she worked the crochet hook. The aluminum would flash from time to time as it caught the light of the lamp Grandma always sat beside. I enjoyed watching the skeins of yarn shrink and flatten, while wondering why Grandma didn’t make them into balls like in the cartoons.
There was usually only one of three reasons why Grandma would make an afghan—baby showers, relatives/friends, or decorating the house. If she made the afghan for decorating the house, we were not allowed to use it as a blanket. They were meant to lay on the back of a chair or a couch and be an accent piece in the room. Using them as blankets would imply we were allowed to lay on the furniture and we were never allowed to lay on her nice furniture.
This rule was never understandable to me as a kid, but time and maturity have helped clarify her reasoning. For starters, Grandma had a really rough childhood. She had loving parents and siblings, but she was born a few months before the Crash of 1929. When she was a girl her father lost his job as a coal miner, then the bank foreclosed on their home (a month before Congress passed a bill creating a moratorium on home foreclosures.) By the time she married Grandpa her family had gotten back on their legs; but as young newlyweds with a baby on the way, they had to keep going with the austerity measures. I asked her once how they were able to afford some of the things they got over the years and she explained that it was simply saving until they could afford it. So when Grandma got a new couch, a new chair, or new carpeting, her rules were way of making every penny count.
I also think Grandma had this rule because she didn’t want her work to get destroyed. My brother, cousins, and I were a destructive group. Each afghan took dozens of hours to complete. We could have easily stretched them, spilled something, or used them so often that they would begin shedding. Literally sitting at her feet as she worked on each section, it was plain to see that she had too much pride in her final product to see them fall to that fate.
Her nights weren’t always filled with crochet, though. Some nights Grandma would pull out her wood hoop, embroidery floss, and pattern to cross-stitch. Sometimes it would be a scenic woodland tableau; other times it would be a cutesy animal. Once completed, the pieces would either get framed or become part of a throw pillow.
I would watch intently as Grandma made her counted cross-stitch pieces. She would use her needle to count how many stitches she was supposed to make, cut a near perfect length of embroidery floss, divide the strands, and then stitch the crosshatches into a taught piece of canvas. I wanted to do that, too.
It took a couple years of begging and impatience, but eventually Grandma teaching me her crafts. Crochet was probably the first craft she showed me. I would have been either six or seven; she would have been too afraid of what would happen if she gave me something tiny and sharp like an embroidery needle. She found one of her average-sized crochet hooks, an assortment of her yarn odds and ends, and sat me down next to her on the couch.
She first showed me how to hold my hook in my right hand, then how to hold the yarn—weaving the thick string between the fingers of my left hand. The first stitch she showed me was the chain stitch. Once I got the hang of that, she showed me how to single crochet. When I mastered that stitch she showed me the half-double crochet. After that was down, I learned to double crochet.
Now every time I pick up a crochet hook I like to imagine myself sitting at her feet, slowly and carefully forming each of those beginning stitches in one night. My brow is furrowed, my tongue is sticking out, nothing is breaking my concentration. The truth is more like me looking up at the television after every stitch, constantly, asking Grandma to show me the stitch again, and taking days—if not weeks—learning how to make each stitch.
When I finished my first doll blanket, though, I was incredibly proud. I had been mostly doing practice stitches, I wanted a real project, and Grandma challenged me with it. It was just row after row of half-double stitches, but there was a different color every two rows. It was tough at first, yet by the end of the blanket I had gotten it down. Grandma showed me how to edge the blanket and I began using it to wrap up my premie Cabbage Patch Kid papoose-style.
I stopped crocheting soon after I finished that blanket. Partly it was because I had moved onto cross-stitch; and partly it was because Grandma had moved on, too. She would pull out the crochet hook every once and a while, but as she expanded her hobby resume so did I. Then at a certain age I became a brat and, while our hobbies still intersected at times, I didn’t want to share them with her. It was my loss.
BUT DON’T WORRY! This particular story has a happy ending. Here’s what happened:
I went to college and wanted to fit in so I started smoking. By the time I moved back home from college I was having a hard time quitting when I thought that I should take up a hobby that uses my hands. Luckily, one of my jobs was just a few doors down from a Joann Fabrics and one day I walked down there and bought a couple of skeins of yarn, a pair of needles, and a very unhelpful knitting “how to” guide. For the next few nights I started following the instructions on how to do the knit stitch, then the purl. The booklet I had gotten was confusing, though, and I had made the rookie mistake of pairing acrylic yarn for US8 needles with US6 aluminum needles. I put the yarn and needles in their plastic bag and tucked them away in a plastic storage container.
A couple years later I was living in Brooklyn and visiting home. I was helping Grandma clear out some of my stuff in the garage when she came across my knitting. She said that it had been a long time since she had knitted, but she looked at the stitches closely. How did I learn to do that, she wondered. I told her that I tried following a book. Then she said, kind of non-chalantly, that I had done a good job.
I took the yarn back to Brooklyn, carefully started trying the stitches, and now I’m here writing and blogging.
The end, for now....

No comments:

Post a Comment