Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Yarn Elephant in the Room...


So, y'all know I crochet, right? And knit, yeah, I knit, too. Anyhow, I didn't always crochet. I didn't learn to crochet until I was pregnant with the Impertinent Daughter, despite my mom's best efforts to teach me when I was a kid. She just couldn't understand why I wouldn't do it, especially since I would see a pattern for something, like a bag, or an afghan, or a poncho, and I would beg her to make it for me. "Why don't I teach you to crochet and you can make it yourself," she said to entice me into learning.

But I refused. I just wasn't interested. I never got beyond learning to make a double chain cord, and even that was under protest.

Why? Well, aside from some of the cool things Mom made, like the blankets, or the super cool poncho she made for me in fifth grade that was SO WARM, and the awesome potholders that really protected your hands from the heat, Mom also made a lot of the kind of stuff that would have me looking at it and going, "Why? Why would someone make this??? WHY???"

WHY WOULD SOMEONE CROCHET A COVER FOR A SINGLE TOILET PAPER ROLL???? And try to make it look like a.... FAT CANDLE??

There was a lot of stuff like that, and Mom would get all excited, "Oh, this will be so decorative, so cute, I can put this on the buffet/table/tv cabinet/piano, it'll look just like decorative candles/boxes/vases/flowers/whatever." She was seriously delighted by those things, and she would crochet them and be so happy about them. And I would do the typical pre-teen thing and roll my eyes and sigh dramatically, so put upon by my mother's horrible lack of taste (in my advanced eleven-year-old opinion, that is).

I would look at her crochet magazines and books and think, "Why would anyone think Hey, those talcum powder containers look naked. I must dress them up with CROCHET, and I will make them into... TALL POODLES. Because, yeah, that's what I think of every time I see talcum powder containers. TALL POODLES."

Then I would think that I should probably hide that particular magazine before Mom found it and decided our bathroom couldn't be without tall talcum powder container hiding poodles.

You have to realize, it was the seventies. Talcum powder for grownups was perfumed and came in these tall skinny cardboard round containers. Think Pringles can, but smaller. Now, in our house, those cans stayed in the cabinets, because we just didn't have a lot of surfaces for them to sit on in the bathroom. But my mom decided they had to be candles. Or something.

Anyhow, I had no interest in learning to crochet just to do something like that. Or to create big fluffy skirts for dolls to hide paper towel rolls. I preferred to reap the benefits of the warm and beautiful afghans she created over the years, or the hats she made for me.

I was 32 and heavily pregnant with my first child when I finally decided I wanted to learn how to crochet. I was having Braxton-Hicks contractions, and my ob-gyn gave me strict orders to get off my feet, drink plenty of water, and do nothing.

I don't "do nothing" very well. If you want me to sit down and rest, you better give me something to do with my hands or to keep my brain busy. A book only works if I'm not required to be social or pay attention to something. My mom, wisely remembering that sitting down with me for the initial lessons hadn't worked, gave me some yarn, a couple of hooks, and a book with basic instructions, along with a small booklet with simple patterns in it. I decided to make a baby blanket, and after a while, I would call her and ask for help. Or I would bring my project along when I went to wash clothes at her house, and sit down to ask questions, watching her hands move through the stitches and then try to emulate her movements.

I finished that blanket shortly before my daughter was born, and it is the most crooked, wonkiest, saddest excuse of a baby blanket, but both of my kids love it and have rescued it every time I try to make it disappear.

One blanket became two, then three, then I made a vest for my daughter, then a poncho, and the next thing I knew, I was crocheting. And I was finding some pretty cool patterns. And it was a great way to connect with my mom, as we commiserated over the occasional pattern that suffered from badly written instructions and required a lot of studying the pattern photos with a magnifying glass counting stitches.

She cheated and had my dad do it. When I asked him about it, he snorted and said, "It's an interesting challenge."

I discovered something, though, as I worked through learning stitches and how to put things together.

Crocheting calmed me.

Mom used to make all our clothes, so my sisters and I all learned the basics of sewing, many times under protest as well. I don't know about my sisters, but while Mom taught me how to embroider, and how to put seams together, and how to pin a pattern together, it was my DAD who taught me how to sew on buttons, and how to hem pants, and how to stay-stitch. Because he learned how from his grandmother, and from the Marine Corps.

The takeaway from that is... sewing does NOT calm me. I am really really good at embroidery, but I hate it. It makes me feel like my nerves are all crawling, like I could fly apart. It's frustrating and I get very, very snarly while I'm doing it. The same with machine sewing, sometimes.

But crocheting? It's so... zen. It relaxes me and calms me down. So does knitting. It's very peaceful and I think it's because it has enough repetitive motion to soothe me while engaging my brain because I have to think ahead about the stitches, but it's no big deal, because I can take my time. It's almost like meditation, in a way.

Where am I going with this?

Well, like many crafters, I have a Pinterest. And I pin both crochet patterns and knitting patterns, some that I intend to make, and others that intrigue me and I might try.

And, you know, there are a lot of great patterns out there. There really are. They're awesome, and you should check them out.

But in the last couple of years, it seems those... really awful patterns that I thought had died an undignified death in the seventies, buried under the weight of National Geographic magazines and Reader's Digest novels in the attics of elderly women... have been making a reappearance in online journals and sites. I'm ... kinda horrified. I actually came across a blog where virtues of the horrible fake candle talcum can cover were being enthusiastically extolled. I just... WHY????

There is a reason I tell younger friends, "You know how you like to call the seventies retro? I like to call it thank God I don't live there anymore."

Because, trust me, no one needs to crochet individual covers for each roll of toilet paper in their house. For reals.