This March, I am celebrating Women’s History Month by writing about my first favorite artist: my mother.
Growing up, I took it for granted that we always had hats. I am one of the youngest siblings in a family of eight children, raised by a single mother. I didn’t always have new shoes or expensive toys. But I always had a hat. A blanket. An intricate and warm afghan to use in my fort building. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized this was because my mother is a genius with a crochet hook. She can look at just about anything soft and figure out how to make her own version using a hook and some leftover yarn scraps.
This past winter, I decided to finally attempt to learn what she had made look so easy throughout my childhood. In doing so, I learned more about my mother and myself than I ever could have imagined. Using books we were able to access free from the library, the two of us set out on a journey that I will value for the rest of my life.
Patience is a Virtue
On Christmas morning, my mom crocheted a stuffed turtle for my daughter. I, on the other hand, was at the point in the learning process where I was still inventing new and exciting insults to lob at the hat I had spent a week trying to complete. Mom made everything look so easy. Surely, being her daughter, I had inherited whatever gene makes working a crochet hook look as easy and intuitive as breathing. How wrong I was! “You’ll get better!” she would tell me. I thought for sure she was lying in the way that all moms lie sometimes when they’re trying to reassure their children. How could something so hard ever look so easy?! How would I ever get to a level anywhere near hers? That’s where the library came in.
My mother learned to crochet from relatives before her. She didn’t need to read patterns or know the standardized names of each stitch. But I did. So I checked out Crochet 101 to give me the technical knowledge I needed to supplement what I had gained from watching my mother. From there, I took off. It was like finding the Rosetta Stone of crochet. I was finally able to translate the spells I’d spent my childhood watching my mother cast over her yarn. Yes, it was going to take me time to learn to make my stitches even, but I was finally on my way to understanding this art form.
Adaptation is Everything
My mother and I hold our yarn differently. We work our hooks at a slightly different angle. Our knots do not look the same. This, I have learned, is okay. This is part of the process. I remember working on my first ever hat created “on the round,” and asking her if it was okay to substitute one type of stitch for another. “Baby,” she replied, “you can use whatever kind of stitch you want.” If you are a fan of rules, news like that will always come as a shock.
As long as you are keeping track of the number of stitches, the thickness of your yarn, etc., you can adapt just about any pattern to fit your skill level or desired outcome. The same goes for hooks! My right hand suffers from extensive nerve damage and muscle atrophy. Smaller hooks with tiny handles are almost impossible for me to maneuver. Now that I understand how crochet works, I can adapt my projects to accommodate larger needles and heavier gauge yarn. A couple of my favorite books to use when experimenting with patterns are Mindful Crochet by Emma Leith and One Skein Crochet by Ellen Gormley. Crochet is a lot like parenting, I’m learning. Sometimes you have to change your expectations to fit the tools you’ve got on hand. Your finished piece won’t necessarily look how you initially intended (it certainly won’t look how the book made you think it would), but you will still end up with something beautiful and unique.
I’m still nowhere near my mother’s skill level when it comes to crochet. I probably never will be, if I’m being honest. But the more comfortable I become with my own skills, the more I realize and appreciate that she and I have different styles. Lately, I’ve been getting into amigurumi, which is the Japanese art of crocheting small animals, plants and foods. Once Upon a Time in Crochet by Lynne Rowe has some great patterns.
I send my mom regular picture messages with updates on my progress. She lets me know when yarn is on sale. This art has become something that she and I can share. As I produce more finished pieces, I’ve also noticed my daughter taking interest in crochet. She asks me to make stuffed animals and accessories for her toys. She’s not quite ready to start learning this skill. But when she is, thanks to my mother and my library, I will be prepared to carry on this tradition with her.