I was thinking last night that perhaps yarn has saved my life. This sounds dramatic, but feels true. I taught myself how to crochet in 1998 using an old library book while heavily pregnant with my second child, sitting on an old blue couch we rescued from a dumpster. It was hard but I’m tenacious and kept going, looping and hooking, over and under, in and out, trying for perfect tension until it stuck. My work started with simple hats and washcloths made from cheap cotton yarn. I put the hobby down and picked it back up several times over the last decade before it really stuck and now I always have a project in my hands. There is something incredibly soothing about the motion of crochet and its repetitive work. Yarn sliding through your fingers with a hook in your hand is a balm for the soul.
With any project, the planning process begins with choosing a pattern and color scheme, then buying just the right fiber and hook. You sit and follow your plan, and hopefully a usable object shows up at the end of miles and miles of string. Fiber work is a metaphor for life. We make plans, assemble the materials, work towards our goal, and it usually works out. But not always. Sometimes we must frog our work, which is what fiber artists call ripping out a whole project so we can begin again. So often we do this in life, go back to the drawing board discouraged and disappointed but determined to begin again. Crochet has a rhythm and so does being human. It is all a series of starts and stops, looping together and over, often bringing us back where we started, wiser and stronger.
I don’t think I’ve created my opus yet but I definitely carry a deep fondness for a project I started in 2016 and finished in 2017. Eighteen months, over eight feet across, miles of yarn. A mandala blanket in a rainbow of colors, started right abut the time my husband of fifteen years and I realized our marriage was ending. I sat in my bed alone night after night sleeplessly stitching. Over, under, back, through. Anxiety and worry played a concert in my head but my hands were steady and sure. Purple on the day we told our children, red for the day we went to mediation, green as I packed to move into a new life with no idea how I was going to pay my bills or feed my children. Yellow on the day I met the man who would become my husband, light blue for our first fight, pink when he asked me to marry him. Orange when I was offered my dream job, white when we moved into a darling little house that I was able to provide for my children on my own. A concert of color, the song of my undoing and also my greatest becoming. I stitched hope and worry, despair and joy, into the rows and rows of that blanket. It became the story of what women can be when we step into who we truly are, of how flying can look like falling. It was my symphony.
I sold that blanket for a very handsome sum to someone who understands the story it holds. Part of me left with it and lies on a bed in upstate New York. Fiber work is not simply creating a usable item from string, it is the story of the maker, who he or she is at the time it is being created and their stories and hopes and dreams. It is the energy of the animals who gave us their fleece, the earth that creates the animals. If you’re lucky enough to have a group of crafters to create with, the stories that go back and forth across the table are also woven into the fabric.
Speaking of a group, I lost most of my friends in the divorce. Being one who thrives on the sisterhood of other women, the loneliness cut deep. I recently forced myself out of my comfort zone and joined a local knitting/crochet group. We meet once or twice a week at a church and over margaritas. Age, color, or social status don’t matter. We bond over skeins of alpaca, trade tips and picked up each other’s missed stitches. Women creating simple art out of fiber while chatting in a group is as old as time. For thousands of years, we’ve shared triumphs and tragedies over baby socks, quilting hoops, weaving looms. What is called women’s work is also timeless art. The sense of belonging again and creating in a group somewhere sustains me. Sleeping inside me is deep cellular memory of my grandmother’s grandmothers working tirelessly for hours to create beautiful items for themselves and the people they love. A lineage of women working alongside one another, going back to the beginning of time.
When I say yarn may have saved me, it is not a light statement. Creating with my hands kept my monkey mind at bay during my darkest moments, and there have been many over the last few years. When we frog a project and choose to start over, we can’t always know what we are getting into. What we do know is we are choosing to try again to make it better on the second, or even tenth, try. What we know is we’ve learned from our mistakes and can do better and the support of people who understand our path is imperative to making it through the tangled places. I’m grateful to my tenacious 23 year old self for teaching me an age old skill, to my 43 year old self who ripped out my entire life and started again, determined to fill the holes I left before. Thank you to those who stood beside me and for my new sisters, willing to pick up dropped stitches and richly color my life with your presence.
There is so much more left for us to create.
*Deepest gratitude to the Mandala Madness pattern by Helen Shrimpton. Thank you for inspiring me to create a symphony.