About a year and a half ago, my then-seventeen year-old daughter requested something that made me inordinately happy:
She asked me to (once again) teach her how to crochet.
Have I caused you to roll your eyes and say, Oh, puh-leaze!?
If so, you might want to stop reading.
For anyone who’s not rolling their eyes, here’s the backstory:
I’ve been crafting *forever*. My Dutch mother put a threaded tapestry needle into my hand at a very young age, and started me off with running stitches on scraps of linen. Rows of cross stitches soon followed, which were then translated into pictures on printed canvas, which quickly morphed into charted (counted) projects, all at a very young age. I can still remember — forty-some years on — the extreme embarrassment my mother caused when she brought my needlework to my pre-school (yes, to my PRE-school!) so she could show my teacher what an accomplished little stitcher I already was.
Although my mother schooled me in nearly every other imaginable fibre-craft as I was growing up — crochet, knitting, rug-hooking, macrame, weaving, sewing — it was cross-stitch that held sway with me. Growing up in a turbulent household, those Xs became what I now recognize as a bit of a lifeline: stitching away in my bedroom, concentration on the pattern perforce blocked out at least some of what was happening outside, and it became a bit of a compulsion, or — shoving questionable mental health under the rug — at the very least, a hobby relentlessly pursued, one project held just threads away from completion while I started the next, the rather whacky un-spoken feeling hanging over me that my universe might just implode if I didn’t have a project on the go at all times.
While all this stitching did absolutely nothing to forward the childhood feeling that I was destined to be a novelist (and in fact, can largely be blamed for a rather dismal resumé of books read), it did result in this:
Here’s a close-up:
And then there’s this, the first and second vignette in another bell pull, this one a montage of Dutch nursery rhymes and songs:
And a sampler, one of many:
How many samplers does one need? It’s a good thing my husband is comfortable with his masculinity and isn’t opposed to needlework adorning the walls.
So it should be pretty clear that while I didn’t have a clue how to write a novel, I did know how to produce home decor. I think I must have reasoned that until such time as I could figure out how to write that novel, I might as well keep stitching. This plan — I now know — will never produce a novel. But it did fit in well with my early life lessons: my mother’s admonitions that (female) hands must always be busy, and my German father’s strict work ethic (Be Productive!), the result being a copious output of completed needlework projects.
This past-time continued, unabated, until at the age of 29, pregnant with our first child, I was overcome with a sudden urge to knit a sweater for the small person kicking around inside me.
Out came my trusty Reader’s Digest Complete Guide To Needlework (given to me by my mother upon my marriage, because what else does a woman with Dutch blood need when embarking upon married life?), and tucking long needles under my arms, I re-taught myself to knit, and very soon was clacking off a sweater.
Our baby arrived (a girl!), and while she grew and the boys came along, my spare hours were spent sewing and knitting (cross-stitching left off as suddenly and irrevocably as Forrest Gump stopping his running in the middle of the desert), my knitting expertise growing as the years went by. Pieced sweaters on the long, held-under-your-arms needles were left off when I discovered neck-down seamless patterns which could be fashioned on much more comfortable circular needles. I taught myself how to use double pointed needles and knit items I had always viewed as nearing rocket-science: socks and mittens. And because this level of obsession was something that was just begging to be shared, I had cozy visions of teaching my growing daughter to stitch or knit or crochet — anything, really, just so long as she had her *thing*.
And oh, how I tried!
Over the years, I taught her cross-stitch, latch-hooking, crochet, knitting, and sewing. My mother was in on the scheme as well, bringing back stitchery and spool knitting kits which she had gleaned from trips home to The Netherlands.
But nothing took. Truthfully, our next-in-line — our first son — showed more interest in stitching than she did! And although my daughter was creative in a myriad of other ways as she was growing up — painting, drawing, card-making, modelling with clay, and imaginative play galore — there was no fibre arts craft that I felt she could take into adulthood with her, something she could work on while watching tv, something tangible that could flow from her hands to mark that her quiet hours were well-spent.
And then, in my daughter’s grade twelve year, she came home from school one day and said, “Melissa crocheted herself this really cool infinity scarf!”
I waited for her to ask me to make her one, but instead, this was what she said:
“I was thinking I’d like to make one too. Can you show me how to crochet again?”
Three scarves later (the third finished while watching The Walking Dead on Netflix), she’s still at it.
Successfully shushing my minimalist self who kindasorta wanted to ask, How many scarves do you need? Should you perhaps branch out…?, we bought yarn for her fourth scarf when she was home for the Christmas holidays, and while we were looking around, the owner, an über-helpful woman (as all yarn shop owners seem to be), came up to us, and in her chatty way, informed us that knitting is good for warding off dementia.
“Crochet too, I’m sure!” I quickly put in, glancing at my daughter. (I needn’t have worried: at eighteen, she’s not worried one iota about dementia).
Although I will allow for the fact that the woman, as the owner of a shop, might have some self-interest in promulgating the notion that knitting is the miracle cure for dementia, this was welcome news to me. I’ve had some alarming slips over the past few years — gas burners left on low; names of people I know I know, dammit!, completely forgotten; my embarrassing problem with disappearing nouns (not safe for work or with children around, but a hilarious must-watch) — all causing me to wonder whether this was just “normal” aging, or if my neurons were beginning to fail me.
And this is where I finally (!) — Phew!, you’re saying — tie back in to the title of this post: in the interest of exercising our brains, do we all need a hobby? Some sort of occupation for the snatches of quiet in our evenings during which we could be doing something — anything! — beyond binging on Netflix? (Or — ahem — while binging on Netflix?)
There’s reading, of course. A resounding yes to reading! But unfortunately, reading isn’t so easy to do while binging on Netflix.
And writing. If you’ve ever dreamed of being a writer, of course you have to write! /whistles uncomfortably/
But it’s exceedingly hard to write while watching Netflix.
There’s crossword puzzles and sudoku, jigsaw puzzles and stamp collecting — all of which can be done fairly well while glued to Netflix.
And then there’s woodworking, but of course it’s not quite so easy to watch, let alone hear, Netflix with a table saw running (to say nothing of the danger involved in such an endeavour).
Gosh Marian, you might be saying at this point. What the hell is it with you and Netflix?
I think maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to talk about Netflix.
Here’s the thing: Why (she asks plaintively) does there have to be such good stuff on Netflix? Because if our brains have a better chance of thriving into our old age when we challenge them with novel and difficult tasks, AND if a little escapism is good (because there’s only so much sitting quietly and pondering Earth going to hell-in-a-handbasket one can do) then how in the world can I expect myself to knit something as complex as these Queen Street mitts for my daughter:
when I have to catch all the gorgeous nuance in Downton Abbey? It’s one thing to treat an episode of Friends or Mad About You or Star Trek like a radio program, but to attempt that while watching Call the Midwife?
Yes! Success! I’ve mentioned Call the Midwife, which was part of my diabolical plan all along 😉 . Now that the cat’s out of the bag, I can tell you that I can no longer hear or think the word Gosh (as in the Gosh, Marian, above) without it coming through in the deepish tone employed by Miranda Hart aka “Chummy” whose character drops a husky Gosh every chance she gets. And, best of all, now I can finally ask the question that’s been burning in the back of my brain for weeks: was anyone else out there in Netflix-land slightly disappointed about the slip-up in the third season afghan episode?
For those of you who haven’t watched Call the Midwife, I’ll explain:
Call the Midwife is a period piece set in London in the 50s, and in this particular episode the nuns and midwives are tasked with making an afghan for charity. They’re all shown busily knitting away, making squares for what eventually becomes a granny square afghan.
But wait a second … hello? … you can’t knit a granny square. It’s crocheted!
I know. I’m being totally nit-picky and pedantic. And I probably should do something about getting a life. But there you have it. As much as I loved loved loved watching this series, I have to express my disappointment that seemingly not one member of the cast or crew of Call the Midwife picked up that obvious slip.
Yes, well …
Rather than leaving this post hanging by a thread of what could perhaps be construed as a blatantly anti-feminist statement —
(Am I actually saying that I expect all females everywhere to simply know — as though the knowledge is encrypted within the nucleotides of our second X chromosome — the difference between knitting and crocheting?! — Well, no … /hums nervously while looking at shoes/)
— I think I’ll end by showing you this:
This is the bench my sixteen year-old son made for his sister two Christmases ago. You see, I have crafty dreams for my boys as well 🙂 .
(Hmmm … I’m not sure an item made from wood by a male child (wielding power tools) lets me off the hook. I think I’d better add that I recognize — and fully support — the fact that men knit too).
(Disclaimer: No Netflix was watched during the manufacture of the aforementioned bench).