Does Everyone Need a Hobby?

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:

(pardon the wonky light and wall colour – I’m a stitcher, not a photographer!)

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:

(this one with a paraphrased quote from The Secret Garden)

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:

Pattern: Queen Street mitts by Glenna C

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).

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8 thoughts on “Does Everyone Need a Hobby?

  1. Call the Midwife is in our queue, too, but we haven’t started it yet. Too funny about the knit/crochet mixup. I don’t think it has to be a sexist thing at all, you would think they would have the TV equivalent of copyeditors to ensure that kind of mistake doesn’t get made.

    Have you watched The Bletchley Circle? Two seasons available on — yes — Netflix, and I think it might appeal to you if you haven’t come across it already.

    It’s been a while since I looked into this specifically, but to answer the question in your title, yes, intellectual engagement does help ward off dementia. So keep knitting!

    I loved the story about trying to get your daughter interested in fiber-related crafts. Gives me hope for the future — my 7-year-old says needlepoint is “too hard” and prefers to play Minecraft with her dad. She doesn’t understand why I don’t care to play Minecraft myself, I keep telling her that I’d rather make something I can touch but ach, never the twain shall meet it seems, at least not for now!

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    1. I’m not altogether sure I should be thanking you for recommending yet another series on Netflix 😉

      Yes, never say never with your daughter and needlepoint! Hopefully you’re taking her current reticence better than I did with my daughter: I have to confess that (in the years before the crocheting happened) I felt a wee bit like I had somehow failed her (in my role as her part-Dutch mother, haha) because I hadn’t managed to get her interested in something! (Which is very silly of course, but there it is…)

      Ah, Minecraft! I don’t do Minecraft either, but our boys do, and while I can appreciate the fact that it can be quite a creative program (and something my boys often play together, which is a nice thing, just like your daughter plays with your husband) my Luddite leanings still make me kinda prickly about the whole thing. Read a book! I want to tell them whenever they’re on it. Get outside and play, or run, or whatever! And they do those things too, obviously, but still… Anyway, this past weekend we had a Minecraft emergency. My husband and 16 year old son were out of town and it was just my 10 year old and me, and of course I couldn’t figure out how to solve the problem. I swear it was like his whole universe was caving in, and it was all I could do to stop myself from saying, You know, a book would never let you down like this!

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  2. I absolutely LOVE Call the Midwife, but unlike other shows I watch on Netflix, it’s so REAL and I can only seem to manage one episode at a time. I’m very slowly working my way through the episodes. Chummy is easily my favorite character though I love Sister Evangelina’s pragmatism.

    Anyway, I just popped back to say that your needlework is AMAZING. I love that blackwork bell pull. I’ve tried cross stitch a couple of times but did not have the patience though I started doing some simple embroidery after my grandma passed away because it makes me think of her. She was always doing those stamped pillowcases or dresser scarves.

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    1. Chummy is my favourite as well. I love the episode when she arrives and she’s telling the others bits and pieces of her history, and when she mentions that she spent some time at the Royal School of Needlework, that just gave me the biggest smile. Because…I remember being a teenager and somehow (I have no idea how or where I would have heard of this!) I got wind that there was *actually* a place called the Royal School of Needlework, and my immediate thought was, There’s a school of needlework?! Oh, I WANT to go there! I know that probably sounds incredibly bizarre, but maybe not when you hear that I completed that blackwork bell pull when I was 15 years old! (Yes, I was a really exciting teenager 😉 ). Many thanks for the compliments, by the way 🙂 . I do have my mother’s “one thread at a time” advice to thank for all my completed projects, more-so than any innate patience on my part.

      Whenever I knit I think of my favourite aunt, a phenomenal knitter, who still lives in The Netherlands. I think it’s lovely how these activities can remind us of our grandmothers, our aunts, our mothers … 🙂

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  3. Just finished all of Midwife on Netflix. Did NOT catch the granny square faux pas. And agree with the Bletchley Circle recommendation–same time period, much different kind of show. I don’t know about your question. All I’ve been doing is puzzles. I don’t listen to Netflix while doing them, but I did watch much of Midwife while sewing earlier this year. My brain is currently mush, which would explain why I’ve recently been watching without anything else to occupy it. Would love to know what else you watch–I think we’ve got similar tastes.

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    1. I’m rather impressed that you could watch Call the Midwife while sewing! I watched it while sitting on the couch, eyes glued to the screen (which is probably why I caught the granny square faux pas!). And while I loved the show (and felt very sad when I had finished the third season – so sad I immediately Googled to find out if there were more seasons coming down the pipeline) I did feel like my evenings were “unproductive”. It seems I have an extremely hard time getting beyond my childhood teachings and simply *allowing* myself to sit in front of a screen (hence my question, which in hindsight was probably poorly worded…I think, more than anything else, I was simply curious if there was anyone else out there like me, someone who feels almost compelled to create and who therefore rebels against relaxation).

      When I was growing up, I knew several adults whose *thing* was puzzling. I think puzzles fit in very well with the whole “exercising your brain” thing, and personally, I can’t pass a puzzle without pulling up a chair and diving in. My older two kids loved puzzles when they were younger, but I can’t get them interested nowadays (I’d love to get one going (during breaks like Christmastime, especially) but so far have had no takers). My heart goes out to you, Rita – I wish you weren’t going through whatever it is you’re going through – it makes me sad that you think your brain is currently mush 😦 . Sending you an internet hug…

      This weekend we rented The Imitation Game from iTunes (speaking of Bletchley Circle 🙂 ) – it was a very good movie, although finding out what happens to Turing afterwards was – to me – heartbreaking. Another couple of movies I absolutely loved: Miss Potter (a period piece about Beatrix Potter), and The King’s Speech (but I love anything with Colin Firth). This next one isn’t British, but Indian, and likely present day, but there’s the ambience of India, which I loved seeing: The Lunchbox. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is another Indian movie I really liked. As to British period series, I’m sure it’s a given that you’ve watched Downton Abbey? My hairdresser, who comes from England, recommended Mr. Selfridge, but I haven’t yet begun it. I did watch several episodes of Derek, another British series (although if I recall correctly, set in the present day) – but there was something far too poignant about it, and I stopped watching. Since finishing with Midwife, I haven’t started a new series, probably because I knew I’d never be able to finish the mittens if I did 😉

      Oh, and I almost forgot – I loved Drop Dead Diva, not necessarily for all the lawyering, but because it has (to me) such a cool concept (the same reason I loved reading The Host by Stephanie Meyer).

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  4. I love watching Call the Midwife -it definitely evokes all sorts of things about my 1950s and 1960s London childhood. Including blankets made from knitted squares. Not sure if the ‘faux pas’ you’re talking about was that knitted squares inexplicably turned into crocheted ones in the blankets on the programme, or that they were knitted at all – if the latter, well they certainly were (and are!) over here in the UK. Alongside crochet ones as well of course!
    BTW,, I just want to say thanks for your blog, which I often catch up with and always enjoy!
    All the best! Deborah

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    1. Hi Deborah!
      Yes, the faux pas was definitely the knitted squares turning inexplicably into crocheted ones! There’s one scene where Trixie is knitting and she holds what looks like her garter-stitched square-in-progress up to a crocheted granny square, in order to check size, and I thought, OK, it’s going to be a mixed blanket – both knitted and crocheted squares … but then when they’re stitching them together (and later, when it gets draped over Chummy), there isn’t a knitted square in sight! To be entirely fair, I do have to allow for the possibility that there was an über-productive nun or midwife who was crocheting her heart out and the knitted squares were simply placed on the edges or corners where no one could see them. (Hmmm…I think I need to watch the episode again in order to see if anyone is shown crocheting! Because yes, accuracy is that important to me!)

      And a resounding Yes! to knitted blankets! Whenever I finish a project and put the leftover yarn in my stash box I always stop and think for a moment how best to eventually use those leftovers, and a knitted blanket is always uppermost in my mind. I just can’t quite decide if I like the patchwork effect of squares well enough to want to do all that seaming (oh my!), or if continuously changing stripes would be the better way to go 🙂

      Many thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, Deborah! It made me smile to know I have at least one other reader out there 🙂

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