For want of a better title, this post is my story.
This has come about because I admitted recently on Instagram and Facebook, that I picked up a crochet hook for the first time only four years ago.
It gave rise to a few kind comments along the lines of “How can that be?” “ I can’t believe you’ve only been crocheting for four years”. That sort of thing.
Well guys, it’s not even four years. It will be four years in a couple of months time. Admittedly it has been an intense four years, both in teaching myself the crochet techniques, and producing a blanket a month for the first two years. Twenty four blankets did give me some experience.
Anyway, my story……
I’m 67. Four years ago my mother was 90. She was a lady of many talents. When she was young she had a bright future ahead, possibly studying French and English at university, but at the age of 14 in 1940, the war intruded on her life plans. Instead of staying on at school, she left and joined the Fire Service in Glasgow, during the bombings. It seemed the only thing to do. After the war and without any exam qualifications, she went to a local secretarial college. Her typing and shorthand skills put her top of the class, and in demand by a number of employers. She met my father in the insurance company she started working for, when he spotted her as the brightest and bonniest spark in the typing pool.
Marriage and children ( my sister and I) followed, and as a perfect ‘50s housewife, she threw herself into homemaking.
Cooking, cleaning, baking, sewing, knitting, crocheting, patch working, embroidering – she was accomplished at everything she turned her hand to. We were clothed in pretty handmade dresses and skirts, with hand knitted sweaters and cardigans. She became famous around our small town for the toffee apples she made in the hundreds for the local children at Halloween. Her baking skills were legendary. The tins in the cupboard were always kept topped up with sponges, cookies and tray bakes.
When we grew up and were off her hands, she turned her new found free time to the most exquisite embroideries and cross stitch. No chart or pattern was too complicated for her and the stitchery was perfect.
Now here is where I come in. From a very early age, my favourite pastime was to sit with a sketch pad and pencils. I also learned to knit, do embroidery and even, I have to admit, crochet although that was reluctantly, and never got further than one awful brown waistcoat.
My single minded obsession from primary school onwards was to go to Art College, despite protestations from teachers who felt I should go to university and study something ‘worthwhile’, and from my father who thought I should do what every young lady should do, that is leave school, get a nice job in an office until I got married and had children, and then become a proper little housewife, just like his good lady wife.
My determination won though, and in 1971 I headed off to Art College to specialise in Printed Textile Design and Embroidery.
In my five years there, I learned to design and print fabric, draw and paint, and most importantly learn as much as possible about every aspect of embroidery and textile arts. My mother was so pleased, and became my biggest supporter.
By the way, from that early age in primary school, I had realised the importance that colour had in my life. It has shaped all my creative thoughts since then and fills my head with ideas every day.
Anyway, after college I moved into teaching – Secondary schools for art in general, adult education centres as a tutor and latterly my own classes for embroidery. I’ve given talks and weekend schools all over the country and thoroughly enjoyed the job of inspiring people to be creative when often they were inhibited by lack of confidence.
Nowhere at this point did crochet make an appearance.
There were a number of years after college when I was working on my own textile art pieces, exhibiting with my college peers who had formed a group to promote our work through galleries, and things were going well. My mother came along to all the private views, offering help and advice.
Then in 1989, with my ownchildren now at school, I started my little craft business. Blessed with the same work ethic I had witnessed in my mother, I put my heart and soul, not to mention every waking hour, into growing this business, so that after a few years my husband, also an art teacher was able to leave a job he wasn’t happy in and become my business partner. We both worked extremely hard as the children were growing up. The business, (which was designing and self publishing greeting cards), continued to grow. The children thrived in an environment where their parents were at home all the time. We worked from home for thirty years and the business became really quite successful. My own textile art and embroidery was put on the back burner.
Anyway, still no crochet. When does that come in?
What I’m trying to do is paint you a picture of what has led me to where I am today. Crochet has become my means of expression now, but why not embroidery?
Well, back to four years ago, and my 90 year old mother. After my father died twenty years before, she had lived a very independent life, happily surrounded by her embroidery and garden.
She moved closer to us and inevitably her advancing years began to impact on her health. Her brain remained as sharp as a tack, but her eyesight wasn’t so good and her hands developed a tremor. Frustrated that she couldn’t maintain her exacting standards, she gave up her embroidery.
It saddened me to see her sit with idle hands, so I came up with the idea of getting some yarn and a hook to see if crochet was something she might still be able to do.
I had no idea whether it would be easy for her to do, but thought it was worth a try.
However, my heart broke when I gave her the yarn, and saw a fleeting look of fear cross her face. She knew she wasn’t going to manage, but at the same time it upset her to think I might be disappointed.
Instinctively, I knew not to push it. The yarn and hook lay on the table beside her chair for a week or two and then disappeared. No more was said about it.
Just before her 90th birthday, she fell and fractured her hip and the subsequent decline was prolonged, painful and awful to watch. It felt so wrong that someone whose life had brought so much love and happiness to her extended family, should be suffering so much.
Four years ago in October, her pain finally came to an end.
Then came the difficult task for every grown up child, clearing a house full of memories. My sister and I shared that task.
One day I opened a chest of drawers and found the yarn and hook. Unknown to me, she had attempted some crochet, just to please me. She had only managed one round of a granny square. The stitches were uneven and lopsided, and she probably gave up in disgust.
It completely and utterly broke my heart.
The decision was simple after that. I had spent several hours of my day, every day for the last year of her life, to be with her in hospital and then the care home. I was left with these hours, empty. The business had evolved around them, so I thought I would try to learn some crochet in these hours, in memory of my mother.
I would later come to imagine that this had been her last parting gift to me. I can’t explain why the passion started so suddenly and completely, but after an initial terrible attempt at a doll blanket, which we will hastily skim over, there was a hunger to learn everything I could. My skills of patience and precision learned from my embroidery years, my continuing obsession with colour, and the strong work ethic acquired from running the business, meant that I started to live and breathe crochet.
As I’ve already said, the first two years saw a blanket produced every month. The criteria around that was to learn a new technique or style with each one. I worked (and still do) into the wee small hours of every morning , and in the still of the night when I put my latest blanket up on the wall to study it from a distance, my mother is there with me to encourage and support. I’m not a fanciful person at all, but I do know that I’m closer to her at that time than any other, and my greatest sadness is that she never knew during her lifetime that I would become a crocheter.
So now you have my story. I am a textile designer, embroiderer, colourist, teacher, and business woman. Also a daughter, wife, mother and grandmother.
And every single one of these skills and attributes have led me to able to produce the crochet blankets and patterns I do now.
My heart and soul goes into every one, and maybe a little of my mother’s heart too.