February 25, 2018 by lucieromarin
Once, after a session of spiritual direction, I took my crochet hook and my yarn from my bag.
“Do you crochet?” my director asked, as though this possibility was the funniest thing ever.
“Yes,” I said.
I suppose the whole conversation was unnecessary, as no one carries about a crochet hook as fashion accessory. A seminarian entered the room to chitchat. He saw me crocheting, sat himself upon the arm of a couch, and stared with undisguised fascination.
He stared, because the fibre arts are magical. I don’t mean that they are like worshipping Satan or casting spells. If anything, the latter falls into the realm of technology, which is all about controlling the other thing to get what you want from it faster than you normally would. Whether you use spells, traumatising narcissism, sweat-shop labour, blackmail or marketing to make someone do, say, produce, surrender, or buy something that they might not do, say, produce, surrender, or buy if you left them free, you’re doing the same thing. Only the means differ.
The magic of the fibre arts is otherwise. This magic draws from the soul of the maker. Each stitch of everything I make for another person gives my time and directs my skill, my thought and my love to that person. This magic gives more than it consumes. Sure, some resources were used in the making of my crochet hook, but the only energy that that hook consumes is mine, and with that hook I have made those blankets which, even after fifteen years and six children, are still generating warmth without consuming batteries, oil, electricity, gas or coal. With a hook and a piece of string, we can keep babies warm in winter. This is marvellous.
The Fates spun, and goddesses were assumed to be doing their thing with the aid of spindles and thread. Men have been painting women spinning, knitting, crocheting, sewing, for centuries. Nobody has made them do this. Yes, I realise that many women lived constrained lives and that this work has of necessity been the burden of many. But the fact that women had to work in the fibre arts didn’t mean that men had to paint them doing so. It is not as though your medieval artist could just wander to the nearest Eckersley’s for a restock of supplies. His art supplies were costly and rare. Despite this, he chose to use them to capture women working with linen and wool.
That lingering connection to that magic is the reason why, even now, that people respond to the words ‘I knit’ or ‘I crochet’ in a way that they never do to ‘I collect stamps,’ or even ‘I watch Netflix.’ For some, it’s as though you’ve punched them in the gut. “Don’t tell people that,” one man advised in doom-laden tones, “It adds to the spinster image.” But then, the owner of a local corner store espied a hook and yellow wool in my handbag when I appeared at his counter to buy a tin of beans. “I like a woman…working,” he said, and waved his hand in an indeterminate circular gesture which represented his mental image of that Mysterious Thing that Women Do with their Hands. His words sound patronising written down, but his spoke them with reverent tones, almost as though he was too low a being to name the actual craft aloud. Men, teenagers, and even children are transfixed by it. “I could have a go,” a young boy said to me once, once his well-trained choleric could bear to watch from the sidelines no longer. He was home-schooled – he wasn’t socialised to know that he was looking at a ‘girl thing’, and he was free to follow the magic where it called.
What happens to the grace of a worked gift when the love goes sideways? I don’t know. When the girl in question (of the previous posts) was expecting her first baby, I crocheted a blanket for her. I made one for the baby, too, but hers was the first adult-sized blanket I’d made. I wanted her, embarking on single-motherhood, to own something that was all about her. It took hours and hours and hours of work, but each loop and stitch of that cream-flecked pure new wool in green was a statement of her value and a prayer for her well-being. The priest’s sister hosted a twentieth birthday lunch for her. “By the time you’re twenty-one, you’ll have a baby,” she said, “This is a chance for some you-time.” I gave the blanket to her at the lunch. He was there. Neither of them wondered if their ready acceptance of hospitality and gifts was setting us up for increased and avoidable pain if the truth became known. I assume that neither of them thought it mattered.
I have wondered about the fate of those blankets. If I die a martyr, they will immediately become second-class relics, and the next baby over which they are placed will be granted miraculous powers of speech and cry, “Apologise or burn!” If they were tossed in a bag and given to an op-shop, I hope that, somehow, God sent them into the hands of someone who needed the love and the value-of-self-care that it embodied. If they were thrown away in disgust or scorn or neglect, it means only that hatred casts out love, and black magic will always freak out and go nuts when brushed by white. It almost doesn’t matter what happened. The unchanging God knows what I meant when I made them. He saw the love at the time of their making and He keeps that love before Him still.
I spent $138 at the Skein Sisters sale this weekend. I bought a bag full of a cotton-cashmere blend in shades of earthy grey-browns, muted pinks, and warm cream. They are by far the most luxurious, elegant, indulgent threads I’ve ever worked. They slip from my hook as smoothly as words from a French lover. They form stitches of unbearably beautiful precision. When they are not on sale, they will cost me $13.50 per ball. I do not know yet who this blanket is for. Whoever it is, is dearly loved by God. I’m not joking.