When I was eight years old I lived in a world inside my head. Being five and a half years younger than my closest sister, and living out in the middle of nowhere in Horse Creek, California, there weren't many playmate options. I had what I dubbed "play people," a whole entourage of invisible friends at my beck and call whenever I needed them.
I know they showed up at school sometimes. There were even those who played copy cat and started having imaginary folk following them around, but none of them relied on them quite as heavily as I did. As the years passed and the social structure of our little school fluctuated, I was left on the outside, a pasty, pudgy outcast with a head full of dreams and ideas. They called me "Teacher's Pet" or "Miss Goody Two Shoes" and had no interest in me except to acquire answers on assignments. It's actually a little hard to recall exactly what set me on the outs. While many places in small town America remain structured around whether you're a true local (I was two when we moved there) or not, it didn't seem to matter so much in the first years. Our school was super small. We had K-8 with only three teachers, which meant three years in each class. The first three years were fine, but when we moved into third grade, things shifted away from me. I moved more into my own head, and away from the maddening crowd.
It was during this stage that I began to spend more time during recess sitting at the metal picnic table with Viola than playing with my peers. Viola was a rather crusty old bird. Years of smoking had given her a gravelly voice, and her threatened growling was something to be avoided at all costs. We all feared her and loved her at the same time. Being sentenced to sit on the tire, a large tractor left over, next to her table was a fate to be avoided at all costs. Yet I chose to sit with her willingly.
In contrast to her somewhat harsh manner, Viola was a Crafter. She was always working on some crocheting project as she kept a cautious eye on playground politics. Every year at Christmas each student received a hand made ornament. I still cherish those trinkets, and they have hung on my parents tree every year up to the present. Being the focused and outcast kid that I was, I decided I wanted to learn how to make blankets like Viola.
When I first approached her with my plea, she was wary. "You'll never stick with it," she said. "You'll get bored. I don't want to waste my time teaching you if you aren't really serious."
But I was serious. I begged and pleaded, and finally she told me to bring a hook and some yarn. I was so excited by the prospect, and eagerly showed up with my shiny green "G" hook and a skein of red yarn.
"If you really want to learn," she told me gruffly, "I'll teach you how to make a basic chain. If you can crochet a basic chain that stretches from the picnic table to the fence (about 100 feet or so) then I'll teach you the next stitch."
I was determined not to let her down. Recess always haunted me with the fear of feeling alone and rejected, so I was grateful to have something to concentrate my time on. It's possible that the other kids laughed at me for my endeavor, but I really didn't care. My grandmother was a master with a crochet hook. Her blankets and booties kept us warm in the winter, and her delicate angels and snowflakes hung elegantly on our Christmas tree. I wanted to be able to do things like that.
So, day after day, the metal bench pressed lines into my chubby legs, and I wrapped the string around my finger and learned how to make the hook work magic. I don't know how long this project went on, no doubt the better part of third grade, but I never managed to make it all the way to the fence. Even though I stuck to it pretty faithfully, I ran out of steam somewhere along the line, and the dream died. At least for a while.
When I was ten, an exciting thing happened. I was informed that I was going to be an aunt. I was thrilled by the idea, and I wanted to be the best auntie any baby ever had. I decided that, whether Viola would teach me or now, I was going to make a blanket for this baby. I informed Viola of my intent, and I'm sure she was laughing inside, but she agreed to give me some basic guidelines to get me started. Since we didn't know what the baby would be, I made neat rows of alternating blue, pink, sea green, and white. Much to everyone's surprise, by the time David Kirk West entered the world, when I was only 11, I had made him a blanket. Two years later, when Ryder was born, another blanket, this time purple, teal and white, was produced. I'd like to be able to say that additional blankets were made for all 13 of my nieces and nephews, but high school wasn't exactly the best time for such projects. I got out of practice, and the thought of spending hours and hours and hours crocheting just didn't appeal the way it had when I was younger. During that stage I did make one other blanket for my sister Julie, but it took about 5 years to finish because I just couldn't make myself focus.
Basically, I stopped really thinking about this odd old world hobby of mine. There were too many books to be ready, topics to be studied, and friends to entertain. I traveled, I attained higher education, and lost touch with some of my roots.
After my first year in Hong Kong, I came back depressed. I had trouble finding myself in the land of my birth. Despite my experiences and education, I ended up working as a maid (hmmmm...) and was basically miserable, despite having lovely roommates. I decided that it was time to take on a new project. Having never made anything for myself, I decided to make a blanket just for me. I was surprised by how quickly I was able to finish the project, and how much my skill level had grown. While the edges were still a bit wobbly, it actually turned out pretty neat and even.
A good friend of mine from high school was getting married that summer, and two weeks before the wedding I decided I would make them a blanket. Let me just say that when they pulled out the whopping afghan I made for them they were beyond surprised. I'd told them I was bored, and now they finally believed me :)
After that I decided that reviving this skill was definitely a good thing. I started making blankets for my sweet babies in Hong Kong when I moved back. I also made all kinds of scarves as Christmas gifts. I found I could finish one in a few hours, which was just perfect. Watch Christmas movie, complete scarf. What could be better? Sadly, the pictures of most of these blankets are only hard copies, so I can't quite catalog everything. Wedding and baby gifts have almost all turned to yarn. I'm still trying to master new stitches, but with the help of some books and internet tutorials I think Viola would be very proud at what I've managed to figure out on my own.
My backlog or photos doesn't go back very far, and some pictures I know I have somewhere have not yet been transferred to my hard disk, but here are a few.
This first one is from Amy and Scott Slinkard. I was so sad not to be able to attend the wedding of one of my friends who knew me from before I started to crochet, but at least I was able to make a little tribute to her wedding colors. It's too bad I don't have any pictures of my really early work where it was mostly just a basic double crochet. By this point I was already experimenting with new designs.
Next up, in a very similar style, is the blanket I made to welcome Citlali Zavala. It ended up being a bit long and skinny, but it worked just fine for a baby. I actually made this one in Czech with local yarn. It was so hard to know how much to buy because they measure it differently, so I still have quite a bit of leftovers stashed in Czech.
While the actual creation time only took about a month in and out of my work and social schedule, it took me almost two years to finally get around to making this blanket for Nate and Amy Sarchet-Waller. I brought the yarn with me from the US this time, which made things a lot easier. During our long CA meetings it was great to have something to help occupy my hands so I could stay focused.
I've always loved zigzag blankets, so I was really excited to finally figure out how to make them for myself. My first attempt was for my mom, and the second was for Jessie's wedding. No pictures, I'm sorry to say, but I whipped up something similar for Julie and Chad Granum. I was pleased with how the blanket was turning out, only to realize I was going to have a lot of yarn left over, so I decided to make them two. What newly married couple doesn't want a matching set of blankets in their wedding colors, right? Julie, who has become really accomplished in crochet herself, making a vast variety of things that I wouldn't even think of being able to do, made me a really cool blanket for my wedding in return. Perfect :)
Finally, I'll end with a couple more pictures of the Sunflower Afghan. I'm really so pleased with how it turned out. I think it really does look like a field of sunflowers with their heads all turned up in the pale blue sky.
I'll leave you to be the judge. Do you think Viola would be thankful for what she started with me?