Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Long, boring, rambling post, mostly about crochet

"I mean she used to be happy here until she, she
started on the crochet....Now she can't do without it. Twenty balls of wool a
day, sometimes. If she can't get the wool she gets violent. What can we do about
it?" (Monty Python, "Hell's Grannies")

I had to pull out my crochet hook recently to remove my knitted dishcloths from the knitting loom. (I wrapped fourteen pegs on the blue Knifty Knitter loom and used either the second flat removal method from Decor Accents or single crochet to get the dishcloth off the loom.) Handling a crochet hook again made me think about crochet, my grandmother, and my own oddity.

Crochet actually has an interesting, if obscure, history. (The two best online resources I've seen are the Wikipedia entry and "Crochet--A Biography Disputed" at Suite 101.) There seems to be no hard evidence of crochet's existing before about 1800, but it proceeded to become popular toward mid-century. Unfortunately it also acquired a bit of a stigma. Impoverished Irish women (supposedly taught by nuns) crocheted lace to make money so they could live. This sold because it was cheaper than the previously available forms of lace, but because of its providing a cheaper substitute for "real" lace--and, let's face it, because of its association with the Irish--crochet was looked down upon by some people as a lower-class pursuit. (See here for another possible reason it may have been looked down upon: poor people frittering away their time making finery for themselves may have offended some of the non-poor.) Crochet's status was helped somewhat when Queen Victoria both wore crochet and learned to DIHRS (Do It Her Royal Self), but it seems to have retained a slight taint as a lower-class pursuit. I read on Craftster that the knitting teacher and author Elizabeth Zimmerman was known often to sneer at crochet, and many people, if they think about it at all, have some vague idea of knitting being "better" or cooler or a greater accomplishment or nicer--or they at least know what knitting is and haven't a clue about crochet. Personally, I think some of the crocheted atrocities of the 1970s (can we say gaudy Granny square hippie vests?) or early '80s (look here if you dare) did not help crochet's hipness factor, but those days are behind us. What with nicer yarns (as far as I can tell crochet thread is much the same as it ever was?), crocheters sharing ideas online, new books on the subject, and so forth, crochet may even be set for a resurgence in popularity.

But what I actually find interesting here is that, because of some incident of its origin (assuming the 1800s was its origin), a perfectly neutral hobby and useful skill could come to be seen as less classy than another perfectly neutral hobby and useful skill. Does this make any kind of sense? Do some people really need to feel better about themselves so badly that they must sneer at other people's hobbies or method of clothing themselves? Yeah, I guess so, since people still do the same thing today.

As far as my own pathetically small crochet history goes: My grandmother, like a fair number of older women in our area, crocheted (was it because the Deep South has a lot of Scotch-Irish people or for some other reason entirely?) crocheted, but one of my peculiarities as a child was that it never occurred to me to ask the adults around me to teach me how to do things. (Probably mostly because I'm a natural lone wolf, but then there's my having learned early on not to expect much out of people and my having been raised in a "children should be seen, not heard" milieu.) So I never asked my grandmother to teach me. When I was twelve or so, the woman who lived across the road offered to teach me to crochet if I'd buy my own size G hook. I can't say I had much of a desire to learn, but I picked out a pretty gold-colored hook and went over to her house one night. She showed me how to chain, single crochet, double crochet, and change colors, and she talked me through making a Granny square out of her scrap yarn. I made a nice job of it, if I do say so myself, but I didn't try it anymore after I went home and so within a year or two I'd forgotten how to do any of it but the chaining--which, believe it or not, I've actually found useful a few times over the years.

(Incidentally, when I say "my grandmother", I mean the only grandparent I ever knew. My maternal grandmother crocheted, my honorary grandmother crocheted, and at least one or two of my great-grandmothers did. Like I said, it was popular way back when.)

I wore some crochet in the 1970s. I remember favorably a brown hat with a pink and white design and a crocheted poncho (we called them "shawls" for some reason) and a (tasteful) vest. When there was a local fad in the '80s for crocheted collars, I was given a stack of them in several colors, but I never wore any of them. I've been given some other crocheted gifts over the years, but, except for a Christmas ornament or two from my grandmother and a framed filet crochet of my married surname, somehow these gifts have never been to my taste. (I like saying "filet crochet"; it makes me think of file gumbo, even though the pronunciation isn't quite the same.)

So what does any of this mean, assuming there's anyone awake to ask the question? I don't know. It's just that for some reason--possibly I don't have enough on my mind?--getting out the crochet hook made me think of both crochet and my grandmother. I've thought about her more this past week or two than I ever have before. I can't say we were never close--partly me, no doubt, and partly my mother having so frequently put down my father's family--but when I acquired sewing supplies as an adult, I bought an old-fashioned red tomato with attached strawberry pincushion because that's the kind my grandmother had. And I developed a habit of sticking stray pins in my clothes over my bosom (my grandmother's word) until I can get to my pincushion--just the way my grandmother did. And what does that mean? I don't know. But this week I got out my crochet hook and made a dishcloth each in single, half-double, and double crochet. It felt oddly pleasurable, despite the fact this isn't a hobby I want to have.

Edited to add: I should have mentioned the how-to resources I used to learn or relearn what little I know., which has online videos; Lion Brand's really useful Learn to Crochet pages (they also have free patterns, not that I'm up to that); and The Step-by-Step Needlecraft Encyclopedia, by Judy Brittain (originally published in Great Britain under a different title and notable for containing a photo of the ugliest garment ever created--crochet, I'm afraid.)

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