A note: I began this cardigan in March and wrote the following piece in April. Now it's July and I'm happy as a clam and hot as heck in this little wool cardigan. I think it might work for an October wedding I'm going to, plus I'm sure it will make it into my everyday fall wardrobe, paired with a t-shirt and skirt.
I cradle a skein of firecracker red yarn in my hands, imagining all of the things I can make with this baseball-sized round of wool and decide upon a cardigan. I've dubbed it “the wedding cardigan” because I've got six to attend in the next few months, and I need something to wear. Memories yet to be made flash through my mind. I think of the friends and family I’ll catch up with and the dancing I'll do while watching couples start their married lives together. This sweater will witness it all, sure to smell of perfume and sweat by the end of the summer.
I pick up my green aluminum hook and begin making a chain from the yarn, the slick metal sliding easily through the stitches. The start of a crochet project is my favorite part because of all the possibility a little ball of yarn holds and the magic of seeing something appear where there was nothing before—hats, socks, and scarves just seem to materialize in my hands.
Muscle memory makes crocheting quick work and allows my mind to wander. I feel the soft crimson wool sliding between my fingertips, linking me to faraway sheep, their fleece like low cumulus clouds dotting the hillsides. The wool has been dyed brilliant red and spun into delicate strands, perfect for lightweight projects. In an afternoon, a collar has emerged. I pull it around my neck and take a glance in the mirror. I think this is already my favorite cardigan.
Crocheting is often saddled with the label of “outdated craft”; it conjures up images of chunky ponchos and acrylic granny square afghans. Not to mention the word itself looks dangerously close to “crotchety,” an adjective reserved almost exclusively for sour octogenarians who are set in their ways. Though crocheting is gaining momentum again, the craft still doesn't have the hip-cred that knitting does. I’ve never heard of celebrity crocheters and a quick scan of a bookstore magazine rack tells me that knitting has a much bigger following than crochet. Sometimes it can be lonely being a crocheter.
Despite these negative connotations, you can find me most every evening spending my downtime with a hook in hand. I loop strands of yarn over the hook, weaving it in and out of stitches, creating an intricate web of knots. I sit alone, nestled on my couch beneath quilts on cold nights, perched outside on the steps when warmth fills the air. Though solitary in my task, I feel surrounded by more company than I can count.
When I crochet my hands are not my hands. They are my mother's hands, which taught me the craft, dry from the latex gloves she wears day in and out as a dental hygienist, and rough from weeding the garden and working the soil in the evening. They are my grandmother's hands, which have created mountains of afghans, her blue and purple veins peering through thin skin, wrinkled like crepe from years on this earth. My hands move quickly, making even stitches, and I see my great aunt's hands, her knuckles knotted, still crocheting to keep arthritis from stiffening her fingers beyond use.
I've talked crochet with my dad's sister who learned from her grade school teacher and spent her recesses in the classroom learning new stitches. My mom's sister remembers keeping a hook and yarn in her purse, crocheting rows of an afghan in her free time. It is a craft that lends itself to befriending women of a different generation from my own. Crocheting gives me a connection to women that I never had before; we have a shared interest that expands conversation from mere pleasantries to a discussion of creativity and the feeling of satisfaction we get from making things with our hands. It's a feeling that sometimes gets lost in the daily shuffle of mass-produced items, bought cheaply and without much thought.
That's not to say that technology necessarily hampers hand-crafting endeavors. On the contrary, I've found that blogging about crocheting has brought me a circle of friends eager to share details of their latest creations. They are women who keep their hands busy with yarn in such scattered locales as Texas, New York, Oregon, and Ontario. Swapping patterns and ideas makes me feel like part of something more than just making myself a sweater. It involves me in a growing movement to return to a simpler way of living, to appreciate the handmade despite (and perhaps because of) its flaws, and to find ways to feel productive and useful in a world that often prizes mechanical efficiency over human creativity.
The wedding cardigan is still in progress. As the spring evening light grows longer, the short red sleeves are taking shape, growing row by row. Soon this sweater might seem just like any other one, hung in the closest or left lying on the floor after a night out, but when I see it I’ll always remember the making of it and the thoughts of family and friends that are crocheted in each stitch.
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Well, now this cardigan is finally finished. It got a bit lost in the move, tucked into a box, but when I found it again I began working on it again with gusto. Seriously. I've been in a crochet haze for days now. It's all I want to do. I'm really pleased with the way the cardigan turned out, though if I had more yarn I definitely would have made it a few inches longer.
A brooch dresses it up, and makes me happy because I've got a small collection of vintage brooches started, and I'm always looking for new ways to show them off.
Check out the project page if you're interested in the details of this cardigan.
Lastly, thank you to all my online crochet friends! I love visiting here and on your blogs and sharing patterns and inspiration. You guys make me so happy. If you're on Ravelry, please friend me. I'm persimmontea on there. If you're not on Ravelry, you're seriously missing out on a wealth of free patterns and wonderful people. Join in the fun!