Crafting is supposed to be rewarding, restorative and relaxing. This passive interpretation of craft, that it is an activity that simply happens to bring about emotional benefits, is reinforced by a preoccupation with the end product. Scrolling through Pinterest, Etsy or Instagram visuals of completed artefacts ready to be remade or purchased can lull you into a false sense of optimism about the boundless potential of craft. The reality can therefore be something of a disappointed.
Last week I started my third blanket as the squares for my daughter’s bedspread are now finished and being blocked (which involves wetting them and pinning out to dry) before being joined together. While I wait for the squares to dry I can start a new project. For this third blanket I am using a new pattern called Stained Glass Wonder by Tatsiana Kupryianchyk, a very talented Czech designer who designs under the name Lilla Björn. This blanket uses a different yarn and stitches to the last two projects, and though I’ve made her designs before I am a little rusty.
This new project started very slowly. In the first evening I made so many mistakes and it took so long to get my fingers used to the finer yarn that I ended up with a very small circle after about 2 hours!
And this is going to be a very big blanket! The frustration of not being able to work the yarn and follow the pattern is demoralising. I did not feel like returning to it again, but I’ve persevered and a week later progress has been made and I’ve finished my first octagon. The middle is a little messy but this will improve with practice:
Frustration is though what we should expect with craft. When I crochet I am attempting to unite fingers and thought into habit that if not repeated is hard to sustain. It is precisely this fusion of body and mind that makes crochet a potentially therapeutic activity, but this is also the challenge of craft. Even when you have learnt the basics of a craft, moving between projects presents subtle changes in these habits that we have to adapt to. Adjusting to new projects does not necessarily come automatically. For some the solution is to make the same thing over again, rather than do something new.
The frustration of crochet has also been a theme of my initial experiences of teaching crochet. To date I have run two workshops (at the Morgan Centre, University of Manchester and Keele University). I have also taught my sister to crochet to give her something to do through the long hours of cancer treatment. These have been as much a learning curve for me as the participants. I have made two useful observations. First that in order to teach I need to be able to crochet left and right-handed. Second, I have to let participants work through their frustration while at the same time giving encouragement that their technique is correct. There is a lot of laughter and fun in the workshops, but profanity and frustration as well when the crochet does not work out. Listening to my sister practice her new skill, there have been more exclamations of annoyance (quite a lot of mild swearing) than obvious enjoyment. There is no point in stepping in to correct, working through frustration is the valuable lesson that a learner has to endure.
I observe that this is the reason why learners give up and decide that crochet is not for them, while others are determined to conquer this activity. Maybe the problem is that we are too wooed by the idea of what we can make with crochet rather than the practice itself. Associating craft with endurance and frustration is not going to a work as a marketing ploy compared to emphasising its benefits for well-being. But as Lisa Baraitser writes in Enduring Time, time that lingers and has to be endured is as important as that which rushes by with the exhilaration of progress. If crochet is a way of making sense of enduring time, this could be its main benefit for self-care.