I’m pretty much an introvert. Don’t get me wrong – I love people. I love to hang out with people [once I get there] and I love to talk with people and to get to know people. I love to get up in front of a crowd and talk. I love to go where people are and smile at them for no reason at all. Sometimes they think they know me and stop to chat. Despite my love of people, though, I must say that actually interacting with people exhausts me. After a day in court or a day consulting with existing or potential clients, I need some alone time to recover.
That’s where all the pretty string comes into the picture. I didn’t have many friends when I was a little girl. Truthfully, I’ve never learned the skill of cultivating friendships. While my brother roamed the neighborhood playing with the other little boys, I sat in the house and got underfoot.
I think I was about 8 years old when my mother handed me a ball of yarn (hot pink!) and a crochet hook. She taught me to make a slip knot, and then she wrapped the yarn around my left pinky and through my fingers and then held my little hands in hers and guided me through the first stitches. Once I had the hang of “chaining,” she let go. She told me to keep going until I got to the end of the ball of scratchy pink acrylic yarn.
Periodically the yarn would tangle between my fingers, or I would let go to scratch my nose or go to the bathroom, and I would take my chain back to Mom and ask her to wrap the yarn around my fingers again. She did, and each time she would admire my ever-growing chain.
Honestly, I don’t remember how long it took me to finish that long, long chain, but I think it was long enough to allow her to get some housework done – or perhaps some time alone for a cup of tea.
As the summer progressed, we tore that ball of yarn apart time and time again. She taught me single crochet, then double crochet and half-double crochet. Before the summer was over, I had turned that same ball of hot pink fiber into a ruffled rhumba-style ball gown for my Barbie doll. She looked fabulous.
Like many other hobbies, crochet has come and gone and come again in my life. It was something that I had in common with Mom. Mom loved people too, but they wore her out, and so when I went for a visit, I would frequently take my latest work in progress along. She would work on her doily or her baby sweater, and I would work on my hat, scarf or shawl. When we were stitching, we could talk, or we could be silent – bonding over our mutual love of turning thread to treasures.
I recently purchased A Stash of One’s Own: Knitters on Loving, Loiving with, and Letting to of Yarn, by Clara Parkes. It is a book full of essays by other people who love yarn. It’s not a long book, and I am enjoying it so much that I’ve been “rationing” it – reading just one essay at a time, then surfing Ravelry for patterns designed by the writers.
This morning I read an essay by Franklin Habit and his relationship with needlework and his mother. His mother’s “stash” became an embodiment of her for him, and he spoke of the emotions that surfaced after her death when it came time to process her death – and her stash.
As a child, his mother’s “pretty string” was forbidden. Later in life, their mutual love of “pretty string” brought them together in new ways. It’s a beautiful essay, and well worth a read.
Late last year, in Mom’s final illness, she asked me to bring yarn and a hook to the nursing home where she lay all day. Her occupational therapist encouraged the idea, and I scoured my stash for yarn that was brightly colored and very soft. I grabbed an assortment of crochet hooks from my collection and delivered the package as proudly as a little girl clutching a handful of dandelions from the lawn on Mother’s Day.
Although Mom admired the yarn, it was clear that crocheting together was something we would not be able to do any more. I haven’t finished a crochet project since. The scarf I worked on at the nursing home sits unfinished in my bedroom. Instead, I did something that Mom never really tried. I learned to knit.
My love of pretty string leads to me knitting in public when I am waiting for an appointment or enjoying the sunshine in the park. The yarn attracts people. They want to watch. They want to touch. They want someone to teach them to use the pretty string.
My home is full of pretty balls of string. To be perfectly honest, wrapping yarn around a pair of knitting needles and watching it turn into solid fabric or lace feels like alchemy or magic. I can lose myself in knitting – and frequently do, surrounded by balls of pretty string, losing myself in memories, or making new ones.
Beautiful. My grandmother taught me to crochet that long string. She made blankets and bedspreads. Even though I knit more than crochet, it still reminds me of her.