As a child, I used to see crochet hooks as a vile enemy, a weapon that could harm and destroy. For a period of time, I was obsessed with Egypt and mummies. At night, I would be nested in my bed with my book, eyes wide, staring with morbid curiosity at the description of mummification.
I was mesmerized: removal of organs, their placement in jars, stuffing the body, wrapping it, decorating it. It was just so…spectacular. Of the entire process it was the act of removing the brain through the nose that grabbed me. With a combination of awe and disgust, I would read that part over and over and over. The thought was enough to keep me up at night and make my spine tingle during the day. I imagined what it would be like to feel something jammed up my nostril that would scramble my brain around only to drag it out of my head. In all of my reading, the same description kept surfacing. The instrument responsible for this organ removal was a long, thin piece of metal with a hook at one end.
Little did I know my mother was the proud owner of one such hook, which lay buried deep inside a knitting bag that my grandmother had owned. If I had found this crafty tool before I became obsessed with mummies, I might have approached it a little differently. While playing in our family room closet one day, I came across the embroidered bag. My mother occasionally brought the bag out when she was inspired to make a few things, so I knew what it was but had never explored it on my own. Inside, I found a variety of knitting needles; short and thin, long and fat, pieces of slick metal that soon became conducting batons and magic wands. Then one day, as I dug deep inside that fabric treasure trove, beyond yarn and patterns, I discovered two new things–a latch hook that I’d seen my mother use to make rugs for my room (and by rugs I don’t mean anything grand and elaborate–I mean Bambi from one of those craft kits you can find in stores), and a crochet hook.
As my small hand emerged from the depths of this dark bag of secrets, my eyes lit up with astonishment at the object that sat in my palm. Something in me knew instinctively what it was. I must have overheard my mother or her sister talking or seen them use one. But in my head, I saw the pages of the mummy books I’d so often stared at. More importantly I saw the brain hook, as I’d come to know it. For a split second, I wondered if my mother wasn’t the descendant of an ancient Egyptian priestess whose tools had been kept in the family, passed down from generation to generation, ending up here…in my mother’s mother’s knitting bag. I imagined a secret ritual that accompanied its transference from person to person. A deathbed promise made to protect the hook, from what I really couldn’t say. Rationality returned to me and deep down I knew the hook was just a hook, but what if…? I returned to the bag time after time to get my magic wands, and each time I would examine the crochet hook, contemplating whether one day it would come to life and, wanting to reclaim itself, would thrust itself up my nose to complete the task it was intended for.
A few years later, by the ripe old age of ten, I tried to learn how to knit. I managed well despite my youth. I made blankets for my dolls and even a scarf; anything straight and square I could handle, but never would I put that crochet hook to use. I handled it every now and then, turning it over in my hand like it was a sacred object, wondering if I had the strength to conquer this tool and use it for crafting instead of brain removal.
As I grew, my imagination subsided, as did my time for hobbies. That is, until I found myself a college graduate with two part time jobs and more free time than I knew what to do with. One day, in my search, I remembered the knitting bag. Determined to make myself adept at something other than reading books, I tried for a couple of days to get myself to knit. The process boggled my mind and the instruction book I had provided little help. The booklet had awful, confusing diagrams and I needed a simple picture to demonstrate what I was supposed to be doing.
My mother had always espoused that crocheting was easier than knitting; slower but simpler in a way. So, I thought, this is where I’ll begin. Feeling strangely domestic I undertook a secret expedition to the local Ben Franklin store where I bought a pamphlet called Teach Yourself Crochet, complete with color photos and fantastic diagrams with arrows. I smuggled my new found resource into my room, which at twenty-two was rather silly, and slyly retrieved the crochet hook and some yarn from my mother’s knitting bag. Confining myself to my bedroom I worked tirelessly on mastering these new skills. I learned single, double, and triple stitches. Slip-stitches, half-double, and half-triple crochet. I increased, decreased, and bound off with expertise. A few hours later I emerged from that room as a crocheting diva. I became a zealot. I was a modern day Rumpelstiltskin, using my metallic spinning wheel to turn formless yards of yarn into golden masterpieces. First a small afghan for my cousin’s one year old son, then Christmas stockings for my parents, and about a zillion ornaments for family and friends.
Over the next few months my collection of crochet hooks increased as each new project required a new size. I was searching on the Internet for patterns and scouring Barnes and Noble’s shelves for craft books. Large and small granny squares, solid and multicolored, were piling up like a bunch of abandoned pot holders. I could do things with this hook that knitting never allowed me. Crochet was more forgiving of mistakes then knitting had ever been. To take out a few stitches, or even rows, wasn’t nearly as scary. The hook only needed to regain a single loop unlike knitting which required a million stitches to be put back on the needle. Then if you dropped a stitch in the process…! In a way, because the hook was so forgiving I became more forgiving, maybe because I had learned a simpler way to recover.
I quickly branched out from all things square intoxicated by the circularity of crocheting in the round. I was so devoted it was like I found a new religion. I had unearthed the pleasure of the crochet hook and idleness never found me again.
That January I decided to make an afghan for my best friend’s birthday. The project helped ease the monotony of the cold New England winter, minimizing the crippling psychological effects of cabin fever. Suddenly a blizzard was transformed into the chance to sit by the fire and create. The hypnotic repetition of motion channeled all of my body’s restless into a single focus. It became like chanting a mantra; yarn over, insert hook, yarn over, pull through one, yarn over pull through two, yarn over insert hook, yarn over, pull through one, yarn over, pull through two…. My brain eventually cleared out, all thoughts and aggravations of the day would melt away. I soon realized that my hobby had introduced me to a new form of meditation not prescribed by any organized religion or spiritual philosophy. What I had before me was a fabric rosary, each movement of my wrist a kinesthetic recitation of my private prayer. Though my stress was not completely curbed, it would lessen every time I felt the cool metal in my fingers. I developed a wound of sorts, a blister on my right middle finger that alerted the wise who had been confirmed into this crafty cult, that I was one of them. I wore that blister like a medal, proudly displaying the disfiguring mark of my dedication.
After I finished the afghan, I couldn’t put the hook down. Like an amputee plagued by a phantom limb, I felt lost without the hook in my hand. I had grown so attached to it, it had become like a natural appendage without my even being aware. I had seen violin players fingering their parts on strings of air, piano players tapping the tables as they rehearsed their pieces. My hand joined the ranks, practicing double and triple crochets with subtle wrist movements. I was itching to start something, anything! I decided to make an afghan for the upcoming birth of my cousin’s second child. The pattern was more complicated than ones I had attempted in the past, but I surged forward knowing that the only way to improve was to increase the challenge.
By August, the afghan was complete and I felt it was time to make something for myself. I took up what has come to be known as “the in-between project” project; an afghan that someday would big enough to cover something other than a lap. By this time I realized that I was an addict. This hook provided calmness to my stir-crazy brain and I was creating things more to take advantage of its therapeutic benefits. I took up my ball of yarn and crocheted a way to a better me. That hook sat ready and waiting on the coffee table–knowing that it would be called upon at least once everyday for a little relief. It became my loyal friend; a silent and unselfish companion that let me have my moods knowing full well that by the end of our interaction I would be calmed. Tears of frustration dried up when that metal sat in my hand. Decisions were made over a few rows of crochet. Aggravations were minimized, revealing themselves as the minor annoyances they really were. I thought without thinking. For all the anxiety, anger, and frustration I poured onto it, that crochet hook gave me nothing but understanding and a steady reassurance that things were never irreparable.
I have since ventured to try my hand at knitting over the years. No matter how comfortable I feel, with those knitting needles, when a crochet hook jumps into my hand, almost with a will of its own, I feel at home. I feel as though my own fingers are moving through the yarn, knotting it as they go. There is no separation between the hook and my spirit. It has given joy, soothed frustration and produced beauty from boredom in a way I could never have done on my own.