dirty c-word...

i make a statement every once in a while that leaves me thinking, "have i gone too far this time with my curmudgeony?" (it is a word now, and no, it is not the c-word under discussion). explaining this one involves a bit of background on the joys of growing up in a Caribbean family. and, no, that is not the word either. i will be sure to let you know when we get there.

Caribbean decor sensibilities peaked at something i usually describe as "Victorian chic". regardless of where we might live in the diaspora, this one feature usually remains the same. it is a tendency toward a prim, ornate muchness that makes you feel like you have stumbled into the tea parlor of an aged spinster from a bygone era. you expect to see Miss Marple seated amidst the brocade furniture (and i do not mean the Miss Marple of more recent years, as she is practically a feminist warrior). it feels less like you have entered the comfort of a living room in someone's home, and more like you are walking through a life-size diorama in a museum of forgotten history.

added to that are the many ornate side tables, upholstered benches, and chairs adorning every non-vital bit of floor space. these objects are not for sitting or even resting something on. their sole purpose is to be admired... and to impress. as i write this, i can hear my mom disagreeing with this characterization, but i only have to remind her of some of the folks we have known over the years (including the one lady who had so many shower curtains hanging in layers at the same time, it must have taken her a few extra minutes to find her way in or out of the bath). making your way across some of these rooms can be like completing a complex maze in a side-scrolling game. you almost expect to 'level up' when you get to the other side. but—worst of all—there atop every table, chair back, and shelf you will find a crisply-starched lace doily made in the most-ornate of crochet... and that is the c-word we are going to talk about today.

i recognize that this qualifies as the most-first of first-world problems possibly ever in the entire history of humanity, but it should be stated—for the record—that i truly despise crochet. this is due to the fact that i tend to associate it with a certain aesthetic that has dominated far too many homes i have entered in my lifetime. my people seem to be seriously bothered by the sight of empty spaces, so they adorn every horizontal surface and piece of furniture with some form of elaborate crochet (or some mass-produced facsimile of the same). i think the assumption is that it adds a perceived value or beauty to the object below it, but (in my mind, at least) it has always served as a banner that screams, "do not touch anything... do not get too comfortable here". where is the "welcome" in that?

i further recognize that this all sounds completely absurd coming from me. i am knitting obsessed. i spend my leisure time reading about sheep. i am fairly certain that the Canadian wool growers association removed a bunch of breeds from their list after my repeated inquiries highlighted the fact that there were no farms in the country raising said sheep. seriously. you do not ever want to give me your mailing address, because a package will eventually show up at your door containing some sort of item knitted by me... plus some sweets (an apology of sorts for having burdened the recipient with the joy of hand-knits). who am i to criticize other people's fiber-related insanity??? yet, criticize it i will. it is not that i am condemning or even discouraging the craft of crochet... though, face it, i am. it is simply that my experience has led me to conclude that it is a thing of which i want no part. exactly.

worse than the doilies and other decorative knick-knacks are the garments made of crochet. why...??? i know that i am not the most expert of knitters, and i still have quite a way to go toward refining and perfecting my skills. [case and point: zippers in knitted garments. following one too many disappointments, i have vowed to avoid them until i figure out how to stop it from looking like a wavy piece of bacon in a frying pan.] seriously... i am no pro, and most of the stuff i produce still looks "handmade... with love". look at some of the patterns coming out of design-powerhouses like Berroco (i want this sweater from one of their latest collections), Quince & Co, or Brooklyn Tweed, and the phrase "handcrafted... with great skill" jumps to mind. the simplest of hand-knits can be super-refined when done right. by contrast, most of the crocheted clothing i have ever seen look "obviously homemade... possibly by a person who made the garment out of sheer spite". sorry, but... pretty much.

me: seriously... why do people keep crocheting clothes? it only ever looks like they're wearing macramé plant hangers on their body. 
him: it's just like knitting. how bad can it be?

i usually shake my head at him in pity at this point.

crazy part is, i actually know how to crochet, i just refuse to do so. that collection of hooks? they are mine, and there probably are a few more of them scattered around our place.

mom taught me the basics eons before i even knew what knitting was. i never actually saw her make anything, but there were always a few steel hooks and the odd ball of insanely-thin crochet thread somewhere in our home. i practiced just long enough to get the hang of the thing, then abruptly abandoned it, lest i be insulted by being asked to make doilies. to this day, i am not sure if my mom knows that i actually can crochet... and i hope to keep it that way.

so, there i was one day, browsing through some patterns on Ravelry. i had just finished a knitting project and i was trying to decide what to start next, when it occurred to me that my intense prejudice against crochet has nothing to do with the craft itself and all to do with my intense dislike for surfaces covered in useless bits of lace. maybe i just needed to find the right garment to crochet. i was having something of a love affair with cottony Summer tees, so i decided to keep things simple and search for patterns of a similar kind. i typed in "summer lace top", then totally ignored the little box next to "knitting", and checked "crochet" for the very first time. there was quite a lot of the kind of stuff i expected to find, but there were also a lot of sophisticated, refined designs and some truly impressive garments among the results. i wanted something simple—both in look and in construction—so i settled on the Amma granny square top. it is two large squares knit crocheted from the center out, then joined and finished with a few rows of stitches for tidy edges. it is the kind of pattern that you read through once, then maybe come back to it at the end to see what stitch they used for the trim... maybe. this was perfect for me. plus, i really did like the top. so i found some yarn in a season-appropriate cotton blend, and began my foray into crochet.

it was going better than just fine. i had one small hook and only one live stitch to worry about at a time. it was downright divine... for a while. then reality kicked in. as my square grew, so did my concern. gone was the lovely, squishy fabric i am used to when i knit. what i had before me was a ropey, nettish mass, the sight of which made me think of only two things: macramé... and crochet. maybe i was letting my expectations cloud my judgment? i grabbed another ball of yarn and carried on. i put down my hook somewhere near the end of ball number two, and took a hard look at what i had accomplished. then i heard the whisper of a familiar, nagging voice growing in the back of my mind. am i ever going to actually wear this thing? highly unlikely.

i was fully prepared to abandon it at that point, but i decided to seek an unbiased second opinion. i entered the studio with the fabric displayed in all its glory between my two outstretched hands, and waited to be acknowledged. it should be noted that i have been accused on several occasions of creeping him out by standing there silently. in my defense, it is usually because i went there to tell him something, and forgot what that was along the way, so i just stood there, trying my best to reverse my train of thought... then he turned around and was startled by my sudden appearance, standing there, staring blankly at a wall... or at him.  nothing creepy about that, right?

this time around, i cleared my throat to make my presence known, then said nothing. i did not want to influence his first impression by asking a potentially-leading question, so i just held out the large square of fabric and waited. this is pretty normal behavior around here, as i am always in the middle of making some thing, and always seeking an opinion from him. he gestured for me to bring it closer, then leaned forward to study the object briefly before commenting. no exaggeration... this is exactly how it went.

him: oh... i see what you mean about crochet.
me: exactly.

i did not frog it right away, as i held on to the hope that i might change my mind, but i did grab a fresh ball of that same yarn and started working on a different top. knitted this time. it is like returning to the company of an old friend.

this decision was approved by the highest authority in our household.

she sat on the thing and immediately proceeded to fall asleep. i so absolutely love the total lack of caring disregard for self-awareness of cats.

this is not to suggest that i have abandoned the idea of giving crochet a try. i just need to find the right pattern that takes advantage of the technique, without producing a fabric that looks (and feels) like my dead grandfather's old fishing nets. the Crystal lace bolero has been in my favorites list for quite some time now, but i keep resisting the temptation to make it because... well... it is crochet. maybe i will make one for mom. then there are the designers like Marie Wallin, whose work just might convince me to give crochet another try. i recently fell in love with her knitwear designs (i just bought the pattern for a sweater of hers), and i realized that she also crochets. her Fountain and Lupin tops are beautiful, and the Rose sweater looks like something right out of a fairy tale (i can definitely see my mom in that last one, as that sort of thing does not fit into my 'tank top and season-appropriate pajama bottom' lifestyle). i am almost tempted to ask if she would like me to make her one, but i already know how that will go down. "oh, i didn't realize that you also crochet. i should get you to make me some doilies"... then i will probably end up being disowned.

strange though it may seem, this experience has left me with a nagging desire to crochet—of all things—doilies. crazy, i know. i want to make them in an assortment of colors and sizes (ranging from tiny coasters to large bed throws, all in unnecessarily-ornate lace), then mount them in frames and display them together on a wall for the world to see. above it i will hang a banner that reads, "please feel free to sit wherever you like and  make yourself comfortable... all are welcome here". exactly.


  1. Oh, this is funny, and apt, and so true.

    I have been where you were with the crochet obessession. This house when we moved in came complete with furniture and doilies. my husband's grandmother had lived here, and all her family did 'needlework". Big on crochet.

    They made edgings for every pillowcase, all the tablecloths (and sometimes the tablecloth itself) and napkins; every chair (and there were tons of them) in every room had its own set of crocheted antimacassars and armrest covers as well as the obligatory side table with its own crocheted doily, ashtray and lamp. you could not see the walls for the furniture. and it was, indeed, like a computer game maze.

    his mother had preserved crocheted pieces (rarely knits) from nearly a hundred years of family projects. She gave them to me. I now have them isolated in a large cedar chest. Whoever moves in here, gets 'em.

    I tried to learn how to crochet at one point, even made a winter hat from it. But then I forgot how and I want to keep it that way. I agree, when you use any heavier material than fine crochet cotton it begins to bulk up alarmingly.

    Never let your Mom know you can crochet. You're absolutely right, once she knows that, she will own your soul.

  2. exactly! i laughed so much reading your comment, then i read it to him, and he laughed too. i had forgotten all about the armrest doilies. seldom have i felt more uncomfortable than i am when offered a seat on a doily-covered sofa. the tendency is to hover near the front edge of the seat, keeping both arms pulled in tightly, lest i come in contact with one of the precious-precious crocheted things. and, yes... i will definitely be keeping my knowledge of such things from mom. she can request as many knitted garments as she likes (i plan to cast on a lovely cardi for her in the coming days), but i draw the line at indulging the crochet craze.

  3. very wise. It does seem to be the kind of thing that, once indulged in, you just have to keep going. Forever. I think the passion for crochet in this country was in the late 1800s to mid 1900s; women didn't work, and this was something they could take with them when they went visiting. They would all sit around and chat and crochet, exchange patterns, and crochet. There were so many things "ladies' couldn't do, but this was one creative outlet they could indulge in. And did they ever.

    I think I just realized why knitted items rarely get passed along, and crochet does. Knitted garments were practical, warm, and worn. Crochet was decorative--lace collars, crocheted gloves, antimacassars, linens. It was preserved because it was so delicate looking.

    Oh, and I remember the common pins that held the stuff in place. Did you mother have those? I was forever working them out of the arm of the chair and then of course it would drop...

    1. i did not know people pinned them in place. my mom and her mom never did, but some of the folks we knew may have done so. i was far too afraid to ever touch the stuff to find that out firsthand.

      it makes sense that it would have been so popular at a time when women had so few activities they could claim as their own, much like tapestry and embroidery were "women's crafts" in earlier times. as i said on in the blog post, all this time spent thinking about crochet has actually resulted in a twisted sort of interest in the craft... i just don't want it on my body or in my home.

  4. lol I can see you crocheting like mad holding it far out in front of you, sitting in an unknown train station, or park, and when it's done, leaving it there on the bench. Never looking back.