All The Crafting Ladies

I’m knitting a shawl out of fire-colored Madelinetosh yarn, and when I say “Fire-colored,” I don’t mean orange, I mean the shawl looks like it is on fire and made of lasers. I don’t think much of the fact that I knit, now, or that I could, technically, sew something (something rectangular, that is), or that I am currently avoiding Lacis because I don’t want to feed my secret (not so secret) cross-stitch habit. (Okay, it is weird that I am reading books about Hardanger embroidery.) I craft, and it’s become part of who I am.

I didn’t grow up “crafting.” Sure, I had crayons, color pencils, and such, but I grew up at my grandparents’ house, and I never saw one of them do anything I could call “crafting.” My grandmother was certainly capable of sewing her own clothes, but, for her, that sort of thing would have been “work,” and not the fun kind of work, either. If my grandmother had a craft, it was cooking. She could make a cobbler from scratch, and like it, too, I think, but she would probably have thought my knitting a shawl ludicrous. She had left Arkansas for San Francisco for a reason, and it was not to darn socks.

My mother grew up with home economics. I used to listen — jealously — as she recounted the skills forced upon her in junior high school: cooking, sewing, homekeeping. She had five brothers: she wanted to take shop class like them, but was stuck with the meringues and dirndl skirts. She was very good at all of it and seemed to take pleasure in forgetting all of it soon thereafter. (It should be emphasized that my grandmother sent my mother to secretarial school for a reason, and it wasn’t to darn socks, either.)

I wanted to craft, too, though I didn’t know what that meant, and I failed at it, consistently. When a family friend left her knitting needles and a handful of yarn behind, I tried to knit, though I had no idea how and only made knots out of the splitty pastel acrylic and metal needles. I cut up perfectly good jeans to try to make pillows; I had no stuffing, so I used balled-up perfectly good clothes, and I had no sewing machine, so I used rubber bands. The weird thing about all these bad craft adventures is that 1) if I had asked for crafting supplies, I would have been given whatever I wanted and 2) I was always at the library and bookstores, but it never occurred to me to ask for any craft instruction. I didn’t see why I couldn’t muddle through it myself.

This is probably my biggest crafting flaw: my hubris. Overweening pride fuels my reluctance to turn the car around when doing the craft equivalent of driving at top speed up the wrong side of the Autobahn. I’m like a two-year-old: “I can do it myself,” whatever it is, whatever the book says. (This colors my cooking, of course, as well, and has resulted in some unexpected successes [charoset sorbet] and truly spectacular failures [lamb on fire].) I’d try to invent my own way of braiding friendship bracelets, then, when it didn’t work, throw the embroidery floss down in a huff and go read one of the weirder Oz books.

I’ve changed my ways, a bit, since. Now, instead of trying to invent crewel embroidery, I go to the other extreme, and check the whole shelf out of the library. Then I go home and try to muddle through myself, but that’s okay; it turns out, I’m usually a solitary crafter, especially when I’m learning a craft, probably because of the hubris. (Also, if I’m with other people, they notice that I am calling the aida cloth nasty names when it does not live up to my expectations, and, if they are the wrong sort of people, they ask me to stop.) I still mess up royally at least once a week, whether it involves sewing a pillowcase without measuring the pillow it’s for, or never knitting a gauge swatch, or putting a frozen capon in the oven because clearly that ought to work.

But back to the shawl: the directions are clear, and it’s looking lovely, setting whatever I set it on or near aflame. Of course, I didn’t do a gauge swatch; I’m not using a high stitch-definition yarn, despite what the directions suggest; and I’m pretty sure I have already skipped a row. But I can do it! I’ll muddle through! And, when I’m done, I’ll have a finished object that is mine, all mine.