When I discover a new passion, I remember how exciting life is. The tools of my latest discovery are simple ones: a thin, tapered metal hook and a thick skein of bright red yarn. Cool and smooth in my fingers, the hook contrasts against the yarn’s rough strands.
Mom and I sit side-by-side on my bed, and I watch her hands arrange the hook and yarn. The red yarn is easy to see, but the magic of her small stitches is not. In teaching me to crochet, she must be creative. She describes the process of making a chain, conscious that my vision demands much from her words. Placing my hands over hers, I attempt to feel her loop the yarn around the hook. I try to understand how the yarn progresses around the hook and how the hook turns against the yarn to pull it through the loop—it’s a complicated tango of strands, and we need solid words to name each step.
Finally, we find a method that works. Mom places the hook and yarn in my hands and orders me through the process. I make a loose slip knot, leaving a long “tail” at the end; I slide the loop onto the hook; I wrap the yarn “away” so that it curves around the hook from the right and pull the new loop through the earlier loop. I have a chain stitch.
Only a few stitches into this frontier, I realize that crocheting is hard. Unable to negotiate the head of my hook properly through the loop, I must use fingernails to lift the loop over the hook. Mom says I must make a long chain of these stitches to begin my ambitious project: a scarf. Because I have not yet mastered the principle of “tension” – keeping the stitches loose but evenly spaced – I worry that the unevenness of the stitches will create an ugly scarf. My teacher easily settles my fears.
“Don’t worry,” Mom says calmly. ‘If it looks terrible, I’ll make you rip it out.”
Little do I know how often I will hear this refrain.
After Mom inspects my work and declares that I have mastered the chain stitch, she takes me through the single crochet. At the end of the chain, I must again wrap the yarn around the needle, but this time, I am changing directions. I will go back along the chain, dipping into the loops I have already made. Crocheting back and forth along the chain will yield a scarf. After I have completed a few rows, Mom praises my progress.
When I’ve completed 8 rows and the scarf is about as wide as my hand, a strange phenomenon occurs. A problem with my tension causes my scarf to curl in upon itself; it starts to look like a bisected telephone cord. Keeping her promise, Mom commands that I rip it out. As I pull out the stitches, the spiral effect dissipates, and I begin to rebuild the scarf.
In a few weeks, I complete the scarf using the only stitch I know. I proudly show it to everyone—crocheting and non-crocheting folks alike. Katie, a devout and talented crocheter, describes my “mistakes”—missed stitches, ripples in the scarf, knots in the yarn—as artistic touches. She promises to teach me some new techniques.
When our day arrives, Katie showers me with crocheting gifts. She gives me a skein of dark blue yarn; its strands are fat and soft. To work with such a thick yarn, she presents me with a large crochet hook, about as thick as a pen. She also shows me an intriguing device, a small round medallion fitted with 4 angled grooves. If I slide a strand of yarn into the groove and turn the medallion, the tool will neatly cut the yarn.
After I have shown Katie my favorite hook and the project I have just finished, she wants to see me in action. I use the large hook and the thick yarn she has provided, and she watches me make a short chain. The thick yarn is incredible! Its fat strands make stitches so large that I can actually see them! Satisfied with my progress, Katie has me do a few rows of single crochet—just to prove I can. Then she begins to teach me the double crochet.
“Yarn over,” she commands. I look at her in silent confusion. “Wrap your yarn around the hook,” she explains. “That’s called ‘yarn over’ or YO in patterns.”
As I obediently wrap my yarn around the hook, Katie explains the anatomy of my stitches. The chain has two sides. On one side of the chain, I will see a row of V’s that looks something like a braid; on the other, I will see a row of flat loops. She says that we want to work on the side that looks like a braid.
Katie explains that my hook will dip through both sides of the V of each stitch, that double crochet is “tall” and builds upward. She instructs me to yarn over and slide the hook through the two sides of the V. When I am pulling the hook through the loops, the hook comes towards me. Katie is quick to correct this.
“I’m going to change your whole process,” she declares gleefully. “Your hook is going to go out into the world, not toward you.”
She instructs me to pull out my most recent effort, yarn over again, and take the hook through the loops of the V in the opposite direction. Instead of my hook coming to point at my own belly, it travels away from me, “out into the world” as she says. Then I yarn over again and pull the new loop back through the loops of the V. Now I have three loops on my hook, and I must yarn over again. She tells me to pull all but the last loop through the newly made one, so my hook will have two loops on it: the one I didn’t pull through and the new one, created by pulling the other two through my yarn over maneuver. Lastly, I yarn over again and pull the neglected loop through. After all this dizzy looping and pulling, I have finally accomplished a double crochet stitch.
I suspect that Katie and Mom subscribe to the same teaching philosophies, because Katie instructs me to complete several rows of doubles. Like Mom, she promises to rip out stitches that do not meet with her approval. “I won’t let you form bad habits!” she intones. “Pull that one out.” Grumbling, I follow her orders and redo the offending stitches.
As I progress along the short chain, I stop to feel and admire the double crochet. A “taller” stitch than the single, it makes a very pretty pattern. Because I am working with such thick yarn, I can easily feel and see the sampler I am creating. Katie tells me that this sampler is an important monument to my new skill. When I look at it, I will see where I began and how far I’ve come.
When I feel comfortable with the stitch, Katie tells me to complete several rows. Sitting on the bed beside me, she works on her own project—glancing at me from time to time to check my progress. At one point, she insists, “I want to see you complete a double. Pull out what you just did.”
Always the dutiful student, I cannot defy a good teacher. I pull out my most recent stitch and she leans over my shoulder to watch me remake it. Satisfied with my technique, she returns to her own work.
In moments, my sampler is complete. I have a tidy dark blue square that showcases my crocheting skills thus far. I have alternated single and double crochet, doing two rows of each. I have trimmed the square in a border of singles. Katie shows me how to thread the tail, that loose end from my very first chain, into the square’s border so that it disappears. My square could be a small trivet or a large coaster, or it could serve no practical purpose.
I examine my sampler, tracing each pattern with fingers and eyes, to understand its design. There is only one knot, the original slip knot that started the first chain. The rest of the work is nothing but loops. I cannot believe that I have created this thing.
My teachers are pleased, and I’m hooked!