Sunday, 13 November 2016

The Tiniest Stitch Sheena Wilkinson

As threatened last month, I’m going to write about crochet. Which feels quite comforting right now. 

I learned to crochet as a student, one wet July afternoon, when my friend’s granny taught us both. Good old Nanny Spence; she didn’t know what she had started. I crocheted my way through my finals – a big blanket, all purples and pinks, that, like Topsy, just ‘growed’.  The result was cheerful but didn’t bear close inspection. Rather like the way I wrote in those days – for fun, without much planning or structure. I had the ambition to be a Real Writer, but neither the life experience nor the application to do anything much about it.

Since then I have kept crocheting – baby blankets, hats (many of my writer friends have my hats!), and the occasional big blanket.  I always loved the idea of making a patchwork blanket in little squares, but the reality of making many smaller squares and joining them together seemed like too much faffing. All that stopping and starting; all that joining together. Too much like hard work. Like a novel, really. I often started one, and then just kept crocheting – I would still have a blanket, but not a patchwork one, just a giant square.

But I can write novels. Why shouldn’t I have the stamina for a patchwork blanket? I wanted to make one for my friend Emma: I could see it in my mind’s eye, the way I might see a finished novel – something perfect and wonderful. And this time I was determined to go through with it. And quickly: I wanted her to have it for winter nights.

I bought lovely Aran wool, had fun choosing colours, cast on. Gosh, though, such an undertaking! How could this ever grow into a blanket? How could I be bothered to make so many little squares? But writing novels has taught me that the smallest idea, the tiniest stitch, can grow and become something different.

October was a busy month with lots of travelling by train. Was it worth the hassle of carrying such a big bag with four huge balls of wools? Yes: trains are good places to crochet; so are hotels, and gradually one square became four, became twenty. I knew now that, like a novel which had been hoisted over the 10,000 word barrier, I wasn’t going to give up this time. After all, what else could I do with a heap of little squares only make them into a real thing?  I applied myself the way I do to a novel. I didn’t allow myself to watch TV without a crochet hook in my hand; I crocheted at family dinners; at music sessions between my songs and during tunes I didn’t know. (Luckily I don’t mind in the least being thought odd – something else being a writer has taught me.)

Finally I had the sixty squares I had calculated I would need. This felt like an ending – like the completion of a first draft. But of course the hard work started here – a lot of sewing; making sure the squares were arranged properly; making some mistakes and having to unpick; realising the result still had an unfinished look – another ‘edit’ would be needed. Like a novel approaching completion, small changes at this stage seemed to make a big difference.

And then it was done. And it is beautiful. It isn’t quite how I envisaged it – none of my finished novels ever have been, either. There are little flaws; I can see them, but hopefully Emma won't. 

Part of me wants to put it on my bed and enjoy it – look how pretty it is! – and think about how I made it. But it’s not for me, so like my novels, off it goes into the world.

It started with an idea, and one single stitch, and it took a lot of hard work to make it into a thing. Just like a book. 


Becca McCallum said...

Lovely! My great gran crocheted all the time, and we still have two big blankets that she made.

A. Colleen Jones said...

Love it! Crochet as writing metaphor! Colleen :) xo

Lynne Benton said...

Great analogy, Sheena! And the two skills go together rather well, too - while you're crocheting, your mind can be busy plotting the novel.