Over, I’d say, the last fifteen years, I’ve tried to learn skills that are useful in everyday life. Not just important things. Like math. Okay, maybe these are skills that aren’t useful in EVERYday life, but they can come in handy. So far they’ve all been good experiences. Through the process of self-education I’ve learned a lot about myself, my surroundings and especially how long it takes a thumbnail to fall off after you hit it with a hammer. Jokingly I refer to this list of “things I can do” as the abilities I will be able to offer in the coming zombie apocalypse. It includes but is not limited to:
- Baking bread
- Growing a garden
- Eating things from the garden
- Building a treehouse
- Splitting wood
- Building fences
- Plumbing repairs
- Building sheds
- Building sheds out of pallets
- Plumbing destruction
- Making furniture
- Building fires
- Making furniture that you can use
- Brewing beer
- Pitching a tent
- Not that kind of tent
- And last but not least, grilling stuff
It occurred to me that the majority of items on this list can easily be qualified as “manly” things. Very gender-specific. In an effort to correct this I reached out to my good friend Emma (a.k.a. The Notorious W.E.E.Z.Y.) as she possesses skills I have yet to acquire. When I asked if she’d like to teach me how to crochet she giggled, agreed, then followed up with, “I only know, like, one stitch.” I responded with the fact that was more than I knew and we were off to the races. And by races I mean hooks and yarn.
Without explanation I became very nervous when Emma showed up with a cylindrical bag/case and shouted “I brought the yarn barn!” This caused me to recall a basket of yarn that adorned our living room growing up and images of my mother sitting in a chair with knitting needles while John Wayne marathons played on AMC. Y’know, waaaaay back in the old days when American Movie Classics actually played classics and not drawn out versions of zombie show adaptations that were perfectly fine as the comic books that inspired them. I clutched the beer in my hand tighter and took a swig to overcome the urge to run.
“This will be easy,” I was told. “I don’t know how to knit, but crocheting is easy.” My face must have scrunched up in confusion and I guess Emma knows me well enough to read said expression because she followed up with, “Yes, those are two different things.” Knitting apparently requires two knitting needles and crocheting only requires one. And it’s a hook, not a needle. Personally, I thought it sounded like knitting was a little pretentious. Forcing someone into alliteration with “knitting needles” is just cruel. Crocheting seemed like it was up my alley because, after all, I’ve typed “crotcheting” way more times than I should have at this point.
After drawing my attention away from making cats cradles with the yarn, Emma showed me how to begin. She deftly held the yarn between her thumb and index finger, wound it over her middle finger, pinning it down with her ring finger, twirled the hook around the string, pulled it back through the loop she’d made and brightly proclaimed, “See?! It’s not so bad. That was one stitch.” Once I realized she’d not performed a magic trick I set to make my own.
It’s possible at one point in my life I possessed more dexterity. After all I used to be able to fold my fingers behind each other to make a sort of curved fan shape that my friends and I would pretend were saw blades that we’d use to chop off each others’ limbs. I can’t do that anymore, because I just tried. Manipulating my lanky fingers to hold the string tightly with my left hand while twirling the hook with my right to make a loop was clearly too much effort. But I did it! Eventually after a few repetitions it became easier. Like easing into the rhythm of a song.
Shortly thereafter I learned how to “turn” the stitch to go back the other direction. Emma informed me that I would simply repeat this process to “make a square thing”. I learned that crochet can be used to make things like blankets, socks, dish rags, hats and the like. “Don’t use acrylic yarn for most of that though,” I was warned. “That shit’ll melt. I know.” Chuckling at the thought of spending hours on making something intended to be useful only to find it glued to the inside of a dryer I continued on.
Our conversation shifted from work to books to camping. As Billy Joel’s The Stranger spun on my record player I really fell into the monotony of the art of crochet. When you’ve done it for a little while it becomes something you realize you’re doing in the background of everything else. Just as I’ve learned why my father used to spend days outside for no apparent reason, I now understand why my mother used to spend so much time making knots with yarn. It wasn’t too long before I’d made eight or ten rows of stitches. Then my hands cramped up and I decided it was time to take a break. I held up my work to show my instructor only to realize the shape I’d made was not square at all. Instead it tapered from a long edge, the first row I’d made, to a shorter edge, the last row.
“What happened?!” I asked. Emma looked up from her four-foot long soon-to-be full size blanket of crochet and smiled. “Oh,” she said, “that happens. I forgot to show you that you have to put an extra loop on to keep the rows the same length.”
“Well,” I shrugged, “I guess it could be a cape for a cat?” We both laughed for a second before realizing that someone in the world would probably buy it. Eventually I gave up and began to pull apart the trapezoid of stitching. An hour’s worth of work unraveled in mere seconds. Something I found oddly satisfying. Emma left me with a hook and the practice yarn. That was over a week ago and I haven’t touched it since. My attention has since turned to plotting out the vegetable garden for the spring. At least, I know, in the impending economic collapse, if I have to, I can rely on one more skill to get me through.