I hold in my hands the eighth large rectangle in a series of rectangles that I have been making for the past couple of weeks. Each one is the same as the last although the colors alternate between red and blue. Each one is simple to make, using the same repetitive stitch pattern row upon row. There is nothing complex about this project. And yet it touches upon some of the deepest complexities about crochet as a hobby, an art, a craft.
You see, I don’t actually know what these crochet rectangles are going to become. In the beginning I told myself that they were going to be a blanket and I am still holding loosely to that belief. The stitch pattern that I am using is creating a double-sided thick texture that is cushiony to the touch and would certainly lend itself well to the creation of a plush blanket. But I have not really started thinking about the pattern of this blanket and I’m not one hundred percent certain that it will come to fruition. This is one of those cases where the process is far more important than the product.
I have created a simple repetitive stitch pattern that I wanted to practice and play around with. It started a couple of months ago when I responded to a project that called for donated squares that would be made into an afghan that in turn would itself be donated. I wanted to participate in the project to practice something new and also to support the efforts of the crocheter who was putting the whole thing together. The pattern that was required involved crocheting a beautiful carnation and then creating a square around it. The square was created through a series of stitches including one row that required alternating between a front post double crochet and a back post double crochet.
To the untrained crocheter this sounds complicated and confusing. Indeed, it was the first time ever that I had worked around the posts in my stitches. I appreciated that this project challenged me and taught me something new in this craft that I am always trying to learn more from. But the truth of the matter was that the stitch turned out to be easy. It simple means that you do your basic double crochet stitch around the post of the stitch beneath it rather than into the loop.
Let me paint you a picture … Let’s say that you place one row of lollipops on top of another. These are your rows. When you do a traditional double crochet you work along the row, crocheting your next row by working your hook into the top of the lollipops on the row below. When you do a front post or back post double crochet you instead work your next stitch into the lollipop’s stick. Front and back simply refers to where you start your stitch. It is easier than it sounds. And it is as fun as licking lollipops.
Working on this stitch for that particular pattern made me curious about what it would look like as a repetitive pattern. I had just gotten some yarn from the dollar store. Dollar store yarn typically isn’t of high enough quality to make terrific garments but it works well for accessories and other items that don’t require a lot of softness or draping. It is one of my favorite choices for working on random new projects that I have no specific intentions for. So I grabbed a ball of this dollar store yarn and started stitching.
I created a foundation chain of forty three stitches. I then created a row of double crochet stitches as the first row of my piece of work. This meant that I had forty double crochet stitches, an even and easy to remember number. I turned the work over and began my pattern. I looped my first double crochet around the front, the next around the back, the next around the front and so on throughout the row. This created a highly textured row of twenty double crochets popping out towards me and twenty popping out away from me. I liked the effect. I turned the work again and repeated the process.
At first I wanted to reverse what I had done before, meaning that I intended to do a back post double crochet around each previous front post double crochet and vice versa. However, I immediately saw that I didn’t like the effect. My creative urges beckoned me to rip back the work and start anew. I wrapped a back post double crochet around each existing back post double crochet and a front post double crochet around each existing front post double crochet.
Imagine if you will if could hang all of those lollipops we talked about in mid-air in a three dimensional plane. Every other column in your array of rows would be pushed backwards away from you, creating depth where previously there was only a flat plane.
Row after row I did this, marveling at the effect. When you do this repetitive stitch what results is a marvelously thick and soft fabric. Crochet is all about taking yarn and turning it into fabric. Nevertheless, I often don’t think of my works of crochet as fabric. This time there was no denying that what was in my hands was a fabric. That cheap dollar store yarn that was a little itchy and weak as a strand by itself was shaping into a bouncy cushion of soft, pliable fabric.
At some point this fabric became a rectangle that seemed like a good size so I finished it off. I thought that I would make a set of these rectangles and put them together to create a blanket. And that’s when this hoard of cushiony dollar store rectangles began to amass.
Eight rectangles later I haven’t really decided if I am actually going to make a blanket out of these pieces. I am working with red and blue and had thought that they would work well together. My sister attends the University of Arizona and those are their school colors so I sort of thought that the blanket would be for her. But the blue isn’t the right color for that really. And besides, these particular hues of blue and red don’t actually complement each other very well. They are slightly off, somehow, with the red being too orangey to make the light blue look good. This is the price you pay when you get dollar store yarn.
And yet, I keep on crocheting these rectangles. It has become a form of meditation. Forty stitches of front and back alterations, row upon row. I count every single one of them in my head. I don’t have to. I’m so used to the pattern by now that I can easily tell if I’ve done something wrong. And yet, I find the numbers saying themselves in my mind, all the way up to forty, again and again. There is something calm and healing about this, although I can’t explain quite what it is. I suppose it’s like counting sheep, in a way, lulling myself as this magnificent comforting fabric unfolds upon me. It is like coming back to the breath every time you notice that your monkey mind is out of control.
This is not the first time that I’ve created dollar store rectangles without a real purpose. I did the same thing last year, also with inexpensive off-color yarn. Those rectangles were longer although come to think of it I also loosely planned to turn them into a blanket, in strips instead of pieces. I did row after row of treble crochet stitch, creating long strips of fabric that I never did end up piecing together. The pieces weren’t useless. One of them became a magazine rack than hangs on the wall in my hallway. Another became gift wrap for a Christmas present last year. The others sit in a stack in my closet and will become something even though I don’t yet know what they will become.
I am working on other, more productive and creative crochet projects right now. I am in the midst of repurposing my first secondhand crochet dress into a new design. I am sketching up some plans for contributing a crochet piece to an art project that is happening across the country later in the year. And yet, I constantly find myself coming back to these crochet rectangles, pulling out yet another ball of yarn that isn’t quite the right shade for anything and repeating that stitch again and again.
I think that what I am really doing is creating a cushion for myself. You see, I am in the midst of transition in my work, in my art. I am excited but even the most exciting changes are a little bit unnerving. I feel like I am on shaky ground. I doubt myself. And so I am drawn to this soft cushiony fabric that I am creating, providing myself with a soft space to land in case I fall. My mind may wander into all of the things that could go wrong with this change but then I hear myself counting out that next row of forty stitches and those fears dissipate into the fabric. Maybe these stitches will become a blanket. Maybe they will become something else. Maybe it doesn’t matter what they become because their primary purpose is to help me become something rather than the other way around. Maybe all that matters is a crochet rectangle in the hand.