Andrea Crocco-Varela is unable to have children after her battle with cancer, and so, she poignantly writes, “I use crochet to create something that may live after I’ve gone.” Learn more about this amazing woman from this interview, which was originally published in my monthly column (Crochet Heals) in Happily Hooked digital magazine, in the July 2016 issue.
Q: Thanks for being open enough to share your story with us. Where should we begin?
A: Well, I have a genetic mutation that makes it much more likely that I will get cancer. And indeed, I have had two different types of cancer. About twelve years ago, I had colon cancer. And then a couple of years ago I had uterine cancer. Crochet has helped me in coping with the ramifications of that experience.
Q: It is wonderful that you found craft to help you. How did you learn to crochet?
A: I asked my grandmother to teach me how to crochet. She told me that she had learned by watching her sister, Marie, who died very young.
Q: Isn’t it amazing how craft can connect us to each other through the generations, even after the physical body has passed away? Have you ever taught anyone to crochet?
A: Yes. I taught my niece, Charlotte. I actually first taught her to knit, then she asked to learn crochet and she decided she liked crochet better. Then she decided that we were going to be “crochet pals”, which is like pen pals, except that instead of sending each other letters, we would send each other crochet items. I gave her a crochet hat as a gift an she quickly figured out how to make a hat on her own!
Q: That is so special. It sounds like crochet has really offered you some great connection. Is that how it has been helpful to you in dealing with the cancer?
Q: In some way, yes. The cancer left me unable to have children. I use crochet to create something that may live after I have gone. I tried several years of assisted reproductive therapy, during which time I spun the yarn and crafted booties for the little babies I never had. I have two pairs of those booties to a student of mine who was having twins. I have another pair to a friend who had a son. And I saved the last pair for a friend who recently got married and is trying to get pregnant. She is ten years younger than I am and the closest thing I have to a baby sister. I want her baby to have what I wasn’t able to give a child of my own.
So, yes, it connects me to others in a way that will last after I am gone. When I create something, and it is pretty, I feel like some part of me is in that object, and when I am gone, it will still be there. It will let my nieces (and some day grand nieces) know that I was there, that I liked the color green, that I could spin and dye and crochet and knit, and that I loved them enough to make them something. It all helps me feel better about my infertility, and it also helps me when I think about how cancer is probably going to kill me. I know that these threads attach a memory of me to the world, so that I won’t go too far away when I go.
Q: Beautiful. I know that you like to crochet to pass on items to your nieces, but in our conversation, it sounds like you also do a lot of crochet for yourself?
A: Yes. I know for sure that if I decide not to wear the item I made, I won’t feel hurt in any way, so it’s the most healing in that way to crochet something for myself. But I love to crochet items to leave behind for others.
Q: So your craft ties you to the generations before and after you. Do you feel connected to a craft community in your daily life?
A: When I’m actually crocheting, I usually like to work alone. When I’m not, I usually try to screen other people out! That’s time that I get alone to do what I want to be doing, not what anyone else thinks that I should be doing, and I really treasure that!
I have never connected specifically with another group of crocheters, but I do have a group of creative friends, and we always attend the big fiber festivals together. That becomes a girls’ day out. These friends always appreciate my finished objects.
Also, I work as an adjunct at a community college, and sometimes I take lunch with people at work and we spend that time crocheting together. They love the chance to get away from their desks, relax in the adjunct office with me and do something creative. They tend to think of me as “the creative and artistic one”, and that’s been really good for my self-esteem. Adjuncts often feel disconnected and lonely at their colleges and crochet is a way to connect in that setting.
Q: Crochet is wonderful since it is so portable! Where else do you crochet?
A: I crochet on the train heading to and from work. It helps me remain calm while I cope with the irregularities of New Jersey Transit! And of course, I also crochet at home. Usually I plan an audio book while working. I listened to The Hunger Games trilogy while crocheting hats and neck warmers for my nieces. I listened to the Game of Thrones Pentateuch while I spun the yarn for and crocheted the warm winter gear I have for myself. I love that crochet is something I can do for others or just for me.
Q: Do you enjoy making winter projects?
A: Yes, when I need to feel like I can create something that matters, I need to make something that will keep someone warm and dry for awhile!
Q: What else do you like making?
A: A variety of things. I like smaller projects because I like the accomplishment of completing something. If I need to do something that is truly soothing and repetitive then I spin the yarn I’m going to use.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit more about your spinning?
A: I have an angora bunny, Feste, who is a never-ending supply of fiber! That process, of taking the fiber from the bunny to my spindle, from my spindle to the hook; it helps ground me in the present and gives me a sense of connection to the moment.
Q: That sounds like mindfulness in action!
A: Yes. Not unnaturally, after the cancer. I have had depression, and I have used mindfulness to help break the cycle of downward spiraling thoughts that can feed that depression. I used to be in therapy but I really couldn’t afford to keep going; fiber arts are my therapy now. I use my crochet to be present in the moment, to focus my senses on the here and now – not on the past (cancer, mistakes, general awfulness) or the future – (cancer, loneliness, general awfulness).
Q: What a great tool! What would you say is the number one reason that you crochet?
A: To create all of the things that my mind makes up!
Photo credit: Candidly Kate Images