My granddaughter, Kate, decided she wanted to learn how to crochet. She found a project that she wanted to make, and she and her dad, my son Joss, struggled to understand the directions. They couldn’t get past the first row.
Finally Kate said; “Dad, I think Grandma Hamel is going to have to teach me how to do this. You’re just no good at it.”
So I got a call from my son.
It happened to be right around Kate’s 11th birthday, which she shares with her great-grandmother; my mom. We quickly planned a trip and drove from Arizona to California, yarn and hooks in hand, to teach Kate (and her little sister, Reagan), to crochet.
On the drive out, I had time to reflect on my own experience learning to crochet, when my Grandma Russell taught me at around 10 or 11. I remember struggling, fumbling, tying yarn in knots (unintentionally), and wondering why anyone would enjoy this awful task. But every time I visited, there was Grandma Russell, crocheting blankets and scarves and wonderful things in bright colors, and calmly humming away while her fingers did these magical things. I was hooked. (No pun intended.)
So I struggled, fumbled, tied yarn in knots, made mistakes and tore out entire rows of work… and one day… it clicked.
I smiled as Mom and I now drove through the endless desert towards Los Angeles, thinking how I was now passing this great craft down to my sweet Kate. I hoped she wouldn’t get too frustrated. I hoped she would carry it with her all her life, like I had, and enjoy the wonderful things she would learn to create with this funny, sometimes forgotten technique. And I laughed at how it had skipped generations in my family – from grandmother to granddaughter.
We arrived in the evening and couldn’t start our project until the morning, but Kate shared a picture with me and I worried that she had chosen a very difficult pattern to learn. But we would master it, I told her. And for her birthday I gave her a pretty flowered carrying case filled with different colored yarns, a leather case with crochet hooks of all sizes, and a collection of books with simpler patterns in them, and directions on how to master different stitches. We would begin her axolotl doll in the morning.
For those who don’t know what an axolotl is…. it is a neotenic salamander. It looks like this:
Thursday morning I arrived at my son’s house and Kate was ready to go. She tore through her birthday gifts, thanked us profusely, then grabbed her yarn and hooks and got down to business.
I showed her how the beginning ring was made. She struggled and fumbled and tied the yarn in knots, and sighed a few exasperated sighs and moaned a few frustrated moans, and tore out a few mismatched rows. But we stuck with it.
Reagan, who is 7, also wanted to learn. “Grama,” she would say as Kate and I were in deep concentration over a row of stitches, “show me. How do I start?”
I would quickly try to help Reagan get something started, and then focus back on Kate’s growing doll head. “This row says to make two single crochet stitches in each stitch around,” I would translate from the cryptic letters on the directions. Kate would nod. I would demonstrate. She would take the soft round piece of stitched material from my hands and work slowly to recreate what I had shown her.
“Grama,” Reagan would say, “look what I did!” Proudly she would hold up a row of somewhat uneven looking loops and knots, and I would take it in my hands and try to decode the work.
“How did you do this, Reagan?” I would ask, and she would giggle. “It looks like a brain-teaser, are you a magician?” For the rest of the day Reagan was our magician. She had magical powers and could tangle yarn in ways that made it impossible to detangle.
At some point in the afternoon, I showed Kate how to do the next row. “See?,” I said. “It is one single crochet in the first stitch, then two single crochets in the next, then one, then two, and so on, all the way around.” She nodded and took the work, concentrating intently on her doll.
“Grama…” Reagan said, and held out a swatch of loops and stitches and knots and string.
“Wow, Reagan,” I said. “That looks pretty impressive. Let me see if I can decipher it.” And Reagan and I began to untie and unknot, and giggle, and talk about her magical powers.
“Grama, I’m done with this row,” said Kate. I turned and took the piece of her doll in my hands and looked at the stitches. They were perfect. Even, and straight – not a single mistake.
“Oh my gosh, Kate,” I said to her. “I think you’ve got it!”
“I think so too, Grama,” she said. “It just sort of clicked.”
And I was her age again. Sitting next to my Grandma Russell. Giggling and smiling and showing off my perfect stitches.
Grandchildren have the most amazing magical powers.
Last week I got a photo of Kate’s axolotl – all finished, stuffed and ready to display:
Under the photo she had texted to me: “Look; I finished!!!!”
This week I got a card from her in the mail. It said she has been reading the books I gave her and trying some of the things in them, and she thinks she is getting better. She also asked for more lessons.
Yep – the tradition has been passed down again. She’s hooked.