Last year during a particularly cold winter day, as I curled up with the afghan my mother had made for me about forty years ago, I had a sudden urge to make a blanket for each of my children.
At the time, the book The Year of Living Danishly was all the rage, which encouraged us to hunker down into blankets and pillows with candles burning nearby. I imagined having an afghan in progress draped over me all winter was a wonderful way to get through another period of cold.
I had crocheted afghans and dishcloths before, but it had been at least a decade since I had done that. I wasn’t sure if my hands would remember what to do. Feeling a little like I had gotten in way over my head, I sheepishly walked into our neighbourhood Michaels store, heading for the yarn section.
The first thing I did was find a how-to book with “easy” ripple afghan patterns. I managed to find a good book and selected a pattern to use for my boys. Thankfully a lovely woman could see my confusion with knowing what kind of yarn and hook to get and spent time explaining that to me. A short time later I walked out of the store with a huge bag with enough yarn to make two full-sized afghans. I was committed!
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it wasn’t terribly hard to follow the pattern. There were links to youtube videos with really clear how-tos of each of the stitches and I could watch those all I wanted in order to understand what I needed to do. There are also many articles online that have diagrams and clear explanations of each of the different kinds of stitches. I also had a pattern, which my mom had written out for me back in 1991. I didn't use this one for my boy's afghans, but will certainly use it in the future.
After a short time, I was able to remember the pattern and could take the afghan out of my house to work on during my kid’s soccer practices. Often I’d look up to see several people watching me, smiling. I’d smile back, which usually invited them to come ask me about what I was doing. It was a nice way to chat with the people around me.
The whole process of getting started and launching into the project was actually much less stressful than I was expecting it to be. As I carried on with these two afghans, I discovered something lovely: I was feeling relaxed as I got the hang of it. Taking an hour to sit down with my crocheting was becoming my new meditation.
My favourite side benefit was that I was using the afghans as my new “when/ then” with the kids! This was my new line: “Sure! I can definitely help you when I finish this row. You know I can’t leave it in the middle – have to go to the end.” And as it turned out, by the time I finished a row, they usually had sorted out whatever they had asked me to get up to help them with. Soon enough, my children started seeing that I was working on their afghans then LEFT ME ALONE!
While making the two afghans last year, an editor from The New York Times parenting blog who I’m Facebook friends with started posting all her knitting projects online followed by this revelation: There are many positive health benefits to crocheting and knitting. I nodded in agreement as I read through their post on the topic – I could feel the benefits in my bones and my mind. Crocheting gives me an opportunity to sit with my thoughts. I’ve worked out a lot of big feelings and challenges with a hook and yarn in my hand.
According to the author, “Once you get beyond the initial learning curve, knitting and crocheting can lower heart rate and blood pressure and reduce harmful blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol.” These types of crafts also can improve our moods and stave off brain functioning decline as we age.
Of course, at the end of a project, in addition to all of the positive health benefits, you have something to snuggle with, wear, or give to someone you love. I like meditating and feel the benefits of that, and love that crocheting gives me the same positive effects of meditating but with a blanket at the end of it.
If you are interested in trying crocheting or knitting but aren’t sure where to start, I suggest seeking out a local craft store or crafting group. Most cities have weekly groups where experienced crafters are very happy to help beginners. I have relied on the staff of our local Michael’s store as well as the people standing in those aisles! I have to say that I do love the support and camaraderie of experienced crafters taking a newbie under his or her wing.
I did finish the afghans for my boys and this year I'm making another two for my nieces. My children sleep with theirs every night and take them along on all our road trips. Each has told me how special their afghans are and that they feel more comforted at night having them with them.