When I was five years old, Mom gave me a pink plastic crochet hook and a ball of yarn, and showed me how to crochet a chain stitch. I sat quietly for many an hour repeating the stitch until I had a chain that seemed like a mile long. Mom showed me how to wrap the chain of uneven loops into a ball. I loved watching that ball grow. When I was a bit older, she taught me the single and double crochet stitches — all I needed to create gifts of scarves and afghans for friends and family.
I left my crochet hook behind when I moved into my first apartment as school and work, not to mention time with my then-boyfriend-now-husband, took precedence over needlework of any kind.
Ten years after falling in love with that boyfriend and married five years, I gave birth to our daughter. As a baby gift, his aunt crocheted a granny square afghan in soft pastels bordered in white, which was instantly my favorite gift. I’d carefully tuck it around Francesca in her stroller before we set out on our daily walks through the neighborhood in the colder months.
Not a day passed with her blanket protecting her, that shopkeepers and neighbors commented on the beautiful handiwork, asking if I’d made it. Each conversation of the uniqueness of handmade gifts, stirred my longing to once again create. As that first winter gave way to spring, I reluctantly put the blanket away, with thoughts of my daughter being wrapped in something made with love.
It was the cover photo of a toddler in a crocheted dress on a needlework magazine at the supermarket checkout that finally convinced me to recover my crochet skills. I bought that magazine, and even though I’d never made anything so complex, I was determined to make this dress in time for Francesca’s first Easter outfit that year. And I did –stitching on the last button as my husband hid the Easter eggs.
In the twenty-five years since, I’ve created items for both Francesca and her younger brother, Zack, challenging myself by learning new stitches or techniques with each piece. (I even crocheted our son’s christening gown,and won my first and only blue ribbon at the county fair!) I learned to knit along the way, too, as my children’s requests were not always for crocheted pieces. I often adapted garments seen in fashion magazines — from a shawl worn by Jennifer Lopez in Glamour, or a slouchy hat worn by a friend in my son’s yoga class that she had made herself.
Both Francesca and Zack are now studying tribal fusion belly dance, which uses a lot of specialty handcrafted costuming, including panel skirts and hip scarves that I have or will stitch for them.
This past October Francesca debuted in Montreal’s Danse Macabre wearing gauntlets that I crocheted. She told me that knowing she was wearing something I’d created for her not only calmed her nerves, but connected her with me so she wouldn’t feel alone on stage.
She said she would dance her first dance for me.
Watching Francesca step onto that stage as I sat in dark of the audience, I realized that while I had become her muse for that night, she was no longer the little girl in need of protection from the elements, but a powerful young woman stepping into her artistic expression.
(Heartfelt thanks to Peter Paradise Michaels for allowing me to include his photograph in this post. Peter, you have truly captured Francesca’s essence!)