Years ago, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, I found myself at Michaels with a cart full of yarn. A doorbuster sale inspired me to arrive early with plans to replenish my dwindling stash. The line, as expected, was long.
“What are you making?” I asked the gentleman next to me, both out of curiosity and to pass the time.
He smiled, shifting around the skeins of wool in the cradle of his arms. “An afghan, a surprise for my wife’s birthday on Sunday.”
“Lovely — also ambitious,” I remarked, before wondering aloud how he’d learned to crochet. “From my grandmother,” he told me. By teaching her rambunctious grandson to make things with his hands, she nurtured his ability to remain in one place — and out of trouble — for longer stretches of time.
As we moved forward in line, he asked how I learned and what I had planned for the wool in my cart. I said that a friend taught me ages ago, and that I hadn’t settled on anything specific yet for the stash I was buying. Like any yarn buff, he understood what I meant by just wanting to have the skeins around.
Now, whenever I sit down to crochet, I think of that Michaels encounter. My husband calls me a little mouse because I am so often scuttling to and fro. But crochet slows me down, anchors me, stops time, and keeps me in place for a while, focusing on the here and now with pretty and useful results.
Crochet has been proven to divert a worried mind as well. According to the Craft Yarn Council, 85 percent of knitters and crocheters experience reduced stress while they work. For me, the process feels a lot like prayer. When crocheting an afghan, I usually get to repeat a pattern often enough to memorize the language of its stitches. It hums along, becoming a mantra with its own gentle melody, something akin to the poetry of the Psalms I try to recite daily.
And yet, I hardly crocheted after 2020 began. Instead of finding comfort from the news in my stitching, the chaotic trajectory of the current calendar year kept me from focusing on stitching at all. It was only back in March, when I came upon the pattern for a beautiful, though complicated, afghan, that I decided it was time to pick up my hook.
It offered none of the comforts I treasure in an afghan pattern. It would require me to master several new stitches that would change — along with the yarn in shades of grey, green, and blue — with each of the blanket’s 50 rows. There would likely be more colorful pronouncements than prayers on my tongue. And yet, the challenge offered most of the appeal.
Starting a project usually feels like meeting a new friend with whom I find a quick intimacy. But not this time. Though I thrilled in choosing the yarn and soon settled down to stitch, I struggled from the beginning. The creative enthusiasm that often compels me to ditch household chores or delay making dinner to crochet instead just wasn’t there. I managed only a few rows at a time, though they somehow added up when I wasn’t counting. I was startled to discover it was nearly done.
I worked three rows while on hold for an hour with Old Navy customer service late on a Thursday evening. I hoped to complete the afghan the next morning, allowing me to lay down my hook and put away the remaining bits of yarn in time to embrace the best Shabbat has to offer: the chance to disconnect, to rest from the need to run and make and accomplish, and to simply breathe.
The last two rows I finished with my Daf Yomi podcast playing in the background on Friday. I paused only once, in wonder, when the discussion on Talmud Shabbat 98 turned to the intricacies of weaving the tapestries that covered the mishkan, tabernacle, in the desert. It was handiwork that ceased on Shabbat, the artisans resting just as God Himself did after He created the world.
I’m already writing about the afghan and I haven’t even woven in the loose ends of yarn. I wish I could show it to you. As with childbirth, I’ve already forgotten the painful parts of the process and am focused solely on the baby in my arms. I’m even inspired to make another one. Something easier, more comforting, something with a pattern that’s more like a prayer.
Merri Ukraincik of Edison, N.J., is a regular contributor to NJJN. Follow her at merriukraincik.com.