CULTURE

Unraveling my crochet-shaped grief

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Crochet is enjoying a steady resurgence; no longer relegated as an old-fashioned textile, it’s been seen on the runways of Loewe, Isabel Marant, and Altuzarra since last year, and worn by K-pop idols like Red Velvet’s Joy and EXO’s Kyungsoo in their recent comebacks. Photo courtesy of the author

Home economics used to be the bane of my existence. At the start of every school year, our parents were required to purchase a crafting kit that we would have to make in class. In freshman year of high school, we had to get two crochet mercerized yarns and a three-millimeter hook. I was excited and nervous at first, but when we finally took it up to make our own crochet pouches, I quickly became frustrated. I got little help from our instructor — who, to be fair, was handling a class of more than 40 students — and my classmates were too busy flailing over their own projects to attend to me.

For the uninitiated, crochet is a form of textile-making in which a single hook is used to interlock yarn or thread to form lace-like patterns. Though the origins of the word “crochet” comes from Old French, research suggests that its historical threads extend past its 17th century European origins. Crochet may have actually come from ancient Chinese needlework, which spread through parts of Asia (countries like Turkey and India, well under the scope of the Silk Road) then eventually reached Europe. In the last few centuries, crochet became a hobby most associated with elderly women who exude a certain joie de vivre, its kitschiness and handmade quality embodying the spirit of eccentricism that crochetiers also have.

Today, owing to the rise of the cottagecore aesthetic, crochet is enjoying a steady resurgence; no longer relegated as an old-fashioned textile, it’s been seen on the runways of Loewe, Isabel Marant, and Altuzarra since last year, and worn by K-pop idols like Red Velvet’s Joy and EXO’s Kyungsoo in their recent comebacks. Locally, small brands like Ilyang Ilyang and Dagupan-based Maison Gantsilyo are among the growing online businesses that make custom crochet clothing and accessories. Crochet has become cool again.

But teenage me didn’t have cool points to worry about. I was busy fighting for my life, armed with nothing but an unwieldy hook and yarn. On the day that we had to show our work, many of my classmates came to school with beautiful, intricate pieces. Pouches with drawstrings, pouches done with scalloped edges… things that my humble chain and single crochet capabilities could have never conceived. I could only show my teacher a half-done pouch that was so small and narrow, she asked me what on earth I could possibly fit in it. (Two pens, it turns out.)

She gave me a barely passing mark after I wouldn’t stop asking her to give me a decent grade because I tried, I really did try. We never picked up crochet after that school year, but even then I was bullheaded enough to get better. So I turned to the only person who might just give me a fighting chance: my grandma Belen. When it came to any and all practical crafts, she was the one voice I trusted. Sewing was her forte, but she tried to impart everything she knew about crochet to me. I would later on learn that there are many ways to hold your hook and yarn; until today, the grip I use was the very same one I learned from her. When she knew that she had already shared with me her basic knowledge of crochet, she bought me a book to learn from. While I appreciated the effort, I ultimately preferred sewing because I had a lot more to learn from my grandma’s practical tutelage.

I long said goodbye to crochet, but it found me again in one of the lowest points of my life. Early this year, my grandma left us after a brief battle with terminal illness. Our goodbye was long but painfully virtual — a six-hour Zoom call with our entire family where we had no choice but to extend our hands to the screen, hoping that our voices could carry on the love we wanted to express. Desperate to hold onto something tangible, I tried to catalogue everything of hers that I had: her old clothes, her sewing machine, her stubbornness. I knew that I was lucky in a way that my younger cousins were not; I had years of time with my grandma, and she passed onto me a lot of wisdom that I felt was my responsibility to share with them. That’s when I remembered crochet. But then I also remembered that I was never actually good at it.

Desperate to hold onto something tangible, I tried to catalogue everything of hers that I had: her old clothes, her sewing machine, her stubbornness. I knew that I was lucky in a way that my younger cousins were not; I had years of time with my grandma, and she passed onto me a lot of wisdom that I felt was my responsibility to share with them

Months after her passing, I moved to the home that she shared with my grandpa for decades — “The party house,” declared my two other cousins who also live here. It felt like the right time to pick up crochet again, so I purchased a beginner’s set online that included a few rolls of yarn, a set of hooks, and some stitch markers. With the help of a few Youtube tutorials, I started working on a beginner-friendly pattern for a camisole, which I figured would be easy enough to follow. It’s literally a rectangle and two strings. To quote one of the greatest legal minds of our time, “What, like it’s hard?”

In crochet, counting one’s stitches is the most basic thing you have to do, but I was not only bad at home economics, I was never good at math either. I kept wondering why my work was gradually getting smaller or why my tension seemed to be off. (Turns out, watching “Attack on Titan” or listening to “The Cutting Room Floor” episode with Leandra Medine made my stitches too tight.) The internet can only truly provide you with inferences as to what the problem with your work really is, and so I longed for the advice of the one person who’d tell it to me straight.

When it came to any and all practical crafts, my grandma Belen was the one voice I trusted. Sewing was her forte, but she tried to impart everything she knew about crochet to me. Photo courtesy of the author

While she was no longer here to correct me, she was still everywhere. On my latest attempt at said camisole, I found that the best place to work on my project was in the T.V. room, on the Lazyboy that she’d sit on for hours beside my grandpa. The pillow she uses to ease her lower back pain is still there. It was in this part of the house that I found peace in the act of steady repetition. The meditative counting of stitches before starting a new row felt like moving through the beads of the rosary. Every once in a while, I’d pause to admire my growing work, my hand gently running up and down to feel the soft grooves in the work. I felt proud of what I’ve made, how one roll of deep teal yarn slowly unraveled and formed into something new. It was still yarn, but it was yarn that was set to live a different life.

A few days ago, my grandma appeared in my dreams. In it, she was sitting in the T.V. room, on the very same Lazyboy that I would spend days crocheting in. When I revealed this to my cousins-slash-housemates, my cousin Marco revealed that he, too, had a dream of her the night before. In his dream we were out of town, and she was happily cooking a meal while everyone was at the swimming pool. That afternoon, grandma’s best friend and casino partner called us on the landline out of the blue, and she told my cousin Ysabel that she can’t quite remember why she called, just that she did.

I think she’s been hinting at us to pay her a visit at the cemetery, perhaps wondering if we’ve forgotten about her. But we haven’t. I haven’t. All she needs to do is to look at the hundreds upon hundreds of half double crochet stitches that I’ve been laboring over every day since I moved to her house. The proof is in the work. I miss her so much.