My life in squares

I have always been jealous of people with hobbies. People who are naturally talented at something and can share it with others; spend their time creating things or achieving things whilst gaining satisfaction from the process. This has never been me – as my Mum once said, my greatest talent is my ‘enthusiasm’.

This is probably true: I could get enthusiastic about hanging washing on the line if I wanted to.

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with knitting. I learnt when I was in the Brownies and took it up again when I was in Sixth Form. I have always liked the idea of creating, and used to spend the time between going to bed and falling asleep dreaming up ideas of what I could knit for the people in my family. However, I was never actually that good at it – I dropped stitches like it was going out of fashion, and I couldn’t think of anything worse than picking them up again. I also didn’t enjoy the incessant counting, and I really, really despised the knit stitch.

Perversely, this does not fit. Knitting should be my perfect hobby: I love wool. I really, really love wool. I love the texture and the colours and the way each ball is wound differently. I like the feeling of rolling it between and winding it around my fingers. I like it when I order it from fancy online shops and it comes in a mesh bag, presented as though someone has selected it carefully before wrapping it and sending it on its way.

I always imagined that – as I am a terribly bad knitter – my aptitude for crocheting would be somewhat non-existent. For the uninformed, crocheting is a big thing on mental health inpatient wards. I’m not sure why. And so, when I was admitted to hospital, people asked me repeatedly whether I could crochet.

To cut a long story short, I was in hospital for six months before I caved. My gorgeous, lovely, funny friend Rosie taught me how. We used to watch a film every evening in my room on a huge TV which we had purloined from the communal Day Room and she, patiently, sat by me whilst I found the right holes to dip and hook into and tangled myself in knots. I learnt to crochet to Amy Winehouse’s life story and a very bizarre film about fainting lesbians in a boarding school.

Two years on and I still wouldn’t call myself an expert. I guess, if there is any message in today’s ramblings, it is that patience is important. Allowing yourself time to learn and time to practise and time to get it right is important. When I learnt to knit, I was always desperate to learn the next stitch; to try the next project; to be able to follow patterns which were ever more complicated than the last. I have been slow to learn to crochet: I made simple, square blankets for the first two years, practising the basic stitch until I could do it with my eyes closed. I experimented with changing colour until I was comfortable with that. It wasn’t until the recent Easter holidays that I challenged myself to do something more complex, and even then I hadn’t made myself stumble through a pattern I didn’t really understand.

My Easter blanket consisted of ninety-six squares, and took me a month to make. During that time, I learnt three new stitches and taught myself to sew in ends and sew together squares for the first time ever. I realised that, when knitting, I had never learned to sew in my ends, but it never struck me that this was a problem, even though I might argue that this is the foundation of semi-decent yarn projects. I finally taught myself to read a pattern a few days ago, but – again –  I am by no means proficient.

I was going to write about ‘journeys’ this week – I have been re-discovering Queenie Hennessey and Harold Fry of late, and I keep thinking about whose journey was greater – but I couldn’t tie the words together in the correct way. I found over and over again that I had nothing to say and was becoming increasingly frustrated about my ‘journey’ (for want of a less navel-gazing phrase) seemingly slowing almost to a halt.

Stick to what you know and write about it is what Mrs Goldsmith told me to do, a lot of years ago now. And, despite not being a world expert, crocheting is what I know. Crocheting is the comfortable, safe hiding place away from the rest of life. Anxiety, as a rule, is an illness which spurs you on in fast, jerking movements. The flow and the steady pace of the dipping and winding and hooking and repeating makes me move differently; sit differently; think differently. It has taught me to slow down and to practise for as long as it takes and that, eventually, it will be right; that I can tangle my life into knots and unpick it again; it has taught me that beautiful things can be made from perseverance, and it has given me space to think and a hobby to call my own.

But, perhaps most importantly, it has taught me that it isn’t always about the journey. Maybe that’s why I had nothing to say when I was trying to write earlier in the week. Maybe it’s because sometimes the waiting and practising is just as important as change and progression.

And that’s OK.

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