Photo by Katie Burkholder.

Crochet and Womanhood

“Like every woman on the planet, I am descended from women who created things of use and beauty with their hands.” 

—Carol Christ, 

“Weaving the Fabric of Our Lives”

While I am not and have never been particularly interested in sports, I am a big hobbyist. In this year’s spring arts issue, I wrote an editorial about my increased creativity this year and my addiction to crochet. In the month since writing that, my love for crochet has only deepened. It’s meditative, it’s relatively inexpensive (especially if you can thrift your yarn), and it has helped counteract the desire for instant gratification fostered by our culture’s obsession with social media, streaming, and two-day shipping. It is an activity that has brought sweet slowness into my life and has grown beyond hobby territory into a spiritual, ancestral practice.

My late grandmother was an incredibly talented fiber artist who worked primarily with knitting and embroidery. She died when I was 20, only on the cusp of womanhood, and so much of the grief I still feel about her death comes from the fact that she would never get to see the woman I would become. With two dead grandmothers and a fraught relationship with my own mother, it is not often I get to feel connected to a matriarch, an older woman I can look up to and trust. I deeply wish that I could’ve shared fiber art with my grandmother while she was alive, but every time I crochet or sew, I feel connected, not only to her, but also to a long line of women I never knew.

Textile practices like crochet, knitting, embroidery, quilting, lacework, and sewing have long been considered “women’s work,” due to the historical confinement of women to domestic spaces and the accessibility of these skills intrinsic to those spaces. Because of this association with womanhood, they have been relegated to, in the words of Julia Halperin for the New York Times, “a cousin to so-called real art, trapped in the liminal space between high art — painting, sculpture and, increasingly, conceptual art — and its ignoble cousin, craft.”

So many of these textile practices are intricate and delicate, requiring focus, presence, intentionality, and artistry, and engaging in them feels so distinctly, divinely feminine. It feels like my birthright as a woman, and that is such a fulfilling feeling as someone who feels disconnected from a lineage of femininity. Because I am not yet at the skill level to create my own patterns, it is also a cooperative practice in which I follow beautiful patterns created largely by other women, customizing and changing them to fit my particular tools or desires. It has a rhythm to it that’s addictive, and at the end, I have a piece that feels so made of me, covered in my fingerprints, shaped by my hands, and born of that divine rhythm.

While she is no longer here, through crochet I can feel my grandmother and every woman before her guiding my hands and holding me in the loving embrace of femininity.