stitch by stitch

How crochet connected me to my grandmother and the long line of feminists before me


By Lauren Kaminski


Time would completely slow down. Every time I looked at my phone, hours had gone by and the wool that rested on my lap continued to grow. With a single string, my hands moved like they were part of a machine. Insert hook into the second chain, yarn over, pull through and repeat. Crocheting is so repetitive that it’s easy to let yourself fall into a meditative state — the switch between yellow to orange, like clockwork, while I fastened hundreds of sunflower granny squares for an afghan throw blanket. These colourful creations painted colour on the dull, grey skies of early March.


In 2002, my grandmother Audrey passed away in her sleep the morning after her 65th birthday. She was a life-long knitter, and all over my childhood home my mother displays her lace doilies, pillows and granny-square afghans. I was only two years old when she passed and despite hardly knowing her, I’ve always had a strange connection to her in my mind. I longed to be close to her, to have the connection of a grandmother. So in elementary school I taught myself how to knit using YouTube. As I grew older, I would only knit seasonally to make the odd scarf or pair of socks as a present. Without the knitter’s eye of my grandmother to appreciate the detail of my projects, I grew to rarely pick up the needles.


Knitting and crochet are often stereotyped as elder domesticity. Admittedly, for most of my life and into my teenage years, I believed this too. It wasn’t until I scoured social media for inspiration and saw that the yarnwork community is far from the cisgendered white grandmother often envisioned. My Instagram feed was flooded with psychedelic matching sets, bohemian-style crochet homegoods and inclusive communities like Black Girl Knit Club that are committed to empowering knitters of colour. These limiting domestic narratives are being flipped on their heads by many creators using this traditional work to empower and rebrand the craft as something for all to wear, enjoy and make.


Amongst the sense of worry at the start of a pandemic, I was fortunately able to find comfort in the slow pace of life. I was no longer working three jobs while commuting from the GTA to Toronto for full-time classes. I had time to myself, moments in the day where boredom was a possibility and I didn’t have a responsibility or deadline to meet.


As an adult, I’ve never succeeded in developing healthy habits. I bite my nails so far down that it’s impossible to even fit a press-on nail. I drink wine in the bath while watching HGTV shows whenever life gets a little too hard. Some may assume an outlet like journaling my thoughts would universally fit my needs as a writer, but frankly, I find it tedious to write my thoughts down when I can just think them. I've failed at every positive outlet that self-help books recommend — that is, until both boredom and a sense of nostalgia from being stuck in my childhood home prompted me to google "crochet for beginners."


The first project I completed was an Amigurumi baby Yoda plush doll. He was, of course, lime green with the Star Wars signature huge ears and brown onesie. Albeit, baby Yoda wasn’t my best work. The five inch tall Star Wars character looks a bit wonky sitting on my desk today, with some of the lime yarn poking out of his toes from not knowing how to weave in my ends. But, at the time of his creation, he was flawless — the apple of my eye. It wasn’t just this feeling of creating a physical article out of a single ball of yarn that fueled me, or it being the first meditative and anxiety-calming tool that actually worked for me. I felt there was something more to crochet than just a yarn and hook, and I longed to submerge myself in the craft entirely. I wasn’t aware of the trend’s history and cultural significance when I created this first Amigurumi project, but the genre of cute characters had profound beginnings.


In the 1970s, Amigurumi rose to popularity in Japan when a subculture built on Kawaii products was developing. I didn't consider that there was more to yarn work crafts than just the blankets and sweaters I used to make. There was something deeper that I was beginning to see as I scrolled through Pinterest boards hunting for my next project.


Valuing yarn work crafts is a feminist act in itself, as the belittling of knitting or crochet links to a history of women’s activities and work being inferior to men’s work. I could see how the yarn community lifts and empowers creators, especially those who identify as women, to defy the domestic, grandmotherly stereotypes and make profit off of something once seen merely as house work for wives. I wanted to be a part of the community again after seeing it in this new light. It’s an act of rebellion for some to take up something once so wrapped up in femininity and make it whatever you want it to be.


Crochet has connected me to the feminists before me and to the long line of practices centered around women. It’s connected me to my grandmother in a new way. I no longer wish that she was the one who taught me my first single crochet stitch, but rather I wish she was here to see all I’ve made with her in mind. Since becoming a crocheter, I feel a part of something bigger with every stitch. It’s a portable, physical act of rebellion — one that doesn’t take its past too seriously and lets anyone be able to take part in. It’s a community my grandmother was a part of and a community I can be the first to pass down to my children.