This was a question a number of people asked after my mother died. But I wasn’t. I hadn’t. In fact I couldn’t remember dreaming about anything or anyone, until this past week. Maybe it was because it was the first Thanksgiving since she died. Maybe it’s because her birthday fell on Thanksgiving every 7 years and so Thanksgiving always reminds me of her or because this was her first birthday that went uncelebrated. This past Saturday she would have been 93 years old.
When we were in Jordan, just a few weeks ago, (it seems like months already) our guide told us that the life expectancy there was mid seventies. He then asked if I was considered old in the US. “It depends upon who you ask,” I joked. “How about you?” I asked.
“I don’t feel old, until I look in the mirror,” he replied. Which was just the sort of thing my mother would have said. We laughed about that.
“Aging isn’t for the faint of heart,” my mother used to say. She also was known to say, “Aging sucks.”
But in my dreams she isn’t old. She can still speak. She has shoulder length hair and in my dream last night she was wearing an emerald green bikini, of all things, with a cream colored, open lacey top that I’d crocheted for her. Did I mention that I’m teaching myself to crochet? I’m no where near good enough to make such a thing for anyone, let alone as a gift for someone I love, but in my dream, she looked amazing and youthful and the crocheted top looked pretty fabulous as well!
I remember thinking, “I want to look like her when I’m her age,” but in the dream I said nothing and instead just told her how much I loved her. She gave me one of her magnificent smiles and then began talking to someone else in the room. I almost said something about how happy I was that she was wearing the top I’d crocheted her, but didn’t want to interrupt her conversation with this other person. Secretly, I was thrilled. After all I only just began trying to crochet in the last few weeks. Wearing that crocheted top that I’d made for her was so typical of my mother. She was a huge supporter of all my various passions, particularly when it came to making things.
It was my mother who taught me to knit and as she was right handed, (I’m left handed) I learned to knit right handed as well. I’ve often wondered if I should try to reteach myself to knit left handed, but then I think, “Why?” Besides I’m closer to the end than I am to the beginning of life, why jostle the waters? And I knit pretty quickly right handed, so there doesn’t seem to be much point. And, added plus, any instructions and videos are always written for right handers.
My mother would have approved of my dream, though I don’t think she cared for the color emerald green, but even so, it would have made her laugh. She loved to laugh. So today, I will remember her laughing and am grateful to have my dreams of her when she was still able to speak, when she was still able to move about easily and painlessly, when she was happy.
“Crafts” have occupied a large part of my life. I was fifteen years old when I knitted my first sweater. My mother taught me to knit when I was so young my fingers had trouble wrapping the yarn around them. I didn’t realize it then, but being left-handed certainly must have made it more difficult for me to learn, yet learn I did, and to this day I knit as a right handed person does. It was the beginning of a love affair. When I was in my twenties I had a brief moment when I was the editor of the “How To Knit” page in Elle Magazine.
My mother also taught me to do embroidery and sewing, this was in the days when knitting and fabric shops were as abundant as Starbucks. It was a special occasion when my mother would drive me to San Francisco so we could visit Britex, which carried the most luxurious silks and fabrics from all over the world. When I moved to New York City there was a little knitting shop on Sixth Avenue in the village that had hand dyed and spun specialty yarns. They were out of my price range as I was a student on a budget, but I would wander into that shop and just smell the wool and gaze at the beautiful colors, coveting the skeins that hung like candy along the walls.
My father, born and raised in Paris, used to do Petit Point, at least this is what he called it, though in fact I believe he was doing what in America we call needlepoint. It was my father who taught me how to do basket weave needle point so the back of the tapestry resembled a basket weave, and was not as prone to warping the fabric and lay flatter or so he insisted. He looked down upon those who did their needlepoint by going back and forth horizontally. I have a pillow he made for me with the letter A prominently displayed in the center, it’s tattered back and edges giving clues to how old it now is.
When I came to New York City it was because I’d been accepted to Parsons School of Design. My love of fabrics, sewing, knitting and all things crafts-related propelled me into the world of fashion design. It was an uneasy alliance and ultimately one I could not reconcile. I learned early on that anything “Crafts” related was the sullied, unkept cousin to “high fashion.” Crafts were what housewives did, it wasn’t the sort of thing an “artist” indulged in. So the thing I loved most, creating things by hand, became the thing I felt ashamed of. The world of fashion and the designers whose work hung on exquisitely tall and impossibly thin models, exemplified all that I wasn’t. My love of crafts became something I began to hide and even reject. It was “woman’s work” and if I was ever to make a career for myself, it was best to put those “childish pursuits” behind me.
“Craft” has begun to get its well deserved recognition and I couldn’t be happier. It is no coincidence that female artists in general are generating more interest in museums and galleries. Women’s work finally elevated to more prominence in a male dominated world is as it should be. “Craft” and all that it encompasses is yet another way we have been taught to undermine, under value and even ridicule work done by, mostly, women. We have a lot further to go, but it is wonderful to see that beginning to change!
Last May we pulled our daughter, Emma from school and began homeschooling or non-schooling or… I’ve written more about all of this on the other blog, the one I share with my daughter: Emma’s Hope Book. One of the many benefits of homeschooling, aside from the huge relief and plummeting stress level, is that we get to explore, together and separately. The beauty in exploring is that the goal is to be curious and discover. There’s no right or wrong and there’s tremendous comfort in that. The entire process of learning becomes one of joy and experimentation without the burden or stress of feeling one should know something before having learned it.
So it was, some eight months ago when I sat down with Emma and asked her what she was interested in learning about. She typed that she wanted to learn German and take a ceramics class among a number of other things. So we bought Rosetta Stone for German and Emma began taking pottery lessons at a nearby ceramics studio. Her teacher, seeing my obvious excitement and interest, asked if I might like to make some things too. I eagerly said, “Yes, please!”
Learning anything new is full of experimenting, exploring, tweaking, practicing and refining techniques learned. To dive into something you’ve never done before can be daunting, but only if you are comparing your work to another’s. Particularly crushing is if you expect you will be able to produce something that is of similar expertise as someone who has been studying and refining their technique for decades. The exhilaration comes with the process of learning, practicing and improving. But so often we are not taught that this process is wonderful at all. In fact, we are taught that it is hard work and the end product, only produced after years of practice and toil, is all that is of value. Everything else pales in comparison.
This cereal bowl that Emma made for me is perfect for walking while eating. It has an indentation that perfectly fits one’s thumb while cupping the bowl in your palm. Why hasn’t anyone designed a bowl like this? I’ve never seen one before, but oh, how I love it. This is my new, favorite bowl.
My favorite cereal bowl made for me by Emma.
The platter below? “It matches” was what Emma typed in reply to my exclamation that I thought it perfect for serving cheese and crackers or maybe a brioche en croute with fresh baguette.
This bowl that Emma made used cookie cutters and then she painted after joining all the shapes.
An Autumnal Bowl
A few months ago, or maybe it was years, (this is an aspect of getting older, the years feel like months, yet another example of that saying people tell you when you first become a parent – the days are long, the years are short) I asked Emma if she had any interest in learning to knit. She said she did, and as I love knitting (I wrote about some of that “here“) and used to design knitwear, I thought we’d start with something simple, like a scarf. Emma chose a light blue yarn. After a couple of tries, she lost interest and so I began making a long scarf using an alternating knit 2, purl 2 pattern. I rarely use knitting patterns or cooking recipes for that matter, but that’s another post. Anyway the scarf began like this.
Light blue scarf in alternating Knit 2, Purl 2 pattern with the beginning of a navy blue chenille infinity scarf in the background.
The finished scarf ended up measuring 87 inches in length and 11 inches wide. What you don’t see is the other side where I changed my mind after an inch or so and decided to make the pattern more elongated.
The Finished Scarf
This is the edge where I began knitting and decided to change the stitch. Three times. The final stitch pattern is a Knit 2, Purl 2 for three rows and then Purl 2, Knit 2 for 3 rows and repeating for the remainder of the scarf.
I’m hoping Emma will try knitting again sometime, but in the meantime, I’ve started a couple of other projects, one is this deep blue chenille yarn that I’m knitting, using a newly learned brioche stitch, into an infinity scarf for a friend.
The makings of an infinity scarf using a brioche stitch
And finally this is one of my ceramics projects.
Pebbles in a Plate
For those familiar with my jewelry, this may remind you of something else…