The opportunity to embrace coziness doesn’t just give being cold a silver-lining - it makes me yearn for it.
What is it about being cozy? It’s a word with no synonym that fully captures the same essence. Being cozy sparks so much joy in me. No wonder my favorite things are inherently cozy (or cozy adjacent) - tea, beautiful old children’s books, warm chocolate chip cookies and moleskine journals. In this context, crocheting (or some sort of yarn craft) seems like an inevitable hobby for me. Yet, as much as I adore being cozy, it makes me wonder - is it possible to be cozy without having first been cold?
As a kid, Winter was always my favorite season. This worked well since I grew up in a place known for our interminable winters. I love the magic and wonder of snow, but the thing that solidified its “favorite season” status were the cozy perks: open fires, hot chocolate, snuggly slippers and all the wonderful things that would flop if you tried to replicate them in Summer. I love being cozy, but if you don’t start as cold, you just get uncomfortable. It is the process of warming, of moving from discomfort to comfort, that makes coziness bliss. (I’ll note that I don’t share my husband’s love of going from being hot to cool.)
In my early 20s, I encountered a strange change in my relationship with cold and warmth. I developed an idiosyncratic allergic reaction to contact with the cold. If I held a cold can of Coke, my hand would swell up. If my skin was exposed to the cold, I would get hives. When I sat on a freezing bench for my sister’s Homecoming game - yup - not fun. These hives would always make my skin get a rush of warmth. With the Raynaud’s I’m dealing with at the moment, if my hands get cold (which is often) my hands turn red and get a rush of warmth when the circulation corrects itself. These sensations are all unpleasant, but it seems like the cold -> warm progression is never far from my mind.
Living in Sydney - as stunningly wonderful as the weather is - I am always missing the four distinct seasons. Whenever I get the chance, I love going up to enjoy the crisp cool weather in the Blue Mountains. I got to go there this weekend and it was pretty darn close to being magical. Facebook will probably tell the story that we were at 110% awesomeness, but there were a few detractors. We had some cranky kid issues, DH couldn’t come and I got a massive headache as soon as I got home. Aside from the not-so-great things, I was able to relish many cozy things. We drank hot chocolate, we had fires and we even spotted a bit of snow. This meant we could bust out some of our lovely crocheted cozy-makers that we rarely get to use. Mr. 6 sported his beanie, complete with a hedgehog family of four. Miss 8 had her stripey scarf and I donned my Gstaad Messy Bun Beanie. Each item, stemming from our interests and personalities, being worn like a proud hug. It was perfectly pleasant and reminded me of my youthful love of Winter. If e. e. cummings thinks that Spring is when the world is “puddle-wonderful” then Winter is when the world is “cozy-wonderful.” The opportunity to embrace coziness doesn’t just give being cold a silver-lining - it makes me yearn for it. Crocheting turns my cozy-wonderful whims into lasting memories. Both for times of actual cold or in our emotional winters, something handmade packs an extra cozy punch. Long after my hands can’t crochet anymore, I hope the things I make will bring coziness to the lives of others.
My only real concern is that I don’t want these stunning yarns to become permanent features of my stash.
Getting packages delivered always sparks joy, but when it is yarn, my glee knows no bounds. A recent online sale meant I stocked up on all kinds of goodies that will turn into Christmas presents. Color changing lace weight, sturdy cotton, wool and silk blends and extra chunky 100% wool. I have such hope and excitement for each of these, I don’t know where to begin.
Texture alone is a key consideration. Am I in the mood for something drapey and slinky like a silk blend or a fuzzy, spongy wool? Smooth dishcloth cotton or a tough nubby wool? On Saturday I was feeling crummy, so I couldn’t resist the temptation to comfort myself with soft, fuzzy wool. But today, I’m in the mood to feel productive and I think the smooth cotton will help me feel dependable and pragmatic.
Weight is also critical. What does it mean that I opted for 3 different lace weight yarns, 2 worsted and one extra chunky? There’s nothing to compete with the gossamer feel and intricacy of lace weight, but the heft and bulk of chunky is like a yarn security blanket, letting me know it’s never going to let me down and working up at a mile a minute. My mood doesn’t just vacillate from day to day, but hour to hour. There’s so much to discover and enjoy. Most of the yarn doesn’t even have a specific project in mind - just raw, untapped potential.
Also, Murphy’s Law for yarn purchases means that you will only get new yarn when you have a project you need to finish first. I am working with a supple and stunning Australian merino wool for one of my Acorn Button Wraps. I love the yarn and I love the project, but it is taking all of my will power not to put it down to start 10 new projects.
To be honest, I’m just giddy and excited and it is a wonderful place to be. Like the mystery and expectation of infatuation - I’ve got the whole journey in front of me. My only real concern is that I don’t want these stunning yarns to become permanent features of my stash. I don’t want to be a yarn hoarder. Hopefully I can really commit to getting these back out of my house as quickly they’ve gone in. I think I will only feel true joy when I see each ball of potential in it’s used. I want these to undergo a velveteen rabbit transformation - to be used and loved and take on a life of their own.
That’s how it goes when you’re sick. Your body doesn’t discriminate between the “gotta do’s” and the “get to do’s”...
Teens and young adults now expect every device in our life to be multi-function. Having something with a very narrow purpose just feels like a waste.
I don’t think I’m afraid of commitment, but I do struggle to commit to a static option if there is a flexible alternative. For some reason, this is most clearly shown in my furniture choices. We have long been on the hunt for a dining table, but even an extendable table feels like a risk because it may not fit in any dining room. What I truly want is a table that can be small rectangle, large rectangle or big square depending on the space. (If anyone knows of such a table - DM me!)
My couch may be the best example of my love for convertible objects. Other than secondhand couches from Craigslist, we wanted to buy a new couch for the first time when we were living in Minnesota. For months we had channeled Goldilocks and did the obligatory furniture showroom-hopping. To tall. Too deep. Too squishy. Too hard. To ugly (looking at you, La-Z-boy). To posh (needs to withstand the stomach flu test). We kept going around in circles and one day, we stopped by the Lovesac shop in the Mall of America. The dimensions were perfect for our short fam. The cushion covers were machine washable. But the thing that sealed the deal? The sectional was rearrangeable - like Legos for adults. Sectional with chaise lounge? Check! Movie lounger? Check! Sleeper for visiting guests? Check! This couch has turned out to be 100% marvelous and it was one of the few items of furniture that made the move to Australia with us.
We’re also a huge fan of storage benches or storage ottomans. I think something being versatile really is the biggest selling factor for me.
I heard a teacher once talk about why anyone who wears a watch must be over 35. A traditional watch is mono-function. Teens and young adults now expect every device in our life to be multi-function. Having something with a very narrow purpose just feels like a waste. Like giving up precious kitchen space to an avocado slicer. If we’re going to invest energy, space and resources in something, we want a bang for our buck.
This is exactly what was motivating me when I came up with the Acorn Button Wrap. I love to crochet wraps, but I rarely wear them. I often feel like it may work with one outfit or one temperature, but it usually doesn’t work for others. The beauty of this is that for the times I’m in the mood for a shrug, I’ve got a shrug. If I want a drapey poncho, I can rock that too. When my shoulders are cold, it’s my go to capelet (especially good in Winter when you’re in bed or watching a movie and want extra warmth on your top half). It’s just so fun and I love that I can take the same amount of effort in crocheting one accessory and use it for many things.
This wrap is equal parts form and function and I’m already itching to make another one for someone.
P.s. In writing this blog post, I kept thinking if the movie “27 Dresses” when they say how great each dress is “because you can wear it again . This convertible wrap may sound far-fetched, but it really is something that I use and change up to suit my mood, so it feels like I’ve got many accessories in one. But don’t take my word for it - try it yourself and let me know what you think :)
This bridge between visual and verbal communication is something we seldom think about, but I think there is a profound relationship between the different forms of expression and communication.
Spin a yarn. Weave a tapestry. Arts and crafts or storytelling? Expressing ourselves through stories and creative arts are not only a deep and foundational aspect of who we are, but they are also closely linked to each other. Sailors used to mend ropes by spinning individual strands (yarn) into the larger rope. A tedious job that leant itself to entertainment through prolonged storytelling. The only time I have spun yarn was on a second grade field trip to the Minnesota History Center. There was a Native American installation that had wool roving that we could spin into yarn. There is something so deeply satisfying about taking a formless bit of something and shaping it into something strong and full of purpose and potential.
And yet, this is only getting it to a starting state. Unless you are using it as a strand, the actual value of the yarn is in what you make from it. In this context, it is not a huge leap to move from making something functional to making something expressive. When I was learning to crochet, I remember a couple of breakthroughs that really stimulated my imagination and solidified my love for the craft. The first was learning how to make shells and scallops. To think that something using the very simple technique of double crochet, but changing it by just making 5 stitches in the same stitch was a game changer. I loved the shape and variation they gave. They were intuitive, allowed me to work at a mile a minute and they were so much fun. The next breakthrough was learning how to change colors. This took a bit of time to work out how to do it well and not have it feel like a major hassle. I imagine I’m like most stitchers in my strong dislike for weaving in loose ends. More colors = more ends to weave in. It wasn’t until I learned that I could usually stitch over the tails as I go, that I found the ROI for color work worth it. (Now, of course, I have a hard time sticking with one color.)
I am enthralled by the textures and colors in early weaving and fabric arts. Across the whole world, people came up with their own patterns, sometimes just for looks, but often carrying such significance. There is something uplifting about incorporating a stunning design that allows even a simple project to speak and take on a life of its own. This bridge between visual and verbal communication is something we seldom think about, but I think there is a profound relationship between the different forms of expression and communication.
I wonder if early weavers entertained themselves by telling stories and then decided to start incorporating the stories themselves into their weaving. The Lady and the Unicorn has been in our local art museum recently and I’m amazed at the detail and depth in tapestries from 500+ years ago. The ability to think through a complex idea and weave it into a pictorial representation is enchanting. The thought and care for each placement of a thread draws you in to each of the movements and choices made to work this masterpiece.
Even beyond the expressive design or direct representation in textile art, the nature of the work itself correlated with our communication. Did you hear a tight knit story or was it a loose story? We’re there holes in it? Was the story reinforced? Did it leave any loose ends? I think that the parallels between communication and yarn crafts go beyond the intentional expressive choices and appeal to tactile understandings and the subconscious factors that play into our stories. Tension control is unique from person to person, but influences every project we put our hands to. Similarly, our stories and the way we communicate will have a natural default setting unless we make a conscious effort to influence it. I once read about a woman whose grandmother taught her to thread a needle and then run her hand across the thread 100 times to infuse it with love that would hold the project together. Most of the time, I’m making something with just the end product in mind, but more and more, I want to be expressive and intentional in my work. I want to approach the work in the projects as important as the finished piece. I want to be telling a story and imbibing it with love and purpose. I know this will vary from project to project (and mood to mood), but I think it will help my finished products to benefit and I will unlock the opportunity to process and express my feelings and stories along the way.
I’m in a mentoring program at work that is pretty great. I’m an extrovert and an external processor, so having regular meet ups with someone to talk about life and goals and challenges is remarkably fulfilling. One exercise was called the “Wheel of life” and you evaluate the different areas of your life (work, relationships, finances, health etc) and think about where you would like them to be. Do you know what I rated the lowest? Social life. I gave it a 2 out of 10. Pretty crappy, but that’s what I was feeling.
I have amazing friends and I especially love being in Australia so I’m close to friends that I was away from for years. But between working full time, crappy health and being pretty darn pooped every evening and weekend, my social life isn’t great. It was weird thinking about it and trying to put a number to it because it certainly wasn’t a conscious choice I made. Instead, it is the result of just letting life happen. When you have babies it gets so much harder to go out, so you get out if the habit. Then adding in work and having some health set backs means that a lot of time you’re kind of in survival mode. Social life is one of those things that is never an essential requirement, so it gets deprioritized. Before you realize it, you have friends you consider close, but you see them about once a year.
It’s one of those frog in a pot of water scenarios. Life gradually cranks up the heat, but you don’t notice. Eventually, you’re fully cooked. My social life is fully cooked and needs some TLC. So I’m hoping to make some changes. One is to make more effort just to reach out to people. Email, text, phone, whatever. The main thing is engaging and this doesn’t depend on living close or big schedule changes. It’s more of a habit change. If I swap 5 minutes of fb time for emailing a friend, it’ll be a big improvement from what I’m doing currently.
Another thing I love is getting together with people, but I hate the hassle of finding a time that works and sorting out all of the logistics. So I’m thinking of instigating something like a monthly crafternoon. Maybe on the second Saturday if every month. If something happens regularly, you don’t have to stress about making it work for everyone because you’ll get another chance. And if I is always the same, it removes the mental load of planning for all kinds of variables. I love crocheting, but I love it even more when I’ve got friends to share it with.
Still a kind of half-baked idea, but I’m putting it out there because I think it could be great and also to make it a bit more real. Now, if only I could figure out a way to get all of my friends all over the world together in one place, I’d be set.
I wonder what it is about losing something and finding it that exponentially increases its preciousness to us? Winter has finally hit here in the Southern Hemisphere. I was wondering why I couldn’t find my jacket anywhere and then a fuzzy memory of “putting it in storage” came to mind. Unfortunately, I could not remember where I put the storage bin. Fortunately, I’ve got kids - one in particular who seems to have photographic recall of everything. She said, “Oh - I think I know what you’re talking about.” Went to my room and emerged with my jacket! (I think this is the payment for all the times I find things the kids can’t - even though they’ve looked “everywhere!”) I was very happy to have my coat, so I wouldn’t be cold, but what I was still sad about was not having the fingerless gloves my mom knit me last year.
A fun twist on the autoimmune stuff I’m dealing with was that I started to experience Raynaud’s syndrome - when my hands get cold, I have some circulation issues with fingers going white and then red when the blood returns. Fun times. Anyway, my mom has this lux cashmere yarn and knitted me fingerless gloves. The same Mom who won first prize on the first knitting submission she ever put into the Minnesota State Fair. My award-winning mom made me a ridiculously wonderful pair of gloves and I lost them.
At Christmas, we traveled to Minnesota and I looked “everywhere” - but couldn’t find them. I knew it would be cold and I wanted to take good care of my hands, but it didn’t work out for this trip. Ever since we came home I’ve been wracking my brain to recall where they were. I kept thinking it must be hidden in a nook or cranny where we’ve let crap accumulate, so the solution is cleaning and clearing until the turned up. Sadly, no matter where I cleaned it purged, I couldn’t find them.
Fast forward to a week ago, when my dear daughter found my coat. I put it on and felt a funny lump in the pocket. You know the feeling when there’s something in your pocket from a long time ago and you’re 80% sure it’s good, but it could be old used Kleenex? Well, I put my hand in and was welcomed by the silky-fuzz touch of cashmere. It was the gloves! Jackpot!
It reminded me of when I was a kid and I had a Christmas stocking (also knitted by my mom) and when we would first hang them up, sometimes I would go and grab a penny and tuck it into the bottom. Then on Christmas, I loved feeling like I got an extra bonus penny. Even though it was still only a penny, I loved it so much that a couple of years I even left it in the stocking when it was in storage so I could get it out when we decorated for Christmas the next year. There’s just something about going without something and then having it again that doesn’t just change your perspective, it changes your emotional attachment.
I couldn’t believe it when we were decorating for this past Christmas, my daughter ran and grabbed a coin to put in her stocking. I had never told her about me putting the penny in my stocking. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone about that, but there must be something hard wired that compelled her to do it.
I’m not entirely sure what the difference in our attachment to something (or someone) is after a time apart, but the first thing that comes to mind is gratefulness. And maybe gratefulness is the point where our perspective and our emotions converge - we don’t just think differently about it, we feel differently about it.
And it may sound like it is just a materialistic thing because I just wanted a penny. But I really think it is different because everyone knows the surprise triumph of finding $5, $10 or $20 in their pocket. Regardless of your cost of living and the impact this might have on your budget, there’s something about not having something and then having it again, that transforms how we interact with that money.
I’ve been thinking a fair bit recently about when you get something back that you didn’t have for a while. It’s been 2 years now since I got the Rheumatoid Arthritis diagnosis. Even though my life is surprisingly normal now, it isn’t the same. When it was really bad, I couldn’t use a knife and fork, let alone crochet. For about 3 months, I couldn’t use a pen properly and struggled with typing, for about 12 months, I couldn’t do safety latches or childproof things and even now I struggle with opening bottles or using ball point pens. But as I started being able to do things again, I was thrilled and just wanted to relish it all!
Hence the crocheting website. I’ve been crocheting for nearly 25 years, but now I’ve really thrown myself into it. I am also fully aware that I may not always be able to crochet, but while I can, I want to make the most of it. I don’t know what my journey has in store, but I do know that I don’t want to take things for granted. I look back on my crochet photos as happy memories and I feel deeply and profoundly grateful.
And maybe gratefulness is the point where our perspective and our emotions converge - we don’t just think differently about it, we feel differently about it.
I was writing down a quick cheat sheet for me when I go back and forth between US and UK crochet terminology. Rather than just keeping it to myself, I figured I’d post it here so you can have a handy reference. Also - I know I’ll go hunting for it again in the future, so I’m putting it here for my own reference next time. This is just the basics, but it is usually enough to jog my memory and help me scale up/down for slip stitches, hdc/htr and dtr/ttr. Hope this helps you as much as it helps me!
Like this? Come over to our Ravelry or Etsy pages to see more.
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the newest member of the Gray Day Collective: Captain Thunderbolt!
(Wait - what?)
Ah, I can hear you scratching your heads all the way through my computer screen (correction: phone screen). This name may be counter-intuitive, but it actually comes fully loaded with intention and pith.
Firstly, I like the verbal irony. I found myself remembering an episode of “To the Manor Born”* where Audrey fforbes-Hamilton takes Richard DeVere horse shopping. He’s very keen on the horses with grandiose titles, but when Goliath turns out to be a Shetland pony, he’s open to Audrey’s prodding for the most tucked away and dismissed horses. Eventually, they are successful and Audrey provides this sage advice If anyone ever tries to sell you a horse named ‘Utter Rubbish’ - buy him on the spot!” So there is definitely a bit of tongue-in-cheek with my darling Captain Thunderbolt, but that’s not the end of his story.
This fish is a pink convict cichlid. Found in warm waters around Central and South America, but they have also made their way to Australia. Most people know a few general facts about Australia:
1) Home of deadly and cute animals
2) They love to cook on the barbie
3) Boomerangs! Opera House! Great Barrier Reef!
4) Convict past
I wanted the fishie friend for my coral reef tea cozy to link together the tropical and exotic beauty that is the Great Barrier Reef and the fairly well known, but little understood, Australian convict past. A pink convict cichlid was just what I needed, but the actual relationships between convicts and the water isn’t very strong. We imagine the escapees traveling through red dust and scrubby bush ala Ned Kelly. Most convicts couldn’t swim. Enter Captain Thunderbolt!
Fred Ward was one of the convicts imprisoned at Cockatoo Island. A stunning location in Sydney Harbour these days, but in the 1800s it was the equivalent of Alcatraz. Aside from not being able to swim, sharks were a real threat. Real AND effective. There were very few attempted escapes from Cockatoo Island, let alone successful ones. Fred was imprisoned at Cockatoo Island for bush ranging (stealing cattle and horses) and given early release before having to return for violating terms of his release (he was late for a quarterly check-in.)
The fears that kept other prisoners on the island were no match for Fred. He planned a bold escape swam to Woolwich. It is believed that his fellow escapee, Frederick Britten, drowned en route.
This escape transformed Fred Ward to Captain Thunderbolt. He went on to become the “Gentleman Bushranger” in the Hunter and New England regions of New South Wales.
Now, my little fish, Captain Thunderbolt, is no bush ranger or hardened criminal. He may be a convict cichlid, but he’s full of equal parts heart and grit. His story has a happy ending with full rehabilitation and a new start in his happy home, the anemone in his coral reef tea cozy. More than anything he wants to feel secure and at-ease and he welcomes your company at his next tea party.
*Bonus points to anyone who can name the other BBC comedy with the nearly identical theme song.
In case you haven’t noticed, I’m taking a bit of an “iterative” approach to my blog and website and even the crochet designs themselves. This isn’t do much a “design theory” approach as a need for trial and error. I have no idea what will work and what won’t. And - to be honest - most of the times I’ve been sure I kicked a goal, there was little interest. Whereas projects I deemed “meh” have gotten some of the biggest reactions.
I’m not savvy enough in the world of crochet design or online content creation to know why something does or doesn’t work. All I know is that there is a difference and the more things I try, the more things I learn.
If you’re an avid follower, you may have noticed that I quietly started adding Etsy links to some projects. One of the great things about Etsy is that the threshold to selling is very low, so I really isn’t hard to get something up there. What is hard is getting someone’s attention in a ridiculously crowded marketplace.
Ravelry is great because everyone who is on the site is seeking patterns. With Etsy, people are usually looking for something tangible. Because you don’t want to confuse or disappoint people, you have to work quite hard to make sure the people who do eventually find you are in the right place.
I went back and forth about setting up an Etsy shop, but then I remembered the journey to designing patterns in the first place. I’ve been making up patterns for almost as long as I’ve crocheted. I had never taken the leap to writing them up or publishing them because there was never a reason compelling enough to overcome my doubts. I was asking “Why should I?” Rather than “Why not?” But this year, I decided to give things a shot more and to ask myself “Why not?” instead of “Why?” Certainly I haven’t skyrocketed to crochet stardom, but I have kicked a few goals (seriously can’t wait until my magazine project can be made public.) More than anything, I’ve felt so free to flip my mental narrative. I’m exploring, discovering and learning a lot. Even when things flop, I’m still having heaps of fun.
Since uploading a few patterns, I haven’t had masses of customers flooding in. But, I have been happy enough with the traction to keep at it. So I am very happy to announce that I am having a soft launch party for my Etsy store: Gray Day Crochet Shop. To honor this auspicious occasion I’ve added my first promo code: GRAYDAYPARTAY. Enter this promo code for 20% off your order before the end of May. (Fingers crossed this all works ok). In addition, for every order with this promo code, I will donate 10% of the order to the Autoimmune Resource and Research Centre - a charity dedicated to helping people with autoimmune diseases live to their full potential.
It is hard to believe it is May already. Even though this year has been ridiculously busy, working on crochet patterns has brought me so much joy. I would really encourage you to think about those things you’ve never tried and ask yourself, “Why not?” Even if it isn’t great, you will still gain the experience and the insights through the journey.
Thank you all for coming on my journey with me. I have no idea where it will lead, but I’m enjoying the experience along the way.
In addition, for every order with this promo code, I will donate 10% of the order to the Autoimmune Resource and Research Centre - a charity dedicated to helping people with autoimmune diseases live to their full potential.