Last Christmas my mum taught me to crochet. She showed me a couple stitches and helped me make a simple headband. She told me how crocheting was like programming: you learn a few simple stitches and then you can combine them to make anything. I’ve totally bought into this. Crocheting, for instance, is the easiest way to make hyperbolic surfaces (see the Crocheted Coral Reef for more on that craziness.) Shortly after my headband, I tried to make a hat. I looked up some instructions online but I didn’t really know how to read them. I couldn’t connect anything my mum had taught me to the directions. So I just kind of … guessed. I ignored the instructions. It turned out okay. I kind of understood that skipping and adding stitches could be used to create arbitrary shapes. Kind of.
Between the headband and the hat, I kind of knew how to make tubes and hat-like things. So I made some baby leg warms and a baby hat. (I happened to be living with a baby at the time.) I just took what I (kind of) knew and went with it. Of course nothing turned out quite the right size or shape, and I kept having to correct. But it was fine. No more instructions for me. No way.
Then a good friend of mine sent me a book with instructions to crochet wild animals. I was determined to make some of these adorable stuffed animals. But I had to figure out the instructions.
There was this interesting phenomena: I knew so little of the vocabulary of crocheting that I couldn’t really figure it out by searching for things on the internet. It was this great case of actually needing to figure it out on my own. And I did! Eventually. I figured out what ‘Round 3 (inc): (2 sc in next sc, t sc) 6 times (18 sts).’ meant. I understood the diagrams. I started counting. There’s a LOT of counting in crochet. I bought stitch markers. To decrease the amount of counting. Nothing, as far as I can tell, can eliminate it.
A really big hiccup I had was when the camel body went from being worked in rounds to being worked in rows. Now, I thought I understood rounds and rows. Rounds were, well, rounds. You stitched in circles, or rather more like a spiral. Rows just went back and forth and back and forth. My tube-like things I worked in rows, back and forth with a seam to make it circular (never fully figured out the seam part look good) and my hat-like things were rounds. So when the camel body started being words in rows from rounds, I freaked. What were rows, then? How could you go from rounds to rows? I couldn’t figure it out. I finally realized that it wanted me to start stitching the neck portion with a split down the middle, for purposes of being able to stuff it. This is the kind of things that the internet is not helpful for.
Okay, so I figured out how to crochet with instructions. Pause here: following the instructions taught me more about how to make arbitrary shapes than anything else did. By following the instructions without any questions, I was able to see how the different instructions made the different shapes. I now feel like I could design an arbitrary shape, whereas before I could hardly make a simple hat. It’s interesting that the knowledge came easily from the action of blindly mimicking. I was not looking to learn this but I did.
The final part of stuffed-animal-making is the stuffing. This is where things got hairy. I stuffed the body and the head and stitched them together and discovered this poor camel had a terribly droopy head. The poor thing! I immediately, and painstakingly, un-stitched the head and stuffed it and the neck more. This, sadly, made things worse.
The act of un-stitching and re-stitching it stretched out the loops a lot, showing the stuffing between them, as did stuffing it more. In addition, the droopiness remained, if not worsened. Stuffing isn’t exactly a structural medium. The head simply got heavier, the yarn more stretched. I don’t think there would have been much to do about the droopiness except perhaps tighter stitches, which would have meant reworking the entire neck.
Another aside: this guy took me a LONG TIME. Hours and hours of crocheting. I had no idea how BIG he would be, nor how much work. I have a much greater appreciation for hand-crocheted toys and clothes. Dear lord.
Anyway, he was a gift for my niece who is 3 months old, so I didn’t think she’d minded his droopy neck or his lack of eyes. I left him as is, not wanting to pour more work into the bugger. He’s still pretty darn cute. 🙂