Until very recently, I hated the word “craft”. The word had a connotation of popsicle sticks and glitter and construction paper with the smell of tempura paint and white glue thrown in for good measure. Definitely not dignified or adult. Call it creating, making, designing, arting…. anything other than crafting
Then I ended up with a lot of time on my hands to contemplate. More on that shortly.
The definition of the action verb “craft” involves “exercise skill in making (something)”. The simple word has origins in old English, Germanic, and Dutch, but my favourite is from Swedish “kraft”, meaning “strength”. No matter what our individual craft is, crafters nurture and practice personal strengths. Some have an almost instinctive natural strength (talent) at something, while others work so hard to strengthen their proficiency. Keep in mind that the same principles apply for everything from wordsmithing to blacksmithing. Today, “smith” (referring to somebody who uses skill to create something) happens to be my favourite suffix. Yes, I have a favourite suffix. It changes from day to day. It’s how I roll.
I’m going somewhere with this, I promise.
I wouldn’t normally call myself a yarnsmith, but as a spinner I use a set of skills to create yarn. I use another set of skills to create things with my yarn. Usually knitting.
A few months ago, I overused my knitting skillset and damaged my CMC joint. That’s the spot that joins the thumb to the wrist, in case you’re interested. As humans, we use it a LOT. We use it to turn doorknobs and open jars and wash our hair and button up our pants. When it’s damaged, we notice how much we take it for granted. 3 months without a usable thumb has left me feeling subhuman. Otters could do more with their paws than I could accomplish. It’s been humbling.
Really, this isn’t a self-pity trip. I’m getting somewhere with this. Please don’t leave.
Nearly 3 months of not knitting or spinning took its toll on my sanity. Fibre arts in some form have been a big part of my life for more than 40 years. The thought of having my craft taken from me was sobering. Scary, even. It is a large part of how I identify myself, and I have no interest in redefining who I am. Not to that extent, anyway. But not using my hands to create is frustrating. Knee-deep in guano crazy-making frustrating.
So. Fast forward (it really didn’t feel fast) 3 months to the now, and my thumb is still only partly usable. It’s improving a little each day, but knitting as I did when I injured myself is out of the question.
Then I got to thinking about when I learned to knit as a child. Hours, days, weeks, months of learning a new skill. Trying to convince my little fingers that they could make those strange movements, that they were capable of holding both yarn and needles simultaneously while moving them in seemingly opposite directions. Having my mom figure out how I had made such a terrible mess so that she could untangle it for me. The method she taught me was slow, but it was the only way I knew. It worked though, and since I didn’t know better, I thought that was normal and it’s what I used for a couple decades. Needle in. Grab the yarn. Wrap it around the needle. Let go of the yarn. Move the needle to make the loop. Grab the yarn and tighten the loop. Let go of the yarn. Move the next stitch into position. Repeat a million times, and months later I’d have a sweater. Then I discovered continental knitting.
If you haven’t given up on me yet, thank you. My point is coming soon.
Continental knitting was exponentially faster, once I earned that skill. Hours and days and weeks of cursing the yarn and the needles passed. I kept thinking to myself that if little old ladies could do this, there was absolutely no excuse that I couldn’t do it. Eventually, it became my go-to method of knitting. Over the next couple of decades, I learned to spin yarn in multiple ways, knit backwards, knit Portuguese style, identify fibre types by burning them, wrap a centre-pull ball both by hand and with a nostepinne, and a multitude of other things.
Then I pushed myself to finish a project, and pushed too far. I’m still kicking myself for that. Part of the reason I learned to knit backward and Portuguese style was to help avoid injury, yet in a matter of days I managed to break myself. Not my proudest moment.
By the time the joint finally healed to the point that I could move the rest of my fingers without shooting pains in my thumb, I had decided that not doing any fibre arts at all simply wasn’t going to be an option. I reflected on all the knitting skills I had learned over the years. I’ve never been the fastest knitter in the world by any means. I’m probably even slower than average, but that’s because I thoroughly enjoy knitting to the point that I don’t generally need to rush. The feel of the yarn slipping between my fingers, the rhythm of the needles, the bumps of the stitches on the needles as they progress from left to right back to left… I don’t need to knit fast for it to be deeply satisfying. One thing I knew was that I dreadfully missed knitting, and needed to get back at it. After all, it is my craft, no matter now I feel about the word.
It took hours and days, but I’ve worked out a way to knit without using my left thumb. It’s a combination of Portuguese and throwing with a little bit of Shetland knitting for support. For the sake of brevity I’ll skip the whole process and get to my point.
Crafters craft. We use strength in a set of skills to create. Poetry, socks, houses, or glitter-covered construction paper, we make things. The single skill we all have in common is learning. We learn in order to strengthen our talent so that we can improve our craft in some way. Whether it’s to gain speed, stay in practice, or to work around a self-inflicted handicap, we are driven to strengthen that set of skills. It’s what we do.
My point? Don’t let things hold you back. Sometimes it takes creativity to make creating possible
Oh yeah – and if it hurts, stop and rest. Your body and ego will thank you.