Yarn over, insert hook into stitch, pull up a loop (3 loops on hook), *yarn over, pull through 2 loops on hook, repeat from * once more.
The classic double crochet. I started with one, added about 25,000 more, and now I have a blanket. It took me 10 months, from beginning to end.
I started crocheting because I was bored. Or, more accurately, because I was frustrated. I was angry and frustrated by my limitations and by all the can’t-dos in my life. Can’t drive, can’t exercise, can’t read. Can’t use the computer, can’t watch tv, can’t interact with my smart phone. Can’t go to a restaurant, can’t call a friend, can’t take a trip. May 2016 was particularly full of “can’t”s. Achingly full of can’ts.
In truth, I’m a good sport. I try hard. I push through difficult times. Making granny squares, finding just one small “can” in my life… that made all the difference in the world. That helped me stay on this earth. That made it possible for me to face another day full of a million can’ts, and one can. And another day. And yet another.
When I started crocheting, I started small. I made just a few squares.
But that felt good, so I kept making them.
Then they started piling up…
One thing I quickly missed from work was the discrete nature of my tasks. I would update the hazardous waste inventory for the site, and have a final product in 30 minutes. I would write a letter to the State Historic Preservation Officer, and be done in a few hours. I would do a stormwater inspection, and have the report filled out by the end of the day. My work hours were full of tasks that had a beginning and an end. When my job ended, so did that easy, daily, sense of accomplishment.
Step in granny squares. Each granny square is a small distinct task in and of itself, with a clear beginning and a clear end. Even with my limited energy, I could complete one or more granny squares a day. Afterwards, I’d have that final product – a completed square – to touch and feel and remind myself that I had accomplished something that day. Making a granny square was physical proof that today is different than yesterday, and tomorrow will be different than today. That was and is important to me and my sanity.
Once my granny squares started piling up, Mary quickly suggested I make a blanket with them. At first I baulked. I needed what I was doing to be as easy and stress free as possible, and setting expectations about an end product felt like pressure. After a few weeks, turning it over in the back of my brain while I crocheted, I warmed to the idea. It also gave me something productive-sounding to tell people – I was making a blanket, versus I was repetitively crocheting small squares for no particular purpose.
Having a goal also provided a way for friends to help me. Money was particularly tight last summer – some of you might remember my youcaring campaign to meet my basic expenses – so there wasn’t a lot of free dollars available to buy interesting yarn. Many friends dug through their yarn collections and passed some of it on to me. The varieties of yarns, the different colors, the different textures and weights, made the repetitive process of making granny squares so much more fun and interesting. I am very thankful for each of people:
My pictures aren’t the best, but you can see the wonderful variety of color these women gave to my creation.
Even though I had decided on a blanket being my end product, I wasn’t in any rush. No rush at all. As those recovering from an mTBI know, it is almost impossible to rush. Rushing just makes me fumble, get confused, fogs my brain. So I kept it simple, kept it relaxed. There were no deadlines. No goals. No expectations. Just a fun, pressure-free activity that was slowly drifting towards something bigger. One day at a time.
Eventually, though, I had to take the next step. Eventually, even I started to get tired of making granny squares. At that point, I decided to start sewing the squares together into blocks of 9-16 that would be easier to manage during blanket assembly (versus +/- 300 loose squares).
Sewing blocks became another small task that provided the quick daily satisfaction of completion. It also gave me the opportunity to put colors together in new ways. Some blocks had themes – all solid squares of about the same size. Some didn’t. Some were harmoneous, some not. My only nod to future plans was an attempt to make at least one side of the block of squares even, for easier joining with other blocks in the future.
Still, gaps happened. Things didn’t quite line up. Some squares I just couldn’t seem to make straight. Striving for perfection was waaay outside my pay scale, so I just didn’t worry about it. The wonky blocks of squares simply reflected my life – nothing was quite right, but I pieced it together anyway.
Every once in a while, by this point, I’d have the mental energy to try out a new granny square pattern. Some were pleasing, some not. Some I was able to figure out… some, I just wasn’t. But in the end, I did end up with a few to add spice to my final product.
This flower probably one of my favorite ones. Unfortunately, it doesn’t lend itself to usefulness in a blanket – too many gaps for fingers and toes to get stuck in. But, I put it in anyway. Just like any life, my blanket deserved to have a few interesting twists and unusual patterns to add to its complexity and richness.
Time passed, and eventually I had 20 or so blocks of squares sewn together and I was ready to take the next step.
That’s where my mental ability met a brick wall. Thinking about how the blocks would fit together felt overwhelming. What size would the blanket be? How would I connect the blocks? Decisions needed to be made, but my ability to make those decisions was lacking. I would tried to grasp a problem, but instead would run into an amorphous cloud of gray confusion. Over and over and over again.
Classic yea olde executive function impairment. Ugh. Since my brain injury, running up against this brick wall has been the end to many a story. And it would have been the end of this one, too. Really. I wouldn’t have eventually figured it out; I would have been left with a bunch of blocks of granny squares and no final product. That is because the smallest roadblock is insurmountable when your executive functioning doesn’t work.
After three years with this impairment, I’ve figured out a work around. Or, I should say, sometimes I remember a solution. This time it took me a few weeks, but then I had an idea – I could ask for help!
Asking for help wasn’t even on my radar before I was injured. It certainly wasn’t a natural solution for me post brain injury. But it works, almost every time. Personal growth moment, everyone.
I asked Mary for help, and she helped me. Simple as that. Incidently, as an art professor and as the director of photography at a local arts organization, she is an expert at helping others figure out how to create. Her extensive problem solving abilities have helped countless people figure out how to birth their vision into reality. And I got the benefit of that expertise. Plus, an unimpaired brain can often make the most overwhelming problem solvable.
She helped me decide the limits of my blanket (use another blanket as a template). She helped me decide how I would connect them (sewing invisibly instead of crocheting a visible connection). And then, she helped me fit all my jigsaw puzzle pieces of crochet together.
Even better, she took a picture of the arrangement and printed it on 2 ft x 3 ft cardstock paper, so I would have the visual reminder while I worked. Invaluable assistance.
Once all that was decided, I got to work. I started with granny squares, then I made blocks, and now I was joining the blocks together. For the first time, I could actually imagine that I might have a blanket in the end.
As I joined one block to another, there were gaps. Large gaps, small gaps. Square gaps, rectangle gaps. Narrow gaps, wide gaps. The price of not planning. But, really, I didn’t mind. I took those opportunities to add a bit more color to the blanket.
For example, above – the dark green, the purple, the rainbow colors are all yarns I crocheted in to fill the gaps between blocks; they weren’t part of any granny square, but something extra to make it all fit together.
In other situations, normal sized (3 round) granny squares were just too big, so I made one and two round granny squares to fit the holes.
As I sewed all of these mismatched pieces together, I couldn’t help but think about my life post mTBI. My injuries left a lot of holes in my life, a lot of gaps. At first I tried to fill them with my old solutions, my old behaviors – but I just wasn’t able to. Instead, I have had to grow and change and cultivate new parts of myself to fill those gaps. I have had to be flexible and open and accepting. And, in the end, I have had to just keep plugging along, moving forward.
As I neared blanket completion, one thing became clear. There is a “right” side
and a “wrong” side.
Or, less judgementally, there is a visually perfect(ish) side, and a side where all the ends of yarn show and each stitch I used to join one square to another shines clear.
For a little while, I struggled with whether I should add some sort of fabric backing to the blanket, to hide the raw side from view. I decided no, definitely no. I decided that the part of the blanket that passes for normal is just as valid and valuable as the part of the blanket that shows the thousands of tiny efforts needed to make it whole.
Rather like those of us recovering from an mTBI. While with most aquaintenaces and strangers I pass as normal, there is also very much the side of me that shows all the planning and compensation and support that makes that passing possible. I am not ashamed of that part of me. It is as real, as true, as the shiny part that smiles easily and likes to laugh and can interact appropriately with a cashier at the store.
Once all the granny squares were sewn together, and each loose thread was sewn in, the blanekt still didn’t feel finished. I wasn’t ready to declare it done. Part of that was dread at finishing my project, at giving up such a known and reliable comfort after so many months… when I really didn’t know what might fill that hole. Part of it was I felt that with all the cacophany of color and varying square size, the blanket needed a unifying element.
In the end, I decided to add a single crochet border. The first reason was to visually create a border, a limit to the project. Secondly, to provide stability. Each yarn was different, and each stretched at a different rate. Providing a solid border gave consistent strength to the blanket and protect all those parts that were most vulnerable. With the border, no part of the blanket would have to take more stress than it could handle. It was protection and support and, yes, a shield from the stresses of the world around it.
So, after all of that, here she is in all her glory – my finished blanket.
A warm, useful granny square blanket that I will enjoy the rest of my life. That is functional. That has a use. And that can be a reminder of a time in my life when I felt so trapped and hopeless and lost, yet found one small thing I could do. Over and over again. Until I ended up with something beautiful and permanent.
Plus the cats like it.
When you look at my blanket, it isn’t obvious the days and weeks and months that it took me to complete it. You can’t see all my trial and error, my ripping out and starting over, my creating new pieces to fit precisely in a gap. From beginning to end, I did this. I made this blanket. I crocheted it, I sewed it, I put it all together into a beautiful whole. Instead of fighting against what I couldn’t do, instead of wallowing in my limitations, I focused on what I could do. No, it wasn’t fast, it wasn’t efficient, it wasn’t perfect. But I created it. A little bit at a time. A piece a day.
Me. I did that. Kim.
In any dark time, when life feels full of can’ts, I hope you too are able to find one small thing that is a can, a yes, an able to do. Just one small thing to hold on to. That really can make all the difference. It did for me.