The Women Who Hook to Heal
(Brief bios of the women interviewed for the book and a quote from each)
Aimee O’Neill was a victim of mental abuse in her marriage. Crochet was one tool that helped her on her journey to freedom. It is something that she could do by herself, for herself, independent of anyone else’s control.
“The feeling of the yarn and the rhythmic motions produced by crocheting are very quieting and help me regroup, recharge and become reconnected to my inner self amidst turmoil and confusion.”
Aurore is a French woman with a diagnosis of chronic hallucinatory psychosis, a condition that is comparable to schizophrenia and is characterized by difficulty maintaining a sense of what is real and what is not. This strong woman uses crochet as one tool to help her maintain a connection to reality as she deals with this condition.
"When I’m anxious, the concrete feeling of the yarn against my fingers is something to focus on."
Carol’s whole life changed when she began to experience the symptoms of Fibromyalgia. Her job came to an end. Her mothering changed. The way she lived out her role as a wife changed. It wasn’t an easy thing to cope with. Crochet helped. The craft allowed her to continue to be able to give to others in her life even as her disease took that ability away in some areas.
“Fibromyalgia stole my job and caused me to have to learn to be a different wife and mother. Crocheting is something I can almost always do and I can do it for others.”
Elisabeth Andrée, a blogger who offers many free crochet tutorials, has a progressive inner ear disease called Menière’s disease. It not only makes it difficult for her to hear but also gravely affects her balance and coordination. Over the years this has resulted in a job loss which might have caused her to spiral into depression. However, through sheer self-determination to celebrate her life, and with a little bit of help from crochet, this crafter has managed to learned to enjoy the little things.
"Crochet helps me to calm down and relax, shifts my focus from misery to something interesting and pleasurable, and gives me the ability to create and thereby keep myself mentally healthy."
Em is a 50+ woman who went through an extended period of unemployment after a layoff caused by the economic downturn. She struggled with depression related to self-esteem issues until she got active selling her crochet work on Etsy. The new job, but more specifically being busy with crochet, helped break her cycle of depression.
"I found out when I did pick up my crochet hook that my mind was so busy counting stitches and figuring out a pattern that it just didn't have the time to worry. Less worry meant less stress in my life and I began to calm down. I just started to crochet like crazy just to get relief."
Fran was brutally raped and it left her with both physical and emotional pain that she is still healing from. She always loved to crochet but since the rape it has become a crucial part of her healing process, allowing her to help others as a way of regaining her own personal power and healing herself.
“I remember when Sandie had crocheted me a beautiful prayer shawl after I was raped. I cannot put into words the comfort that that shawl has brought and brings to me to this very day. I hope that the teal scarf will do that for some other victim as the prayer shawl has done for me.”
Jennifer Crutchfield is a Professional Organizer who uses crochet to help her deal with the symptoms of OCD. She enjoys the challenge and excitement of taking on a new project. However, she also appreciates how the meditative process of repetitive crochet can reduce symptoms of anxiety.
“I can carry a granny square with me to work or just about anywhere. The repetitive motion is very calming for me, especially when I’m working on a pattern that is memorized.”
Katherine Dempsey took a bad spill that resulted in torn ankle ligaments and tendons, a torn disc in her back and sciatic pain. This left her bedridden and out of work, making her restless and frustrated in addition to being in terrible pain. She used crochet for pain management and also to deal with depression associated with chronic pain.
“My ankle injury has caused so much upheaval but maybe it will end up very positively changing our lives forever. Crochet has played a huge part in this process.”
Crochet pattern designer Kristine Mullen had several difficult childbirth experiences including the delivery of her fifth child who wasn’t breathing and had shoulder dystocia. Understandably, she was stressed out and fearful when it was time to deliver her next child. She brought crochet to the delivery room with her to reduce her anxiety and take her mind off of the pain. She ended up with a sweater for herself and healthy baby number six!
"During one of my last OB appointments my doctor said to try to bring something in the delivery room that would put my focus on something other than childbirth, and maybe that would help. I immediately decided to bring a crochet project. It definitely helped take my mind off of the pain."
Laurie Wheeler is known as the Fearless Leader of the Crochet Liberation Front and the founder of Hookey.org, sites that help to bring together crocheters of all skill levels to connect to one another and learn from one another. However, one does not become a Fearless Leader without facing down some struggles. Laurie has suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Multiple Personality Disorder caused by childhood trauma and she has overcome those conditions through strength, perseverance and yes, crochet.
"If I was sitting, I crocheted. I made things for my friends, my kids, the pets, I made rugs for the floors and doilies and even jam jar cozies. I did this to stay sane; it was a constant, it was predictable, it was a way to be in the here and now.”
Award-winning crochet designer Laurinda Reddig had crocheted for most of her life and so it was naturally something that she turned to when she needed help to get through the grief of losing a child. Her one day old daughter was wrapped in a handmade afghan that Laurinda was able to take home with her. She knew that she wanted to be able to offer the same comfort to other mothers that this blanket offered to her and so she started the Remembering Rowan Project. The project gave her a tangible way to help others and a means to heal through her own grief process.
“Rowan’s Blanket Project gave me something positive to focus on whenever the grief was too much. Telling people about the project, planning, and teaching gave me a way to talk about our loss without feeling guilty that I was burdening others. I had more than one person thank me because naturally they had no idea what to say when I told them about losing Rowan, but talking about my Project helped ease the difficult conversation."
Liza has an undiagnosed condition, possibly MS, that causes her to periodically experience temporary blindness. Crochet has helped her cope with the anxiety and stress she experiences during those times because she knows that if she can crochet blind then she can do other things blind as well. It gives her a sense of competence and calm that battles the anxiety of the situation.
"I was impressed. Not so much with the fact that I had been able to crochet while blind, but with the fact that those first forty-eight hours just flew by. Crocheting kept me busy counting, feeling the stitches back and forth to make certain that I had not skipped or doubled, and keeping the yarn from knotting. I had no time to feel pity and worry about what was to come."
M.K. Carroll is the series editor for the Fresh Designs crochet books published by Cooperative Press. She is also a woman who has struggled with depression over the years. Crochet isn’t just her living; it’s her way of life. It helped get her through some tough times and is something she comes back to again and again to stay in touch with her own moods.
"What I didn’t know until fairly recently was how meditative crochet can be. Being able to have a small crochet project to work on anywhere – at home, on the bus, while waiting in line – meant I could create a quiet space in my head whenever I had a few minutes to spare. Those small quiet spaces can add up to a lot over time."
Margaret Mills is a cancer survivor who was just beginning to gain a little bit of strength after chemo treatment when her mother became seriously ill and needed to move in with Margaret and her daughter. This three-generation trio of crafters had plenty of craft supplies on hand including grandma’s hooks and yarn, which proved to be vital in helping Margaret through the difficult period of depression that ensued as she dealt with the stressors of illness within her family.
“I tend to believe the claims made for the health benefits of crocheting – it is good for stress management, strengthening the immune system, regulating blood pressure. I can only testify to its help with depression, but as a cancer survivor, I consider continuing to crochet part of my general health plan."
Marinke has Asperger’s, which causes her social awkwardness. Crochet has helped to reduce depression and stress around her situation. SIt has also helped her to find a community to connect to thanks to her blog, where she spreads lots of crochet goodness and joy.
"Crochet is basically repeating the same thing over and over again, and for me that flow really helps me get through the day. But at the same time, you have to keep thinking about what you're doing, so it never gets boring. And you get to be creative while you're at it – what more can you want?”
Martha Stone was first diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder in 2003 and used medication to help her get through it. However, when the condition came on again eight years later, it took time for the meds to kick in. Martha needed to do something to stay sane in the interim and crochet was what helped her to get through.
"I think for me, this was really the best craft to have served as my distraction. It took a minimum of supplies that were readily available to me, I could do it in my living room on my comfy couch, and I was making something for someone I loved."
Nessa began to suffer from depression as a teenager and later learned that the depression was linked to Multiple Sclerosis. She often felt like her body was lying to her and she needed to find things in her life that did not lie. Although she was living thousands of miles away from home, she found truth in the handcrafted American way of life that had surrounded her as a child and so she began to crochet. The crochet was meditative and relaxing and helped her through not only the depression but the need to constantly reinvent or reenvision herself with each new disability that the MS brought on.
"The pleasant click of my favorite red, aluminum hook against my wedding ring as I hook the yarn that weaves through my fingers is audible, tactile and grounding. There is no room for worry, for grieving, for regret, for analyzing when I focus on one stitch at a time. The process of healing takes precedence.”
Rachel Brown hadn’t anticipated that becoming a mother would leave her in the grips of postpartum depression. When it did she found herself struggling with anxiety and depression, debilitating feelings of being jittery, panicked and worthless. She made a list of the few things that still made her feel calm and happy and one of those things was crochet so she crocheted her way into better days. Rachel shares lots of fun tutorials and projects on her blog.
"I can’t remember an exact moment when I realized how healing crochet was for me (one of the many downsides of not getting enough sleep as a new mom is having a terrible dearth of memories from those months!), but I just remember thinking one day that crochet had saved me in a very real way."
Sara-Jane suffers from Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). She has found that crochet stops her painful leg twitching and helps her to relax. This allows her to do things that she wouldn’t be able to do if her RLS wasn’t under control, things such as going on annual Washington D.C. trips with her students.
“When I sit at night, or in the car, if I’m at all tired – the legs start twitching. I will pick up my crocheting and the legs stop. I’m not sure if the same part of my brain that tells my legs to twitch also tells my fingers to move in a certain way, but that’s the way I think about it. Just knowing that I can alleviate the wiggles gives me great emotional relief.”
Shelli Steadman was 30 when she started experiencing health problems that her doctors had trouble diagnosing and which turned out to be due to hypothyroidism and fibromyalgia. She couldn’t be as active as she once was and found crochet helped her spirits remain uplifted as she adjusted to a new “normal”.
"Crochet helps me put my pain on the back burner for a while. It takes my focus away from how I'm feeling and puts it in a more productive place. As I'm sure anyone who ever felt any kind of pain can tell you, if you are distracted from focusing on that pain it seems lessened somehow.”
Writer Sherri A. Stanczak had to undergo spinal surgery that has left her coping with a significant amount of pain even half a dozen years later. Crochet helps Sherri to manage the pain. It also helps her to battle the feelings of depression that are frequently a byproduct of living with chronic pain.
"Crocheting is a great stress reliever. When I crochet, it relaxes me and helps gets my mind off of my own problems. When I am upset, for some reason, my fingers work even faster; however, completing the project calms me down and makes me feel so much better."
Tammy Hildebrand is well-established crochet designer, the professional development chairperson for the Crochet Guild of America (CGOA) and is on the CGOA board of directors. Crochet is her life. It has also been an important healing tool in her battle with Chronic Lyme Disease. Crochet helped her deal with depression around her illness. Once she became a Lyme activist, teaching and sharing crochet served as a way she could help others who were going through a similar situation.
"It can become pretty depressing when you can’t walk or take care of your family or do anything you did in your “normal life”. Crochet was the only thing that didn’t change. My crochet was my constant companion."
Vicki Sulfaro never goes a day without pain since the day that a car accident left her with spinal injuries. Nevertheless, she maintains an upbeat attitude about her situation and uses crochet as a healing tool to cope with the new difficulties of everyday life mostly by crocheting to give back to others and find purpose in her new world.
“When I crochet I don’t think about how my body is now broken; I think about how I can create something beautiful and useful with my hook and either yarn or thread."
Crochet saved my life.
I realize that this sounds completely absurd … or at the very least like a great exaggeration. I assure you, however, that it is the truest way I can possibly describe the role that crochet played in assisting me in moving through the deepest period of depression I had ever experienced. Without it, I may not have lived.
Prior to this terrible period, I had suffered with undiagnosed, sometimes debilitating, always untreated depression for nearly fifteen years. I didn’t know that depression was the problem and I certainly didn’t know how to deal with it. The delay in diagnosis was due in large part to stubbornness. I was very anti-medication, mostly anti-psychologists and believed that whatever was wrong was something I could solve on my own. The delay also had to do with my youth (I was a young teen when the problem started), a lack of self-awareness and an abundance of intelligence and creativity that made me generally keep going in some form despite many tough battles with deep sadness. In later years, I did try to reach out for help but the professionals I worked with didn’t properly diagnose me or help me in any way.
All of this is to say that by the time that I reached the desperate stage of readiness where I would accept any help of any kind (despite feeling certain that nothing could ever help) the problem was nearly out of control. I was barely functioning. I cried most of the day every day. I could hardly move. I could hardly breathe. The idea of trying to make doctors’ appointments or hold down “real” jobs was so far-fetched it may as well have filtered into my mind in another language. I couldn’t do almost anything and yet the one thing that I could do was to move a crochet hook back and forth through yarn, repeatedly pulling one loop through the next to create fabric out of air so thin I could barely breathe in it. Since it was one of the only things that I could do, it became imperative to my mental health that I go ahead and do it. When I first started to crochet, that feeling of temporary relief from the muted chaos of depression was the only reason I was crocheting.
Of course, crochet alone could never have taken me out of that desperate place. It is a craft, not a cure-all for serious illness. And yet I am also fairly certain that I could never have loosened myself from the grip of that depression without crochet. I was stuck in between that proverbial rock and a hard place and my crochet hook served as a crowbar to begin prying me out of that difficult space. I hardly knew that it was happening and yet that hook dug deep down into the core of my being and lifted me into a space where I could once again begin to breathe. In the most basic and obvious way possible I was creating a life for myself simply through the act of creating.
A year later, breathing and healing, I was not only crocheting but also beginning to live my life again. I was beginning to meet other people who also enjoyed literally crafting a life for themselves. I had been a professional blogger/ freelance writer for approximately ten years and found the medium comfortable so I decided to start a crochet blog where I found an expansive community of like-minded crafty people. As I began to share my thoughts and feelings with this community, I began to see that I was not the only one who felt that crochet had been critical to saving one’s mental health. In fact, it became obvious to me that it is more often than not the case that crocheters feel that they experience some personal health benefits from the craft although that may not be their main motivation for crocheting.
Crochet heals. Crochet saves lives.
Selected Review Excerpts for
Crochet Saved My Life
This book has been reviewed/recommended by a variety of health professionals including:
Occupational therapist: http://www.aspoonfulofsugardesigns.com/2012/08/craft-as-therapy.html
Mental health counselor: http://gocrochet.blogspot.com/2012/09/book-review-crochet-saved-my-life.html
Social Worker: http://ooakindness.com/2012/08/27/giveaway-5-copies-of-crochet-saved-my-life-up-for-grabs-crochet-concupiscence/
Here are some excerpts from several positive reviews:
“Kathryn Vercillo gives many accounts in Crochet Saved My Life of how crochet has helped others, from empowering a woman who was a victim of rape, to helping a woman who suffers from hallucinations keep her grip on reality, to comforting a woman who is going blind. This book is a must-read for any crocheter who has ever felt alone or like no one else understands. If you only have time to read one book this year, make it this one.” - http://crochetkitten.blogspot.com/2012/08/book-review-crochet-saved-my-life.html
“I encourage you to have a look at Kathryn’s website and further information about this book, and possibly even order a copy! It’s a great way to support someone who is doing her utmost to explore and promote a popular handcraft in a way that hasn’t been investigated before, and it’s an interesting read as well.” - http://thornberry.wordpress.com/2012/08/14/book-alert-crochet-saved-my-life/
“Crochet Saved My Life discusses how crochet can be a healing tool used by individuals as well as in group settings. It outlines the specific therapeutic benefits and uses of crochet, making this an invaluable resource for occupational therapists, mental health professionals, and teachers – even those who do not crochet themselves.” -http://www.mooglyblog.com/my-review-crochet-saved-my-life/
“The book opens with Kathryn’s own battle with depression, and continues with one gripping and amazing story after another of despair and relief through crocheting. The book is also chock-full of scientific research, and it’s immediately obvious to anyone reading it that the message reaches far beyond crocheting: crafting, particularly tactile and engaging crafting, does wonders for the spirit. Grab this book if you’re stressed/anxious/depressed and are looking for a light at the end of the tunnel. Read it for inspiration from powerful women who have turned their lives around. If you have a friend/relative struggling with mental illness, read it as a way to gain insight into their experience- as Kathryn has a gift for putting into words ideas that usually remain hiding in the back of peoples’ minds. You might even want to read what’s inside this book so you’ll have an excuse for squeezing in more crocheting!” - http://www.freshstitches.com/book-review-crochet-saved-my-life/
TracyAnn, who copes with depression, anxiety and PTSD recommends Crochet Saved My Life. She says: "The Women Who Hook to Heal...I can be included in this list of steadfast beautiful souls. The act of creating brings me so much joy. I share this with you and encourage you to purchase this book and share it with others." - http://www.crochethappy.com/
“This is a fabulous book detailing not just the author's, but many others', personal struggles with mental illness and highlighting how crochet (and crafting, more generally) served as a shining light. This book weaves personal stories with scientific research in an easy-to-read style. And, let me say, her personal story is shocking and fascinating! If you (or someone you know) struggles with a mental illness, you will instantly relate to the people featured in the book. And as a crocheter myself, I completely acknowledge the healing ability of the craft. However, the author's key point is that doing concrete, hands-on work is therapeutic, and therefore would apply to a wide number of crafts/skills: gardening, cooking, sewing, painting... My only regret is the title of the book... I think having 'crochet' in the title limits the perceived audience of this book. It's much bigger than just crochet!
A wonderful read. I highly recommend it.” – Anastacia
“Crochet Saved My Life starts out with Kathryn's history of depression and moves into the science of healing from mental illness. This book is filled with story after story of people healing from tragedies and illness all with a hook and yarn. I saw myself in each story and I applaud the women for being brave enough to share in such a public way. My preference was for the stories so I did gloss over the science of depression and other illnesses. That was a bit of a slower read for me. But I enjoyed it because it's great that science is taking notice of something crocheters have known for a long time, Crochet heals.” - Sara
Kathryn Vercillo: Bio and Q&A
Kathryn Vercillo is a San Francisco based freelance writer, blogger and crochet lover. Her most recent book, Crochet Saved My Life, is a non-fiction account of her experience using crochet to heal through depression. Kathryn has also authored two previous books (Ghosts of San Francisco and Ghosts of Alcatraz, published by Schiffer in 2007 and 2008 respectively) and a booklet of articles called When Grandma Isn't Crocheting, She's Hunting Big Game (2011). She has been a contributing author on other book projects. Visit Kathryn's Amazon author bio for more information.
Since 2005 Kathryn’s work has been widely published around the web. She has worked as a professional blogger for dozens of websites including PC World, Dial-a-Phone, SF Travel and Financial Highway. She has also been published in a handful of print magazines including Latina and Skope. Kathryn started her own blog about crochet, Crochet Concupiscence, in January 2011. This blog was a 2011 runner-up for a Flamie award for Best Crochet Blog and was voted one of the top 5 2012 craft blogs in Inside Crochet Magazine. Her online articles about crochet have been published around the web on sites that include Crochetvolution, Crochet Liberation Front, SF Indie Fashion and Handmadeology.
You can learn more about the author at www.kathrynvercillo.com as well as through the Q&A below.
Q: What made you decide to start a blog about crochet?
KV: I have fallen in love with the medium of blogging. I write in many different formats but what I love about blogging is the genre’s immediacy (the potential for real-time posting) and it’s potential for interaction (through comments and links and related social media). I had already run several other blogs but wanted to start something that would give me an excuse to really delve deeply into researching a topic area of interest. Crochet really had my attention because it had helped me through a serious period of depression and so it was a natural choice for the blog.
Q: Why did you branch out from the blog to write a book about the health benefits of crochet?
KV: After a few months of blogging daily about crochet I realized that it was indeed a topic that was going to have my interest for awhile. This allowed me the comfort I needed to start thinking about bigger projects beyond the blog. I love the blog and continue to write daily on it about crochet art, fashion, design and community. But as much as I love the blog format, it doesn’t offer the same opportunity as a book to go deeply into detail about a specific aspect of your topic area and I also wanted to be doing that.
I actually kicked around a few different book ideas about crochet before settling on this one. This topic was the obvious one because it is my true story and what is closest to an author’s heart is always the best thing to write. It felt so raw, though, that it was tough to make the final decision to go with this title. I have been dealing with depression for over fifteen years and only healing from it for a couple of years so it felt very vulnerable to open myself up to sharing that story with the world.
However, I started doing some posts about crochet and health on my blog and I was hearing from other people who had stories similar to mine, and that was when I realized that this was a really important topic to cover. It hasn’t been covered in a book before now. So I started asking people to share their stories with me and when so many of them did I really felt comfortable and safe enough to move forward with the project. I felt a great responsibility to tell these women’s stories in an honest, pure way and that meant I also had to do the same with my story.
Q: Would you describe yourself as a blogger who crochets or as a crocheter who blogs?
KV: Both! In all honesty, I consider myself a writer first. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. It is what I do for a living but I would be driven to do it even if I had to work in another field for a paycheck. Crochet is a much newer passion in my life. It has played a key role in my life for the past few years. I imagine that it’s going to continue to do so for a very long time.
I blog about crochet because writing is how I can best share my interests with others. I can’t say at this point whether I will always want to write about crochet. I like writing about a diverse range of topics. I certainly plan on continuing to write about crochet for some time to come but I can’t say for sure that it will be something I do forever. I can say I’ll be writing about something for the rest of my life, though. And I’ll likely continue crocheting for the rest of my years even if I move on to a period where I’m not writing about the experience.
Q: Why did you choose to self-publish Crochet Saved My Life?
KV: I went back and forth about this decision for a long time. In the beginning I had identified a couple of agents that I might want to work with and had reached out to them but they didn’t take an interest in the title. I was getting ready to submit the idea to other agents and small publishers when I realized that my pitches to these people were presented very weakly and that this was because of an inner conflict about whether or not I even wanted a publisher.
In 2011 I had put together a booklet of articles about elderly women who crochet and self-published it through Amazon’s CreateSpace. The purpose of that project was primarily to teach myself about using this self-publishing tool. I had found the experience to be really positive.
Obviously, there are pros and cons. I had to outlay a lot of funding to make this book happen. And I chose to be involved in every step of the process from working with a photographer on the cover design to working with my web guy to make sure my site was stable enough for a book launch. There are definitely times when doing all of those steps is tough. But I think it’s worth it because as an author it allows you to truly retain all of the creative control.
I honestly believe that self-publishing is what makes the most sense for authors in the 21st century. I think that if you’re going to be successful as an author today, you need to be involved in all of the marketing and whatnot anyway (even if you do work with a publisher) and with self-publishing you get that added knowledge that you really directed the whole thing and made it come to life. I like that I can easily decide what digital formats to make the book available in (get it on Kindle!), that I could choose to re-release it with a different cover and a prologue, etc. and that I don’t have to get permission from a publisher to do those things.
I tried very hard to make sure that the book looks as professional as possible. I utilized many different resources and collaborated with some great people. I’m sure that there are little things here and there that make it obvious that it’s a self-published work instead of a work from a big publishing house but I’m okay with that. In the end, as professional as I try to be, I’m very much a member of the DIY movement who got her literary start publishing in ‘zines that got sent to pen pals via snail mail!
Q: So now that this book is done, what’s next?
KV: I have outlines for two other crochet-related books. One will be similar in style to Crochet Saved My Life. The other will be a different type of book with a more creative/ artistic style. I don’t have a release date in mind for either of those projects, though. In the meantime I will continue publishing daily on my crochet blog (Crochet Concupiscence).