The story of my crafty hands

A long overdue post!  I’m sorry it’s taken me a while to write again.  I have been gearing up for a busy fortnight of teaching and there have been some new prospects on the horizon, which is lovely and means that, work-wise, things are moving in the right direction :-).  But it does mean that I have had little time for designing, which is something else I profess to do.

Ideas and designs have been whirling around in my head for several weeks now, and last Friday I managed to find a long enough stretch of time to sit and let the creative juices flow.  I decided to focus on crochet: the last time I wielded a crochet hook was back in April, when I made the Pineapple shawl.  I wanted to make some baby blanket samples – nice, simple, relatively easy patterns aimed at those who’ve been introduced to the basics of crochet and are looking to make their first project.  Here’s that afternoon’s work:

CrochetBlanketSwatchesI like all four, but I think the two top swatches and the bottom left swatch would work best for a baby blanket.  It’s nice to have a mix of classics and something a little bit different, and the double crochet edging is easy to pick up – no need to worry about pattern repeats and having a specific number of stitches.  Garment designs have also been on my mind, but after I’d finished the third blanket sample I decided to have a look at my left index finger.  It had started to ache, and the photograph below explains why:

MySoreFingerLeft alone – especially if I continued to crochet at the same rate – this sore point could become callused.  I shared my sore finger on Twitter, partly asking what other crafty folk did about calluses, and the responses I got pointed to an appreciation of marks or blemishes as artefacts: “The mark of a true crafter” and “I have a callus plus a groove on my left finger where I carry the yarn…I like how our hands show our work”.   And those words got me thinking about the work that my hands have done for me throughout my life, and how their appearance has adapted and altered to suit various purposes – and identities.

It begins when we pick up crayons, brushes, pens and pencils as children, but as we grow and our interests develop, our hands eventually find more specialised uses.  My earliest of these involved music.  After beginning with the recorder (almost customary for British children, probably due to Henry VIII’s enthusiasm for the instrument), I found my way to the drums, piano and guitar when I was about eight.  The latter two instruments required the most dedication – for me – and my hands began to reflect that.

As a child, I loved my late grandmother’s hands.  They were classically beautiful and she kept her nails long, and always made time to buff them and keep them immaculate, especially on Sundays – I think it was her weekly routine.  Today, my feelings haven’t changed, but my child self was sad at the prospect of keeping my nails short at all times.  It wasn’t that I didn’t understand why: I knew that I needed to fully expose my fingertips in order to play.  It is easier, not to mention cleaner, to strike the keys of a piano with short nails; plus, the ‘ticking’ noise that nails make as they contact the keys is irritating and can be painful.  And if that wasn’t enough, the guitar had the last, resounding word.  The string made mincemeat of my nails, particularly the ones on my left hand as they applied pressure on the strings and moved between the frets.  And as for my right hand, I found it easier to strum and pick with my fingertips rather than my nails.  There was nothing else for it: off the nails came.

The guitar turned out to be my hands’ biggest bully.  Repeated contact with the strings caused much soreness and bruising, and calluses formed on my fingertips and down the side of my left index finger.  My hands were changing right before my eyes, and wise, knowing eyes could tell that I was a guitarist.  My hands provided more than a clue to my identity – they were my identity.  My skin would toughen up a little more when I took up netball, but musical instruments had the final say.  Just as my eyes read music more readily and my muscle memory enabled me to change chords more readily and precisely, so my hands adapted to my art.

Time passed, I left school, interests changed, life happened.  Eventually the only instrument I kept up was my voice, the years of hard skin shed, and my nails relished the opportunity to grow.  As my creative attention turned to crafts, I found that long nails made handy pincers and soft fingertips were ideal for handling fabric and yarn – rough skin would snag and I needed the ‘feel’.  As knitting and crochet became habitual, little ergonomic dents and features began to appear in my hands, just as they did when my focus was on music.

Sometimes I feel sadness or even pathos that my two creative loves are incompatible: my hands cannot seem to specialise in both crafts and music.  The muscle memory would come back, and my eyes would eventually not have to think about which note is which on the stave, but ergonomically speaking, it would be a challenge.  One commitment has been exchanged for another.  The little sore patch on my finger reminded me of the journey my hands have been on to date, not to mention myself and the ‘identities’ I have had to date.

And so I came back to my original dilemma: not having had time for designing and swatching.  Thinking about it, nowadays I am glad that busy-ness doesn’t cost me anything other than time.  My hands will always be primed and ready to go, whether I’m sewing, knitting or crocheting.  Ultimately, teaching and blogging/writing doesn’t stop me creatively crafting with my hands.  But sometimes, in these busy periods, little moments of frustration give you pause, and a tweet about one thing makes you think more deeply about how everyday activities not only tell the story of your life, but how that story might be etched into your hands over time.


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