Note: I wrote this three years ago, about two years after we moved to Ohio. If some of the numbers seem a bit off, that’s why. There’s a website, The Family Trunk Project, that has the option to pay for their patterns with stories instead of money. There was a pattern I wanted, but we didn’t have the money to spend on things like patterns. So, I wrote this story instead. A few days later, I had the Jessie Lambdin shawl pattern. This is my story.
I come from two families of crafters.
When I was born, one of my paternal great-grandmothers gifted me with a handmade quilt. It was a simple patchwork quilt that was hand-stitched. It was my blanket, something that I took with me if we were going to be away from home for more than a couple of hours. I had that blanket, threadbare as it was, until I was eleven, when my younger sister was born. By that time, I no longer needed it, and she did. There were places where it was slightly torn and my mother sewed it back together. It eventually moved on to my youngest brother a few years later and then, after him, to my youngest sister. When she was six, it was so ragged that it had to be thrown away. I was 22 by then, and wasn’t interested in such things anymore. More the fool, I.
When I was nine, my mother taught me to cross-stitch. She and my aunt Heidi, her younger sister, had been sitting together, stitching, when I asked to be taught. Mom and Heidi both smiled and indulged me. For Christmas that year, they both got small samplers, not very detailed but still handmade by me. My mom still has hers, and I assume that Heidi has hers as well. I cross-stitched as my sole crafting outlet until my mid-20s, when I ventured into other crafts. I remember spending hours during the summer, poring over my mom’s collection of Cross Stitch & Country Crafts magazines, wanting to make some of those patterns, never having the money or ambition to sit down and actually do it.
When I was fifteen, my paternal grandmother asked what I wanted for Christmas. I had a twin-sized quilt that she’d made when I was about seven or eight, and I had grown into a bigger bed since then, so I asked for a quilt. She got very quiet and asked why that. I told her that my favorite blanket was the one she made me when I was younger, but I was outgrowing the clowns on it. She smiled and got a little teary-eyed. For Christmas, I got a patchwork quilt in dark blues. My younger brother got one in light blues. Last week, when my partner and I were going through boxes to consolidate things for our upcoming move, we came across them. For some reason, I have both of them. I couldn’t bear to get rid of them, so they’re coming with us. He understood.
When I was 21, my mother ordered – mail-ordered, from a catalog – a circular knitting needle so she could knit my dad a Voyageur hat for Christmas. The hat was made of bright red Red Heart yarn, and he still treasures it. I remember vividly watching her knit it, but never having the desire to learn to knit.
I moved away from home at 21, and it was a few years before I started doing other crafts. I learned how to etch glass. I learned how to clean and prep greenware to fire, and how to decorate the ceramic product. I made imitation stained glass with Gallery Glass. Every trip to a craft store turned into a “what if…” trip that left me wanting to do more.
My friend Scott could design and make clothing seemingly by pure desire. It was a very useful skill for a drag queen to have. Between Scott and our friend Dan, who made jewelry, the three of us were dressed to the nines whenever we went out.
When I was 30, I was on the bus, riding my way to work. In the seat in front of me, a middle-aged Chinese woman had two wooden knitting needles and a skein of yarn. She was doing some arcane cats-cradle looking manipulations with the needles and yarn. For twenty minutes, I was utterly fascinated. I called a friend who I knew knew how to knit and told her that I’d like to learn. She took me to get a set of needles and some yarn and we sat down and I learned how to cast on. Then I learned to knit. Then I learned to purl. Then cast off. It was an afternoon that would shape my life to a degree I’d never imagined.
A year and a half later, there was a call for submissions for a new online men’s knitting magazine. I decided to try my hand at it, and my first (and to date, only) pattern was accepted and published. My mother was ridiculously proud. I would later go on to teach a shadow knitting class at my local yarn shop.
A couple of months later, I joined a knitting group in San Francisco that ended up being my Monday Night Family. I learned techniques, I learned about things going on in the City that I wasn’t part of. I learned how to converse and knit at the same time and later, to read and knit at the same time.
Then we moved from California to Ohio. I was leaving my crafting family behind. It was difficult, but I knew that we had friends waiting for us in the Midwest. I searched for three months to find a group of knitters to which I could belong. I found the Mid Ohio Knitters Guild. To date, I am the only man in the group, and I’m okay with that. I also found a knitting group that has a similar sense of humor to me, and I greatly enjoy knitting with all of them.
Someone on one of my groups on Ravelry brought up just today that the board that we’re both on is more than just a group of people; we’re more of a tribe, our own little (sometimes dysfunctional) family. As I was reading posts this evening, I clued in to what she was saying. Everything from wedding favors to organ transplants to gay marriage to hypothetical comical ass-kickings for people in the group from people in the group was portrayed tonight. Our conversations wander like some polluted stream of consciousness that only other people in our little creepy tribe can follow. And that’s okay. We all get each other. It’s a sense of belonging.
In the last 36 years, handmade things and crafting have been a very strong part of my life. From quilts from my grandmothers and gifted cross-stitch samplers for my mom and aunt, up through my knitting a shawl for my mother that won a blue ribbon in the Ohio State Fair and a beautiful lace scarf for my grandmother’s 80th birthday, I can’t remember a time when there weren’t amazing things being created for my family and from my family, both genetic and chosen. There are dozens of people in my chosen crafting family who I will probably never meet. That doesn’t make them any less special to me. They’re my tribe and they get me. And I get them. That makes it all pretty damn nifty.