By Tina Oppenheimer

It was a State of mind.
States of mind.

To be here now
To escape the here now
Something to think about
A launching pad for my mind to wander
To pass the time
To feel like I’m not wasting time
Something to hide behind
To smooth awkward moments
To give others something to focus on
Energizing
Relaxing

Mind If I Crochet?

When I was ten-ish I came across a hook and yarn, and proceeded to “figure out” how to crochet. I thought I had it and showed it to an elderly relative. “NoNoNoWhathaveyoudone?” She ripped it out and showed me how to REALLY crochet. I’d give anything now to see what it was that I did then, when I thought I had it figured out. Nevertheless, it caught on with me. The first thing I remember making was a lacy-looking string poncho, then a bag. I used a few doily patterns and learned some more stitches and stitch patterns that way, along with some practical concepts. The rest of the time I made everything up.

I was always “artistic”. I particularly liked to draw. But when I was a teenager going to Moseley Road School of Art in Birmingham, England, I became aware of all the art around us everyday. Things are very decorative and ornate there. “Wall” art started to seem frivolous to me. I thought what a waste it is to make art just to hang there on the wall, when you could make functional things that were also art. Though I always continued drawing, I poured my “art” into blankets and sweaters. The hook was my brush and the yarn my paint.

The first blanket I made was out of woolen tweed yarn when I was living in a Land Rover in Scotland. I remember sitting on a rock in a forest crocheting while my boyfriend read aloud “The Great War”. It was rows of squares, all different. The second one was rows of hexagons, made on a small yacht crossing the English Channel on a sailing adventure. As a craft crocheting was perfect for me, being so portable. All it took was a little hook and some yarn. Or not. I liked crocheting found materials. I dissected a HUGE piece of rope I found washed up on a North Sea beach and made bags. Bailing twine was perfect for rugs before it was made out of plastic. Back then the grocery stores in England didn’t have bags. I crocheted my sister several nylon string bags. She uses them to this day, over 35 years later.

I don’t remember when I first began using two colors. I think someone may have showed me or told me about it. The first picture I have of a two-color design was when I was about 19. When I was 20 I made a landscape blanket. I drew the picture on graph paper and each square was equal to a certain number of stitches and rows. It was nine panels. The sky was some strange bluish-grey knobby, variegated synthetic blend yarn and there was a big geometrical yellow and orange mohair sun.

I was getting up a pretty good collection of pieces around then. I was in a few small craft shows in upstate New York where I was living. I decided to go ahead and apply to the American Crafts Council Craft Fair. It was to be the first year the show was in Rhinebeck, New York, previously having been in Bennington, Vermont. I got accepted! I feverishly whipped out as many large pieces as I could. Then, not long before the show, I thought maybe it would be good to have something smaller for someone who didn’t want to spend as much money. I made a hat and scarf set out of some crazy thick synthetic orange and white yarn, wild with fringe. Feeling so confident of my approaching success my friend and I joked, wouldn’t it be funny if that ugly scarf set was the only thing that sold?

A couple friends erected a giant pole structure on my 10’ X 10’ plot in exchange for matching crocheted bulls-eye sweaters. Blankets and rugs hung from the poles at the top, all the way around, inside and out. It was like a crocheted house. But, lo and behold, if that ugly scarf set wasn’t the only thing that sold, after all. My craft show career ended, but the hook spun on.

Around this time I was living with friends in an interesting little community in upstate New York called Krumville. I always took my crocheting with me wherever I went. After some scary experience of a missing hook when it dislodged from my work, I would hold it in my hand when in route. I didn’t drive back then so not only was there no reason to ever put it down, but there was all that otherwise dead time be it not for my portable craft. The hook protruded from the sleeve end of my oversized sweater of choice, thus earning me the nickname “Hook“. When questioned by less familiar acquaintances about this moniker “I’m the Crochet Queen” I would explain, pronouncing it “crotch-it” as I always have and still do. I was shocked, recently, to find a whole community of “Hooks” and “Crochet Queens” in the cyber land of our times. But I must have been among the first, those 35 years back.

In Vermont in the ‘70s I was picked up hitchhiking by John Kenneth Galbraith. It was dark, I was grateful for the ride back to Middlebury, but I didn’t recognize him, in fact, I’d never heard of him. He asked me what I did and I told him I was an artist. He said he liked art, he studied art in India. I told him I crocheted blankets and rugs and he invited me to bring some the next day to the Dean’s House where he would be staying and maybe he would buy one. I did and sure ‘nuff if he didn’t buy a big round wool rug for his son’s new house. Later I was to learn he was indeed in India, but as U.S. Ambassador, and he wrote a book about the art there.

The first sculpture I crocheted was a string Christmas Tree stretched over a soldered wire frame for a city-wide student show of Christmas “trees” in England. Once I crocheted a McIntosh apple for the orchard owner in Vermont where I picked apples for eight seasons. When my daughter was two I made the letters in her name into a full-sized blanket for her, which, at 28, she still has. She ended up knowing the entire alphabet while she was still two. My 24 year old nephew still uses his name blanket on his bed.

It took a while to find my way back to the hook after being suspended while my three kids were little and I was a farm wife, raising cattle in a culture with no time or value for “art”, whatever that was.










I’ve mostly made blankets, rugs, jackets sweaters and bags. A few years ago I had a commission for a pair of twin-sized flower blankets. I crocheted my favorites and the old stand-bys, then resorted to flower identification books and seed catalogs until I had two twin beds covered with flowers. A friend was photographing them for me before I sent them off and asked me if I had enough yarn left for a hat. It turned out well and since then I’ve made quite a few hats. I like it when someone asks for something that I haven’t made before or that is somehow a challenge. I don’t make solid colored things or use patterns.

Recently a friend sent an article about some huge humanesque crocheted sculptures, and reminded me of a blanket I’d made for a mutual friend years ago that had three-dimensional breasts at his request. I was up for a new challenge, but what to make? I surveyed friends for suggestions, but couldn’t come up with a worthy answer, so as a default I made — myself, a crocheted, life-sized self portrait. I started with my face. Surprised and relieved that that went rather well, I had a great time watching myself come to life in my hands. I looked in the mirror a lot and took measurements of my body parts. A heavy copper wire runs thru my arms and legs and up my spine into my head. I put part of a plastic ball in my scalp to keep the copper wire from poking out. I stuffed myself with Styrofoam peanuts and poly batting. My fingernails and toenails are purple and I don’t like to wear shoes. I was done in time for a show at the natural foods store where I worked. I sat in the corner of the deli seating area for a month, while rugs crocheted out of brightly colored fabric strips, a huge paisley wool blanket and my granddaughter’s name blanket hung on the walls. Everybody wanted their picture taken with me. Soon pictures of me with adoring staff, friends and customers were also hanging on the walls. Total strangers would sit with me to eat their lunches. Occasionally I worked at a register just to prove I’m not just another pretty face; there’s something in there.

At the end of the month I sold myself to a wonderful friend who puts me in public places. I’m grateful she bought me, I didn’t want to get stuck with me. I take up a lot of space. I was at a coffee shop for several months and got to enjoy plenty of live music, though I was taken advantage of by rude small townsfolk. I got my fifteen minutes of fame on YouTube when I appeared as a cameo in a video about music at the coffee shop. Well, OK, it was more like a fifteenth of a second, but still… Around Halloween I scared people at a print store. Now I’m at Hand Held Knitting, a little yarn store off the square in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where I’ll be teaching a class in radial intarsia crochet. Mandala-like designs, round, crocheted with two and more colors at once.

I was prolific in my cross-country hitchhiking years. “Mind if I crochet?” I would ask after pleasantries had been exchanged, then I’d whip it out. It softened the edges. Something to talk about, if needed. It was a statement about myself: I’m harmless…. productive….practical…. creative…. unique…. Worthy of a ride in your car.

It was a State of mind.
States of mind.

To be here now
To escape the here now
Something to think about
A launching pad for my mind to wander
To pass the time
To feel like I’m not wasting time
Something to hide behind
To smooth awkward moments
To give others something to focus on
Energizing
Relaxing

The more complicated the design, the better the meditative experience.

I slept under many an unfinished blanket in the years that my entertainment doubled as my shelter. And left a trail of blankets and rugs with friends as I lightened my load and trucked on down the road.