By Madeline Salsich
When I was in high school, I decided to teach myself to crochet from a stack of library books. I’m left-handed, so at first I was so confused by trying to flip the instructions in my head that all I could do was chain. Eventually I figured it out and have been crocheting every winter since.
One such winter, I was using my favorite hobby to ignore a daunting assignment from my metalsmithing industrial processes class. I was required to design a functional tool that transformed either the task or the way the original tool for that task was perceived. As many crocheters know, after a few hours of constant crocheting it gets difficult to comfortably hold a standard crochet hook. That’s where the idea for my Rocket Hooks came from. Why are standard hooks the same thickness down the whole shaft when you only work with the top portion? There’s no reason for it! As with many inventions, these were born of a fit of frustration.
The shapes and designs for my hooks didn’t come quite so easily. I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t have an aesthetic for them, and this was art school- everything has to have a reason. I went to the local used bookstore and ended up in the science-fiction section. I discovered (and promptly bought) an Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. It was full of all the fantastic book and magazine covers from the 40s and 50s–space men with ray guns lasering down threats to humanity, robots charging fainting beauties, and most importantly, sleek rockets blasting through space. The smooth shapes and strong profiles of these chrome-shining icons were ripe for translation. I had my aesthetic.
I had the form and the aesthetic; the next step was materials and creation. Standard crochet hooks are typically anodized aluminum turned on a lathe by programmed machines. These were the exact materials and processes we were currently studying in class, making my choices easy. I excitedly went about practicing on the lathe, and quickly found a new love in the machine. Lathe turning is a process few are familiar with, but everyone’s seen the results; table legs and banister spindles are common turned products. The process involves attaching a cylinder of material to a ridiculously strong motor, turning it on, and pressing a sharp tool like a chisel to the material at various angles. I took to it quickly and soon had ten undulating and ergonomic crochet hooks in shining aluminum. They looked so much like the rockets I’d drawn inspiration from that I almost didn’t want to color them!
I also took color cues from my sci-fi encyclopedia, and began experimenting with fading and masking off colors with tape. Anodizing is another exciting and fascinating process: it involves lots of danger, making it all the more fantastic. The basic principle is to open the pores of the metal through baths in lye, nitric acid, and finally an electrified hydrochloric acid bath. Once the pores are opened, the metal can absorb dyes just like fabric, except that unlike fabric, any unwanted color can be discharged and reapplied over and over. Once the final colors are set, the metal gets boiled in water for 20 minutes to lock in the color. The process actually results in a stronger surface than that of untreated aluminum.
Finally, I chose to design a rocket fin-shaped stand for them. I drew it out on paper and my professor helped me transfer that to Rhino, a 3D imaging program, so it could be laser cut from smoky grey Plexiglas. I also designed a box for them, styled after those fantastic old book covers. I drew it out in watercolors and had it copied and printed on glossy magazine paper.
The finished result is a seriously sci-fi set of crochet hooks, which are much more comfortable to hold for longer periods of time than the standard sets. I honestly never use the standard ones any more; any time I need a new size, I just go back to the lathe and turn a new one!
To purchase Madeline’s hooks (I will be asking Santa for this on my Hanuka list)go to: