Hi, welcome to String Revolution. I'm Léan, I live in Dublin with my husband and two little boys, and I am a dangerous stringy subversive.
My job is to radiate my creative truth, and to help you radiate yours. I create, without exception, every day. I write here when I have something to say.

(learn more about me).

Very Secret Mysteries, no. 3: Crochet

Pink crochet

It’s Wednesday! (That is, it was when I wrote this – but then I didn’t manage to get it posted before the Feaster woke up for his night feed. Oh well.) Here is the third in my series of personal introductions to the crafts I do. The first one is about knitting, and last week’s is about sewing. If you do any of these crafts, I’d love to hear about how you got started, too.

Ah, crochet. Instead of your two knitting needles, you have one hook, which you use to loop string around and under and between itself in a series of knot-like stitches. Like knitting, you work in rows or rounds, but unlike it, you (generally) have only one “live” stitch at a time.

The above photo – and please forgive its poor quality – is of a little demo piece that I made hastily a while ago to show my cousin how easy crochet is. (It is, really.) It’s just treble stitches and chains. The Oyster plays with it constantly – though I’ve no idea what he uses it for.

I haven’t done any crochet in years, but it holds a special place in my heart. (You know, there are far too many crafts of which that’s true, which is another reason I started this blog.) It’s the first craft that I can remember really jonesing for while away from home – this happens me noticeably often, come to think of it. On a family holiday in France in 1984, when I was nine, I suddenly got the feeling (you know it?) and made my mother find us a craft shop. We bought a crochet hook and two balls of yarn, one in a dusky purple and one in a French blue.

Back at our gîte, I made a strip in each colour, just rows of double crochet (by which I mean what’s called “single crochet” in the US), back and forth, maybe three inches by eight or nine inches. I loved the shallow ridges that the dc rows make when you work them into only one half of the stitch below.

I don’t remember having any plan starting out, but when I looked at my strips I wanted to find some way of joining them. Not having a wool needle, I “invented” the technique of crocheting the edges together, leaving one short side open to make a long, thin bag. A set of chained ties later, and I had a pencil case that saw me through the next several years at school. I wish I knew where it was – probably buried somewhere in my old bedroom at my parents’ house.

It must have been some time later that year when I met Sister Nathi. She was an ancient nun who lived in the rather odd teaching institution where my mother worked. She was often to be found at a reception desk, and she always had crochet in her hands.

But her crochet wasn’t anything like my crochet. No – her crochet was, for me, the stuff of fairy tales: an intricate white froth of tiny lace, the beauty of which I found almost unbearable. She made collars – the traditional kind, that you sewed onto a garment and then unpicked and resewed every time the garment was washed.

She was so old that her eyelids sagged moistly, and her fingers were big and dry. She never showed me how to make the things she made. But she talked to me, and helped me with what I was doing, and inspired me. I nailed my colours firmly to the crochet lace mast – to the extent that I was quite put out when someone suggested that it was also possible to knit lace. What nonsense!

At home, quite incongruously, I found Eithne D’Arcy’s Irish Crochet Lace: Motifs from County Monaghanand looked in my (frankly amazing) collection of inherited supplies for some cotton and a hook.

I worked my way through the book, more or less, skipping or improvising where I didn’t understand the instructions. Funnily enough, although I made countless motifs, I think I may have made only one object – a mat for my grandmother‘s Christmas present (in 1985, I think). It had a central motif, with eight motifs around the edge (two types of rose, alternating), and improvised fillings and edgings. It never lay flat, because I was finishing the final edging as we were being called to sit down for our Christmas dinner, and I made it too tight. (Also, I was eleven – you’re not supposed to make flat mats at that age, right?) So my grandmother used it in her silver bread-basket, which suited its shape perfectly.

After that mat, I think I largely put Irish crochet lace aside. I found my supplies a number of years ago, back when Niall and I were living in our cluttered little flat in Dublin 4. Having snaffled the Eithne D’Arcy book from my parents’ house, I immersed myself again in that fairy-tale froth:

Irish crochet lace motifs

Not for long, though – I’m afraid these have been yellowing in a bag at the back of a drawer ever since. I still haven’t got the hang of the Clones knot, you see, and I no longer have the eleven-year-old’s insouciance regarding wonkiness. I want my mats to lie flat, dammit. Perhaps one day I’ll join the Guild of Irish Lacemakers and sort myself out.

If you like the sound of the book I mention in this post – enough to buy it, maybe – and if you like my blog at all, and if the stars are auspicious and the moon is in the right quarter, please buy after clicking on one of these links (I’ll earn a small percentage if you do):


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