Book Review: Hook to Heal!

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Book Review: Hook to Heal!

Hook to Heal! 100 crochet exercises for health, growth, connection, inspiration and honoring your inner artist.

By Kathryn Vercillo

Hook to Heal caught my attention from the first time I heard about it. It went straight onto my wish list and when my birthday came around this year, lo! the book arrived (thanks, mum!)

Hook to Heal held a lot of appeal to me, as it draws together a lot of seemingly disparate themes that for me, reflect very accurately the threads of my life. I say “seemingly disparate” because I’m not sure that many people make the connection between fibrecraft and topics such as health, wellbeing, challenge and personal growth, despite these being obvious to many of us deeply involved in this fascinating realm of creativity.

Hook to Heal uses the medium of crochet to provide the arena for thinking through and working on all sorts of areas of life. These include, but are not limited to: Self-care, Self-esteem, Facing fears, Relationships, Balance, Giving something back, and Artistic development. With such a comprehensive scope, you can see that this is no small task that Vercillo set herself when planning and writing the book.

I decided to work through her book this year, and as an act of sharing and community-building, I decided to open the process up as a read-along for anyone who wished to join. I studied the structure of the book and devised a 12-week program. I knew 12 weeks was a short time for such a book, but fortunately I’ve battled my perfectionist demons already, and won, so my aim was to cover roughly half of the exercises in each section. There were weeks of huge success with the process, weeks of what felt like terrible failure to engage with it at all, and everything in between. I documented this journey here.

Firstly, I have to say, this is a brilliant book. It challenged me from the outset because it wasn’t what I expected from a crochet book. There are no pictures! As I worked through the book I came to realise that this was a genius decision. Vercillo challenges us in every chapter with crochet exercises that get to the heart of a topic. What would pictures do? They would give us something to aim for, something born of someone else’s imagination and thought process. In this almost entirely text-only book, we are set free from attempting to mimic a result. We are able to use the exercises to question ourselves, to explore creation in all manner of ways, and to just see the outcome of whatever comes from that process without the burdon of expectation or comparison.

In my 12-week whistlestop tour I have acquired a host of new tools to help me with various issues. Some of the mindfulness and self-care exercises in particular have become well-used favourites already and I hope they will support my efforts at self-improvement long into the future.

Coming to the end of the read along, my overriding feeling is that this is only my first pass of Hook to Heal. There is so much more in there to explore, so much more depth I have not yet reached. Ideally I would use the same 12-part scedule, but instead of spending a week on each section, it would be a month. Then I could spend a whole year really exploring the questions Vercillo poses, truly making time for and looking after me. 

I haven’t yet read Vercillo’s previous book (Crochet Saved My Life), but have heard at least some of her story through Hook to Heal and through her writing online. I think her work is so important as a contribution to the understanding of mental health and the positive role of creativity in recovery and in everyday living. Vercillo seems like someone who has taken her experience of the most challenging of times, and turned it into a force for good. This book is her gift to all of us.

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July Rolag Club: St. Swithun’s Day

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July Rolag Club: St. Swithun’s Day

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Welcome to Forgotten Festivals Rolag Club!

This month we are celebrating St Swithun’s Day on the 15th of July.

St. Swithun was an Anglo-Saxon bishop, born around the year 800, who lived until approximately 862. His feast day is on the 15th of July, and in popular lore he is remembered for the famous weather myth:

St Swithun’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St Swithun’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ’twill rain nae mare

Swithun was appointed as bishop of Winchester by Æthelwulf, the Anglo Saxon King of Wessex. He was known as a pious and deeply spiritual man, preferring to share banquets with the poor rather than the rich. Upon his deathbed he begged to be buried not inside the church, as dictated by his place in society, but “outside the north wall of his cathedral where passers-by should pass over his grave and raindrops from the eaves drop upon it.” In 971 Swithun’s remains were moved to a new indoor shrine, and legend grew up that the heavy rain on that day demonstrated the saint’s displeasure at the move. So grew the idea that if it rains on St. Swithun’s day, it will rain for the next 40 days.

Funnily enough, there is some meteorological truth in the proverb. The jet stream that influences our summer weather is usually fixed by mid July and tends to remain steady throughout August. If this jet stream lies to our north, high pressure from the continent leads to a warmer, drier summer. Alternately, a jet stream lying to the south of our islands brings arctic and atlantic weather systems, possibly including 40 days of rain.

This month’s rolag club is themed around our changing weather. You have a set of rolags inspired by glimpses of rainbow colours in a cloudy sky. We have an abundance of guest makers: your mini skein from Setting the twist is based on summer showers, you have the most amazing stitch markers from All Wound Up, and to cope with all this weather, you have handmade lip balm from Lifebloom. I’ve thrown in a few extra treats, including your tea, which has a bit of a twist this month.

Enjoy!

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“Shy Rainbow” rolags were blended with white falkland and alpaca, and colourful silk.

In your box you should find:

  • The story of St. Swithun’s Day
  • 30g of striping rolags in “Shy Rainbow” – 50% Organic Falkland, 30% Mulberry Silk, 20% Baby Alpaca
  • A handspun mini skein in “Summer Shower” by Setting the Twist
  • Flower tea
  • Stitch markers by All Wound Up
  • Lip balm by Lifebloom
  • A mini umbrella (or parasol – you get to decide)
  • Silver-lined clear beads – beautiful little raindrops!
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Weather-based stitch markers from All Wound Up.

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Blooming Flower Tea from The Exotic Teapot.

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Handmade lip balm from Lifebloom.

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A handful of raindrops: clear, silver-lined beads.

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And a little umbrella (or parasol!) to match.

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A pair of rainbows!

Hook to Heal: Wk 12 reading/Wk 11 check-in

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Hook to Heal: Wk 12 reading/Wk 11 check-in

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It’s our final week of the read along, and we are reading:

Week 12: 18th-24th July

  • Conclusions and Reflection, pp. 227-254

For Kindle folk that is from the chapter heading “Conclusion: Back to the Beginning” to the final paragraph before the section “References and Resources.”

We are past the main chapters and the exercises this week, and reading the final Conclusion pages, where Vercillo details the circuitous journey leading to the creation of Hook to Heal. We have the opportunity to reflect on our own journey, what we have learnt and our experience with the crochet exercises.

All the information about the read along, including how to join, can be found on the project page.

Personal check-in, week 11

  • Morning pages: 3/7
  • Artist’s date: Me and my garden
  • Exercises: 4/12

So in this final chapter before the book concludes we swing back to the theme that we started with: Artistic Development. “I am an artist.” Am I?

This is a real theme for Vercillo, and resonates with both mine and the author’s study of The Artists Way. So it is a question that I have sat with for several years now. I still don’t have an answer. And maybe that’s the best way. To come to a final answer would be to stop thinking through the question. If you visit my facebook page you will see that the category I chose for the page was “artist”. This isn’t a declaration to you. It is a challenge to me. And every time I load that page on my browser, the word still challenges me.

I have come a long way in the last few years. I now accept that much of what I do every day is creative (having previously thought of myself as completely uncreative: a mere technician, skilled only in following the instructions of others). That self-categorisation represented the boundaries of my comfort zone at the time. And my struggles with the A-word are a reflection of my comfort zone as it stands now.

I struggle with the idea of calling myself an artist. It seems far too big a claim. It seems like a claim that would expose me and my work to much greater scrutiny. And I think that is the heart of the struggle for me. The biggest leap I have taken in this whole journey is to open me and my work to the public, when in many ways I’d really rather stay unnoticed. I don’t see an end to that any time soon, and I was struggling to finish this blog post, having no satisfactory conclusion. Then something happened.

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My daughter, who hadn’t been privy to these ruminations handed me this note. It says:

Mum, you’re the artist.

Time to shine.

I asked her why she had given it to me. Why “artist”, I wanted to know. “Because that’s what you do,” she said, “with your spinning and your crochet and your drawing and writing.” It was so simple to her. She doesn’t carry the baggage that I cling on to. She doesn’t care about the weight of others’ expectations. Would I reach the same conclusion as her if I started from that place of simplicity? I shall think on …

Hook to Heal: Wk 11 reading/Wk 10 check-in

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Hook to Heal: Wk 11 reading/Wk 10 check-in

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It’s week 11, our penultimate week and final full chapter of Hook to Heal! Here is the reading for this week:

Week 11: 11th-17th July

  • Artistic Development, pp. 211-226

For the Kindle readers, that’s from the chapter title “Artistic Development” to the text box “Yarn for Thought: More Musings About Being An Artist.” The text box has 7 bullet points and the final one begins “What is the difference …” and ends with “What are the similarities?”

This week may come as a real challenge to many of us. Vercillo throws down the gauntlet in this final chapter, asking us to define and then test our ideas of what an artist is, of who an artist is, and of whether or not we belong in that category. She has a definite view to put forward here, and you may or may not share it, but I suspect it will be a very interesting experiment to allow ourselves to question our preconceptions.

Have a great week.

All the information about the read along, including how to join, can be found on the project page.

Personal check-in, week 10

Coming soon … 🙂

Hook to Heal: Wk 10 reading/Wk 9 check-in

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Hook to Heal: Wk 10 reading/Wk 9 check-in

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Our week 10 reading is:

Week 10: 4th-10th July

  • Balance, pp. 191-210

For the kindle readers, that’s from the chapter heading “Balance” to the text box “Yarn for Thought: More Musings on Balance.” This box contains 6 bullet points, and the last one starts “Make a list of your 10 favourite things to do,” and ends “How can you adjust that?”

This week we deal with that essential feature of a rounded life: balance. Balance is one of those things I seem to be always in search of, never achieving. We will have opportunities for crochet exercises that face the often contradictory needs we have. We will challenge our perceptions of the “right” way to do a task by doing it several different ways. We will look at symmetry, harmony, discord and tension. We will see how our crochet lessons translate into broader aspects of life.

This is our penultimate topic, so have fun with this one. x

All the information about the read along, including how to join, can be found on the project page.

Personal check-in, week 9

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  • Morning pages: 4/7
  • Artist’s Date: Designing and working on squares for Woolly Hugs’ Jo Cox memorial blanket.
  • Exercises: 4/7

Week 9 was all about giving back, something that has always been important to me and is reflected not only in charitable donations, but also in the voluntary work that I do. It was a real treat to give back via the medium of crochet and fibre art.

The crochet that I worked on for this week’s artist’s date is destined for the woolly hugs charity (exercise 1), and I have made plans to teach a new student to crochet (exercise 2). I have been gradually reducing my yarn stash over time and had another ruthless sort out, the results of which will be donated to charity (exercise 3), but the real excitement for me this week was exercise 6: Slow Yarn.

I love the idea of slow making, and slow yarn is really what I’m all about. Slow as in taking time to appreciate the process, to make the most of the experience, and capture some of that care and attention in what is being created.

This exercise encouraged me to find out more about the slow yarn movement. I rather liked this post, and had a good mooch around slowyarn.com, but overall there was very little web presence for the idea of slow yarn. Which makes me more determined to carry on with this work and keep making, and writing about making, my slow, story-infused, unique yarn for crafters.

I feel the process that I have carved out for myself is one that gives back with abundance. It gives back to me, using mindful creativity to restore myself. It gives back to the craft community, with the offer of something unique and meaningful, and it gives back to the world: a little bit of a creative soul, shared freely. Make of it what you will.

x

June Rolag Club: St. John’s Eve

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June Rolag Club: St. John’s Eve

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Welcome to Forgotten Festivals Rolag Club!

This month we are celebrating St. John’s Eve on the 23rd of June.

St. John’s Eve is closely associated with midsummer celebrations and is celebrated in many countries around the world with the lighting of bonfires. Although named for a christian martyr, many of the traditions that survive to this day are pre-Christian in origin. The lighting of fires (and sometimes, the leaping of fires) relates to the belief in the cleansing properties of fire. It was also a time for the gathering of herbs to ward off spirits, especially witches, and chief amongst these herbs was St. John’s Wort, the pungent yellow bloom still in use today for its medicinal properties. St. John’s Day, or midsummer, was fixed as the 24th of June, despite the variation in date of the summer solstice. The saint in question was John the Baptist, born roughly 6 months before Jesus and so his feast day was set 6 months before Christmas Eve, making it one of the few saints days to celebrate the martyr’s birth, rather than death. St. John’s Day became one of the English Quarter Days, the others being Michaelmas, Christmas and Lady Day.

This month’s rolags are bonfire-inspired. You will also find a mini-skein in “charcoal” from Setting the Twist, a bit of heat from your three ginger tea and the gingins chew, soothing bedtime tea containing valerian, which was also collected at this time of year, stitch markers and a notions pouch from Forest Valley Designs to celebrate the solstice and the traditional herb-gathering, a tealight to have your own mini fire, a poem, and a recipe for the celebratory dish called “Goody” which was associated with this festival.

Happy midsummer!

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The “Bonfire” rolags were created as a reversible gradient set.

In this box you should find:

  • The story of St. John’s Eve
  • 10g of rolags in “No Smoke Without” – 50% Grey Suffolk, 20% Yak, 15% Rose, 15% Tussah Silk.
  • 20g of reversible-gradient rolags in “Bonfire” – 49% Merino, 21% Tussah Silk, 15% Baby Camel, 15% Faux Angora
  • A handspun mini skein in “Charcoal” by Setting The Twist
  • Tea in Three Ginger and Bedtime blends
  • Stitch markers in “Sun” and “St. John’s Wort” by Forest Valley Designs
  • “The Joyful Feast of St. John”
  • A recipe for “Goody”
  • A tealight
  • Gingins ginger chew
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A sun worthy of midsummer, from Forest Valley Designs

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St. John’s Wort by Forest Valley Designs

“The Joyful Feast of St. John”

Then doth the joyful feast of St. John the Baptist take his turne,

When bonfires great with loftie flame, in every towne doe burne;

And yong men round with maides, doe daunce in every streete,

With garlands wrought of Motherwort, or else with Vervain sweete,

And many other flowre faire, with Violets in their handes,

Whereas they all do fondly thinke, that whosoever standes,

And thorow the flowres beholds the flame, his eyes shall feele no paine.

When thus till night they daunced have, they through the fire amaine

With striving mindes doe runne, and all their hearbes they cast therein,

And then, with wordes devout and prayers, they solemnly begin,

Desiring God that all their illies may there consumed bee

Whereby they thinke through all that yeare from Augues to be free …

 

From a 16th Century poem by Thomas Kirchmeyer

Ref: Families, Festivals and Food, p.51

Recipe: “Goody”

Ingredients (all quantities approximate)

  • 350 ml milk
  • 8 slices of slightly stale bread
  • 35g sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon

 

  1. Heat the milk in a pan.
  2. Take the slightly stale bread and tear each slice into smaller pieces. Add the bread to the warm milk.
  3. Add 25g of the sugar and bring the mixture to the boil.
  4. Adjust the sugar to taste, and add more milk if needed during cooking.
  5. Pour the mixture into an oven-proof dish.
  6. Top with the remaining sugar, mixed with the cinnamon.
  7. Bake until browned and crispy on the top.
  8. Serve and enjoy.

Hook to Heal: Wk 9 reading/Wk 8 check-in

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Hook to Heal: Wk 9 reading/Wk 8 check-in

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Our reading for week 9 is:

Week 9: 27th June – 3rd July

  • Giving Back, pp. 177-190
  • For the kindle folk that’s from the chapter heading “Giving Back” to the text box “Yarn for Thought: More Musings on Giving Back Through Crochet”. This box has 5 bullet points and the final one begins “Where do you make most of your purchases?” and ends “… the community of people out there who are making things by hand?”

The focus is on helping others and thereby helping ourselves. There is a well-researched link between voluntary work and wellbeing. This week we will see, and maybe follow, Vercillo’s suggestions for giving back through the medium of crochet. This could be small-scale, such as making a gift for someone, it could mean starting a crochet group or getting involved in a charity. There is all manner of craftivism out there to inspire and build upon.

Have a great week!

All the information about the read along, including how to join, can be found on the project page.

Personal check-in, week 8

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  • Morning pages: Where’s the wagon?
  • Artists date: Me and my hook. 💕
  • Exercises: 4/8

Before I talk about this hook to heal week, I wanted to address the issue of perfectionism. Before I started this hook to heal journey, I had no idea it would coincide with some of the most difficult times I’ve had in recent years (and if you know me, you’ll know that’s bad.) It has made it very hard to stick with this, to protect that time, and to do the work. But that’s ok. Life happens. In my previous incarnation as a dyed-in-the-wool perfectionist, this would be cause to abandon the project entirely. But no longer. Running this read along means doing my part of the journey in public, and the fact it’s been a rough ride for me means I get to model the process of accepting and working with the difficulties; of hitting bumps in the road, but getting up again each time.

So this week my morning pages went awol and my artist’s date was necessarily very modest. But I am feeling a whole lot better today and came back to my pages with renewed enthusiasm! And although I am missing a couple of weeks, working with the week 8 exercises fit well, so I taught my husband a new craft (though it was lucet rather than crochet … the principle holds!)(exercise 1), I crafted in parallel with my children, to lay the foundations of family craft hour (exercise 2), I didn’t get around to the exercise about recreating a favourite memory, but I did find the pieces already in my collection of fibre art that has been inspired in this way. My favourite is this woven scene:

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It probably won’t mean anything to you, but it means so much to me. For me, this scene is summer school, friends and family, freedom, love, laughter and learning. And baseball! I have also crocheted gifts with intention (exercise 5), joined local crafting groups (exercise 6), and does this read along count as a crochet book club (exercise 7)? Probably not, but I’m glad I did it.

So onwards to week 9. I still have an awful lot of healing to do, but now I feel ready to face the challenge again.