Tag Archives: Failure

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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Hook to Heal: Wk 6 reading/Wk 4 check-in

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Hook to Heal: Wk 6 reading/Wk 4 check-in

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Our week 6 reading assignment is:

Week 6: 6th-12th June

  • Facing Fears, pp. 116-138

For those on Kindle that’s from the chapter heading “Facing Fears” to the text box “Yarn for Thought: More Musing on Fear.” This box has 6 bullet points and the last one begins “Make a list of all the things that make you unique,” and ends ” – celebrate that!”

Vercillo pulls no punches in the opening to this chapter: “The things that you are afraid of are holding you back.” I cannot overemphasise the truth of these words. It is a lesson I have learnt time and time again from working on these kinds of projects and on personal improvement. Every single time I have felt ‘stuck’ with creative work, or with wanting to go in a new direction or improve a situation in my life, I have traced the cause back to fear. Basically, I’m not making progress because I am scared to make progress. The specific fears may vary between individuals. Mine tend to be very consistent. I’m scared to fail. And at the same time I’m scared to succeed. But there are ways into dealing with and overcoming these fears, and chapter 6 of Hook to Heal is a great way to start. But let me ask you a question. Are you someone who’s been following this read along, hoping or trying to participate? Is something holding you back from really engaging with the process? Could that barrier be a fear?

Have a great week. Slay some dragons. 🐲

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

Personal check-in, week 4

  • Morning pages: 5/7
  • Artist’s date: kinda. Great days out, but it’s hard to do that alone in half-term!
  • Exercises: Of 14, I completed 4, prepared the ground for another 3, am intending to do 3 more in the future, and decided the remaining 4 are not right for me just now.

I have to say, I’ve had a great Hook to Heal week, which is the first time I can really claim that. Maybe it’s no coincidence that this breakthrough came in week 4: Self-Care and Self-Esteem Building. After all, I started this whole process after I recognised a lack of self-care and decided to do something positive to address that.

This week there was a heavy focus on affirmations, another valuable technique I first came across in Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. I got so much out of this process. I will show you the fisrt and last steps of my working of exercises 1-3. Here we examined the negative things we say to ourselves about our craft. We dig down to the roots of these ideas – where do they come from? – and analyse their validity. Then we flip them into positive affirmations and use them to start an upward a spiral of self-esteem building.

First I identified the negative things I tell myself about my work. One of the suggestions was to ask a friend about the negative statements they’ve heard from you. This was the response I got to that experiment:

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It is true that I’m generally a positive person and very forgiving of mistakes in myself and others. However I did come up with six pieces of negative craft-related self-talk with which to work:

  1. I should be working/tidying/etc.
  2. I should work on my commissioned piece.
  3. I spend too much money on this.
  4. I have too many unfinished WIPS.
  5. I am not organised enough with my projects.
  6. I can’t charge more for my work.

After examining each of these self-criticisms, and identifying how much I really believe them, if at all, I followed Vercillo’s steps for turning them into positive affirmations.

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  1. I am working on my mental health, and that is important.
  2. The amount of time I spend on paid work is exactly right.
  3. The money I invest in myself, my health, and my happiness is money well-spent.
  4. My unfinished WIPs are not a problem and I can return to each project whenever I like.
  5. My organisation is good enough.
  6. I can ask extra-special prices for extra-special yarn.

These affirmations, and more, provide the basis of many of the exercises in this chapter. The exercises are too good to be confined to a mere week of my time and, like many of the exercises I have discovered from Hook to Heal, will become regular, maybe daily, features of my craft work.

Hook to Heal: Wk 5 Reading/Wk 3 Check-in

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Hook to Heal: Wk 5 Reading/Wk 3 Check-in

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Our week 5 reading assignment is:

Week 5: 30th May – 5th June

  • Embrace a Sense of Adventure, pp. 94-115

For those reading on Kindle, that’s from the chapter heading “Embrace a Sense of Adventure” to the text box entitled “Yarn for Thought: More Musings on Developing your Sense of Adventure.” The box contains 6 bullet points, and the last one begins “Make a bucket list,” and ends “… spark your creativity in new directions.”

This week the challenge is to build on these foundations of self-care and launch into new adventures, pushing against the walls of our comfort zones and learning new things, both about our craft and about ourselves.

Have fun!

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

Personal check-in, week 3

  • Morning pages: 6/7
  • Artist’s Date: 1/1 – Knitting indulgence!
  • Exercises: 4/6

So, here I am, a full week behind! I have decided that this is OK. I am remembering what the author said in her introductiom about not using this book to beat ourselves up (after all, isn’t that what we’re trying to get away from?) I also want to demonstrate that it’s OK to not do something perfectly. It’s OK to carry on in my own way. It’s certainly better than just giving up.

It has been another exceptionally tough week (fortnight, actually). So letting go, releasing, relaxing are all very good things to be concentrating on and I also continued with the idea of mindfulness crochet. Real life comes along with a big dose of stress for our family at the moment, and I have been using repetitive craft exercises as a balm. This week the almost endless beaded cast-off on my current project, and carding much of my fleece supply have helped to keep my sanity in tact.

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The almost endless beaded cast-off. So long. So worth it. So meditative.

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Carding raw fleece: guaranteed to calm the mind and soothe the spirit.

Letting go, releasing and relaxing is very familiar teritory to me, mainly thanks to my study of the Alexander Technique. So many of the exercises were either things I have done before, or aimed at types of personal development that I’ve been studying for years.

Focussing on our successes, getting rid of the ‘shoulds’ that we all have, challenging the belief that we need to know or to control, working with processes rather than aimimg for a specific result, this is all well worn ground for me.

So I enjoyed being a beginner (exercise 2). I taught myself Bavarian crochet! It didn’t go that smoothly, the tutorials I picked skipped over some key information (which, as someone who occasionally writes tutorials, is a very useful lesson!) But I wasn’t too worried about the errors, I left them in (exercise 6), and because I was only interested in the process of learning, not the final product, I frogged the lot after reaching my goal (exercise 4). I have already joined a mystery crochet-a-long (exercise 3) and although I didn’t get a chance to sort my wips (exercise 5), I shall certainly be following this exercise as I pack to move house over the next few weeks.

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First steps in Bavarian Crochet

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That doesn’t look right!

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A few errors, but basically I understand this now.

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Continuing beyond the tutorial. I got this.

 

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Final product. Ripping out my work scandalised my daughter. But the process was the thing that mattered, and that learning can’t be frogged.

Week 3 was a week of consolidation for me, rather than new territory. It was great to take the general principles I’ve been learning for the last few years and apply them to my craft in order to further eradicate the menace of perfectionism. They are lessons I will need to remember as I move forward with this project.

Hook to Heal: Wk 3 Reading/Wk 2 Check-in

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Hook to Heal: Wk 3 Reading/Wk 2 Check-in

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Our week 3 reading assignment is:

Week 3: 16th-22nd May

  • Letting Go, Releasing, Relaxing, pp. 32-52

For those on kindle, that’s from the chapter heading “Letting Go, Releasing, Relaxing” to the box entitled “Yarn for Thought: Musings on Letting Go, Releasing and Relaxing.” The last line says “What are your rituals for letting go?”

This week we bring into focus all the ways in which we are really too hard on ourselves. We particularly consider all of our “shoulds”, and the beliefs we have about ourselves and our creative work that drive those terribly unyielding “shoulds”. Importantly, we have the opportunity to start, or reinforce, the process of letting all of that go. This chapter does exactly what it says on the tin.

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 2.

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  • Morning pages: 5/7
  • Artist’s Date: 0/1
  • Exercises: 4/8

Cards on the table: I have had a rough week. The hardest week I’ve had for some time, actually. I have had long, exhausting days. I have had incredibly stressful wonder-what-the-future-holds days, I have had days of battling my fatigue problems and all the associated symptoms, I have had amazing birthday celebrations with my children, I have had deep conversations with friends and family, I have had a wonderful day with my training colleagues and I have had a day where I felt so overwhelmed by the expectation of their concern for me that I couldn’t bare to be in the room with them. What can I say; it’s been quite a roller-coaster.

So, amongst all that, how did the mindfulness crochet go? Well, not great in all honesty. In my state of raised anxiety I neglected to protect that time to really heal myself. It’s a daft choice. It’s a trap I have fallen into before and will fall into again, just like everyone else. What matters to me at the moment is not to never make these mistakes. It is to not allow them to pass unnoticed. Not in order to beat myself up, but to use as a stepping-stone to improve.

Having such a bad week, especially so early in the process, has served to reaffirm my committment. If life is coming into a difficult phase for me, then I need to take more, not less, care of myself. So that committment I wrote last week, here it is again. And this time I am going to read and take in every single word, every breath of it:

I commit to the work of nurturing, expanding and celebrating my creativity.

I commit to protecting my own precious time and space to pursue my creativity.

I commit to being gentle and forgiving with myself and helping myself to heal.

I commit to exploring the idea of artistry with an open mind.

I commit to investing my time, energy and attention in myself, such that I may become stronger, more balanced, and a better conduit for the creative process.

I commit to making myself better, not only for me, but also in service to those with whom I share my life.

Having said that, the Mindfulness Crochet chapter did have a big impact on me. Although I did not use structured time to work on Hook to Heal, I did do an awful lot of crochet and knitting to help myself feel better. And it was a different experience. I noticed so much more. I noticed the feel of the work, the delicate, skillful movements of my hands, the way the plies in my yarn untwisted and retwisted as every stitch was made. And the colours! Oh! I was working at the beginning of the week with the perfect yarn, full of unexpected, exquisite pops of colour.

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Möbius cowl/poncho made from “OITNB” from The Captain and Lovely

Look closely. Can you see them? Flashes of purple, pink, magenta, lime, tangerine. Bliss

It wasn’t until the beginning of this week that I sat down to work through some exercises. I still feel very resistant to all this work. The stress I’m feeling currently drives me to work quickly, and at a superficial level. To overcome that and reap the benefits of deep, slow attention I have to not be put off by the fact that when I start this mindful process, it is actually the last thing I want to do. The feeling doesn’t last long at all. It is a minor barrier to starting, but having started I then want to continue.

I was pleasantly surprised by how long my chain was when I attempted the first exercise: Basic Practice. I made it into the 20s before my mind wandered. I suspect I will repeat this exercise often.

The increased breathing triangles (exercise 5) were so much smaller than I expected!

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I’ll keep going with this exercise and see if they get any bigger! I fancy collecting them all to make a mindfulness mobile.

I have chosen my mindfulness cues (exercise 7), and although I didn’t get around to mantra crochet (exercise 3), I have the perfect project waiting for this exercise.

These exercises are definitely tools I will be using again and again. They are not tasks to be ticked off and then forgotten about. They have a lot to give. And I have more to learn from them. Above all, what I got from week 2 was a reaffirmation of my committment to this project and to myself.

Slow Making

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Slow Making

Stop.

Don’t read ahead yet.

Think.

What did you think when you read the title of this blog post? “Slow Making.”

Save your answer. Write it down if you like. I’d love to hear it.

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Was it a positive or a negative emotion? Or simply neutral?

Did you think ‘This is intriguing,” or

“That sounds depressing,” or

“Time to take pleasure in the process,” or

“Sounds like a long, slow grind,” or

“Boooooring!” Or

“That sounds tedious,” or

“That sounds exciting,” or did you think I was going to tell you about something I was struggling with?

The word “slow” often has negative associations in our culture. Speed, busyness, productivity at all costs is prized. What are the key words in that sentence? At. All. Costs. For me, that isn’t a high enough aspiration for life.

Story Skeins is primarily a vehicle for our shared creative journey, and to facilitate the coming together of our fibre community (something which happens in many ways, through the work of many people.) I also offer yarn and fibre for sale, but I always try to keep in mind that making things to sell is not my primary purpose.

Why not? Well, making purely to sell focuses on the end product and the success criterion becomes whether or not someone else chooses to hand over money for what you’ve made. Now, I’m not saying you can’t run a successful, profitable business from your creative work. But if your only aim is to sell, maybe you will be losing something.

I can make yarn that I absolutely love. But if I’ve not paid attention to the process, if I’ve not been present, if I’ve not engaged with the ‘doing’, but rather focussed on just getting to the end, then instead of a joy the work itself has become a chore. That’s not how I want to live.

So I will never be a production spinner. I will never aim to produce yarn at a fast pace. I won’t make things just because other people like them, if it comes at the expense of the processes I want to try out and the yarn I want to play with. I will stick with slow making. And if you are kind enough to buy from me, you may have to wait a little while, but you will know that my precious time, attention, love and care infuses the product you receive.

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My success criteria are more to do with the question “am I living the life I want?” It has little to do with end results. I’ve made yarn I love (great!). I’ve made yarn I don’t like (great!). I’ve made yarn that others love (great!). I imagine I’ve made yarn that others hate (great!), although so far you’ve all been too polite to tell me. I’ve made yarn that’s sold well (great!). I’ve made yarn that hasn’t sold (great! More for me to play with!).

Why are all these different outcomes great? Because none of them matter to me. By the time I’ve reached the point of having a finished yarn, or a sale, or a non-sale to judge, I’ve already met my success criteria. I’m doing what I want to do, in the way I want to do it. I’m living a creative life and getting the most out of the process. And I’m enjoying, slowly, every bit of it.

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The Story So Far …

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The Story So Far …

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[Quote by Lexi Boeger.]

It’s just over two months since Story Skeins officially launched. I’m feeling reflective tonight, so I thought I’d write a little blog about it.

This time last year I was working my way through The Artist’s Way as part of the training course I started in 2012. It was challenging in lots of ways. I was challenged to explore my creativity (after having been challenged to think of myself as someone capable of creativity in the first place…). I was challenged to identify my dreams. I was challenged to become more authentically, and wholly, myself. I was challenged to drop some of the artifice I thought I was using to protect myself, but was actually trapping me in the small space I had labelled ‘safe’.

How far I have come in just a year. One of the dreams I identified was to become a yarn maker. Why does it fascinate me so? I guess it’s always been how my creativity has snuck out, even whilst I was denying it and safely labelling myself as someone capable of learning practical skills. I still deeply appreciate the practical skill element of the work I do, but it’s not what fires the heart and soul. That fire is fed by the abundance of possibility. The freedom to play with shape and space, twist and angles and geometry, fibres and textures and wacky inclusions, colours and patterns and combinations, and ideas. Every creation is unique. Every moment is unique. As long as I don’t forget that, I have the excitement of a beginner every single day.

I’ve never liked attention. Making my work public has been one of the biggest challenges for me. Because my approach to my work is very experimental (not just in the spinning, but in the writing and the planning and the kind of projects I explore) I rarely have any sense for whether the work I’ve produced is any good or not. Old me finds that very difficult. I have about three decades behind me which are full of trying to be good and trying to get things right. New me thinks a little differently. New me is excited by the uncertainty. (Old me looks on from the sidelines, wondering WTF is going on.) New me has, to a large degree, given up rushing to judge myself as succeeding or failing. New me just wants to play. Old me just wants to play it safe.

So, I took a risk. I decided to show you all my creations. You may love them, you may not. So far I’ve loved most of what I’ve made. Sometimes right from the start. Sometimes a slow burn. Sometimes not until the moment of completion. Some stuff I’m still not sure about. Every bit of it has taught me something. Being brave enough to put it out there has taught me something. Why brave? Because maybe, if you really look at the things I make, and the way I do it … maybe you’ll see the real me.

Early work

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Early work

In the beginning was the yarn.

Yarn has always been a part of my life, though during my childhood we called it “wool”. As I’ve started to work with a wide variety of fibres, “yarn” has become a more useful term. As a small child it was for knitting, and that hobby sustained me for many years.

In 2010 I decided to learn to crochet. I had tried to crochet a few times before, always ending in failure. I found it so different to knitting. I didn’t really understand how it could make the shapes I wanted. But this time was different. I took a massive step forward. I decided that this time I would allow myself to fail.

Instead of failure being a disappointing end result, it became a vital part of the learning process. I’d tried to crochet before, so I knew how it was going to go. I knew I wouldn’t get it straight away. But I decided that this time I would try and then fail, and through that experience I’d learn something to take with me into the next attempt. Frustration was transformed into joy.

I hooked and frogged a few things (and ‘things’ is honestly the most descriptive word I have for them!) until at last, my first success! A granny square. OK, it had 5 sides, but at least it was recognisable. I frogged my 5-sided granny square and started again. This time on a fan stitch square. And this time, it worked! I still have that square. It’s part of my patchwork sampler blanket, worked over two years and a visual record of my learning journey. I can see it and point to it and touch it today. A concrete memory.

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One day a very good friend showed me the drop spindle kit she was considering. It suddenly occurred that I’d like to try that too. And a passion was born. I started on the drop spindle, which is a lovely way to learn, and right at the end of 2012 I was gifted my spinning wheel; the very aptly named Ashford “Joy”.

I took my learning process into my spinning work. Of course, it didn’t go smoothly. I no longer expected it to. No experience was wasted, it all added to my knowledge. By early 2013 I was producing my own yarn. Sure, at first it was lumpy and bumpy. I wasn’t spinning it for a knitting or crochet projet. I was spinning it to learn how to spin. I squirrelled each skein away and sooner or later a project would emerge, for which my thick ‘n’ thin, quirky old yarn was just perfect.

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It’s not about producing a flawless product. It’s about matching the project with the yarn.

It’s not about never making a mistake. It’s about learning what you can from every experience.

It’s not about mindless, mechanical production. It’s about the joy of the creative process.