by Lou Mancinelli
This is not your grandmother’s crochet. But that depends on your grandmom. When thinking of crochet one may picture yarn, sweaters, scarves and mittens. But crochet is a form that goes beyond string, where artisans make bracelets and necklaces out of metal and hats from paper, using stitch and pattern as a form of expression.
For 40 years Karen Thompson has crocheted. It has helped her deal with the murder of a son. The death of a mother. Crochet is a bonding experience — a way to connect with her youngest of three grandchildren.
“Hooksations” is Thompson’s mobile boutique. Everything there, the stylish women, men and children’s apparel, to jewelry, hats and sandals — is crocheted. Hooksations goes to art and craft fairs and events like the recent East Mount Airy Neighbors Kwanzaa Festival.
“Crochet cannot be duplicated by machinery,” Thompson said, praising its homemade qualities.
Thompson will be teaching “Intro to Crochet: Chic and Trendy,” a five-week course on Saturday mornings from 9 until noon, beginning Feb. 28, at Blair Christian Academy, 220 W. Upsal St. in Germantown. This marks the seventh year Thompson has taught the class through Mt. Airy Learning Tree.
“Usually people have a stereotypical view of what crocheting is,” Thompson said. In her class, students will find, crochet is an expanding world, very much alive outside of yarn.
She tells her students, “Whatever you can think, you can possibly do.” During the course students will learn about history of crochet, famous people who do it, and other interesting facts, in addition to the basics.
It’s the kind of craft you either stick with or don’t, she explained. Thompson has stuck with the yarn, needle and hook since she was four years old, discovering later in life that one could explore the craft using other materials. Her mother was one of 10 kids. Thompson’s grandmother decided that each of her six girls would practice a different craft.
“I always joke if I was born to a different sister, I would sew,” Thompson said. As it was, she remembers that “as a little girl I would just sit and watch” while her mother crocheted. When her mother died in 2004, Thompson, now 46, found old crochet materials she’d left behind. “I couldn’t throw it away,” she said. “It helped me with the grief.”
It was the beginning of something new. Crocheting was something she’d put down for a while, since after high school. She was raised in North Philadelphia, a neighborhood she still lives in, and in her early 20s Thompson began working where she has worked for 20 years as of this February, for the City’s Department of Health.
After a near 15-year break, Thompson found crocheting relieved stress. It was therapeutic, a way to express what she was going through. She would make different items, and soon people would ask her to make them something specific. A kind of sweater or shawl.
Meanwhile, the new world of crochet she’d discovered on the internet blew her mind. That’s what led her to launching Hooksations, which became an official limited liability corporation (LLC) in 2009. There was so much out there, she found. Shoes, sandals, bags.
“I realized, if I really wanted to do this, I needed to be taken seriously,” she said about crochet. Hooksations provided her that legitimacy. At the same time, she discovered a group called Crochet Guild of America (CGOA), which offered a community as well as certification. Thompson became a member, then enrolled in its masters program. She earned her CGOA Master of Advanced Crochet Stitches and Techniques in 2011.
“People don’t take you seriously when you say you’re a crochet artist,” Thompson said humbly. “I am a crochet artist. I’m a master in crochet technique.”
“Crocheting With Lucy Loop” (2012) is her self-published children’s book with illustrations that break crocheting down into a simple user-friendly story. Working with kids, she found they were fast learners, but would forget. She needed a way to break the technique into its simplest parts — using a hook to pull yarn through a series of loops, creating a stitch.
For Thompson, a mother of three boys and one girl, crochet is a form that bridges generations and bonds people in the present. She’s taught it to her own three grandchildren. In front of her home is a tree she and her youngest granddaughter have yarn-bombed with crochet in honor of the girl’s father and Thompson’s son.