fiber artists Unite

By Cynthia Solywoda

Several years ago, my life seemed to be going in a positive direction. I graduated from community college, I passed several civil service exams, and I was going out for job interviews. It had been a long slog for me. In community college I could only take one or two courses per semester because of financial difficulties. But now I was on my way to getting permanent employment and security. It turned out that none of those things would come to be as important as something that happened one night in my apartment.

I was a victim of a home invasion. Someone came into my apartment while I was there, someone uninvited. I had to file a police report. I had to stay in that apartment because of my financial difficulties. I developed a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because of it. I did not feel safe in my apartment. I did not feel safe when I went outside. I was anxious when I was in a crowd and when I was in an enclosed space. I developed panic attacks that, sometimes, would leave me crying on the floor of my apartment. I could not go out for job interviews. Intense therapy helped me somewhat, though what truly helped me was crochet.

My mother had taught me how to crochet when I was a little girl, though I had forgotten it along the way. A friend of mine inspired me to take up the craft again. Her name was Gretchen Caruso. She lived in Florida. She suffered from an auto-immune disorder called sarcoidosis. She made blankets for the Linus Project, an organization that supplied homemade blankets to children with cancer. I was impressed with her ability to find joy in creating something that someone else would find pleasure and comfort in. Even though she could not hold an outside job, she was still being productive and helping members of society. I wanted to join her.

I went online and found a series of video tutorials on how to crochet. I went to online websites that provided free patterns. My first project was creating beanie caps for children and donating them to the Salvation Army. I used Red Heart yarns, because the company donates their income to the Red Cross. I might not have been doing much, but I was able to be productive and useful. More than that, my symptoms from PTSD had been reduced to almost nothing.

Once I had memorized the patterns for making hats, I took my projects on the city buses with me. I had long ago given up driving a car, and buses were my only mode of transportation. They were also a big trigger for my PTSD symptoms. Talk about crowded and enclosed places! I had tried listening to music, watching shows on my tablet, and playing on my phone, but none of those coping mechanisms helped. The only thing that did any good was crocheting. I would become so focused on my project that I could tune out the noise surrounding me. The combination of visual and textural sensory therapy helped keep my anxiety down so that I no longer felt like screaming or fainting. I even started making friends on the bus. People would ask me what I was making, where I learned to crochet, and whether I had a favorite supply store … I would ask them if they crocheted or knitted, if they had pictures of their projects, or even if they wanted to meet for coffee to talk some more!

My skill soon exceeded the patterns I found online, and I started to develop my own designs. Within two years of starting crochet, I had advanced enough in the craft that I felt comfortable opening up my own online store: Handmade By Solywoda. I loved when people messaged me to make custom projects for them. They trusted in me to fill their orders to their satisfaction. When the four-star and five-star reviews came in, I was flabbergasted! Now I had found my purpose. It wasn’t working behind a desk for the government. It was creating my own products and spreading joy all around the country with them.

I end this story with a request to my readers. Please, let me interview you or your loved one who crochets or knits. I want to hear how the art improved your life. Did it help you make friends, get through a difficult period, or bring your family closer together? Whenever I crochet in public, everyone tells me they do not see a lot of people working with fiber arts anymore. It is time for us to band together, unite, and show the community that fiber artists are alive and doing very well, thank you very much!