Kathryn Vercillo is a San Francisco based writer and crafter. She is the blogger behind Crochet Concupiscence and has recently written and self published Crochet Saved My Life: The Mental and Physical Health Benefits of Crochet.
There I am … a doubled-over heap of empty sobs balled up onto the bathroom floor, rocking back and forth trying to calm away the palpitating pain. My mind keeps racing around and around, exploring the tempting (but frightening) options for suicide. I could take some pills, I could slice my wrists … but I don’t really want to die. I just want to end the constant pain of living. I pull myself to my knees, then to my feet. I make my way back to my bedroom, crumple down onto the bed, and reach for a shiny G-size crochet hook. With hook in one hand, and a ball of soft merino wool in the other, I pull loop through loop until the thoughts of dying fade into the background and become less and less of an option.
Fast forward to January 2011. I have, more or less, survived a depression that had lasted for more than fifteen years. There are a lot of reasons for this, including a good therapist and the right medication, but I also know that crochet played its important part. The meditative qualities of the craft allowed me to relax when anxiety threatened to push me over the edge. The tangible act of making something from nothing allowed me to begin to believe once again in the possibility of creating a new life for myself in the years to come. The beauty of the things I made gave me a reason to feel a bit of self-esteem in a time when depression had made me feel worthless. I was healing, and I was ready to start something new, so at the beginning of that year I launched my crochet blog, Crochet Concupiscence.
Through Crochet Concupiscence I explored, and continue to explore, all aspects of crochet. I profile crochet artists working in the streets and in the galleries. I review crochet books, discuss new types of yarn, interview crochet designers and find as much crochet news as possible. But the one topic that kept resonating with me and wanting more attention was the topic of crochet and health. I knew deep inside me that crochet had helped me heal and I sensed that I was not alone. I had a story to tell and I wanted to hear the stories others had to share, so I started opening up.
By the summer of 2011 I had decided that I wanted to write a book about the topic. I began drafting the first chapter, about my own battle with depression and how crochet had come to help. I put out a few calls for stories on my blog and received an amazing response. Women I’d never heard from before came out of the woodwork to tell me the most personal and intimate details of their health problems. Liza told me how she struggled with the anxiety of intermittent blindness from an undiagnosed medical condition. Fran told me of the difficulty of trying to cope with PTSD after a traumatic, violent rape. Aurore explained how she had battled with hallucinations her entire life and had a serious break with reality not that long ago.
I used the stories that these women told me to guide my research for my book, Crochet Saved My Life. It helped me to create an outline for the topics that I wanted to cover in the book, topics related to the way that crochet (and crafting in general) helps people heal from both physical and mental illness. I knew that it was important for me to share the stories these women had trusted me with in addition to sharing my own so I shaped the book in such a way that I was able to include each individual story.
I continued with my research. I read about the history of art therapy and occupational therapy. I explored studies that have been done into the benefits of crafting. I looked at the books that exist on why people are drifting more and more towards a handmade lifestyle in the 21st century. And I continued to ask people to share their stories with me. The result of all of this is my book Crochet Saved My Life.
I chose to self-publish this book for a number of reasons, but ultimately because I believe that self-publishing is often the right choice in today’s world and is certainly the right choice for me. I like the option of retaining creative control, which allows me to tell my story and the stories of these other women in the way that is best for me. I utilized many different resources and collaborated with some great people. I’m sure that there are little things here and there that make it obvious that it’s a self-published work instead of a work from a big publishing house but I’m okay with that. In the end, as professional as I try to be, I’m very much a member of the DIY movement who got her literary start publishing in ‘zines that got sent to pen pals via snail mail!
Although this book is about crochet, and my own story is about depression, I believe that it will appeal to a wide variety of crafters who are dealing with a diverse array of illnesses. Crafting heals us. Somewhere inside, I think we all know that, and that is why we are driven to do it.
Photography by Julie Michelle Photography.