Rachel Stewart was eighteen years old when she taught herself to crochet from pattern books she found in a local store.
This year Rachel will be ninety-six years old, with seventy-eight years of crochet experience! To honor her birthday, and her crochet achievements, we teamed up with some of her family and close friends to feature one of our most thoughtful community members.
What is your crochet story: How old were you when you learned, who taught you?
I was 18 years old when I graduated from Metea High School (Cass County, Indiana) in 1943. After high school I moved to Mishawaka, IN to work at the Ball-Band company.
While shopping at the Addison Five & Dime in Mishawaka, I bought at crochet hook, thread and a book to learn how to crochet. No one taught me to crochet, I was self-taught by reading crochet books. I did not learn to crochet when I was growing up because I did not have the time to learn as I was busy going to school and working on my family’s farm.
What materials did you first use to crochet?
The first thing I learned to crochet was a dishcloth and followed with crocheting doilies. I initially used size 10 thread. I now use size 20 thread when I am crocheting doilies.
My favorite yarn is a size 4 and I like many brands of yarn (e.g., Red Heart, Bernat)
My favorite hook is H when I am using yarn and 10 when I am using thread.
Do others in your family crochet?
No, I am the only one in my family who crochets.
Do you follow patterns, or make up designs as you go?
I follow patterns and I also make up designs as I go.
If I am following a pattern and I decide that I do not like it, then I will change it and make up my own design. Now, on most projects, I typically make up my own design and do not use a pattern.
Do you have a special crochet story to share?
I have 4 sisters and we used to get together every October for a “sister’s weekend”. During our sister’s weekend we would exchange small gifts. One year, my sister Betty, gave each of us our last names crocheted into a doily. Each of these crocheted names was framed so we could hang this handmade artwork in our homes.
I thought these crocheted names were such a nice gift that I wanted to learn how to do the same for other family members and friends. I studied how each letter in the names was crocheted and then when I went home, I crocheted a very large doily with every letter of the alphabet so I would not forget how each letter was made.
As gifts for my family and friends, I would often crochet either their first or last name as a doily and my husband, Kenny, would lay the “doily names” on a felt backing and frame them.
Has crochet ever been a business for you?
One day I met a real estate agent and she saw the names I had crocheted. She liked them so much that she asked me to crochet the last name of every person who bought a house from her. She would give these “crocheted names” as a house warming gift to her buyers when they moved into their “new” home.
This became a small part time business for me as she paid me so much per letter plus the cost of the frame. That is the only time I have every sold something I have crocheted.
I typically give my crochet handiwork as gifts or donations. In some cases, if someone asks me to make an afghan for them, they will purchase the yarn and I will crochet the blanket for free.
Do you have a favorite crochet tool?
I absolutely love the yarn basket that my friend, Dr. Dave Parks, gave me. It is perfect for crocheting as it holds any size yarn.
There is a plaque on one side with my name and birthday.
How else have you used crochet throughout your lifetime?
I have given afghan blankets to friends and family in every color and combination of colors.
I have crocheted blankets in the college school colors for nieces, nephews, and young friends and have made many combinations of pink, blue, yellow, green and white baby blankets as gifts at baby showers. I have donated lap blankets to nursing homes, baby hats to local hospitals (at one time crocheting 100 baby hats per month) and bed blankets for families that our church adopts at Christmas.
Why is crochet important to you?
I just love to crochet! It is a very enjoyable pastime for me.
I am 95 years old and I have to crochet something every day or I feel that my day is not complete. I get so much enjoyment out of crocheting something and giving it away.
Have you ever taught anyone to crochet? If so, what was that like?
I have never taught anyone.
What crochet wisdom do you have to share: tips, tricks, things that took you a long time to learn?
I would tell someone who is learning to crochet that one of the first things they should do is to learn the meaning of all of the symbols that are used in patterns. Additionally, I would encourage you to use the yarn or thread that is recommended by the pattern – to follow the manufacturer’s suggestions.
Thank you for being part of the crochet community, Rachel, and for honoring our craft for over seventy-eight years!
Be sure to wish Rachel a happy ninety-sixth birthday in the comments!
Peace + Love + Crochet