Editor’s note: I’ve spent time in recent days with Melanie Falick’s exquisite book Making a Life: Working by Hand and Discovering the Life You Are Meant to Live. While I’m safer at home, I crave a journey, so it’s a pleasure to read Melanie’s travels across the globe as she spends time with dozens of creative people. I keep it by my bedside, a grown-up sort of bedtime storybook. I like the hundreds of photographs for the way they leave me with beautiful images at the end of the day. We have copies in the Shop if you want to go on a grand exploration.
Melanie has been on a new adventure of her own.
Just a week or two into the coronavirus stay-at-home order, I felt an urge to crochet a round rag rug.
I learned how back in January (during those innocent pre-Covid 19 days)—from a Cal Patch class on the Creativebug website—and now a voice in my head was telling me that I should begin another. I had a pile of old cotton sheets leftover from the first rug in my studio and every time I even glanced in its direction, I’d hear the same soft but insistent whisper: Make another rug; it has to be round.
For a few days I ignored the call, thinking I ought to use my spare time for more practical purposes (learning how to sew masks, vacuuming the dog hair off the steps, organizing bookshelves), plus I didn’t need another rug in my house or know anyone else who wanted one. But the urge continued. This came from the same internal messenger who gave me the courage to make a big career move a few years back, one of the best decisions of my life, and then helped me to figure out what to do next—write my book Making a Life, which was a more extraordinary journey than I even imagined.
I didn’t understand why I needed to crochet a round rug, but the directive was clear, so I began the first step, transforming the leftover sheets into strips of “yarn.”
As I tore down the length of the soft, worn fabric, I instantly recognized the satisfaction of the warp and weft threads releasing their grip on one another and giving off a strangely comforting ripping sound and clean-sheet smell. With each pull, I could feel some of the tension in my body subside.
Next I slid a slipknot on my fat size Q hook, chained two and single-crocheted five to create a circle, then continued with a series of evenly spaced increases. My sheets, some of which had served their original role for more than twenty years, were taking on a new form. Around and around, my rug was growing quickly. The physical gesture of insert hook, grab yarn, pull through, repeated in a spiral gaining cushy heft in my lap, was grounding me, making me feel less raw and vulnerable as I processed the chaos and uncertainty in the news.
The spiral is a symbol of so many things: growth, endurance, eternity; cycles, orbits, evolution, survival. It occurs throughout nature: nautilus shells, rams’ horns, pinecones, sunflowers, cyclones, our DNA. And it is depicted in art throughout the ages, everything from Stone Age carvings to Renaissance paintings to contemporary land sculptures. It reminds me that we are not alone but part of an ever-changing, interconnected whole.
When I interviewed basket maker Annemarie O’Sullivan for Making a Life, she said about her process, “When I’m making [baskets] and in my state of flow, I’m repeatedly drawing a line with my hand.” She compared her love for that drawing motion to her lifelong love of swimming and the satisfaction she feels as she “draws” her arm through the water. It occurs to me now that, in both cases, she is drawing spirals.
Renate Hiller, a spinner, knitter, and retired Waldorf educator, spoke to me about spirals, too. When you work with a spindle, she pointed out, it orbits. The yarn you spin is a spiral. Our galaxy seen from outer space is a spiral. And, of course, when we knit in the round, we are spiraling.
At first reluctant to make a rug, I was sorry to finish it. While I worked on it and also since then, I have been thinking a lot about how and why I choose my projects and about which ones turn out to be the most satisfying—as well as how I want to live when this pandemic has passed. I know that there is a messenger inside of me who will guide the way wisely as long as I make time and space to pay attention. Meanwhile, I should report that my rug is being put to good use. My dog, Sammy, who typically spends his days under my desk, is making his way onto it more and more often, curled up in what I now see as a spiral.