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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—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. 


Knitting books I edited that address the spiral theme:
Knitting from the Center Out by Daniel Yuhas
Knitting Nature by Norah Gaughan
MDK Field Guide No. 9: Revolution with designs by Norah Gaughan

Leave a Comment


  • Thank you for sharing this, Melanie. I’m inspired…and I needed to be at the moment!!! I love your book!!!

    • So glad you are inspired. It feels really good to know that something I have written has had a positive impact.

  • Beautifully written. I loved your book and got to read it and return it to the library before everything closed and we began this stay at home journey.

    • Thank you.

  • You put me into a time warp….when I was a child my mother made huge crochet rag rugs from worn out clothing strips and they were our only rugs. I was so embarrassed by the horror of being that poor. It is wonderful, yes, wonderful to be reminded of the dignity of honest, essential crafting. Thank you!

  • This brought me to tears. So much is uncertain, and then there’s craft to ground us and guide us and remind us of what’s true and steadfast. Thank you.

    • You are very welcome. Be well.

  • Norah is great. Her book ” Knitting” pulled me into knitting when previous attempts (classes, boring scarves, etc.) failed, Never considered the spiral nature of the galaxy before. Have to go back now and look at all those designs in Knitting Nature.

  • Since we have been “at home” I have had the compulsion to knit cowls, starting with Heartwarmer from March Mayhem. I can’t seem to stop – I’m currently on my sixth! (all different patterns) Those long, spiral tubes have been a balm on my heart.

  • Lovely.

  • Elizabeth Duffy, of Providence Rhode Island, created a piece called Wearing Coat, which was included in the most recent Members Show for the Newport Museum. The Wearing Coat was created by undoing the spiral of a rag rug.

    • Fascinating. Thanks for sharing

    • Wow those are amazing, thanks for the link!

    • Oh my gosh, Patty, what a great link! Not only the rag rug clothing, but the quilts too! Thanks for that rabbit hole.

  • I am reading your book right now and the introduction to new crafters and their work is a wonderful escape from Covid. Thanks for taking me out into the world with your pictures and words


    • I’m so glad you are enjoying my book.

  • I must admit – I love the sound of fabric ripping against the grain. You can do it with so many fabrics (except linen or crepeline).
    Perhaps it adds to the excitement of buying – or working – with a new piece of fabric, whatever the source.

  • For about ten years now, I’ve made many rugs, as well as baskets and bowls, with old sheets, usually sourced from local thrift shops and friends’ linen closets. Yes! to the sound of ripping those strips and rolling them into very hefty and satisfying balls of fiber ready for their new lives. And they feel so good underfoot. Making something new from something old is just what’s needed right now. Thanks for sharing this.

    • I have been thinking about trying to make a bowl. I saw one made out of denim scraps that looked really cool. I made yarn out of an old pair of jeans but haven’t gone further yet.

  • I’ve had a recent sheet repurposing moment myself. The first set of sheets I bought when we got our bed finally gave out, after 25 years of steady use. I cut them (ripped mostly, once you snip to start the rip) into squares. I’ve been cleaning windows and surfaces ever since. I’ve never been sentimental about a dust rag before, but I am now! Looking forward to 25 years more with these squares.

    • Oh, Ann! Cleaning rags and a new O Cedar mop? You have truly mastered the lockdown!

      With no threat of anyone coming to visit, my house is vacuumed (cat hair) but not much more. More Zooming than vrooming!

      • I know, What is wrong with me?

  • In a Shakerag class in 2017, I learned to make rag rugs from old t-shirts and I haven’t looked back since! About a year ago I also started making rag rugs from old sheets. I donate my rugs to charities that help those who don’t have much and are moving into an apartment. My rugs are usually oval, but I’ve also made round ones and rectangular ones. If you live in Nashville, I teach how to do this (usually for free, but if there’s a fee, I donate my share to the group hosting the class); I’ll teach again when it’s possible. Making these rugs is a lot of fun!

  • I love this, and now I want to learn to make rag rugs. Off to check out CreativeBug.

    • Have fun!

  • Repetitive motions, especially those that involve going round and around, are deeply relaxing and satisfying. This is why I love throwing pottery, spinning, and knitting socks. Creative, yet not requiring stressful thought or decisions.
    Love your rug!

    • Thanks. I took a pottery class last summer and am hoping to be able to take another one now.

  • Gorgeous rug! Now I think I need to learn to crochet!

    • Making this rug is really easy. The class is free on Creativebug right now.

  • I am also in the studio making a rag rug out of quilting scraps. It was the only thing calling to me after sewing masks. Something about making that long ball of ropey yarn is so satisfying right now.
    Thanks for the thoughtful post and the connection to spirals.

    • I agree. The balls of yarn make me think of planets.

  • This sounds like a good project for tomorrow!

    • Go for it.

  • I no longer have the Icon on my MDK page to “save” an article. I have rebooted and still no icon. Is this as it should be or do I need help to restore it?

    • Make sure you are signed in—check with the “person” image in upper right hand of page.

  • I know that voice- sometimes the things it insists on seem unlikely, but it’s best to follow it. Lovely spiral.

  • Once the seriousness of COVID-19 became apparent, I lost my knitting mojo. I’ve knit almost every day for over a decade. The craft I first learned in childhood was crochet, however. One day I had such an urge to crochet up simple traditional granny squares. What a comfort it has been! While I hope my squares will eventually be a blanket, I am just enjoying the mostly mindless movement of making something where fit won’t be a concern, and I’m simply enjoying the look of my squares crocheted with some of my yarn stash.

    • Very interesting. I’ve been thinking about making granny squares too. I’m new to crochet though.

  • I feel you! Inspiring.

  • Beautifully expressed “ The spiral is a symbol of so many things: growth, endurance, eternity; cycles, orbits, evolution, survival… It reminds me that we are not alone but part of an ever-changing, interconnected whole.

  • Dear Melanie! I must confess that I own all of your books, in multiple copies (omg, what if one gets….lost?!?!) Your words, the photographs: my heart is lifted, my head inspired. So, I say Thank You. Thank you for the Journey you have taken all of us on, to visit others who do the work we do, or want to do…….your latest book, Wow! It now joins your others beside my bed, my lovely Bedtime Stories to read over and over.

    • Dixie, Wow. I am so glad my work is meaningful to you. Of course, I create books in order to share ideas. My hope is that the ideas in Making a Life will reverberate outward in ever wider spirals so that, through making with our hands, we can make positive change in the world. Thank you for taking the time to write to me via MDK.

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