The Cachet of Crochet

"Hey, I'm no Calvin Klein," says Shanie Jacobs. Yet her handmade angora garments fetch up to $2500 a pop.

Jacobs wouldn't want the SeaCruise people to get the wrong idea: She does spend some money on the slot machines once the boat anchors offshore. But mostly she takes these sojourns for the solitude they offer. "This is like nun's work," Jacobs observes. "It's like a yoga exercise to learn patience; you have to concentrate." She threads her needle with one of several long strands still dangling from the halter and begins to weave it into the garment's finished edge, a process she calls "hiding ends."

When she crochets, Jacobs's tools range from a tiny hook -- the kind used to make Irish lace -- to one about eight inches long. She wraps the yarn around her index and middle fingers to form a loop, then catches the loop with the crochet hook and pulls the yarn through into a kind of slip knot. Jacobs likens the motion to playing a tiny trombone. The secret, she says, is gauging the tension of each knot. A tight hold on the yarn will result in tight rows of stitches, rather than the "spongy gems" she produces. When she teaches others to crochet, she first tells them to relax. If they can't stop hunching their shoulders or clenching their fingers, she refuses to instruct them further.

"You really have to give up your nervous system to do my work," Jacobs says. She compares crocheting to a Tibetan love dance in which the participants expressively twist their hands in toward their wrists. "My hands dance a lot."

Crocheting, cross-stitching, knitting, mending. Needlework is usually associated with the Victorian age, home ec classes, or bored housewives. Given this baggage, it's hard to envision crocheting as a path to creative liberation. For Jacobs, though, the activity triggered an epiphany.

"I was already 30 years old and I had a whole lifetime of unexpressed creativeness inside of me," she says. "It all came out in crochet."

In 1964 she married David Jacobs, an electrical engineer. "I was thunderstruck," says David, recalling their first meeting at a Latin dance club when Shanie was still living the go-go life of Miss Laguna. "She was the most beautiful person I had ever seen, but she had a personality that went along with that. She was and is very outspoken and completely unwilling to bend. You can take Shanie two ways. You either don't like her or you love her. I'm in the second category."

It took a couple of years of courting, but Shanie finally said yes to Jacobs because she wanted to have a baby. Before doing the deed at city hall, the bride insisted they make a pact that the arrangement would be temporary. They quickly had two baby boys. Almost as quickly, Jacobs grew bored.

Not only had she abandoned the Miss Laguna title, she had also decided to stop acting. "I got into the Tao, and there was one line in there that said, 'You should do nothing through acting, only through living,'" she recalls. "I took it completely literally." She laughs. "Well, I've always been a little spacy."

Jacobs found little contentment in the routines of a young city mother, taking her sons to the park and gossiping with her fellow moms. "I was craving to do something on my own," she recalls. "I needed something to fill my lonely moments."

As the Buddhist proverb goes, when the student is ready, the master appears. One day Jacobs wandered into a crafts store. She had thought about taking up crochet, but being left-handed made it difficult to learn. A saleswoman agreed to teach her if she bought fifteen dollars' worth of yarn. Around the same time, Jacobs met another young mother who owned some land in upstate New York, near Woodstock. The pair and another friend decided to move there, to take their kids and leave their men behind.

"Everyone was doing it," Jacobs reasons. "It was women's liberation; women were choosing to work and support themselves. Marriage wasn't cool then. It wasn't hip. Everyone was ready, willing, and able for more relationships."

After a period of understandable depression, her husband gave his blessing to the arrangement. Although they have lived apart for 25 years, the couple is still married and they see each other frequently. Now in sales, David remains in his and Shanie's original Manhattan apartment.

Up on the farm in the Sixties, love didn't flow as freely as Jacobs had expected. "No one would come near us, with seven kids," she says. That left more time for crocheting. Each day one of the three women would be responsible for the chores and children, while the other two concentrated on their needlework.

"Everyone was so creative in those days," Jacobs recalls, then drops her voice to a whisper. "Because we were so stoned." Her first major creation was a wool coat modeled on Joseph's biblical coat of many colors.

Jacobs and her commune sisters were following a national trend; women all over the country were bringing new life to "women's work" -- traditional crafts that had previously been the staid domain of their grandmothers.

"There was like a germ that all of us caught," says Miami-based artist Dina Knapp, who began making fiber works and one-of-a-kind clothing at art school at about that same time. "A big part of it was drugs and the camaraderie of women. Support groups were happening, communes were happening, consciousness-raising and Gloria Steinem were starting to make their voices heard. So it came out of a lot of things: being hippie-dippie children, going back to the land, wanting to do things with your hands."

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Thanks for sharing this story. I have a grandma that likes to crochet. She has made a lot of stuff for our house. My mom likes to put all of her crocheted stuff around the house. I think it looks good myself. 


I'm a firm believer in the art of crochet! My whole mom's side of the family does it, and it comes handy in so many situations. Not only does it come in handy, but it can save you a ton of money on clothes. I can't even begin to tell you how many gloves, hats, and sweaters I have that were crocheted for me. I don't know how to do it yet, but I'm going to have my mom teach me so that I can do it for my kids one day. Thanks so much for sharing this! 

Roger |  

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