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  • Debra Scala Giokas

How Crocheting Can Calm Our Minds

My grandmother taught me how to crochet when I was seven, and I stuck with it for a few years. I would make granny squares, and she would join them together to make a blanket. Then I became more concerned with my studies, my friends, and sports.

I didn't pick up my hook again until 2012, when life was so busy with work and family and the ups and downs we all go through. When I began to crochet (and thankfully it came back to me), I felt like my grandmother was with me again. I could see us together in the Five and Dime, picking out the colors of our yarn together.

Once I picked up that hook, I forgot anything that worried me, and I began to create.

I started with granny squares, then made prayer blankets and donated them to people in nursing homes, veterans’ homes and hospitals. I then began making dolls in memory of my dad and gave them away to charities. I also opened up an etsy shop called Debra Ann Dolls and worked at some craft fairs. Through all of this, I found crocheting to be a calming influence in my life.

In 2018, I learned about Ida McKinley giving away her crocheted slippers to various charities when she was first lady, and I wanted to learn about more first ladies who did needlework. During the research for my book, I stumbled upon this quote from Grace Coolidge, “ Many a time when I needed to hold myself firmly I have taken up a needle (a sewing needle, some knitting needles, or a crochet hook.) Whatever its form or purpose, it often proved to be as the needle of the compass, keeping me to the course.”

A note card with my favorite quote from Grace Coolidge.

Grace’s mother would say that she could sew on a button before she could walk. The first lady would knit and crochet and sew in the Sky Parlor while listening to music on her Victrola or to the Washington Nationals playing baseball. I do believe that it helped her to grieve the death of her son. During this time she crocheted the coverlet for the Lincoln bed.

I am now reading Michelle Obama’s The Light We Carry. She writes about being in a “low place” during the pandemic when she “finally got around to picking up the two beginner-sized knitting needles [she’d] ordered online.” She explains so well what I have been feeling about needlework. That is, when life seems so big, she said, "it is good to give myself over to something that was smaller than my fear, smaller than my worries, and my anger, smaller than the crushing helplessness I felt.” Michelle Obama speaks about using our hands to reverse the flow, to help us clear our minds.

Her feelings remind me of Grace Coolidge’s sentiment. That needlework can keep us to the course.

In addition to speaking about the first ladies and their needlework at libraries and museums and historical societies, these days I am dabbling more into amigurumi which is crocheting in the rounds. It is the Japanese style of crocheting. I can make a small creature in a short period of time, while I am catching up with the news or watching a movie at night as I do my best to unwind. I find that it does keep me to the course, and if it brings a smile to someone, then that is an extra gift.

Here is a sampling of my latest creations. In celebration of the upcoming lunar new year, a rabbit. Also a duck and some lady bugs (for luck) and bees.

I don’t think my grandmother ever envisioned all that she gave me when she placed a crochet hook into my hands and taught me how to make my first chain stitch. I am forever grateful.

If you are interested in learning about the first ladies and their needlework, my next talk will be on Sunday, February 19 from 2:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m., hosted by the Bayport-Blue Point Heritage Association.

What are you working on? I'd love to hear from you. You can contact me at

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