Book Review: Crochet Saved My Life by Kathryn Vercillo

Several crochet books have come across my desk in the past month. Most are pattern books or stitch guides, but one is in a genre all its own: Crochet Saved My Life by Kathryn Vercillo. I do not know Kathryn personally, but I regularly read her blog (at her website, She honored me by making a month's worth of scarves from my book, Crochet Scarves, and writing about her experience on her blog. We have had pleasant email correspondence. I purchased her book on Amazon, and I consider the following review thorough and unbiased. I hope you feel the same.

Crochet Saved My Life is part memoir and part compilation of stories, with a wealth of cited research and a hefty dose of self-help techniques. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the content. The title and promotional material had me expecting a Chicken Soup for the Crocheter's Soul kind of book, and this is so much more. From a marketing standpoint, Kathryn might do well to expand the way she talks about the book so potential readers in academia and the helping professions know that it's not just a collection of personal essays. Crochet Saved My Life would make an excellent teaching tool in medical schools, nursing curricula, and rehabilitation facilities. With a little reworking, the book could be made into a series of lectures--Kathryn's approach is one of a natural teacher. If she has any thoughts about pursuing a doctorate, I think the research she has done for this book puts her well on her way toward a thesis!

That said, the heart of the book is in the two dozen personal stories Kathryn has collected. These are not easy to read. They are all from people (most who give their real names, some who prefer to remain anonymous) who have had serious, often life-threatening problems. You may recognize some of the women as big names in the crochet world (Laurie Wheeler, Fearless Leader of the Crochet Liberation Front; Tammy Hildebrand, Crochet Guild of America board member). Essays from people who suffer from depression, assault, multiple sclerosis, autism, schizophrenia, and other mental and physical ailments serve as sobering reminders that life is often difficult, and that for some people, merely getting out of bed every day is a challenge. We wonder, "How do they cope?" with their situations, while at the same time we empathize with and admire  each woman's strength and lack of self-pity. Reading their own words made me feel connected to the writers and removed any protective wall I could have built between "me" and "them." It's clear that all of us are just one accident, one genetic flaw, one natural disaster, one setback away from being in their shoes. Kudos to Kathryn for seeking out these powerful stories and to the women for sharing them.

No matter what the underlying problem, every woman in the book has found that crocheting is helpful for mental and/or physical health. Kathryn does a fine job examining the aspects of crafting that are important. She mentions the sense of accomplishment that comes with doing a project (as opposed to reading or watching TV), the opportunity to be creative, the satisfaction with doing something productive and useful when one has severe limitations, and the calming aspects of repetitive motion. Kathryn is also very insightful when it comes to examining how crochet can be a safe bridge to others. Having something in one's hands invites non-threatening conversation while not requiring unremitting eye contact. Interacting with other crafters, in person or online, puts people with a common interest together.

The memoir presented in the greatest detail is, of course, Kathryn's own. "Brutally honest" is not an overstatement. Kathryn's vivid description of her descent into depression, the series of even-sicker-than-she-was men she took into her life so she could "help" someone worse off than she was, her bouncing around from one city and one job to the next, and her uncertainty about whether she wanted to live or die strip away all pretense. The picture is raw, but it needs to be:

"I did not want to die but I most definitely wanted to be dead. I did not see the point to life. All I saw was this endless cycle of having to continue waking up and feeling this horrible way forever. I knew from experience that no matter how much I tried to distract myself with men or friends or activities or social causes or jobs I was going to end up right back here on the bathroom floor with the tip of a kitchen knife poised to go into my arm."

 What Kathryn did was to summon up every ounce of strength and determination she had and replace the knife with a crochet hook. She is very clear that crocheting did not turn her into a healthy person. Good therapy, appropriate medication, and lifestyle changes were all part of her recovery. But the experience of crocheting kept her alive long enough to get the help she sorely needed. It was a turning point.

Kathryn's experience with the redemptive aspects of crocheting got her thinking about other people who may craft for health. She found study after study (eleven pages worth in the bibliography) that explained different conditions and diseases, and examined the long-term benefits of crafting in general and crocheting in particular. It will come as no surprise to any crafter that the act of creating something, the meditative nature of making stitch after stitch, and the distraction from inner thoughts have enormous benefits. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has been up in the middle of the night worrying about this or that, or has been nervously sitting in a medical waiting room, only to start crochetiong and then realize that minutes have gone by without me dwelling on whatever was bothering me.

I'm not going to recount the book's content in depth--you should read it yourself. It starts with Kathryn's story, then is divided into sections based on particular disorders (anxiety, OCD and addiction, PTSD, schizophrenia, bipolar, and so on). The book includes sections on stress reduction, pain management, occupational therapy, and crocheting for caregivers, and concludes with mindfulness and hand exercises. Essays from crafters appear as apprioriate in each chapter. Thank you, Kathryn, for presenting these moving stories to us and for making a strong, well-researched case for the health benefits of crochet. I give a hearty endorsement to everything you included in the book.

The content gets A+. I'm less enthusiastic about the form. Right up front, you should know that I have been a professional writer and editor for more than 25 years. Mechanics are important to me not because it makes sense to adhere slavishly to rules, but because following those rules paves the way for clear writing.

Do I make mistakes? Sure. I may even make one or two in this blog entry--but it's a blog entry (and WordPress is so fickle, I sometimes have no idea what my published words will look like)! The stakes are higher for a published book, and therefore more rigorous standards of proofreading and editing are required.

Kathryn states that she struggled with whether to include excerpts from the women's stories in the text, as well as publishing the entire stories at the end of a section. She chose to do the former, and although I see her point, I think this was a mistake. I found it distracting to read a large portion of a two-page essay, only to read the whole thing again a few pages later.  It would have been better to have imposed more structure and eliminate the redundancy.

The crafters' stories combine narrative from Kathryn and first-person stories from the crocheters. Each "Meet So-and-so!" isn't exactly an interview, or an essay, or a Q&A. It's a little choppy, and I don't think the narrative (after the brief introduction to the essay) adds anything. Better to have kept everything in first person.

The margins bothered me. Why is there so little space on the outer edges of the pages?

Diagrams for the hand exercises would have been nice.

A few things made me cringe. "Its" without an apostrophe is incorrectly used as a contraction for "it is" in the first quoted paragraph on p. 110. (If the submitter wrote it like that, it would have been fine for Kathryn to correct it.) Think of "its" in the same possessive category as "his" and "hers." No apostrophe is needed for any of those. For the contraction of "it is," an apostrophe is required. On p. 114, the bewildering phrase "a little bit unique" is used. Either it's unique, or it isn't! On p. 116 a word is missing when Kathryn says she hung it "on my colorful living room." I assume she means "my colorful living room wall."

There are numerous instances of punctuation used incorrectly inside or outside parentheses. For example, on p. 123, third full paragraph, there needs to be a period outside the right parenthesis. Ditto with the second full paragraph on p. 136. Similar errors are made with quotation marks; I won't bore you with the list. It's time for the author to review a good style guide. The page numbers listed in the Table of Contents do not always match where the information actually is ("Meet Laurie!" is on p. 145; ToC lists it as p. 146).

The clunker that made me throw the book off my lap and yell, "Oh, come on!" is at the end of the first paragraph on page 152. Kathryn uses "illicit," meaning "forbidden by law, rules, or custom" when she was trying to say "elicit," meaning "evoke or draw out."

These are typical first draft errors. Unfortunately, this is the published version, not the first draft. Reading the manuscript aloud might have helped Kathryn catch some of the mistakes herself (indeed, she may have found some after publication and if so, I'm sure she's chagrined that they got through). But there is no substitute for getting another pair of eyes--preferably a trained, ruthless pair--to review a book before it goes to print! As writers, we see what we expect. Occupational hazard. Believe me, I can understand the eagerness to get to press, and the confidence that everything is good to go, but it would have been better if Kathryn had taken a step back before printing. Each error is not a big deal, but they add up to an unfortunate sloppiness that has "Self-Published!" written all over it, and which detracts from the content. I expected more from someone whose website is "Crochet Concupiscence" and who knows what "concupiscence" means.

To sum up, Crochet Saved My Life is an important volume on a number of levels: as a memoir, a self-help book, a survey of the current literature, and a teaching tool. I highly recommend it for the content. If it sells well enough, author Kathryn Vercillo will be able to correct the technical errors before the next printing, elevating the form to match that of the excellent material.

Pumpkins, storm, book review, Wrapture

A week ago seems like a month ago, so much has happened. We had beautiful weather for the annual Chadds Ford Historical Society pumpkin carve. Thousands of people came out to see the 60 or so pumpkins that different teams had carved on Thursday. There were some very clever and intricate designs as always. The Headless Horseman was one of them. Then, of course, we got socked with Sandy. We live in an area with lots of trees, so treefall is usually a big concern. We were fortunate: the only one that came down is far back in the woods, nowhere near the house. We did lose power for about 24 hours, but since we have a propane-powered generator that comes on automatically, it was pretty much a non-event. We had heat, refrigeration, hot water, and electricity for the computers and some other lights and outlets. We took a ride to see the flooding around the Brandywine. There were a couple of bridges that were covered, but we have had worse in other storms so we count ourselves lucky. We're still trying to reach some NYC relatives to check on them.

I got a nice surprise from Stephanie at SpaceCadet Creations. She posted a review of Crochet Scarves here. I used two of her yarns, Luna and Estella, for scarves in the book. It's nice to include some hand-dyed yarns along with the mass-produced fibers.

Another giftie that arrived for me recently was a bottle of Wrapture, my friend designer Kristin Omdahl's addition to the Eucalan line of no-rinse washes for woollens and delicates. It can be used in the washing machine or the sink; I chose the sink simply because I wasn't sure I would know how to stop the machine at the appropriate time and I was too lazy to read the manual.

Wrapture comes in a sweet little bottle with a round top like an olive (although I don't think Eucalan offers "martini" as one of their scents--yet!). I haven't used a no-rinse product before, and I was curious how it would work.Wrapture is jasmine-scented and contains lanolin. A tablespoon in a sinkful of tepid water (approx. 1 gallon) is all that was needed. The solution bubbled a bit, then I put in my Moonmist Shawl, squeezed it gently, and let it soak for about 20 minutes.  After that, I squeezed out the liquid, resisting the temptation to rinse. Voila! Moonmist--coincidentally, also in SpaceCadet Luna silk/merino--is currently drying happily on a towel.

I recommend Wrapture to anyone who loves the smell of jasmine and wants a safe, no-rinse wash. Thanks, Kristin! Find out more about this product here.



What fun it was to go to New York City and spend the evening at Lion Brand Yarn Studio!

It was raining and misty on my drive up, but the weather cooperated when I arrived. (Carrying an umbrella always guarantees that the rain will stop.) I enjoyed an hour or so of exploring the Flatiron neighborhood and watching the people. Lots of dogs, too.

Back at LBYS, studio manager Patty Lyons and I did a brief video chat for "Talks from The Yarniverse." Here's the link if you want to check it out. The talk was filmed in the second-floor classroom, a large space where I have taught before. 

Lion Brand likes to do things in the BIG way, so in the classroom they have giant knitting needles and hooks, a giant ball of yarn, and other oversized things. I was honored to receive what I'm calling "The Order of the Hook," a perpweight in the shape of a crochet hook from Lion Brand CEO David Blumenthal. It weighs almost 11 ounces and my best guess is that it is a size Q, although you wouldn't want to crochet with it because your hand would get sore in two minutes. Don't drop that thing on your toe, either! It's a very nice souvenir that I am pleased to use on my desk to keep my patterns from blowing away.

The event on the first floor, in the lovely retail space, was really fun. We had a good turnout. Scarves were enthusiastically modeled by volunteers, people asked lots of good questions, and my lovely cousin Arlette was there for family support.  Here are a few pictures:



The evening concluded with a book-signing of Crochet Scarves (and Tunisian Crochet--a few people were interested in that, too). I met so many nice people! I was also happy to be able to donate a hat to the collection Lion Brand is putting together for those in need.

After the event was over, I had dinner with my cousin at Mumbles in her neighborhood. It was great to spend some time one-on-one with her.

Now it's time to work on some new designs, a book proposal, a Crochet Scarves trunk show, and projects for I hope all of you are feeling energized and are enjoying what you're working on!

Crochet Scarves blog book tour hits the road

Ah, the glamorous life of an author, jet-setting all over the place to promote a new book. Maybe that happens for top novelists or independently wealthy writers, but for the rest of us the blog book tour is a worthy substitute. (How's "My book went on vacation and all I got was this lousy T-shirt" for a new slogan?)

Actually, I don't have any complaints. I'm delighted that some top crochet designers and industry professionals have agreed to be a stop on the Crochet Scarves tour. I've left the format up to them: book review, interview, Q and A...I'll even write a guest blog for them if they so choose. Stackpole Books has sweetened the pot by offering each blogger a book to give away to a fan. I hope you will visit all of the blogs--they have so much information and insight to offer crocheters!

The first one out of the gate was Underground Crafter. She took the time to send me an extensive list of questions, and wrote a very thorough assessment of the book. It was great to hear from Marie and be reminded that she took a class I taught at Lion Brand Yarn Studio!

Yesterday's entry was from the inimitable Doris Chan.  I knew that she lived nearby but for a long time I was too intimidated to contact her. We finally met this spring and it made me wonder why I had waited so long! She's intelligent, interesting, funny, and a pleasure to spend time with. Her crochet designs are amazing, and I can't wait to see what she comes up with next. Here is a brief excerpt from Doris' post:

The concept of this book is quite brilliant.  In Sharon’s hands, the lowly scarf becomes the canvas for the exploration of various crochet techniques, ranging from mitered squares to lace and colorwork, broomstick crochet and (what I consider to be her specialty) Tunisian crochet. Each of the 21 scarf projects is accompanied by an achingly complete tutorial, including step-by-step images of hands, hook and yarn, stitch symbol diagrams and close-up shots of the fabric.  No matter what sort of learner you are, Sharon’s got you covered. 

I don't think even my own mother could have said anything nicer.

Tour stops coming up are (Kristin Omdahl) on 7/24; (Annie Modesitt) on 7/27; (Ellen Gormley) on 7/30; (Robyn Chachula) on 8/3; on 8/10; on 8/13; on 8/23. There are a few other blogs for which we're working out dates. I'll let you know when those are firmed up.

Meanwhile, I've been working on a throw for a kit, a shawl for another kit, the wintersky Blue Heron Egyptian Mercerized cotton openwork item, and some design proposals. And I check the mailbox every day to see if Crochet Scarves sent me a postcard from the road!

TNNA then back home to PA

My flight from Philadelphia to Columbus was delayed, but the wait was eased by having JoAnne Turcotte (formerly Plymouth's design director, now the owner of Knitter's Edge in Bethlehem PA) and her daughter and daughter-in-law waiting for the same flight. This was JoAnne's first trip as a buyer instead of a seller. Can't wait to hear what she chose for her beautiful shop!

Finally got where we were going. The festivities at TNNA got off to a wonderful start thanks to Marly Bird, a.k.a. Yarn Thing, who organized the designers' dinner Friday night. She doesn't need that gold mask to be a superhero! Putting together sponsors, getting the invitations out, managing the RSVPs, assembling the goodies for the swag bags...when I talked to Marly afterwards she said it had been as much work as planning a wedding and I believe it. The evening's "Masquerade" theme was the springboard for many introductions.


I guess I am slowly making inroads in the design community, because I have some big names to drop: Robin Chachula, Ellen Gormley, Miriam Felton, Stefanie Japel, Lily Chin, Karen Whooley, Kristin Omdahl, Mary Beth Temple, Doris Chan and many more were in the room--several were at my table. I enjoyed having the opportunity to hear more about their lives as designers and as people! It's a friendly, interesting group.


Yarn companies, accessory purveyors, book publishers, etc. generously gave items for the swag bags that every attendee received. I'm not talking about a tiny plastic bag of stuff, I'm talking about a full-size tote bag stuffed to the gills with wonderful items. Look!

Get a load of all this swag! Knitting needles, tape measures, yarn yarn yarn, books, gauge measurers, crochet hook, books, liquids for name it. It's good exposure for the sellers; I'll definitely try out their products

Didn't get much sleep Friday night due to noise from above and next door. (Changed rooms for the rest of my stay--I think the first room might have been under a wedding party suite, and it was definitely next door to a hospitality suite.

Saturday morning it was off to the show. First task: drop off the samples from Crochet Scarves to the manufacturers with those nice signs Stackpole made. Once that running-around was done, I had more time to go booth by booth, getting a look at new products. Wow, did I see some gorgeous yarns and some amazing garments. Over the years I have learned how to take meaningful notes that make sense when I read them at home. Sure makes follow-up easier

One fun part of TNNA is that most of the attendees on the yarn side (the other part of the show is needlepoint, embroidery, cross-stitch, etc.) is wearing a gorgeous handmade garment. It's perfectly acceptable, even encouraged, to go up to a total stranger and say, "I love what you're wearing!" then get to talking about whether it's an original design, from a published pattern, or was received as a gift. I ran into Patty Lyons from Lion Brand Yarn Studio. I'll be going there for a book-signing in October, and we talked about the possibility of teaching a class sometime later in the fall. The Studio is a wonderful space with spacious classrooms upstairs. I taught a Tunisian crochet class there and enjoyed the experience.

Sunday was the launch of Crochet Scarveswith a signing at the Unicorn book distributors' booth. They do a fine job setting everything up--thank you to everyone at Unicorn! I met so many nice people who got the book for themselves or a gift or prize.

The winning name: Tammy (and Tammie): I signed three books addressed to people with that name. A lot of folks are interested in Tunisian crochet and were happy that seven of the twenty-one patterns are Tunisian. I have to be careful if I'm having a conversation with someone while I'm signing their book--it's easy to write what they're saying instead of signing my name!

Throughout the weekend I met with yarn company reps, publishing industry luminaries, and other designers to talk about what's up-and-coming. In the next days and weeks I will work on my business plan to figure out what's next for me. Stackpole Books has published all five of my crochet titles, and we'd like to do another book together. It has to be the right project, though, and the right timing. Leaflets and magazines are another option. I could do those in parallel with a book, or perhaps to fill the gap while I figure out what my next big project should be. I have some ideas, but anything I work on can't be just for fun, it has to make sense from a business perspective also.
I came away feeling very energized about the possibilities!

T(NNA)-minus three days and counting!

What a long checklist I have before departing for The National NeedleArts Association trade show in Columbus, OH on Friday! (Everyone just calls the show "TNNA," as in, "Are you going to TNNA?") Here are a few items:

  • Block scarves, then attach labels/business cards to each;
  • Pack the display signs to give each yarn company with the display scarves (beautiful but heavy);
  • Pack two copies of Crochet Scarves, one copy of Tunisian Crochet and one copy of Crochet Pillows (ditto), plus some of my other patterns;
  • Assemble all relevant paperwork, including passport, airplane reservation, hotel reservation, frequent flyer/stayer numbers, party invitation, all TNNA literature (badge, show floor map, events listing), business cards, background information/resume ;
  • Learn how to use iPad, at least on a rudimentary level;
  • Buy new pair of light brown huaraches or hope that nobody notices that my current pair is falling apart;
  • Make mask for designers' masquerade party;
  • Confirming appointments with yarn companies and other TNNA folks;
  • Decide which projects to bring to work on.

Those are only the show-related items. Also on the list are the "stuff of life" things I have to do here before I depart, like watering the plants, doing the laundry and deciding which clothes to pack, fixing a leak in the frog pond tomorrow so we can run the stream without draining it, trying not to ruin my nails while working on said pond, mailing cards for occasions I'll miss while gone, writing a newsletter for the Brandywine Museums and Gardens Alliance, and doing some last-minute shopping.

I think this is my fourth time attending TNNA, and this time I really feel prepared. I'll be doing a book-signing for Crochet Scarves, which is so new that I just received my copies today! (If you'll be at TNNA, my signing is at the Unicorn Booth, #109, on Sunday at 12:15. Please stop by their booth earlier in the weekend to pick up your free ticket.) I have pored over the exhibitor list and found all of the booths where I need to drop off scarves and signs. I also set up several appointments with yarn company reps and other fiber folks. I think it will be a very productive show from many standpoints.

Friday night is the designers' party hosted by Marly Bird, aka Yarn Thing. It will be wonderful to connect with some of the people I've met before, and to meet others whose names I know but whom I haven't had the chance to see in person. Interestingly, the fashion show that is usually in the evening is scheduled for Saturday morning. There are always some really incredible garments. I probably won't have enough time between the show opening (10 a.m.) and the start of the fashion show (10:15) to drop off my items for display, so I'll have to wait until the fashion show ends at 11:15.

I haven't decided whether to attend the designer/teacher meeting Saturday evening. I went several times in the past, and found that the same issues kept being raised with no resolution. I think I get more from my informal conversations with other designers than from the structured meeting. Maybe I'll just see how exhausted I am at 6 p.m. Saturday before I decide!

Even though I'm in "administrative mode" getting ready for the trip, I did take time today to enjoy the wonderful experience of opening a box full of copies of my new book. I can hardly believe that this is my fifth crochet title, and my fourteenth book overall. (I must be getting old!) It was a fun project to work on. Loved having the shots of the finished items taken at the Art Association of Harrisburg and the riverfront across from there. So happy with photographer Alan Wycheck's pictures, as usual! This is the first time I've included symbol charts with my patterns. It was a lot of work back and forth with Stackpole Books to create the charts, but worth it to accommodate those who like charts. Tammy Hildebrand, Board Member and Professional Development Chairperson for the Crochet Guild of America, wrote a lovely endorsement for the back cover. I hope crocheters will enjoy the projects--all 21 of 'em, including 7 Tunisian crochet patterns and 1 broomstick lace--and will post pictures of their finished scarves.

Now I can check one item off my list: update blog!