Spring has sprung into summer here in Georgia, and poppies are popping up in gardens all over Athens.

These vibrant blossoms bring two things to mind:

  1. That trippy scene in “The Wizard of Oz.”
  2. Soldiers.

Poppies became a symbol for remembering soldiers killed in World War I. In Vlanderaan (Flanders Field), Belgium, the disturbance from battle induced poppies to germinate.   John McCrae wrote about these blooms in the poem “In Flanders Field,” and now we pin them to our lapels on Memorial Day to remember all fallen soldiers.


Poppies growing on the University of Georgia campus.

When Interweave Crochet put out a call for designs incorporating poppies, my mind and heart were with my Uncle Jim.  He was a Vietnam War veteran and had just passed away.  His brother D.J., a Korean War veteran, passed almost 3 years before him.

Jim played guitar and concertina, and the only song we both knew was “House of the Rising Sun.”  Well, that and that goofy booger song.  He was quiet and didn’t talk much.  The last time I spoke to him was the Thanksgiving before he died.  I was living in South Africa and called Mom to see how the big family dinner was going.  She passed the phone around and I was pleasantly surprised when Jim picked up.

With my uncles on my mind, I designed the Perennial Purse.  I’ve been in a mitered Tunisian crochet square phase for a while, and I am particularly fond of the alternating textures forming diagonal stripes in this one.   I folded the square into an envelope to form the purse and added the poppy for a pop of color, naming it “Letter from Vlanderaan.”


“Perennial Purse” from Interweave Crochet, Spring 2017. (Photo credit: Interweave Crochet/GoodFolk Photography.)

This poppy is my small homage to my uncles and to their service.  Memorial Day purists will point out that my uncles did not fall in battle.  They did indeed survive their wars, but they lost their battles with cancer.  I see those round, red flowers and I think of my love for my departed uncles.


Jim and D.J

Special thanks and love to cousins Angie Kriz and Denise Willers for providing the photos of Jim and D.J.!


“Auntie Nette” is my favorite title. I love it even more than my Admiralship in the Nebraska Navy. The most difficult part about serving in South Africa is being far from my sisters and their smart, funny, surprising children.


Typical family photo. If it looks as if the Butt Pincher has me in a choke hold, he does.

I spent my first several months here breaking the ice with the neighbor kids, otherwise known to me as the “Itsy-Bitsy Spider Gang.” Forget the language barrier, the racial barrier here was much more difficult to overcome. Nothing screams “Stranger Danger” like a face bereft of pigmentation. The Squirrel took at least 2 months to stop running away from me. Now he runs and jumps in my lap. Lonely Boy warmed up to Colonel Tom first after 5 months of gentle persuasion, and once he warmed up to me, he started giving me rib-crushing hugs. Babygirl has never been shy and is liberal with kisses.

Like any aunt, I cuddle my adopted nieces and nephews when they want it, scold them when they need it, and refuse them cupcakes. I help the older ones lift the water bucket to their heads and the younger ones keep their flies zipped. A rough day at work is redeemed by their smiles, “Hokey Pokey” giggles, and good-bye hugs. They are the best thing to happen to me in South Africa.

The Itsy Bitsy Spider Gang sporting their early Christmas cowls/headbands from Auntie Nette.  Clockwise from the upper left:  Babygirl, Kung Fu, Polka Queen, Itty Bitty, Butt Pincher, Squirrel, Lonely Boy.

The Itsy Bitsy Spider Gang sporting their early Christmas cowls/headbands crocheted by Auntie Nette. Clockwise from the upper left: Babygirl, Kung-Fu, Polka Queen, Fearless, Butt Pincher, Squirrel, Lonely Boy.

Inappropriate Questions

People (in South Africa AND in Georgia, USA) often start conversations by asking me, “How many children do you have?” None. “Not even one?” Well, that’s what “none” means. Do single children not count? “But you love kids, why don’t you want them?” There’s a wide spectrum of reasons for a woman not to have kids and they are all too personal to discuss with you. Thanks for asking.

Then we move on to, “You’re not married? Why not?” Well, whom should I marry? When I told my friend Dlukula that I intended to stay single until I met someone who could convince me otherwise, he told me, “You are wrong.” The men of KwaZulu-Natal are doing their best to free me from my freedom. I get proposals constantly, mostly from random strangers on public vehicles but occasionally from supervisors or principals looking for a second wife.

The “Inappropriate Question of the Year Award” goes to a woman I had just met playing netball: “You don’t want a boyfriend? Why not? Or is it because you are a virgin?


The only South African “husband” I’m willing to claim. Rather than power or status, he just wants to help me carry my water.

Sisters in Spirit

I have met a large number of single women in South Africa, probably more than I had expected. Many have kids who are living with their gogos or aunts while mama works far from home. My closest (adult) friend Miss D is like me: single, childless, and devoted to her nephews. I don’t know whether she gets the same barage of inappropriate questions I get about my lifestyle choices. We have other things to talk about.

I had the great pleasure of going home with Miss D to meet her mother. And her nephews: sweet, rambunctious boys who were shy of me at first but full of mischief and affection after a while. They follow their aunt everywhere, even on a long walk with me. She helps them bathe, takes care of them when they are sick, and laughs at their jokes.

Sweet Auntie D with her nephew.

Sweet Auntie D with her nephew.

Whenever Miss D has to leave home and go back to work, her nephews lobby hard for her to stay, “Mum is working. Dad is working. You don’t have to work. You should stay and take care of us.” My nephew is a bit more subtle–he likes to sing the praises of Colorado as a wonderful place to live. The state should hire him as a PR consultant.

Homeward Thoughts

There is a brother-sister pair among the “Itsy-Bitsy Spider Gang” who remind me very much of my Colorado kiddos. My lavender baby powder smells like my baby niece at bedtime. Tiny infants direct my thoughts to the wee one on the way. My heart will rejoice to see my nieces and nephews back home, but it will break to leave the ones I love here.

Our little corner of the Battlefields Region of KwaZulu-Natal is over 1200 m (almost 4000 ft) in elevation, so even summer days can become chilly with cloud cover. As a surprise for my roommates, I decided to crochet them South African flag hats. I enlisted their wives as co-conspirators, who sent me gift certificates for yarn (fun fact: one of my co-conspirators is now my co-volunteer and roommate).

The temporary banner that became the pride of South Africa.

The temporary banner that became the pride of South Africa.

History of the Flag

Apartheid was abolished in the early 1990’s, and a new democracy needed a new flag. The current national flag was designed by South African State Herald Mr. Fred Brownell, and was first used on 27 April 1994, just in time for the first racially inclusive national elections. It was intended to be an interim flag, adopted at the last second. However, it proved to be so popular that it was adopted officially in the final draft of the Constitution in 1996.


The green “Y” represents the convergence of diverse elements within South African society, taking the road ahead in unity. The colors of the flag mean many things to many different people, so there is no universal symbolism assigned to them. Black, green, and yellow are from the banner of the African National Congress, while red, white, and blue are from the Dutch tricolor and British Union flag.


Tom's toque before stitching it together. Alas and alack, I never got a photo of the handsome Colonel in the finished product.

Tom’s toque before stitching it together. Alas and alack, I never got a photo of the handsome Colonel in the finished product.

I chose to use slip stitch in the back loop (sl blo).  It’s not as fast as single crochet, but the fabric makes beautiful stripes and is super stretchy.  To make the hats, I crocheted two flags, sewed the long edge together to make a cyllinder, put the black triangles on the brim, and sewed the striped ends together at the crown in 6 short seams.  You could also gather the crown end together instead of sewing seams, but you need to cover the top with a small circle or a pom pom.

The best spot for drying the washed crocheted piece. Until the wind picks up.

The best spot for drying the washed crocheted piece. Until the wind picks up.

A hat flag will not have the same aspect ratio as the actual flag, but the important detail is to get the stripe ratios correct.  One-third of the flag width is blue, one-third is red, and the middle one-third is green and white.  The tail of the green “Y” is at least three-fifths of the middle stripe.  Each white stripe is one-fifth of the middle stripe, optimally 4 stitches.  The yellow stripe is the same width as the white.  The most difficult decision is how tall to make the black triangle; if it is too large, it will dominate the entire design.  Use graph paper to make a sketch, keeping in mind that slip stitches are flat while single crochet stitches are almost square.

Mike's hat--before it became a neck warmer.

Mike’s hat–before it became a neck warmer.

Regardless of what stitch you use, the most important step is to correctly measure your gauge.  For the first hat I crocheted, I made the gauge swatch early in the morning.  I am not a morning person.  When I finished Mike’s hat, it was HUGE!  Mike now has a lovely neckwarmer.  Tom’s hat had much more accurate dimensions.

For both Mike and Tom,  I used “Joy” by African Expressions, a lovely mohair-wool-acrylic blend, made in South Africa.  The mohair does make it difficult to frog your stitches if you make a mistake, however (“rip-it, rip-it!”).  I got it from Craft & Yarn online.  They make gift cards very easy, but the website is currently under re-construction.

John sports his 3-country Peace Corps hat.

John sports his 3-country Peace Corps hat.

Those of you who know John will know he’s a special case (in the best ways possible).  His sensitive skin required a 100% acrylic yarn:  Elle’s Family Knit DK.  Since South Africa is his third country of Peace Corps service, he requested Tanzanian and Liberian flags in addition to the South African flag.  He also got a brim and a fantastic pom-pom.

Proudly stitching the colors of Liberia and Tanzania.

Proudly stitching the colors of Liberia and Tanzania.

If you or a loved one would like a South African flag toque, you can find instructions on my Crochet Patterns page.  Happy hooking!

I don’t like to talk much.  If I have something to say, I’ll say it, but I find idle chit-chat a bit painful.  I do, however, love to crochet anytime, anywhere.  And I find it a lovely way to engage people in conversation and to be present in another’s company without having to think of something to say.  Even the grumpy snack lady who scowls at me whenever I pass through the school gates without buying her cheesy poofs will come over to see what I’m crocheting.

When I was packing for South Africa, I brought a stash of yarn and two crochet books full of flower granny squares.  My project for the year–a floral afghan for a friend yet to be met.  I am nearly done with the squares.  The neighbor kids have all picked out their favorite colors and patterns, but I hope they will forgive me when I give this to the deputy principal.

The ever-growing pile of floral granny squares.

The ever-growing pile of floral granny squares.

I don’t need a lot of vocabulary to talk crochet.  I had a wonderful conversation with a gogo in the small town nearby.  I was buying an unusually large crochet hook and she was asking me what I would use it for.  I spoke completely in English, she spoke completely in isiZulu.  It was a lovely chat.

I like to crochet on public transport.  It passes the time–sometimes hours waiting for the vehicle to fill up.  It engages hawkers in more interesting conversations than “Please buy from me.”  I got a thumbs up from one gogo, and two fellow passengers offered me money for the baby booties I was crocheting.  Sorry ladies, but these sweet little socks are destined for the extraordinarily busy teacher expecting twins.

Double trouble for baby beanies and booties. No, I did not plan to have identical booties from self-striping yarn. I couldn't have pulled it off better if I tried.

Double trouble for baby beanies and booties. No, I did not plan to have pairs of actual matching booties from self-striping yarn. I couldn’t have executed this any better if I had tried.

A friend invited me to visit her rural home for a weekend.  I don’t have much, but I do have time, talent, and a bit of lovely, color-changing Noro yarn I still had in store for something special. So to show my appreciation to her mother for hosting me, I crocheted her an infinity scarf of mitered squares in Tunisian crochet.   Lucky for me, this jolly gogo loves scarves.

Mrs. Dlamini sporting her new infinity scarf.

Mrs. Dlamini sporting her new infinity scarf.

Crochet is my happy place.  The repeated motions are soothing and the geometry and color combinations are intellectually stimulating.  Writing a pattern is like writing computer code.  Crochet helps me to say “Thank you,” or “I love you,” when words don’t suffice.

I honor my friend Amy.  I met Amy through the yarn shop near Athens, GA, and in the years I knew her, I watched her knitting skills grow and develop.  She was quiet and kind, but on Game Night, Amy was silent and stealthy–if you didn’t pay attention she would sneak up from behind and totally dominate a game of “Hand and Foot” or “Settlers of Catan.”  We lost Amy over a week ago, and my love and prayers go to her husband and daughter.

Dr. Moshi teaching crochet to one of the orphans

Back in Moshi on July 8th, the teachers went to teach at the primary school while I went with Dr. Moshi and Sgt. Haynes to Msamaria (Samaritan) orphanage.  Schools were starting up again and the kids who had gone to visit their extended families were beginning to return.  I carried the hooks, books, and yarn that I had saved for them, looking forward to working with a smaller group of older kids.

Only one of the girls was there, but the matron and four boys were willing to join us.  They picked up the chains more easily than some of my American colleagues have, and we moved on to single crochet and double crochet.  By the end of two hours, I was teaching the matron and two of the older boys how to do granny squares.  Little Gilbert wasn’t too interested in learning crochet, but he thought my giant hook was cool. He also had some fun taking close-ups of the others’ faces and elbows with my camera and flirting with one of the young American volunteers.

Gilbert feigns interest in crochet

Next time I will:

  • Try to organise multiple sessions with the same group.  Some of these kids have gotten off to a good start.  Once they try on their own they can come back with questions and be ready for the next step.  The kids in Arusha have the benefit of having proficient crocheters among their teachers.  The Msamaria kids may need a couple more visits.
  • Bring patterns with stitch diagrams.  Thank goodness for designers like Robyn Chachula who are promoting the use of visual schematics for crochet.  I know I sometimes get lost in the text of crochet patterns.  I can’t imagine trying to use them as a new crocheter with English as my third language.
  • Bring kits with a specific project in mind.  I left a collection of books and individual patterns and random yarn, but it’s helpful for beginners to have everything they need in one neat little package.  Start with a hat or scarf and move up to sweaters and afghans.  Or start with a school project to make a patchwork afghan.
  • Bring more patterns for male fashion.  I’m a woman, so most of my patterns are for things I want to make for myself or for my sisters.  I’ve found some gifted crocheters among the boys, and I want to encourage them in the craft.  I’ll bring some books by The Crochet Dude and others who have designed for men.

A young crocheter with zen-like focus

I like to plan ahead and I try to be prepared. For this trip, I got a netbook so I could blog, and I put Ubuntu (the Linux operating system) on it so it would be more secure and efficient. I wrestled a little with installing wireless drivers so I could use it with the hotel wireless. We arrive in Moshi, and the wireless is out. The guy who usually fixes the wireless is out of the country. Hakuna shida, I’ll use the cellular modem. The modem that doesn’t seem to like Ubuntu, by the way. Oops! I’d like to go online to see how I can split my drive and re-install Windows, but. . . .

I planned to teach crochet to about twelve orphaned children at Msamaria (Samaritan) in Moshi, Tanzania. My lovely friends donated enough hooks, books, and yarn for each kid to be able to make a hat or scarf. I have even discovered that some of my GPA participants are fellow hookers and could help me if the schedule allows.

When we arrived, I discovered that there’s another orphanage/school at the Center for Women and Children Development (CWCD) where I can teach crochet near Arusha. There’s way more than twelve girls, but I could split the yarn and loose patterns in two groups and the children could share. If a 50-person class can share one textbook, these kids could also share a few hooks and patterns.

We got to Moshi to find that most of the kids at Msamaria had gone home to relatives for the school break. No crochet class there. But then there’s Upendo, an orphanage in Moshi mostly for babies that also has about 6 older kids.

We got to Upendo to find that the kids were all either too young or too handicapped to safely crochet. Hakuna matata. I just consolidated the yarn and patterns together as before and cross my fingers for Arusha.

On the way to Arusha last Saturday, we decided that perhaps we should save some crochet stuff for the Msamaria girls after all. And once we got to Arusha, how about teaching 2nd graders?

I had just enough hooks for the lovely 2nd graders in Arusha. Dr. Moshi and I both learned some needlework around that age, but not in one hour. With the help of Sgt. Haynes, a couple of hook-savvy local teachers, and lots of enthusiasm on the part of the kids, we made some progress. My mini-stitchers worked very hard and were so proud of their little chains! I may even be recruiting new Crochet Dudes (look out, Drew)! We didn’t have time (or patience) to work up to granny squares, but Janet and some of the other teachers there can crochet very well, so I know the project will at least be sustainable. And the kids were SO excited about crochet. They begged to take their hooks and yarn home (they all live locally with foster families), but I might be coming back in a couple weeks to give the 7th graders a shot, so the hooks have to remain communal.

Just roll with it. Make a plan, but keep in mind that you’ll probably have to resort to Plan B (C, D, . . ., W).

Teaching the next generation of crocheters

The penultimate picture of the donated yarn pyramid.

As we rest in the tranquil Amsterdam airport, I have to resist the temptation from the photo ops presented to me by my fellow travellers enjoying the lovely lounge chairs (seriously, they’re amazing).

I would like to give a shout out to all of my friends who donated hooks, books, and yarn to help me teach crochet to orphans in Moshi, Tanzania.  Allison, Amy, Celeste, Christina, Dee, Dreux, Joan, Main Street Yarns and Fibers, and Trisha–asanteni sana!  I can’t wait to spread the crochet love!

I had the naive hope of travelling with a modest amount of luggage.  Then I saw this extra-large space bag and realized I’d need to bust out the giant blue duffel that almost swallowed my brother-in-law when he took me to the airport to leave for the Peace Corps.  I raise my hook up high and salute those of you who helped me to fill my bag!

10 pounds of love


The bounty from Athens knitters and crocheters!

As a part of GPA Tanzania, we will be interacting with local schools, including an orphanage in Moshi.  Dr. Moshi (yes, I think the names are connected) gave me a challenge–teach some of the orphans to crochet.

I have taught very few newbies to crochet.  My dear friend asked me to teach her once, so I bought her a book and a hook and offered to help once she taught herself the basics.  She has since made a lovely baby blanket.  The tiny little newbie details are difficult for me to convey.  How do I hold a hook?  How do I hold the yarn?  Where the heck does this thing go?

But I firmly believe in the power of crochet.  It is an outlet for creative energy as well as the nervous fidgety energy some of us have when sitting still for too long.  It enables people to clothe their family and furnish their homes with their own creations.  It can provide a source of income.  I am inspired by the work Krochet Kids has done in Uganda–I don’t aspire to create a self-supporting women’s group selling items internationally, but I think their success story shows what crochet can do.

Language will be interesting.   I know that “to crochet” in Kiswahili is kushona.  So is “to knit,” “to sew,” and “to weave.”  There’s a bounty of names for “hook”–hangue, kingoe, kiopoo, kombo, kota, and kulabu.  I’m not sure which is appropriate (I hope it’s kiopoo; I like the way it sounds).  Never mind the vocabulary for yarn over, single crochet, slip stitch, etc.  Depending on their age, many of the kids will have some English.  But then there are the discrepancies between American and British crochet terminology when they start to read patterns.

I’m not sure about the availability of tools or yarn.  There’s tons of crocheters in Kenya, but I don’t think knitting and crocheting permeated the culture in Tanzania as much since the British were not as present. The local machine-knitters import their yarn from Kenya.  Hooks could be carved, but I won’t have time for that.  Through the generosity of the knitting and crocheting community in Athens, GA, I will have ample hooks and yarn to get the kids started. Asanteni sana, marafiki zangu!  Thank you so much, my friends!  I hope my suitcase is big enough!

I accept this challenge.  I once taught a 10-year-old Kenyan boy to play Uno Hearts with my minimal Kiswahili and his minimal English.  It just takes a sense of humor and some love.  I can’t wait to meet the kids and share my love for crochet.  We’ll all try our level best and we’ll have some yarn fun.

Shark Mittens

I designed these mittens last fall for my 4-year-old nephew, but I might have to make them for myself!  The body is done in Tunisian simple stitch, but you can easily use regular single crochet if you get the right gauge.


Wooly womb: a tool for doulas and midwives

Here is a pattern I first posted last year.  It was made for my friend Angie and her doula classes to teach about childbirth.  This model is the C-section option.