This is the story of two blankets. The first is one of luck, of wonder, of sewing in seams and verging on OCD perfectionism. The second is one of disappointment, of waiting, of putting aside and not picking up, of a loss of faith, of joy, and a final sprint to finish.
The grey blanket that currently lies wrapped around, or by, Jack began when I didn’t really know how to crochet at all. But before that blanket, there was blanket zero.
My dear friend Julie Gibbs taught me to crochet one day in my apartment in Potts Point. I remember that first square so well. A few days later some friends of ours told us they were expecting their first baby and I couldn’t stop the tears when I heard. We had been trying that year, and every month was another reminder that it wasn’t going to happen for us. We had talked to fertility doctors, and were about to start IVF.
I turned that small navy square of guilt and sadness, of ugly jealousy and self hate, into a blanket of love and excitement at the birth of a friend’s first baby. By the time that baby was born, James and I would be expecting Jack five months later.
The grey blanket was my second ever crochet project, badly sewn in and probably destined to fall apart in the next few years. I bought the wool (merino/alpaca blend from Bendigo woollen mills) knowing I would have no idea how long the process would take. I would crochet one square every day during our first round of IVF.
I mixed the colours up, to avoid any chance of overplaying one colour. I took the blanket into Genea Fertility, and crocheted while I recovered from an egg retrieval. I crocheted when we got the call that there were five embryos. I crocheted when we waited for the transfer, being told that maybe there was only one good one. I crocheted the next day when we were told the other four had ‘caught up’ and could be frozen.
I crocheted throughout my pregnancy. I didn’t think of what was a good size for a baby blanket, I just kept making squares. I would put the project down and work on gifts for other friends, one for a friend’s baby made of all the bright colours from what would be Jack’s blanket. I became a bit obsessive, and made an excel spreadsheet of inner and outer colours and made sure there was an even split. I measured how much wool was needed for each square (inner and outer) in order to roll up small balls to take on our ‘baby moon’ overseas. I crocheted on planes (because crochet hooks raise less eyebrows at airport security than knitting needles do), the train, the couch.
When I was almost finished, my best friend Melissa came to see it one day and I could see her OCD tendencies come out, and we reorganised all the squares, pinned them into rows and I started sewing them together.
By the time Jack was born the blanket was done. It really was a stupid size though, probably half the size of a double bed. It doesn’t matter; almost five years after it was made it is now the roof of a cubby house, and constantly used when he watches TV on the couch or plays Minecraft or reads. It is falling apart in places. I am going to make him a proper double bed-sized blanket one day, one day.
In the year or so after having Jack, and before we started thinking about having another baby, I became quite crochet-obsessed. Julie came to our house to use our drying cupboard to dry wool she had bought from Purl Soho to start a ‘Bear’s Rainbow Blanket’. To buy the kit cost almost… actually I won’t say, probably best non-crafters never know the gateway drug that is hand-dyed wool.
Julie had to wash it in vinegar and soak it in wool wash before wringing it in a towel then drying in our drying cupboard, which we later sold and replaced with a freezer for storing breast milk and bolognese, which now holds bolognese and gin. For Julie, it was a labour of love before she had even picked up a crochet hook.
Frankly, that whole process of wool washing I couldn’t be bothered with. But when we decided that we would visit our IVF doctor again, I thought I’d start the Bear’s rainbow blanket with my own wool. I bought some colours when I saw them. This was not a project to have 10 squares of the same colour, but use what you had, with a clean border. I used Bendigo Woollen Mill’s cream for the borders and everything else was stash busting.
In the first month I maybe did 5-6 squares. They took longer, it was a more complex pattern, I was a mother of a one-year-old and back at work — my crochet time was limited. I also had friends and family who were having babies and I would put the project aside to make things for them. I ended up having stratas of friends: blanket, cardigan, beanie. Sorry, but that’s how it is.
We did not succeed that month. We tried again, a few more squares. The third month it was a double blow because not only were we not successful, but one of our embryos didn’t ‘defrost’ properly, so two embryos were gone in one month. A few more squares. I put it aside. We took a few months off – for sanity, for my body, for our little family. We tried again; three eggs and none of them fertilised. At this point, I put the blanket aside for a good while.
I couldn’t believe it. I began to think we didn’t want another baby. Why was I losing time with Jack, who by this stage was talking in mini sentences and getting his own little obsessions, on a quest for a baby that may never be? This bloody blanket, I didn’t want to make it anymore.
Then we changed doctors, and he suggested if we only want one more child, then instead of IVF we try Ovulation Induction. I liked this idea, it was a lot more fun. But three months later (and one month with the risk of triplets), we had had no luck. I hadn’t made any squares because they weren’t IVF rounds, and this was an IVF blanket. It sat at the bottom of my wool drawer, which had become a blanket box, which right now is becoming two blanket boxes (gateway drug, people, yarn is a gateway drug).
And so, we started IVF again. We planned a family holiday so we would be close to a clinic to get tests done every second or third day. I rolled a few small balls of wool, but my heart wasn’t in it. This whole process, it had almost taken away who I was. I am a happy person, a grateful person, and this quest for a second baby was taking that away. A second baby, when I had a two-year-old singing Scotland the Brave every day, who was picking up kids in a swimming pool and going into a cafe to ask for a coffee for his ‘Daddo’, this second baby was my failure.
But I persisted, carrying around small balls of wool in my handbag ready to crochet whenever I could. Then a few weeks later, we found out we had been successful — I was pregnant. But even then, I didn’t dive back into this blanket. I would pick it up when I knew we were safe. We found out it was a girl and I furiously added a pink row. More weeks passed. Another row eventually. Then I realised it was five squares wide by eight long and was the skinniest blanket around. In my last two weeks of pregnancy, when I had no energy but to sit and crochet, I added eight more colours onto the end, to make it a reasonable size.
This blanket is not as large as Jack’s one, even though the time it took to make it was so much more drawn out, but there are dozens of gifts that have been knitted and crocheted. Beanies and blankets, vests and toys. Because this blanket was made when I knew that regardless of what luck we would have, I didn’t need a blanket to keep me going. I needed more wool.