Crochet, Make & Hue

Marking a Life Event with Silk Thread

A friend once said to me, “In every culture, the two most important events for a family are weddings and births.” They were trying to rationalize the extraordinary number of opinions and emotions that were coming my way during the planning of my wedding, and I was overwhelmed. I wanted to draw on the emotions that evoke honour, strength, power, good fortune, and happiness from the past, from those who came before me.

While I’m Canadian, culturally, I’m Guyanese (Guyana is the 3rd smallest country in South America and the only English- speaking one) and racially, I’m a combination of Indian, Chinese, and Black. My childhood in Guyana is significant because it’s a tropical climate and the needle crafts that are passed down to us are crochet and embroidery. Both involve the use of thread and tiny tools (hooks and needles). Knitting is not typically a tradition in the tropics because there is no function for the heavier fibres. So I am, heart and soul, a crocheter. I learned at seven years old from my mother and surrogate grandmother and cannot think of a time in my life when I didn’t crochet.

Because of my background and my interest in all of those cultures, I wasn’t interested in the tradition of wearing a white wedding dress. I chose RED. I wanted to maintain control of this deeply personal part of the wedding, so in the end very few people knew about my choice.

This is the story of my wedding veil.

Like every one of us crafters, when faced with a significant celebration, we must create a special item. For me, it was my wedding veil. I chose to wear red on my wedding day to invoke the good luck, happiness, and joy in my distant Chinese heritage and the purity in my Indian heritage. My wedding dress would be an Indian saree and my reception dress would be a Chinese cheongsam.

Wearing sarees are not unusual for me. I learned to drape them and I typically wore them to functions that weren’t necessarily associated with Indian culture – e.g. the theatre or a company holiday party. Luck was already on my side as I found my saree one week after becoming engaged. It was lightly embellished (when compared to traditional Indian wedding attire) for my non-traditional, tropical seaside wedding in Florida. The most decorative part of a saree is the pallu. It’s the piece that you see draped over the shoulder, either to the back or the front, of the wearer. It’s the showpiece. The level of embellishment on the pallu is an indicator of the importance of the function at which the garment is worn.

With this definition in mind, I decided to remove the pallu from my saree (an unprecedented and maybe controversial move although I really can’t prove it) and replace it with a similar-sized crochet panel. I could wear it as veil and then move it down to my shoulder after the ceremony. I needed to plan the project, choose the yarn and have it dyed to match the red silk.

Since my crochet history started with thread and doilies and patterns I remembered the many Irish crochet roses that centred or edged the doilies. I decided that the panel was going to have Irish crochet motifs along with patterns that spoke to me and my new husband, and our backgrounds. I wanted to honour my mom and my grandmother as my crochet teachers, and as my husband is Irish on his father’s side I was pleased that all sides of our families would be represented.

It takes a village: my crafting community was an abundance of help and support.

I spend most of my social stitching time with two close groups:my stitching sisters and the craftistas: an awesome collection of multi-craft-skilled women. Both groups vetted the plans for my veil and their support was solid.

The yarn had to be silk lace so that the shine and colour saturation from the dye was as close as possible to the fabric of the saree. The resulting crochet fabric would also have a similar “hand” or weight as the saree silk. Having lived in Vancouver for a spell, I was quite familiar with SweetGeorgia Yarns. I gravitate toward rich, bright colours and Felicia’s philosophy for “passionate, relentless, and unapologetic colour” matched my needs perfectly. That, and I already owned a skein of her Spun Silk 20/2 yarn. I sent her a swatch of the fabric from my saree and asked her to dye the Spun Silk 20/2 to match with the understanding that it may not be exact. I also loved the “Gold” colourway from Tanis Fiber Arts and asked to purchase a ‘blank’ from SweetGeorgia while getting an agreement from Tanis to dye the blank into gold. I received four skeins of perfectly matched red silk lace yarn from SweetGeorgia and one skein of gold from Tanis Fiber Arts.

With yarn in hand I was able to get started on crocheting the various motifs that I’d decided on for the veil:

  • Cat motif x 1 – My husband loves cats.
  • Celtic Knot Doily x 4 – To represent protection. These were placed at the inner corners of the veil.
  • Giraffe motif x 1 – We met on safari, in Botswana.
  • Owl motif x 1 – I love them.
  • Paisley Magic x 4 – To tie into the lovely paisley borders on the saree.
  • Peacock motif x 4 – To represent wisdom and positioned to represent the four directions: north, south, east and west.
  • Rings and Roses Irish Crochet Purse x 8 – To represent classic Irish Crochet Motifs of roses and leaves; I made 8 to invoke the auspiciousness of the number in Chinese culture.
  • Shamrock x 34 – To very clearly represent the Irish and my husband’s side of the family.
  • Sun necklace x1 – Positioned in the centre of the piece and to represent a mandala.
  • Tiger motif x 1 – Another favourite animal of my husband and that we saw on safari together.
  • Wild Irish Rose x 8 – Chosen as another classic Irish Crochet Motif and, like the roses and leaves, I made 8 for the same reason.
  • Edging of Hearts from Priscilla Irish Crochet Book No. 2 x 28 – chosen because they are pretty and I saw the same pattern in actual vintage lace.

I worked on those motifs at every available opportunity – during my commute, during my lunch hour, and all other times in between. As I finished each motif, each stitching sister had a task. One wove in the ends, another blocked and assisted with the final placement, while the third was in charge of taking photographs. Equally important were supportive hugs from another stitching sister. The craftistas pulled together on the home stretch to connect pieces with blanket stitch lace before I travelled to Florida. Two days before the wedding, my maid of honour sat with me, at my sister’s dining table, for 10 hours stitching all of the motifs to the tulle. The entire project was finished just two days shy of six months.

I owe a HUGE debt to Eileen (BCourtEJ on Ravelry) – a crocheter in Ireland who specializes in protecting those vintage patterns by learning how to read them and being willing to share her knowledge. Eileen freely gave her time to decipher the Edging of Hearts pattern that was from 1912 and which stumped even my years of experience. Eileen sent me step-by-step instructions with accompanying photographs for each step. Each photo showed the new step in a contrast colour yarn. I am humbled by her generosity. Over five years later and I’m still moved by this example of the “universe conspiring with me”.

As I wrote in my project notes on Ravelry, this project took me back to my start as a crocheter – working with thread. Daily, I feel the presence of my teachers: my surrogate grandmother and my Mom. I love that I was able to honour my husband’s cultural roots, as well as my own as we joined our lives together. And I love that all of the yarn used was dyed in Canada.

Each time I tell this story of collaboration, I am moved to tears. I am also honoured by friends and fellow Ravelers, CanadianEh and stitchyalli as each wrote a blog post – Special Week and a love letter, respectively – about this journey.

You can find Lara on Ravelry as MsTing and more details about her beautiful wedding veil in her project notes for “The Raisin”. Thank you for sharing your story with us Lara!

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