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Bring Out My Balls and Dare to Be Different

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First Steps

When I was a teenager, walking into a yarn store for the first time made me feel out of place and awkward about asking for yarn for myself.

“Are you buying this yarn for your mom?” the cashier would inevitably ask. My heart would sink, and I’d say, “No, it’s for me.” Stereotypes have a way of choking off your internal joy.

As a teenager, I felt like I was buying stuff that I wasn’t supposed to be buying. Some kids were trying to sneak peeks at Playboy (or Playgirl – duh). But here I was, feeling furtive because I wanted to make something pretty.

Throughout my teenage years and up until The Crochet Crowd began, I wouldn’t reveal to many people that I knew how to crochet.

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“Are you buying this yarn for your mom?” the cashier would inevitably ask.

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I kept at it though. I just did what I had to and still enjoyed crochet, even though it was my own little secret. Crochet helped quiet my mind by making me concentrate on one stitch at a time.

Crisis of Confidence

I grew up in a home where creativity was encouraged and daydreams were gateways to ideas.

Living for a short time in a small town, Ontario, arts and crafts were a way to fill time in the evenings, while the wood stove heated our cottage in the cold winter months, and my mom looked for something else to fill our time besides watching television.

As a little kid, I was really into crafting—particularly weaving on a loom. My Grade 4 teacher was passionate about weaving and she brought her loom to school to show us and let us play. I was so hooked that when we had activity time, the loom was the go-to. I would think of all the different things I could do with it. My young brain was sparked by the creativity of yarn. Creativity with yarn RULES!

I was so driven by it that I asked my parents to buy me a loom and they did. I had visions of making my own scarves and I did it with a joy I still remember. I used leftover yarn from my mom. My scarves were nothing spectacular, but they were made by me.

I took my loom to school to show my teacher because I was so excited.

Even though the box featured two girls and the loom was bright pink, I didn’t care. But my classmates did, and one kid snapped it in half. It was at that moment that I realized yarn arts are marketed towards a gender that isn’t my own, even though I loved it so much.

I was defeated and pushed back into the closet to keep it quiet. Life changed and we moved to a big city to follow my dad’s job. The city was the eye opener of trying to put the pieces together and realize it’s not just yarn where I am not fitting.

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It was at that moment that I realized yarn arts are marketed towards a gender that isn’t my own, even though I loved it so much.

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If you haven’t gone through it, it may be hard to grasp, especially these days when there are so many more supports and allies for LGBTQ+ youth. Back then I was in a small town with nobody to talk to about how I was feeling, which was isolated and alone. I’m not even sure I would have known how to articulate it. But I knew I was different. I knew I just didn’t fit.

I had taken so much joy in the yarn arts when I was younger. As a bullied teen, I reflected on my younger years and on what brought me joy. I lost my will to live and couldn’t figure out my contribution to society. This world is a tangled ball of yarn, EH!

The Breakthrough

When I was 14 my mother taught me to crochet. She let me find my way with the hook and yarn. There was no pressure. My mother understood the ways I needed to learn.

“Wrap the needle and insert it into the hole and then wrap again  . . . pull out from the hole,” she would say. “Wrap the needle again, and pull two loops on the needle, then wrap the needle again and pull through the last loops.”

By the end of the evening, I was loving the concept and it ignited a new beginning. It changed my life. 

The next day, I went to the store to buy my first hook and a bag full of blue variegated yarn to do a full-size blanket. I was hooked big time.

At school, I would daydream about going home to crochet. At night, I would crochet in front of the TV completely entranced by the craft. In a couple of months, I had my first double-size afghan done. Yep, even with a fancy-dancy double crochet border.

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At school, I would daydream about going home to crochet. At night, I would crochet in front of the TV completely entranced by the craft.

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Crochet Saved My Life

My mother taking the time to teach me acted as suppression and redirected my mind from suicidal thoughts. Crochet, for me, wasn’t just a skill, it was a coping mechanism. It basically saved my life many times over.

Having the experience as a bullied, introverted kid, you domino yourself into being invisible, and you feel isolated and devalued. So, I found a way, through the help of my mom, to channel my feelings into crochet instead of hurting myself. I’m not sure where I’d be without it. It was the thing I could rely on when my life hit the skids.

Crochet for me is personal. It’s a healing mechanism. It’s therapy.

That’s why we’ve worked so hard to make The Crochet Crowd a welcoming, supportive community. I know there are people screaming for help, but they can’t be heard. That was me. I turned to crochet when I was in need.

I want our community to be that kind of lifeline, where creativity can help us push through. As much as our community is there for others, it helps me just as much.

It satisfies my own need for community as I see value in reaching out to others who may be just like me and in need of a friend where crochet is the conversation.

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Crochet for me is personal. It’s a healing mechanism. It’s therapy.

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Chucking It All

Crochet helped me cope with school and was my constant companion as I went on to graduate from college with a diploma in mechanical engineering, design technician. Even though crochet was my passion, it never occurred to me that it could ever be a career. I had been working since I was 14, and basically supporting myself since I was 18.

But by 2003, I had just turned 30 and wondered WTF I was doing with my life. You know what I mean. You examine your job, friends, goals, and why you are eating endless boxes of Kraft Dinner.

Like many people who hit that age, I realized my life wasn’t what I thought it would be. I then had a job at a factory in Barrie, Ontario, that gave me anxiety attacks and made me miserable. I had property and keepsakes from my marriage that had ended years earlier.

Yes, I followed the straight path, and that may surprise you. Coming to terms with being gay, smack-dab in the middle of a marriage, was one of the worst moments in my life, especially how it affected another human being.

I knew something wasn't right, I couldn't put my finger on it and rushed to marriage because I felt that was expected of me. I lacked the courage to speak up for myself at the risk of hurting another person. In fact, I did more psychological damage to my family and, more importantly, to her. My fear was unforgivable for the emotional mess I created for her. To anyone living with doubt in your life, I speak frankly to you: You have one life to live, be honest with yourself and to those around you.

I purged everything I owned and did a life memory dump. eBay was the flush I needed. I sold everything for less than 200 bucks! I didn’t care about money, I just wanted it gone. I sold off almost everything I owned and got rid of what items I had left from my childhood and donated them to the local dump. I love a good purge and the flush that goes with it!

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To anyone living with doubt in your life, I speak frankly to you: You have one life to live, be honest with yourself and to those around you.

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On the Road and Online

In the midst of the midlife crisis, a new unexplored and unexpected chapter began. I started seeing someone new. He taught me how to drive a transport truck and I ended up driving a truck for five years before plunging into The Crochet Crowd full time.

My partner and I would drive together. Basically, I would drive at night and he would drive through the day. We had long-haul routes all over North America, but our main routes were to Texas, Oregon, and Arizona. We’ve seen the ugly and the beauty during these years.

It wasn’t all smooth driving. There was some grinding of the gears and trust me when I say I’m not great at backing up. If you know what I mean. (beep beep beep)

Big Road Dispatches: A Crochet Crowd Prelude

To put my trucking time to good use I joined a program called “Trucker Buddy,” which paired participants with an elementary classroom. The idea was that I would pick up postcards along my route and write stories about my travels.

During a two-week road run, I could write 10 or more cards. I sent my first batch to a Grade 5 class in New York. After my first batch, I unexpectedly received some letters back from the students telling me about them and asking me questions.

Writing to the kids helped give me a newfound sense of belonging and a feeling that I mattered. They actually wanted to hear from me! I needed this kind of contact in my life. I figured I would take this one step further and write letters to each student too. It began several years of relationships with the same teacher and her classes. Eventually, younger siblings of the students in that first class would write to me too. I was their writing assignment.

But for me, they were pieces of the world that were missing in my life. Those kids will never really comprehend that they were my “call a friend” lifeline at a point in my life where I was lost.

Being in the program taught me that community isn’t just about who lives near you. It’s the people you let be a part of your life, whether in person or online like The Crochet Crowd. It’s truly a privilege if someone allows you to be part of their lives.

Oprah Calling

So, one day in 2008, my relationship is rocky, and out came my yarn to deal with my racing mind. I was watching the Oprah Winfrey Show. It was just another lazy afternoon crocheting away on the couch.

But something Oprah said changed my life. (I know a lot of people say that, but it’s true!) She was talking about finding your journey and your purpose in life. Basically, if something in your life is broken, find a reason to change it, and find gratitude.

From Oprah’s mouth to my ears: She made me realize that everyone has a calling in life. Even me.

As I sat there hooking with Oprah, I thought about how I couldn’t grasp the crochet tutorials on YouTube. I’m sorry, but almost all of the videos were kind of boring. I thought if I felt like that maybe there were others out there like me. I wondered to myself ‘What if I were to do it differently (as if my mom was in the room), what would I do?’

I zoned out as Oprah was talking and looked down at my project and thought, “What if I taught this on YouTube using the words my mother would use to teach me?”

Mind = blown, people!

Camera: Check.

Hook: Check.

Yarn: Check.

Bring out my balls and dare to be different. Let’s flip the concept, get off the soapbox and just immerse myself into a community. I just wanted to be me from my language and presentation skills. I spoke like an everyday crocheter speaking to another everyday crocheter. Nothing elite to see here.

Sorry Oprah, I love you, but you got turned off halfway through the show.

I sat on the floor of my living room. No sound equipment. No fancy introduction with music. No introduction to myself.

“Let me show you how to do a single crochet.”

Just me offering something to the world. It was that basic! Never underestimate the power of simple ideas.

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Bring out my balls and dare to be different. Let’s flip the concept, get off the soapbox and just immerse myself into a community. I just wanted to be me from my language and presentation skills. I spoke like an everyday crocheter speaking to another everyday crocheter. Nothing elite to see here.

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I was so motivated that I filmed 10 videos based on stuff I already knew. I did have something to offer the world, and that was teaching a skill the way I learned it. I didn’t know if it would go anywhere. I didn’t know if anybody would watch.

But I knew this is what I had to do. It felt right.

My partner left nine months after I got started but I had been playing with my camera and started a new journey while my relationship was collapsing which tumbled me. A journey that would eventually take me to a different mindset and starting a global community down the road. You know bad things can inspire new things?!

From the book The Crochet Crowd, by Michael Sellick & Daniel Zondervan. Published in 2021 by MacIntyre Purcell Publishing Inc. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Learn more about The Crochet Crowd:

As a solitary young boy, Michael Sellick took refuge in the art of crocheting. As an adult, that refuge would grow into a passion. He started sharing videos to fellow crocheters in something he called The Crochet Crowd—a far-flung group that now includes three million people around the world on Youtube, Facebook and Instagram. For Mikey the passion and joy are stronger than ever, and now he's hanging with the "in" crowd too: The Crochet Crowd.

Packed with pictures, personality and 15 patterns, this book will resonate with first-time and experienced crocheters alike. Crocheters will be treated to an exclusive collection of patterns for afghans, scarves, hats, cowls and other items that emphasize the texture, colour and coziness that Mikey and Dan have become known for.

August 26, 2021
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