'An Ornametal and Useful Art' - From Anxious to Artist.
Updated: Jul 30
Mrs J Burrell, in the 1840s, called crochet 'an ornamental and useful art'. 180 years on, this craft is making a comeback as an art form, useful craft, a form of therapy, and much more.
Below, I will share what drew me to this art form, the myriad things it has been to me over the years, and how it became what it is for me today; a therapy, expression, obsession, income, and way of life.
One of the questions I am asked most frequently is ‘what made you want to crochet Silver?’. There are so many facets to this journey that I often struggle to form a fully cohesive answer.
To truly go back to the beginning, the Twisted Fern journey actually began over 10 years before I even picked up a crochet hook. After discovering Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey when I was 13, I found myself increasingly obsessed with anything 19th century; literature, art, science, politics, and anything that provided a glimpse into that fascinating world. I spent a lot of my teenage years collecting and reading 19th century journals, in the hopes that one would scoop me up and disprove all previous scientific thoughts surrounding time travel.
Fast forward 9 years, in 2011, I graduated from Keele University with a Masters of Research (MRes) in History. My research focused on the 19th century Medical Profession through a lens of Gothic Literature, I named it The Victorian Anxiety. Through my dissertation, I looked into how people’s priorities, hopes, worries, and fears were manifested between 1837 and 1901, and the changes that took place within that time. This led me to my favourite word in the English language: ‘Quotidian’ meaning every day or mundane. I began to focus on the shift from fear of the supernatural to fear of everyday occurrences and the dark sides of human nature. A vampire living in a remote European castle was suddenly replaced with murderous barbers, unethical doctors, poverty, and mental illness.
At no point in my painfully short career as an Historical Researcher, did I consider looking further into the role and rise of needle crafts in female empowerment, instead I skirted round the subject in all of my months of work on the 'Angel of the household'. Alas, another article for another time, perhaps. What I did discover was a deep love and appreciation for The Arts and Crafts movement, a design reform in the latter half of the 1800s countering the growth of mass production and machine made items that sparked a throw away culture. You can often see me referencing this movement in various Instagram posts.
So why am I telling you all of this? During my time at University, I wrote extensively on the two things I really knew; the 19th century and anxiety. The latter had followed me round like a bad smell for most of my life, lurking in the alleyways of my thoughts, ready to jump out and steal my purse, along with my semblance of sanity.
Time to fast forward again. I'll give you the abridged version: 2011 to 2015 involved one epic and life saving love story, 3 unfulfilling middle management heritage and 2 sales jobs, an undiagnosed chronic illness, a self proclaimed quarter life crisis, subsequent travel to 3 continents, 3 years living in a remote Temperate Rainforest, and more than one major bout of 'Oh crap, what am I doing with my life!?'. Turns out, no matter how far you go, your mind follows. My mind, most importantly, the bad smell of anxiety, followed me even into the remote wilderness of British Columbia. There was no hiding and I had to face it full on.
In late 2015 I was taught to crochet. Sat on my friend's red couch that tried to eat you each time you sat on it, I was handed a crochet hook for the first time. The first thing I made was a doily in white thread, all the while protesting that I wasn't creative and wouldn't be able to do it. Shortly after this I read Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic.. The line that stuck with me, and does to this day, was:
'What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail? What do you love doing so much that the words failure and success essentially become irrelevant?' - Elizabeth Gilbert
I decided, despite my lack of confidence and the feeling that I wasn't allowed to be creative because that was for talented and 'arty' people, that I would follow my calling to be creative, regardless.
The week following my first crochet encounter, I realised that my anxiety had shut up, and I had shut it up by finding something I loved to do so much that it couldn't stop me. It could no longer tell me I wasn't good enough, it didn't matter. It could no longer tell me I was going to fail as I had with everything else, I didn't believe it. Just like that, my anxiety, for the first time in my life, was struck dumb and powerless. In total cliched style, I found my voice, and in 2016 I decided that I was going to keep going, that I was going to make my passion into a business.
In Spring 2016, my friend asked if I could bring some of my pieces to a market she was hosting, I ended up selling 7 pieces in a couple of hours, one of which was a wire crochet pendant that I was experimenting with (back then I make crocheted jewelry with recycled linen, true story).
That January, I had seen thin copper pipe being knotted with a large crochet hook in Peru and had the idea to do something similar with broken guitar strings (even from the beginning, I was all about the recycled materials). Not being able to achieve the look I wanted, I ordered some thin copper wire to play around with. Once a small bit of my creative brain was freed from the grasp of self doubt and anxiety, the rest came pouring out until crocheting, creating art, and designing jewelry occupied the majority of my conscious thought.
I have a vivid memory of sitting at another friend's table, drinking chai tea from her awesome glass mugs, and talking about my idea to build a handmade jewelry business that was100% recycled, low waste and cruelty free (we had just done Veganuary together a month late in February 2015, a challenge to eat plant based for the month of January, try it out!). Her reaction is just as vivid as the taste of the yummy chai: 'Wow, Vic, this could be big! You could really make a difference!.'.
In May 2016 a trip to visit friends on Vancouver Island, the name Twisted Fern was born, I started a social media page on the ferry trip back to the mainland, and began to make scary and exciting plans. By December, I was in Much Wenlock, UK, selling the first versions of Sterling Silver Lace at my first ever Christmas Fayre.
Having seen this picture many times since it was taken, I can still see and feel the fear on my face. I had been up since 6am (not my kind of thing), and had been terrified, playing the highlight reel of 'what ifs' on repeat for a week leading up to this. With amazingly supportive In-Laws (who got up at 6am with me, drove me, helped me set up, and distracted my terrified mind.), I was able to make my debut a success and was given the confidence to keep going. People actually wanted to give me money in exchange for what I had created. This was so baffling to me (and still is some days), impostor syndrome was strong that day, but so was the gratitude and warmth I felt with supportive comments from complete strangers, urging me to do more with my talent.
Since this first market, my designs haven't changed the world, I'm not a millionaire or catwalk famous, but building Twisted Fern has changed everything for me.
Do I still suffer from Anxiety? Of course, unfortunately mental health is not linear. But I now have the weapons I need to keep it in its tiny bad smell box at the back of my mind. I can now distinguish what is my voice and what isn't me; when the little bastard is out of its confinement. When I feel anxious, I can pick up a crochet hook, or even a pen and paper, and start creating something, anything, because it no longer matters to me what the outcome is, it is the act of creating that is my therapy, having something beautiful at the end of it is a happy consequence. These days I mostly work in Silver, but every now and again, I need to go back to basics. Get out the chunky yarn, large hook and crochet a double stitch ad tedium. Each time I yarn over, I take a long deep breath, until the feeling passes and I can go back to whatever I was doing before.
Studying History has given me the tools to tell stories, to learn about and share the significance of Crochet as an art form. My designs are inspired by the doilies, lacework, and patterns produced from the 1840s onwards. I love being able to provide connection to that world, it is my small way of accomplishing time travel. Reading patterns written almost 200 years ago, creating something new out of antiquity using recycled materials is such a joy to me.
This year has been the best yet for Twisted Fern Designs, I have launched a new line of 3D works, added Fine Silver to my creations, been selected for the Sooke Fine Art Show, and pushed myself further than I thought I could go. Thank you to everyone who has rooted for me, supported me, bought one of my designs, and never let me give up.
Thank you for reading my story as it is so far, it has been a tough one to share as I am normally a very closed book entitled 'I'm great and everything's fine!'. I think we all fall victim to that and this is my attempt to break the cycle and keep pushing myself through it.
I feel so grateful to have found, and had the confidence to continue, doing something that allows my artistic voice to be louder than my fear and doubts.
Check out my latest designs, updates, and events by following me on Facebook and Instagram. Get in touch, say hi, ask questions, anything at all, I'd love to hear from you!