Yarn Junkie: Women of color crochet the nurturing bonds of love and identity
Jonah Larson and his family made a special trip from La Crosse to Yarn Junkie and Gifts on April 6, visiting the black-owned yarn shop near Milwaukee to join a special crochet circle and teach them how to make one of his “identity-inspired dish cloths.”
Invited by owner Michelle Buckhanan, Jonah can already earn a hefty fee at the age of 11 for attending such events. But his willingness and desire to travel to 12527 W. Hampton Avenue and spend the afternoon with a small group of women demonstrated his character and mission.
Crocheting is popular for many reasons because it appeals to various personalities. It allows people who do not consider themselves to be creative to follow a clear set of instructions from beginning to end, employ a fair bit of mathematics, spend their time on something productive, and ultimately finish with a complete work of art that is both beautiful and useful.
While mostly thought of as a hobby, the craft can be an actual source of income. And even though the production process can be done in isolation, the very nature of crocheting builds community and invites fellowship. It uses a material as basic as yarn to craft one-of-a-kind gifts that are personal expressions of love, not only for the maker but to the receiver. It is also a very personal gift that keeps giving when passed down to another generation.
“Every stitch a kiss, every row a hug.” – quote from a crochet tag
Jonah spent his time sharing with the Yarn Junkie group, as he does with people everywhere, as a way to touch and uplift others. Through crocheting, he pieces together a pattern for his life and a path for others to follow. Jonah uses his crochet talent as a tool to make a difference in the world, and the Milwaukee event was the latest example of his effort to celebrate black fiber artists.
Learning how to crochet helped Jonah with behavior issues, allowing him to explore his true self and develop his talent. The women who crocheted with him also offered donations to help with his fundraising efforts for the nonprofit group Roots Ethiopia, which supports charity work in his birthplace.
Buckhanan was in the banking industry for 30 years, before opening an insurance agency. One day she happened to pick up crocheting, and it literally took over her life. She became good at it, and more people were asking for crocheted items. Instead sitting at her desk selling insurance, she was crocheting and making money at it. The business took off with help from her husband Walt, and support from women in the community.
”I was buying yarn and going to craft stores, then one day on Facebook I commented about wishing we had a black owned yarn store. It was not something I ever expected to do, it was something I wished someone else would create. But some people told me that I should do it,” said Buckhanan. “So, I took a leap of faith and invested in this business. A space had just become available in the building where were we were renting for our insurance company, and so I worked with the landlord to open up a yarn shop.
Wisconsin’s four seasons used to be known as almost winter, winter, still winter, and road construction. Homemade blankets, quilts, and afghans have had a cultural connection for generations of families who bundle together for months of chilling temperatures. Like many hobbies and crafts, the popularity of crocheting depends on individual interest and community traditions.
“Now we have a community of people that meets here every Thursday, and it’s a family. That is really what it’s about, more than selling yarn – which we do. It’s about community, and that’s the bigger part of what Yarn Junkie is,” added Buckhanan. “It’s about bringing people together. That is a major part of what we do, along with efforts outside in the community – like making donations and giving back to the area neighbors and the homeless.
Crocheting is a craft with a persona touch that never sits on a shelf collecting dust. It is wearable art wrapped in the emotion of the time that went into its production. At Yarn Junkie, several of the women shared their crochet stories with Jonah, about how they began. Some of those will be highlighted in Jonah’s book due out in July by KWiL Publishing, including a short narrative by Michelle. He also plans to dedicate a page to just photos of hands – showing them as people are crocheting.