Tuesday, April 30, 2013


I recently read The Plague and I, by Betty MacDonald.  Betty, the author of the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books for children, was sick with tuberculosis in the late 1930s when she was 29 years old, and The Plague and I is her humorous memoir of the nine months she spent in a sanatorium.  

The treatment she had to endure seems fairly medieval.  The windows were kept open even on the coldest days of winter, her blankets were thin and scratchy, and for the first three months she was on complete bed rest, so complete she wasn't even allowed to read.  As patients showed improvement, they were slowly allowed to sit up for a few minutes every day, and eventually they were introduced to occupational therapy.   Betty was sorely disappointed in the occupational therapy.  She was expecting that she'd learn a useful skill that would help her find employment when she was released from the sanatorium.  Instead, she was taught to knit, crochet, tat, and embroider.  Oh the horror!!!

Here is an excerpt from the chapter "A Toecover and How It Breeds":

Toecover is a family name for a useless gift.  A crocheted napkin ring is a toecover.  So are embroidered book marks...pincushion covers done in French knots...embroidered coat hangers...cross-stitched pictures of lumpy brown houses with "The houfe by the fide of the road" worked in Olde Englishe underneath...bud vases made out of catsup bottles...

A toecover is not a thing that follows economic cycles.  During the depression when everyone was making their own Christmas presents, toecovers abounded.  In good times toecovers are not made at home but are bought in the back of Gifte Shoppes...

Oh, my, what would Betty think of the things I make?  Toecovers galore!  Betty feels ill will towards the handwork she was forced to do, but in one of the final chapters she makes a visit home to plan for her upcoming release from the sanatorium, and her family ends up in a fight over who will have to prepare a room for her. Betty admits "In the midst of this emotional upheaval I was horrified to find that I was weeping and TATTING!"  See, even Betty sort of admits that handwork does soothe the soul when things are stressful.

The crocheted rock (toecover extraordinaire?) pictured above was made by me earlier this week to give to my mother for Mother's Day.  I used no. 8 perle cotton and a D hook and followed the pattern for a granny circle provided on Bunny Mummy's blog to start the cover. When it was big enough to top the rock, I started decreasing stitches to make it snug along the bottom.