Biography Memoir Books Nonfiction

Alanna Okun is qualified to tell us how we’ll survive in “The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater”

I never thought this book would be for me when I read the title, The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater: Essays on Crafting, but I thought I would give it a go. I was going through a hard time when it felt like everything was beginning to fall apart and I was looking for something that could work as a distraction, as a retreat, from the rest of the world to find a way to figure out how to salvage what was left of my heart and heal.

Turns out, this book was exactly what I needed.

As much as this book is about crafting and art, it’s also about life. Alanna Okun knows things about life, and she lays herself bare in this memoir, taking readers into the parts of themselves they often keep hidden. She has been through so much, found strength amongst so much pain and still, at the same time, she finds humour in the daily indignities all crafters must face Okun has written a book that will speak to anyone who has said to themselves, or to everyone within earshot, “I made that.” Or, even, “I made it.”

The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater is a memoir about life truths learned through crafting.

People who craft know things. They know how to transform piles of yarn into sweaters and scarves. They know that some items, like woolen bikini tops, are better left unknit. They know that making a hat for a newborn baby isn’t just about crafting something small but appreciating the beginnings of life, which sometimes helps make peace with the endings. They know that if you knit your boyfriend a sweater, your relationship will most likely be over before the last stitch.

Alanna Okun knows that crafting keeps her anxiety at bay. She knows that no one will ever be as good a knitting teacher as her beloved grandmother. And she knows that even when we can’t control anything else, we can at least control the sticks, string, and fabric right in front of us.

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This memoir is completely underrated, and if more people who don’t craft could open their minds they mind find that this book is a hidden gem. It is full of lessons and inspiration and Okun tells us the mysteries of life through the art of crafting. Knowing that Okun has gone through some hardships herself is enough to make anyone pick up this book. Because whatever you’re going through, chances are, she’s seen worse and she is qualified to tell you how you’ll survive.

These are 14 moments in the memoir where she does just that in The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater: Essays on Crafting

“A craft project allows you to hold something concrete in your hands even when everything around you in swirling and illegible; it allows you take tiny risks and solve tiny problems and achieve tiny victories. It reminds you that there are calm and good parts of your brain where you can retreat when the rest of it feels like a war-zone, and that you can, in some small, brief way, save yourself.”

“The most important thing is to start, even if it’s ugly, even if it’s hard.”

“The nice thing about the world is that is rarely ends, and even when it does, you can always rip your stitches back and start from the beginning.”

“Making things can certainly help you navigate when the outside world gets to be too much.”

“I didn’t think about us ending because I had no conception that we could end; I loved him and he loved me, so that was how things were now.”

“Just like I hadn’t known what it was to be loved, I also hadn’t known that the other person was allowed to stop loving you. And then one night at his house he told me he was sorry, but he wanted to break up. I felt not so much sadness just then as shock – those weren’t the rules. He was supposed to be on my team, be my person, not just decide to leave me one day without giving me a chance to make it right. What was I supposed to do with all these feelings, all this time, all this space in myself I’d set aside for him? How could I go back to being just me?”

“Certain places feel like they belong permanently to certain times and certain people, and sometimes you just decide it’s time to make them yours again.”

“Just because you can’t defeat something, doesn’t mean you can’t make a wry sort of peace with it.”

“I am trying to learn how to trace my anxiety back to its original source so I can better understand how to face it – to prove to myself that it can be faced. So often the only thing you can do is give up the idea that you can perfectly visualise a life, and just keep stringing days together one by one; so often a gaping hole in a sleeve just needs a little tug a few stitches back. And sometimes you just have to sit with the hole, to accept that it’s there and it’s uncomfortable and it’s fine.”

“You can do this, they say in a voice far deeper and calmer than your own. You are more than this moment right here.”

“If you are looking for proof that someone doesn’t want you or that you don’t matter, you will find it; most of the time you can even manufacture it yourself. If you are looking for a piece of skin to rip or a hair to rip, one will always turn up. I spend so much time and energy picking at myself that I worry one day there will be nothing left.”

“There would be new life to build even as the old one fell apart.”

“You grow up thinking that somebody who loves you should automatically know how to care for you, and vice versa. That to love is to understand, and to understand is to know exactly how to act. But so much gets lost between people. We don’t even know how best to care for ourselves a lot of the time, so how could we expect to do it so effortlessly for others?”

And, lastly, the most important lesson of all:

“All you can do is trust what you know, what years of making things and f**king up and starting over have taught you. Each stitch is a step forward even if you’re going in circles (or squares). Each minute was well spent. Look at that: you made it.”

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