Her work exudes the warmth of the handmade. Arresting designs in colours that make your eyes shine, her crochet art makes for the perfect gift, stamped with a personal touch. Jacqueen Fernandes makes bookmarks, bag accessories, angels, teddy bears, hairclips, sling bags and other little things you would hardly imagine in crochet, with flair and attention to the very last stitch. She is an artist who wandered around for five years in the corporate world, trying out different roles. Being someone who “masters skills fast and gets bored faster”, those years left her desiccated. And to think that she started off as a dietician! If you’re confused, this is a good time to mention that she is an avid solo biker (the regal Enfield is her childhood sweetheart). As I speak to her, she’s just back from a round trip covering Bengaluru to Hampi via Mumbai, Pune, Solapur and whichever other place called out.
She finds no incongruity in casting aside her biking gloves to looping the crochet hook through those doubles and trebles. “If you love what you do, nothing is difficult,” says this woman who has converted her addiction to the needle into a brand called, what else, addicted2dneedle. So much so crochet has become her health ’n’ happiness plan for life.
Right from childhood, Jacqueen and her siblings were encouraged by their father to court joy rather than money. “What brings you happiness? Do that!” became the mantra she lived by. Born and raised in Fujairah (UAE), her father gave his children bicycles early on and encouraged them to be independent. She believes this gave her a headstart to being self-sufficient.
Like the many hobbies picked up in school, crochet was in and out of her life as she followed The Path – academics, job, marriage. “I learnt to crochet in school during the one-hour art class.” She mastered the basic skills and used to make personalised gifts but eventually lost touch with the skill. Though she briefly reconnected with it in college, crochet went undercover again when her father fell ill. The family moved back to Mangaluru in 2002.
Before she shifted to Bengaluru five years later, Jacqueen studied Dietetics at Alvas, Moodabidri, and focused on getting a job. Next, she found herself as a reluctant dietician “as there are many norms in the field and I have always believed in thinking out of the box.” She then courted the corporate sector. “Started off in Customer Care and landed in up in Quality. In my last role, I was a Quality Advisor for Convergence.” The restless woman kept moving jobs, uninspired but with the realisation that her paycheck kept her family going after her father’s death. Finally, when her youngest brother also started earning, she stepped back to take stock. She had been through many jobs, was going through a separation, and multiple family issues were taking their toll. She willed herself to slow down so her joy could reveal itself to her again, and, sure enough, it was an old love that beckoned her: a crochet bag she had made when life was happy and less complicated.
And then here was no going back. Accessories invariably make a statement and she started by crocheting tiny ones her brother requested for and wore on his shirt to work. “He wanted to wear something Christmassy, in tune with the season,” she says. Soon she was making more ambitious accessories such as berets, beanies and so on. Word got around and people started commissioning accessories they wanted to gift their loved ones. Jacqueen confesses to initially having doubts about making this into a business but her brother encouraged her.
“My brother is my backbone,” she says. His support prodded her to turn her hobby into a full-time paying business. She learnt to bring more complexity to her work by going online and reinventing them. “The market is small as not many have imagined crochet beyond stoles, tablecloths, shrugs and so on.” But what keeps her going are the bulk orders placed by her regular customers, and the sales facilitated by her Facebook and Instagram pages.
She’s an adventure sports enthusiast (“It runs in the blood. My father’s side of the family were all into adventures of some sort.”) and can segue from crocheting to beadwork, but has an uneasy relationship technology. She’d rather sit at her workstation and quietly fill the hours with intricate loops and stitches than find how to best “Insta and FB” her business. This challenge is compounded by the fact that she works alone. Yet word goes around about her lovely, thoughtful crochet accessories. Her happy customers and Facebook and Instagram pages (Jaqx:addicted2dneedle for both) bring in orders. She is now toying with the idea of tie-ups with some stores and cafes to display her work, though at present she is more than happy with the way it is developing.
Jacqueen spends at least three to four hours a day crocheting when it is not peak season. But November to January entails that she put in significantly more hours. She confesses she’s partial to making owls. Her advice to crafters is to "think of the joy on the face of the person" responding to your work rather than approach it in purely commercial terms. She is often besieged by people for classes but even if she yields, seldom continues them. "I am such a perfectionist that I will unravel the work again and again till they get it right." Not many can take that.
Her art is sacred to her. "When I'm moody, I put away the work and get back to it when I am relaxed, or else it will show in the work," she says, agreeing that crafts such as knitting and crocheting could become aids to improve mental health and keep stress and anxiety at bay. "It helps you focus and keeps you thinking about the design. Sometimes I spend the whole day at my workstation." It is meditative, she says.
“Earlier, it was mostly women who would come and look at my work but now a lot of men also come to pick up gifts for their girlfriends or sisters.” She nudges them not to leave the choice to her but to pick the perfect gift by asking them, “What colour does she like? What would she pick up?”
It is exactly this journey of transferring the personal touch that has made Jacqueen’s enterprise a joyous one.