Sue Hoffman admits that the first time she tried following a crochet pattern was like reading a foreign language. She persisted and soon was crocheting up a storm.
Initially, she just made afghans.
"One afghan after another," she said.
An oversized black, purple and teal geometric-patterned afghan is the most difficult one she has done. The blanket was so time-consuming that it took one hour to complete one inch using a large, afghan-stitch hook.
Slate-blue, cranberry and cream-colored yarns gave a scalloped-edged afghan a homey, country-look.
In 1995, Hoffman entered two afghans — one a multi-colored pinwheel design and the other with red hearts and houses — in the MontanaFair.
When each received a blue ribbon, she was really hooked on crocheting.
Born in Scobey and raised in Billings, Hoffman and her husband, Mike, operated Hoffman Gardens in Laurel until they moved to Florida in 1996. She entered her work in fairs there and continued to win ribbons.
They returned to Montana in August 2005.
Hoffman now works as a prep-cook for Sodexho's lunch program at Skyview High during the school year and the free summer lunch program in the parks.
The couple has two grown children, Rebekah and Jason.
When Hoffman became bored making afghans, she branched out into more complex designs.
"The more intricate and complicated, the better," she said.
After crocheting ornate dresses for porcelain dolls, she moved on to crocheting the dolls themselves. She made several little-girl dolls with wide-brimmed hats and matching dresses, using three-ply yarn for the clothing and four-ply for the bodies.
Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls were her most popular dolls, but each took 40 hours to make. Their fire-engine red hair alone took four hours to weave each strand into the dolls' heads.
She next made a series of large Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore and Tigger dolls.
Hoffman's skill with complicated projects impresses other crocheters.
Many crochet projects involve a repetitive pattern.
Once you figure out the pattern, "the rest is cake," said Linda Shandy, a longtime member of the Yellowstone Crochet Guild.
Hoffman also is a guild member.
When making dolls, a crocheter has to pay close attention to instructions during the whole project because a pattern rarely repeats itself.
Hoffman has the patience to follow a complex pattern and have the project turn out as it is supposed to, Shandy said.
"You have to be meticulous and detail-oriented," she said.
Both Shandy and Hoffman admit that crocheting has an image problem.
"People look down on crocheting," Hoffman said. "They think they (crocheted items) are old-lady things."
Although Hoffman took up crocheting as an adult, she apparently inherited the gene to wield a crochet hook with skill.
A black, wool afghan made by her great-grandmother that Hoffman now owns is a work of art. Each square has a colorful crocheted butterfly in the center. The stitches are so elaborate that Hoffman hasn't figured out how to replicate them.
Hoffman plans to submit the afghan for display at the MontanaFair, Aug. 11-19 at MetraPark, in hopes that someone can unlock the mystery.
Arthritis in her thumbs has discouraged Hoffman from continuing to make dolls, but she has gone on to other projects.
She has donated crocheted hats to the Northern Rockies Radiology Oncology Center for patients going through chemotherapy. Her latest project is a pink and black purse in the shape of a 45 rpm record.
She still crochets every day and remains passionate about it.
"I love it; it's therapy," she said.
Contact Mary Pickett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 657-1262.