The ties that bind us

By Annette Brand

The ties that bind us | crocheting

Photos by Annette Brand Justine Forster, right, and Somneang Chan, left, hold the yet-to-be finished crocheted United States flag which the Forsters will give to Som when she is sworn in as a citizen of the United States in an upcoming ceremony in Grand J

Justine Forster of Delta gives life to her art through the medium of crocheting.

Several years ago as a teenager, Justine observed a family friend, Somneang Chan, crocheting and the lovely creations that Somneang produced.

"I watched her," Justine said, "and was mesmerized by how quick she was in her stitching. I watched Somneang stitching for a long time."

Somneang assured Justine crocheting was easy to learn.

"Easy for ME?" Justine asked. Somneang said she would teach Justine. They began with Justine crocheting a little blanket with straight stitching.

"I loved crocheting as soon as I started it," Justine said.

The little blanket was unraveled and the yarn stitched again many times as Justine learned to crochet.

"After about six months I had mastered the basics," Justine said. "The tightness of the stitch is crucial; it has to be about the same or the crocheted article will end up in waves."

About this time Somneang moved to Grand Junction, entering the nursing program at Mesa State College.

Justine went online, to Google and YouTube, searching for pictures that explained patterns and stitches. She watched videos that showed different ways to accomplish color changes in a pattern she wanted to crochet, how to stitch in tails of different colors so the article wouldn't unravel.

"I still do this today," Justine said.

She also searches online for pictures for inspiration. Using the pictures, she prepares a graph or pixelated image to lay out how each color will fit in the projected design. "If each color will fit into a square, I can do it," she said.

She also uses pictures from Minecraft, a video game based on building with blocks. "When the picture is available as squares, I can count the squares and convert the squares to stitches."

She made lap robes for her parents, John and Maria Forster, which they use while watching television.

John's lap robe salutes one of the family's dogs, Otis, a pug. "I wandered the internet until I found a picture of a pug I liked. I opened it up, using a paint program on the computer, zoomed in as far as I could, and filled in the places missing," Justine explains. "The stitch is a double crochet, the yarn tan and black like Otis. I had to alter it a little on a graph. Dad uses it all the time."

Maria is an avid Scrabble player. For her lap robe Justine used the art of granny squares in tan, blue and pink. "It took me three or four months to complete it," Justine said. "I made each granny square separately, then crocheted them together so there would be a raised area in between, as there is on a Scrabble board."

Otis the pug started out being Justine's dog. She attended Mesa State College for two semesters and, as she was planning her first living arrangement away from home, she bought a dog, Otis, for a companion. What she discovered when looking for housing at Mesa State was that no dogs were allowed. Otis became her parents' dog.

But she "memorialized" Otis with a pillow. The Otis pillow was a lot of experiment, Justine said. She had no pattern and kept adding until it felt right. Otis' tail was her favorite feature, a traditional curled pug tail.

The first pattern Justine used was for a throw. It uses double crochet, chaining and drop stitching to create an abstract cat design. "I made a lot of them in different colors for friends," she says.

She made a baby blanket with three matching baby caps for her friend Jessie McNair Berney. The blanket uses the double crochet abstract cats, each in a different pastel color, and each of the baby caps is finished off with a crocheted heart, flower or butterfly.

Justine crocheted a long narrow article in white yarn with an outline of a cat in black yarn. When she moved into her house in Delta, it was perfect for a hanging inside her glass door to provide privacy.

The hanging has garnered a few comments, however, such as: "quite a cat," "you must really like cats," and the inevitable "crazy cat lady."

The creation that has evoked the most emotion for Justine is a crocheted U.S. flag for Somneang Chan.

Somneang Chan came to the United States and Redlands Mesa from Cambodia. The late Marce Teas and her husband Jamie Meiklejohn built their retirement home on Redlands Mesa.

Both had worked for the United Nations in several countries.

Working for the U.N. in Cambodia, Marce hired Somneang (Som), who also worked for the U.N., to help Marce with a food distribution project for Cambodian river boat people. Som was of immeasurable help with that project and other projects. The two became fast friends.

When Marce was getting ready to retire and return to the U.S. she asked Som what, above all else, she would want to do in life. Som's response was to come to the U.S. and get a college degree.

Marce and Jamie sponsored Som to come to the U.S. as a student and helped her get her visa. Som came to live with Marce and Jamie and became well known on Redlands Mesa.

Mesa State College would not accept Som's Cambodian high school credentials, but would accept her if she earned a GED (General Education Development) diploma.

Three Redlands Mesa residents -- Danielle Carre-Burritt, Maria Forster and Patricia Lewis -- tutored Som in preparing for her GED diploma, after which she was accepted in the Mesa State Nursing School.

Som graduated Mesa State College, passed the Colorado nursing certification tests, became a registered nurse and was on the nursing staff at Community Hospital in Grand Junction for several years.

Som has travelled to North Carolina and Wisconsin to serve as a nurse for hospitals having difficulty filling nursing staff. She is now in Washington in the same capacity.

Som recently passed her tests for citizenship in the U.S. She will be sworn in as a citizen in an upcoming ceremony in Grand Junction.

In creating the U.S. flag for Somneang, Justine could not find any patterns. She found a picture of a star from a video game from the 1980s and was able to recreate a star on a graph. Justine made a pattern on the computer and used "copy and paste" to crochet the 50 stars and 13 stripes.

"Som has been part of our lives and my family wanted to do something special to commemorate Som becoming a citizen of the U.S. This flag is in honor of Som and we will give it to her when she is sworn in as a citizen in Grand Junction," Justine said.

Postscript: Marce Teas came out of retirement to accept another assignment for the U.N. during the second Gulf War. She was in the U.N. building in Baghdad when an enemy truck loaded with bombs rammed into the U.N. building in Bagdad on Aug. 19, 2002. Marce was among those killed. Marce's husband Jamie Meiklejohn continues to live in their house on Redlands Mesa and is active in the community.