Retired Cascade Locks man enjoys the challenge of crocheting intricate designs

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: CARI HACHMANN - Jim Dean and one of his crocheted doilies.Visitors meandering through the sun-lit dome of Corbett’s Vista House Saturday walk up to a couple standing behind a table and compliment their display of intricate and colorful crocheted doilies.

“It’s my hobby,” says James “Jim” Dean, 72, standing with his wife, Sharon,70.

The two live in Cascade Locks and as Friends of Vista House frequently volunteer at the information booth there.

Today, however, they’ve come to show off Jim Dean’s crocheted doilies.

When asked if he knows any other man who crochets, Dean said, “Just me.”

And former football player Rosey Grier. He tatted, said Dean. Tatting is another form of lace-making.

“One of my uncles crocheted,” Dean said, but he’s gone. “Everybody used to have doilies.”

Back then, walk into anybody’s house and see crochet on the back of sofas, on tables and under pots.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: CARI HACHMANN - Jim Dean demonstrates how easy it is to crochet.The centuries-old craft of lace-making — popularized in the 1840s and made in quantity until the World War I — resurged among homemakers making doilies in the 1940s and 1950s, and inspired yet another generation of crocheters in the late 1960s and early ’70s, when Dean learned.

Dean’s reason for crocheting is a practical way to kill time.

“It’s a time occupier more than anything,” he said.

It was the winter of 1975 and Dean, originally from Idaho, was living in Pendleton and off work for the season.

Employed as a tree trimmer and pest exterminator, and before that a sawmill worker, he often had his hands free during the winter months.

While not climbing trees, Dean decided he wanted to make something nice for his wife, Sharon.

Jim and Sharon Dean have been married 53 years. The two met in their shared hometown of Sweet Home, Idaho.

“I knew I wanted to crochet,” Dean said. He comes from a family of crocheters.

His grandmother crocheted. As did his mother, aunt and uncle.

So, Dean waltzed down to a Jo-Ann Fabric store and bought himself a “do-it-yourself” book on crocheting.

He was able to get the foundation technique down where you start with a chain and a row of single crochet on top of the chain, but then things got confusing, he said.

“I couldn’t understand what the book was saying. It was like picking up a Greek tablet.”

Dean put the book down and had Sharon show him how.

Starting with larger thread, as most beginners do, so they can see their mistakes, Dean made Sharon his first neck scarf.

“I think everyone starts out making those,” Dean said.

For the next 38 years, Dean would continue to spend winter evenings practicing crochet.

He’s gotten quite good, even better than his wife, who said she stopped crocheting when he learned.

“It really is not as complicated as it looks,” Dean said.

“All you’re doing is repeating the pattern as you go around,” he said, pointing to a blue and white doily on the table. Giving his fingers something to do while he sits in front of the TV, Dean makes around 25 doilies every winter, and gives them to friends as gifts.

Before he does, Sharon ensures the doilies, which come in every color from bright tie dye to pinks, greens and traditional white, are finished, washed and sprayed with lavender-scented starch.

Dean’s doilies are on sale at the Vista House gift shop, and run about $10 to $45 each.

“That’s beautiful,” said a woman in the gift shop, admiring a giant white doily that took Dean a week to make, a “wheat and grape” design mounted on purple packing paper.

Flipping through a heavy book of patterns, Dean’s done almost all of them — dogwood flower motifs, Victorian boxes (for the kids to fill with potpourri), a fancy crocheted collar (for Sharon), and a tablecloth spotted with bumblebees (an imitation of a tablecloth his mother crocheted years ago.)

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: CARI HACHMANN - A tablecloth of butterflies and pineapples, made by Jim Dean, with design help from his wife, Sharon.One of his most accomplished pieces took 300 hours to complete. Sharon helped him with the design, a long white tablecloth decorated with butterflies and pineapples that drape along the edges.

Dean also enjoys the challenge of learning new complex patterns, like the Filet crochet, which involves turning the material over with each row you stitch.

He’s even been known to find mistakes written in the instruction manuals he buys.

The prices of Dean’s doilies are hardly worth the hours he puts in — typically three evenings (depending on the complexity of the pattern), but then again, not too many people are buying doilies these days.

“Doilies have lost their niche in our daily life,” Dean said.

But it doesn’t really bother him.

As retired parents of two sons and a daughter, grandparents of nine kids and great-grandparents of seven children (the eighth to be born in October), Jim and Sharon aren’t trying to ring in a profit.

They spend their time traveling, overseas and all over Oregon in their motorhome, camping with family and volunteering at the Vista House information booth when they can.

Only one of Dean’s granddaughters has picked up crocheting.

“It’s one of those things that will hopefully come back around, but if not, I don’t care. I’ll keep making them,” Dean said.