First published in Landings, October, 2015.
In the old days, when lobster traps were made of wood and that wood was often cut and milled by the fisherman himself, human hands made bait bags. Knitting a net was a skill taught early on to the young by older men and women. It is a specialized form of knitting requiring a mesh board (a board with short rods that govern the size of the mesh), a needle, and a fair bit of patience. Now bait bags often come in a roll of pre-knitted nylon which a lobsterman can cut and shape to the size he wants.
On Vinalhaven, Stephanie Crossman is still knitting bait bags the old-fashioned way but for a modern purpose. She creates bags, purses, shawls and three-dimensional sculptures using the net stand, hand-carved needles, and mesh board given to her years ago by her husband’s great-grandmother. Three decades ago, at age 92, Gram J, as she was known, taught Crossman the traditional method of making net when she moved to the island to marry Matthew Crossman. Now she uses those skills to make airy sculptures of the natural world. Moving into three-dimensional figures required a different approach to knitting. Crossman learned to stiffen the twine and knit over a form that could be retracted when the sculpture was completed. The resulting creations have a lacy, almost levitating, look about them. Crossman’s sculptures and other works are available at fine craft shows around the country and online at www.mainenetbags.com.