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Handmade: Orthopedic surgeon loves to crochet

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News
Mark Russell works on his crocheting.

Is there a doctor in the house who knows how to crochet? Yes, there certainly is if Dr. Mark Russell of Holt is anywhere around.

The yarn enthusiast has been crocheting less than three years, but as an orthopedic surgeon for the past 32 years, he no doubt, has the manuel dexterity, and hand and eye coordination that probably surpasses that of many longtime needleartists. He works with his hands "all day, doing reconstruction."

Describing himself as someone who has "kind of a hyper-personality and a hard time staying still," he channels that energy, along with precise movements of his hands and fingers, to crank out richly textured crocheted afghans. 

"I find it relaxing, and it gives me something to do while I'm watching TV," said Russell, who taught himself to crochet by watching Youtube videos. And, as a young child, he learned to knit from his paternal grandmother, but lost interest until last summer when he decided to watch Youtube videos to reacquaint himself with the basics. Although he likes knitting, he's far more passionate about crocheting. "I can crochet a Granny Square pretty quick now," he enthused.

The inspiration behind his learning to crochet started as a joke, but later grew out of a need. "A patient of mine made an afghan that was really long. I could cover my head and feet at the same time," recalled Russell, who stands six-feet tall.

"Then, several years later, a buddy of mine was over our house, and he complained that the afghans you buy (in the stores) are really short. So, I thought 'what the heck,' and I taught myself to crochet, and made him one (long enough). I've made eight since then." He's gifted one to each of his six children -- Jason, Jacob, Jessica, Jennifer, Jori, and Carmen, who, like her dad, is also a crocheter. 

Russell crochets his extra-long, cozy afghans with Plymouth Encore Chunky Yarn, a soft blend of wool (25%) and acrylic fibers, which he purchases at Sticks & Strings in nearby Lansing at 1107 N. Washington. Each afghan consists of 88, 6-by-6-inch Granny Squares, designed with popcorn stitches as the focal point, a pattern he found online. He said his afghans are also "wide enough for two people, and more like a blanket."

Sabrina Woodward, a co-owner of Sticks & Strings, said "Mark is extremely talented. He does afghans for family and friends. He crochets them in squares and strips. They're nice and heavy because he uses a thick yarn, and everybody likes to cuddle up under them."

Mark Russell's handiwork.

His current project is a brown and gold afghan with "a big 'W' in the middle." He's making it for Jacob, who'll be graduating from Western Michigan University in April with plans for going into aerospace engineering.

Russell enjoys making afghans "for fun and friends," but once he finishes the one for his son, he's planning to make one for his brother.

And, as if being an orthopedic surgeon isn't enough to give him a sense of accomplishment, Russell said crocheting is another way he's able to experience that same feeling.

He said his male friends think it's "cool" that he crochets. "They were kind of surprised that I was able to do it more than anything. (But), I've never been one to feel phobic about my personal self, so it (being a man who crochets and knits) doesn't matter to me."

Since he started knitting again, Russell has made a scarf for his wife, Sandy, an OB/GYN surgeon, and one for his medical assistant, who teased him about being a man hooked on needlearts.

His wife is also a crafter. The two often spend time together crafting in their family room. He crochets or knits, while she does either scrapbooking or quilting. Ahhh -- a couple that crafts together!

Detroit News columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, jbrown@detroitnews.com or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.