The Secret Life of Gemma Owen
Many designers work at primary jobs unrelated to yarn. Crochet World features patterns by a copy editor, a web designer, a nurse, teachers, a school librarian, an account executive, a vocal instructor, homemakers/homeschoolers, an oil company executive, a budding filmmaker, a farmer and a retired train conductor. Probably the most unusual, nontraditional job among our designers is truck driver! Meet Gemma Owen, a trucker from Council Bluffs, Iowa, who, with her husband, Marv, and their two small dogs, drives their black cherry, 19,000-lb (before fuel and joining a trailer), 2007 Peterbilt 379 truck, hauling dry commodities across the United States. How does she drive a truck and design on the road? Let’s find out her secrets—but first, a little background… Gemma is a free spirit who has been crocheting nearly as long as she’s been trucking with Marv. She was taught to crochet as a child by an elderly neighbor but preferred to paint and draw at that age. Her love of trucks was inspired by her half-brother’s dad, his boss and a family friend who drove big rigs. Throughout her childhood, she loved to ride with her brother’s dad on hauls between Iowa and Omaha. She learned to drive a manual transmission at a young age; driving a truck sounded like a great way to earn a living, working at a job that didn’t confine her to “the same ole view daily.” As a young woman, she waitressed by day and drove trucks to and from packing houses in Omaha by night. Her husband’s father was a customer at her day job and “suddenly he was on a mission putting me with his truck-driving son!” They met in 1984 and have been together ever since. Gemma says they don’t run as hard as they did in past years but they do run steady: A typical year is about 340 days on the road, driving about 17,000 miles each month! In good weather, they drive 700–900 miles a day, taking turns at the wheel. (Because they both drive, they aren’t subject to restricted hours and regulations to which single drivers must adhere.) She puts her time in the passenger seat to good use, reading a book aloud to Marv (they’re voracious readers and take turns reading to each other) or designing and crocheting one of her spectacular doilies or an afghan. Except for bathrooms and showers at truck stops, Gemma and Marv have what they need to live comfortably in the truck: a RoadPro portable stove, a well-stocked refrigerator and freezer, TV series on DVDs and a portable player.
While on the road, she started crocheting again thanks to a shopping trip for food and books at a City Market store in Wyoming. To her delight, Gemma found a huge section of Red Heart yarns and crochet hooks. She bought yarn and an H hook and found herself immersed in crochet. Her design career began in the 1990s. While making a doily for her mom from a pattern book, she grew frustrated with serious errors in the writing; the first rounds of the design led into those from a completely different doily. After frogging the piece, she tossed the pattern and designed her own doily. The rest is crochet history! Gemma sold her first design, an angel pincushion, in 2007 to a company that, to the best of her knowledge, didn’t publish it. Then, with encouragement from friends, she submitted two designs to Crochet World and Crochet! magazines. Both designs sold and were featured in December 2010 issues. She’s been steadily selling designs, mostly doilies (her favorites), to
Crochet World ever since. So how does Gemma work in the small space of a truck cab? Very well, as we can see by her design in this issue (see page 48)! Her creativity starts with an idea that may just jump into her head or from a beautiful flower, and she instantly envisions a thread design. Or if she’s bored, she’ll grab some pretty colors that catch her eye from one of her four thread-filled totes stored in the truck and work out an entirely new design. Once an idea forms in her head, Gemma works in the passenger seat or behind the wheel while the truck is being loaded or unloaded and her hook flies. She sees the design in her mind and just makes it. Often, her first draft is in white so she can easily see if it’s what she’s really after. If it is, she then selects colors and remakes the piece. If the design is 100 percent done as she wishes it, “Then out comes my iPad on my right leg and doily on the left. I’ll then set down instructions. I am blessed to have instant recall so it’s easy for me to do it this way.” For her own comfort, Gemma first writes up the pattern on her iPad and emails it to herself. Then she polishes it on her laptop, Stash storage is not a problem even in her tight quarters. Gemma uses every bit of space in the sleeping quarters of the truck efficiently and is well organized. There is storage space under the bed, two tall closets, shelf space and cupboards along the sleeper’s back and sides. For everything from cooking supplies to yarn and thread, she’s got lots of room. She stores her threads by brand (Lizbeth is her favorite) in totes. She loves to work in threads not because they’re easy to take on the road but because, “I find it the perfect format to keep my designs in shape and bring out the details. Afghans are fabulous, as are tops and sweaters, but thread has become my canvas!” Size 10 thread is her favorite as she finds she can bend it to her will better than other sizes and yarns. As they drive, Gemma is able to stop at big craft stores for supplies—she knows them all! Support from yarn companies is no problem despite the lack of a mailbox on her truck. The company for whom she and Marv haul “treats us as family,” and she’s able to receive packages at its Omaha headquarters. Meeting deadlines for project submission is also no problem as Gemma usually has many designs tucked away and can ship them as they’re sold. In addition to crochet, Gemma enjoys knitting and working on her dad’s stamp collection. During the few days at home, she bakes and cooks up a storm. She’s also very charitable. Gemma has made baby blankets for Ruth House of Iowa, a home for unwed mothers, and hundreds of chemo caps for the American Cancer Society. Her favorite act of giving is to donate dog sweaters and afghans to two humane societies near her home. Luckily for crocheters everywhere, the secret to Gemma Owen’s success is her ability to be creative in very small spaces!
Gemma's craft room when she is on the road.
Marv and Gemma Owen
Gemma makes good use of her time while waiting for cargo to be unloaded.