The Se­cret Life of Gemma Owen

Crochet World - - Summertime Crochet - By Randy Cava­liere

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.

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