MONROE – Among Chandra Hill’s fondest memories as a child were the summer days spent in the countryside of Union County learning the art of crochet from her grandmother.
The hold-and-hook style Lula Mae Horne taught her granddaughter still resonates with Hill. The chain stitches and proper edging she meticulously practiced on those lazy summer afternoons also remain.
“We would just sit and have so much fun,” Hill said. “They were great memories.”
Memories, but more importantly, lessons Hill learned, which prepared her for the ups and downs she would encounter throughout much of her life. They lifted her through a divorce, guided her graduation from a prestigious fashion institute and supported her after the devastating loss of one of her children.
The crochet lessons also gave Hill the confidence to start her own business. High Cotton began more than a year ago with the idea of supplying hand-made items derived from all-natural materials. The business also brings full circle the passion for crocheting, which started at her grandmother’s home.
“It’s a very peaceful time,” Hill said when she crochets. “I have even heard it’s a mediation time. You are able to create something beautiful and give it to someone else.”
Crocheting allowed Hill an escape after a traumatic experience in 2016, when her daughter, Jaynie Williams, developed pneumonia following complications after a routine surgery. She remained in the hospital for several weeks before passing away at 27 years old.
The only comfort Hill found was in her crocheting. She began doing it as a hobby shortly after her divorce, but the detailed rhythm of the needle and yarn moving through loops became therapeutic following her daughter’s death.
“I think in the evening it keeps your mind occupied,” Hill said. “To put your thoughts or your sad thoughts into something creative became something I think was very important to me.”
The first piece she made was for a friend who was constantly there for the family when her daughter was in the hospital. Hill called it an ‘I love you’ blanket after Williams learned sign language and always signed the words to her family and friends.
Now filled with inspiration, Hill’s work became more prolific. She made hats, scarves, ponchos and cardigans from material that people with allergies could wear because of the natural fibers Hill uses from cotton and alpacas.
She began to display her items at the farmer’s market in Monroe, where she met Kay and Matt Klaren. The couple was looking for local artists to show their work at their newly opened 47K Marketplace in downtown Monroe. Hill jumped at the opportunity, and High Cotton started.
One reason for the name choice was a tip of the hat to her family, who picked cotton in the fields around Union County for generations. Another was a symbolic meaning of the difficult process cotton has to go through to create clothes for people. Hill said a cotton gin pulls and stretches the fiber, but still, the cotton comes out stronger than before. It was then she made a connection to her own life and the difficulties she has gone through.
“You might go through some things and you got to keep trudging through it,” Hill said of comparing life’s struggles to the cotton going through a gin. “You know why, because that is life.”
The other inspiration in the company’s name was the trips she made to Manhattan, N.Y. Hill began crocheting again, but she wanted to teach others the way her grandmother taught her. She enrolled in classes at the famous Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, where Calvin Klein is part of the alumni. Hill completed assignments at home in Monroe before presenting her work in New York in front of professors.
After six months, her certification allowed her to instruct classes on crocheting, which she now teaches from her home.
“You had a lot to complete, and you have that one chance,” Hill said of impressing the professors. “I worked a lot on the teaching part … It went really well. I had the information and I felt prepared. “
Out of all the items Hill has created, a ceramic bird embedded in a necklace holds the most importance. Hill said the story behind the jewelry was her daughter loved bluebirds so much, they nicknamed her Jay Bird. Hill said during the spring after her daughter’s death, she would come home from work and find a blue bird sitting in the backyard. Hill fed and gave it water. When the bird returned at the same time every day that spring, Hill knew it was a sign.
“That bird meant a lot to her,” Hill said of her daughter’s passion for bluebirds. “So I made that necklace with that ceramic bird on the ending, and all I can think about is her when I see that necklace.”