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Crocheting whimsical creatures is a meditation for Jewish Tucson Concierge

Jewish Tucson Concierge Carol Sack with some of her creations. (Debe Campbell/AJP)

skill Carol Sack attained as a young girl of 10 has become a lifelong treasure that brings pleasure to many. Carol Sack has crocheted a Noah’s ark-full of animals and dolls over her lifetime, an activity she now practices daily as a meditation. She gives her creations, large and small, as gifts or donations to spread warmth and smiles. After all, you can’t help but grin at their charm.

Take the goldfish, for instance: a smiling, bright orange, crocheted fish dangles from the lid of a glass jar filled with beach glass and colorful, crocheted coral. It’s the perfect, carefree pet and conversation piece. Miniature crochet barrel cacti, fitted into shallow ceramic bowls, make perfect novelty ornaments on a colleague’s desk. For PJ Library, Sack created a beloved storybook character, Ziz, to help tell children’s tales.

While it takes five to eight hours to crochet an animal, small to large, Sack does it every day, in bits and pieces, spending up to 20 hours weekly on the crafts, one leg, arm, or snout at a time. Lately, she’s turned her attention to painting, replicating her yarn cacti into colorful stone gardens. She learned that craft from a YouTube video, then translated it into Aboriginal-style dot art on large stone paperweights.

Sack didn’t really discover her creativity until her 20s when her husband was in medical school. “I never considered myself creative,” she says. She started with a string-art kit and decided it was the worst craft in the world.

“I never did that again,” she recalls. “The age of technology creates access to all sorts of things. It inspires me to try everything.”

She has purchased more than 100 crochet patterns from, just for animals. But she still has some old yellowed patterns clipped from craft books from the ’70s. In the ’80s she started creating soft-sculpture dolls during the Cabbage Patch Doll craze. The life-like, anatomically correct “babies” have sculptured features for noses, mouths, hands, toes and even belly buttons.

From there, Sack moved on to beading and jewelry-making, mastering the intricate Kumihimo Japanese beading and braiding technique. That’s where she learned to trust her instinct to construct freeform, letting her hands “just do it.”

“I just had to listen to my gut and let go,” she says. Through experience, she now trusts that instinct to edit patterns to scale up or scale down crochet work. She’s ready to start writing her own patterns.

“I’ve always had jobs that required planning ahead. This is the complete opposite,” Sack says of the stitching. “It’s a good balance with my work.” Sack works part-time in her concierge position, housed at the Tucson Jewish Community Center. Her craftwork has gained so much notoriety there that she’s been asked to teach a crafting class at the J in March. Crochet is hard to explain, says Sack. The importance lies in creating uniform stitches.

Working 18 hours a week and enjoying her stitching meditation is not all that is on Sack’s plate.  She volunteers with Literacy Connects in the Reading Seed program, regularly coaching three students to love reading. She participates in a weekly weight training program at the J and donates her crafted items to facilities such as Ronald McDonald House.

With a marketing background, Sack started in the early 1970s as a pharmaceutical representative, only the second female salesperson east of the Mississippi, she recounts. “I won an award my second year. I had to prove to them a woman could do it.” Now, more than 85 percent of the pharmaceutical sales workforce is
female, she adds.

When the Sacks moved from Cleveland, Ohio, to Tucson in 1977, she took a part-time office position at a nonprofit when her twin girls started school. She fell in love with the Community Foundation and grew her job into grants program management, eventually becoming the founding director of the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona. She also served for a decade as development director for Handmaker and Jewish Family & Children’s Services.

“I never thought I’d wind up in the nonprofit world,” Sack muses. But there was a greater pattern to her journey. “I just had to let go and let that pattern guide me,” she says with satisfaction.