Leo Stirling, whose stock of crochet art was stolen while he slept. Photo / David Fisher
As someone who lives largely on the kindness of others, the early morning theft of a bag of crochet creations was a particularly cruel blow for Leo Stirling.
The Northland man gets by in the world by asking for that which he needs – and by selling hand-crafted crochet works of art.
“I would like my crochet creatons (sic) returned,” read the sign he was holding on the main street of Kaikohe. It was not unlike Stirling’s usual approach to life which is to write on a sign what he needs and wait for the universe to provide.
It came after Stirling, 44, stopped a night in Kaikohe with the crocheted works he sells to supplement what his signs can’t provide.
The crochet artist met some locals who offered him a bed in an open sleepout. He settled in for the night – then woke about 2.30am to discover his tan-with-leather-trim tote bag was missing from where he left it.
Inside was about a month’s worth of work in the form of crocheted artworks and $250 in cash.
“It sucks, it’s a nuisance. I try to be philosophical about it. I got back to sleep and then in the morning thought, ‘what can I do about it?’.”
First Stirling searched up and down the street, looking for places thieves might have thrown his bag after realising they had stolen a collection of crocheted goods.
That didn’t turn up the bag or the crochet works. His next step was to spend a day on the roadside hoping someone connected to the culprit – or the thief – saw the sign and returned the goods.
It didn’t work. When contacted the day after, Stirling said: “I believe everything happens for a reason. I’m trying to search my paradigm to see if there’s some kind of sign I need to tweak something in my existence.”
Stirling is a familiar face in Kerikeri with signs that spell out for people what he feels he needs on any given day. That can include asking for food and accommodation but has extended to his very specific coffee order (large mochachino with soy milk and no sugar) and a Rolex.
Stirling’s path to crochet began about five years ago when he was volunteering at a charity shop. A fellow volunteer brought in crochet works about which Stirling would ask questions.
His interest took him to the library and then on to a steep learning curve. “Then a few years later while travelling I would do it as a creative outlet.”
Stirling’s return to Kerikeri had him keen to continue it in the hope there was a living in being a crochet artist.
Stirling said it was a battle to keep his crochet artwork competitive when others in the market were often retirees who crocheted as a hobby and sold their works without accounting for time invested through markets and charity-affiliated op shops.
By contrast, Stirling aimed to recoup $22 for each hour invested plus materials. As an example, a crochet mobile phone case would take about five hours work and $15 in material, pricing up around $120.
“I will replace it but it will take two weeks at least to get anywhere near it.” And that doesn’t take into account the work done to expand the colour range. “That’s the thing that burns the most is that by a conservative estimate, it’s a month’s work.”