Tooele resident Rebecca White has a herd of 60 sheep in her living room. There’s another one on her front porch, and a few strays in the bedrooms and her office.
Although the sheep aren’t real, they tell stories. They have meaning.
For White, a 38-year-old mother and breast cancer survivor, finding meaning in the simple things is a way of life. She believes in sticking with other people, in trying to do what’s right, and stepping back to see the whole picture life has to offer.
Finding meaning in simple things began long before she discovered she had cancer.
“I was in college,” she said. “I walked to the Deseret Book store they had there. There was a statue of Christ with one tall sheep standing next to Him, and a gorgeous short fat sheep lying down beside Him.”
White loved it so much she decided to collect sheep — the statue, figurines and more. Over the years she’s owned three of the statues that first sparked her interest in sheep, although none of them survived the perils of early family life.
“I also like reading books that have sheep in them,” she said.
One of her favorite books is ‘The Passageway,’ a novel by Laurel Mouritsen, in which a girl goes back in time, lives on a sheep farm and falls in love. There’s a highlighted paragraph in that book describing why sheep hold meaning for her. They stick together and obey their shepherd.
“And they’re fluffy and cute,” said White.
Most of White’s sheep are figurines that were given to her as gifts, like the sheep teapot some friends brought her from Scotland.
“A lot of them I got from my grandparents,” she said. “Now my mother-in-law sends me sheep.”
Her favorite is a sheep made out of salt clay that her brother made for her in 1997, when he was eight years old.
White built a set of shelves between her living room and dining room specifically to hold her collection. There are 57 sheep on those shelves, two others on a side shelf, a picture of three sheep in the hallway, a sheep bouncing out of a Christmas cactus in her office, and more through the rest of the house.
Most recently, White’s husband, Matthew, presented her with a huge round stuffed sheep for Easter.
Some of White’s newest sheep are ones that she crafted herself. She created two sheep blocks for possible use in a large filet crochet wall hanging she’s making for a contest later this year.
The contest is themed “Tell me the stories of Jesus.” White said her interest was sparked when she first saw the announcement last fall.
“One night I saw in my mind what it would look like if I did it,” she said. “I chose to do different pictures that symbolize Christ.”
So far, White has made 24 blocks with different symbols on them, including the two sheep blocks. The wall hanging will feature 12 of those blocks.
“I like the symbolism,” she said. “I like parables.”
White finds many of her patterns on Pinterest.
“A lot of the patterns I use are from Russia and Poland,” she said. “The thing I love about Pinterest is I can find people all over the world who do filet crochet. I’m the only one I know of here in Tooele who does this.”
She also makes her own patterns based on cross stitch patterns.
To modify a pattern, she copies a picture of it, pastes it in an Excel worksheet and then, using the picture as a template, she puts an x where she will crochet a set of four stitches. When the graph is full, she uses it as her pattern.
Filet crochet looks like lace built around open squares. To make an open square, White stitches one double crochet, chains two, and does another double crochet, building the squares as she goes. When she comes to a part of her pattern that has an x, she simply fills in the block with four double crochet.
“It’s easy, but it takes a lot of time and a lot of counting,” she said. “I like the simplicity of it, and I like the fact that it’s an old art form.”
For now, many of White’s filet crochet pieces are framed and hanging on her walls.
“I don’t have enough space,” she said. “I have so many patterns I want to try.”
The symbolism goes beyond the patterns White uses. Even the process has meaning for her.
“Filet crochet is my analogy to life,” she said.
First, she starts with a pattern. It’s sometimes hard to imagine what the finished project will look like, and she makes mistakes that she has to fix.
It’s not until the piece is finished that she can step back from it, see the whole picture and enjoy its beauty.
“And then comes the hardest part,” she said. “I have to take this piece that I’ve spent hours and hours on and soak it in water and stretch it out so all the squares are even. I pin it flat and let it dry. And when it is done, I frame it and step back and enjoy another masterpiece.”
White has given several of her filet crochet projects away as gifts. She recently worked more than three months to make a filet crochet picture of the face of Christ for a friend’s birthday.
Her giving doesn’t end with crocheted gifts, though. White volunteers two days at the school her sons attend and was just voted PTA president.
It’s another way White finds meaning in life.
She’s been cancer-free for the past three years, and she doesn’t think the cancer will come back, but she doesn’t take anything for granted, either. For White, it’s a matter of faith.
“Things don’t always turn out like we want, but if we let Him, God will guide us to have them turn out better than we expected,” she said.