For many of us who knit, crochet, and craft, the highlight of any trip is the opportunity to experience the crafts we love wherever we happen to visit.
In January of 2023, my husband and I were enjoying a day hike through parts of Joshua Tree National Forest when our group’s travel guide, a new knitter, mentioned that I might like to see the World Famous Crochet Museum in the nearby town of Joshua Tree. She was excited to find out that at least two of her hiking guests on this trip were fellow fiber enthusiasts. “Yes, please!”
The World Famous Crochet Museum is housed in a bright green, repurposed drive-thru photo-processing booth located across from the delightfully named Shari Elf’s Art Queen Gallery: Good and Sturdy Art from Trash. Shari Elf is the Crochet Museum’s founder and creator. She is a self-described “artist and crochet lover” who does not crochet herself, but her World Famous Crochet Museum is a one-woman crochet preservation and appreciation effort that speaks eloquently to the age-old problem we knitters and crocheters face in gaining recognition for what we make in more traditional museum circles.
The Museum is open to visitors daily – just enter and enjoy. Once inside the World Famous Crochet Museum, there is barely room for two people to turn around.
It’s dang adorable. I felt a little like I was entering a softer, neater, sweeter version of the world of WALL-E, from Disney’s animated movie. The objects inside are at once familiar and fascinating – revealing how makers have used crochet and whatever materials they had available to them to bring whimsy and joy to everyday life. The Museum’s mascot and “curator,” as featured on Shari Elf’s website – is a large, green alligator named “Bunny,” shown here wearing a bright red scarf.
A stalwart row of a dozen or more bottles disguised with poodle covers stand at attention next to a sign that welcomes visitors and warns them to “Kindly do not touch the treasures.” More hand-painted, hand-lettered signs tell the quaint, yet visionary history of the World Famous Crochet Museum, and solicit ongoing financial support.
Ms. Elf accepts monetary donations for museum upkeep and acquisitions via Venmo and PayPal – payable to herself or to “Keep Joshua Tree Cozy.” Visitors are asked to donate 25 cents to visit the Museum, and they can buy cute buttons and stickers for $1 each. The funding campaign must be working because the Museum is surprisingly neat and dust free. I left a cash donation of $20 and took two buttons and two stickers.
In the many interviews of Shari Elf that you can find online, Shari relates that she purchased many of the original pieces exhibited in the Crochet Museum while selling her own artwork at flea markets and swap meets; later she also began collecting from estate sales and on Ebay. With the opening of the World Famous Crochet Museum, she accepts donations of crocheted items by mail and in person from crocheters themselves, and from their friends and family members.
Scads of colorful dolls and toys crowd the shelves, along with a vast pantry of imaginative crocheted food items. In addition to the toys and novelty items, there are also conventional garments and popular household items — sweet clothing sets for infants likely long-since grown, cheerful and raucous potholders, hand towels, buntings, afghans, doilies, golf club covers, pillows, placemats, and seat covers.
Ms. Elf uses simple repeating themes to order and unify the objects – poodles and watermelon slices here, mermaids and chickens there — so it didn’t take long to see and appreciate the floor-to-ceiling displays of crochet.
Missing for visitors are the names of all the makers and their stories – an important omission because the history of makers always takes a back seat to the objects themselves. Some of these stories are certainly lost forever, but the stories Ms. Elf knows personally could still be recorded and shared, and this would make the experience of visiting the World Famous Crochet Museum richer and more interesting to visitors who have a bit more time to spend.
But even a quick visit inside the photo-processing booth is an experience of warmth and humor and love and magic. I would have liked to have stayed a little longer, enjoying the feeling of humanity’s endless capacity for creativity and goodwill. And I felt a bit of melancholy and menace too – in the overcrowded sentiment of it all, in the slightly sinister clown’s face that leers from a corner, and in the pink-patterned boa constrictor hanging slyly from the eaves. No Eden is without its snake, or creepy clown, or ‘Gator Curator, it seems.
Outside, after our visit, the late afternoon in Joshua Tree felt cool and brilliant, illuminating the harsh but fragile landscape. The air buzzed with energy. A jumble of cacti grasped the soil; the ubiquitous refuse of human habitation in this unsuitable, unforgiving environment clinging to its spines. It’s a stark contrast to the insulated cute coziness of the Crochet Museum, but both environments reveal the determination of all living things to survive, thrive, and leave some record of their passage here.
You can find LOTS of photos of the World Famous Crochet Museum, and numerous interviews of Shari Elf by searching Google and YouTube. Explore and enjoy!!
Got any interesting knit and crochet encounters and stories to share from your travels? Please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always looking for new resources and experiences about knitting and crochet from around the country and around the globe to share and preserve.