The Joy of Doing It YourselfGetting Crafty
To wrap a soft, chunky, hand-knit scarf around your neck, to cover yourself with a well-worn quilt, its patches of fabric lovingly stitched together, to slip on a simple hot-pink skirt that you sewed yourself is to know the power of crafts.
What's so satisfying about crafting? Maybe it has something to do with all the transformations that occur. When we craft, we make something from nothing. We take a pile of yarn and knit it into a sweater. We rip up old beauty magazines, repurposing the images, to create collages. Bananas, eggs, flour, and maple syrup become a sweet breakfast treat. To craft is to be in touch with the extraordinary aspects of life.
What I'm talking about is alchemy. The seemingly miraculous change of a thing into something better (thank you, Webster's Dictionary
). Think about the last time you made bread from scratch. First there was flour, yeast, and water. You mixed them together, let that mixture rise, then you kneaded it, and baked it. A wonderful chemical reaction took place and you had something entirely new, bread. How amazing!
Part of the joy in crafting comes from knowing you made it. When you bake bread instead of buying it, you are not a passive consumer but a creator. You feel empowered. When you build a bookshelf rather than head over to Ikea, you actually know the idiosyncrasies of the wood. You know how many screws it took to make it sturdy. You get to choose the exact color of the stain. At the end of the process you say to yourself, "I made this!"
Doing it yourself is also relaxing. In fact, recent studies have shown that brain chemistry during knitting is similar to when doing yoga or meditating. This doesn't surprise me; I find the repetitive process of knitting soothing. Each stitch is like a mantra. And when I cook, I enter another dimension, a place of quiet enjoyment and sensual pleasure. Chopping, kneading, mixing, stirring are as calming to me as sitting in the lotus position and trying to empty my mind.
Plenty of women craft as a way to deal with the stress of their careers. Kari, a twenty-five-year-old environmental engineer from Tennessee, started knitting as a diversion from her often-demanding job. "In my line of work, projects can take twenty years to complete," says Kari. "This can be frustrating. Knitting, on the other hand, is a very methodical craft that has a clear beginning, middle, and end." Two years ago, when Kari's friend bought her wool and a few patterns, she was a bit nervous about whether she actually could knit. She always felt creative but had a hard time expressing herself. "I am no good at drawing," says Kari, "so I felt like I wasn't truly creative. But then I started knitting, which gave me the proof I needed."
Artistically, Kari feels that she tapped into a new side of herself. She says: "I've been working really hard for the last two years to stop identifying myself by my job. Now when people say to me 'So, what do you do?' I'm able to answer smoothly, 'Well, I read a lot, and I've been knitting this hat. . . .' It's really freeing to step out of your profession like that and to present yourself to others as a more rounded person."
Simply by learning to knit, Kari managed to change the way she sees herself. I initially met her on Glitter, the getcrafty.com message board, where we discussed the joys of knitting. When I finally met her in a bright, loftlike café in downtown New York City, she was a whirlwind of craftiness, wearing a funky business suit with Swedish Army leg warmers, red clogs, and a white wool hat that she had knit herself and then put in the drier for a felted effect. Whereas she once felt like a boring engineer, she has blossomed into an artistic force.
Kari recently has branched out into making her own clothing. "I hate shopping for new clothes," she says. "If I make them myself, I enjoy them much more and they fit better." By making clothes herself, Kari can custom tailor not only the size, but the fabric as well. She can create unique looks that no one else has.
Clearly, crafting has become a lifestyle choice. Criticism of shopping and consumerism often come up when speaking with people who identify with the New Domesticity. With the terrible working conditions in Third World factories, the anticonsumerist decision to craft is alluring. It becomes a political decision. Sandra, twenty-eight and living in Austin, Texas, is so committed to ending sweatshop practices that she now buys about 60 percent of her clothing from thrift stores and makes about 30 percent herself. The rest, things like underwear and socks, she tries to buy from companies that do not use child or sweatshop labor. Interestingly, although her entrée into crafts was through a political awakening, she learned to love sewing, which she hadn't expected. "I have always been a bit of a tomboy, neglecting my appearance and talking politics and drinking with the boys," claims Sandra. "But now that I have started sewing, I'm really loving crafts and rediscovering all these domestic things I never would have thought I'd like." Including a love of fashion and a mean quilting habit.
Lisa, a single mom living in Nyack, New York, started making her own soap in her basement because she didn't like the quality of grocery store brands and couldn't afford fancy soaps sold in specialty shops. "I wanted to wash my children with products that didn't have a lot of chemicals or harsh ingredients." So she made friends with some local farmers and started experimenting with different organic herbs and pure oils. "I researched the healing qualities of plants and other ingredients and found that I could create something really nice not only for my family but for friends as well." She soon started a little mail-order company called Brickhouse soap, selling to local stores and farmer's markets.
Not everyone has the time or inclination to devote to complicated endeavors, but that doesn't mean they aren't crafty. My best friend, Laura, would never commit to sewing all her own clothing or making her own soap. She works way too many hours and travels too often. Her craftiness comes out in the incredible meals she cooks for her friends. The last time I was over at her house we had a salad of tomatoes, crushed olives, and basil; roasted fennel and leeks topped with parmesan; and tilapia roasted in olive oil. Her menus are creative masterpieces, the table is always elegant but relaxed, the mood is open. Laura crafts not only because she enjoys it, but because it helps build community, something very dear to her.
To be honest, I craft out of pure selfishness. Although I love to make gifts for my friends and I appreciate that every time I craft something I am not consuming, mostly I create because it makes me feel good. When I feel anxious, I usually start up a scarf. (I like the simplicity of scarves.) When I'm stuck on an essay, I go into the kitchen and start cooking. In the process of cutting, chopping, and stirring, I can usually get past my writer's block. Despairing over a bad phone conversation, I make a collage and, in the course of cutting and pasting (not to mention swearing), I figure out how to make amends with my friend. I find the magic of crafts to be intensely personal and healing.
The great thing about the age we live in is that crafting is now a choice. We don't have to knit our sweaters or grow our own vegetables, which frees us up to do all sorts of other things. But the postindustrial era has also robbed us of all the benefits of crafting. The good news is that they are still here for your enjoyment. You can pick and choose. You can knit a scarf to go with your store-bought coat. You can cook your lunch and then eat dinner at a restaurant. You can tap into the joys of crafting without having to forsake all the wonderful modern amenities we have at our disposal.
The truth is, how you construct your creative time is up to you. There are all sorts of ways to get crafty. Whether it's cooking dinner, building a Web site, or just taking time out to place brightly colored stickers on your calendar, remember that you are an alchemist and that you have the ability to make something out of nothing.Which Craft Is Right for You?
Over the years I have tried many crafts, only to realize midway through some large project that I hated it. I have now settled on a few favorites: cooking, collaging, and knitting. It takes awhile to find the right craft; it's a very personal thing. That said, different skills are needed for different crafts, and knowing this before you invest in equipment and supplies is a good thing.
In general, I have found that less detail-oriented people enjoy cooking, which includes a lot of improvisation and creative flair. Baking is a more exact science and allows for fewer mistakes, something a perfectionist might cherish. Quilting can be very visual and artistic, but you need patience and perseverance. Sewing takes an exactitude and willingness to measure things, plus creativity and style to pull it all together. Knitting requires simple math, unless you're like me and just make scarves. Needlepoint is a low-investment craft, requiring only that you buy a kit and match up the colors. Gardening is for people who love nature and aren't afraid to get dirty. The following quiz will help you figure out which craft is right for you.
Your Craft-Q Quiz
1. When reading a book you simply adore, you:
a. Savor each page and read it slowly so it will last.
b. Devour the entire book in one afternoon.
2. Did you make your bed this morning?
3. Does dirt under your fingernails send you running to the manicurist?
4. Are you now, or have you ever been, a smoker?
5. If you see a crooked painting hanging on a friend's wall, do you straighten it?
6. Do you like math?
7. Is your fridge covered in retro magnets and postcards?
8. Spotting a gorgeous basket of plump, bright-red juicy strawberries at the store, your first inclination is to:
a. Pick them up and breathe in their fragrance.
b. Admire the color and beauty.
1. If you answered:
a. Long-term projects like quilting and gardening might be nice for you.
b. You might seek a more short-term craft like cooking, baking, and cut-n-paste crafts.
2. If you answered:
a. You are most likely detail-oriented and might like knitting, needlecrafts, and sewing.
b. You are possibly less detail-oriented, preferring gardening, cut-n-paste crafts, or cooking.
3. If you answered:
a. You probably won't enjoy gardening, cooking, or baking; they can be quite messy.
b. If you don't mind digging in the dirt, gardening could be your thing.
4. If you answered:
a. Smokers and ex-smokers tend to love knitting. It gives us something to do with all of our nervous energy.
b. Just remember: You don't have to be a smoker to be a knitter!
5. If you answered:
a. You like things to be neat and ordered. Ever tried sewing?
b. Maybe you don't care so much about silly details. Cooking may be your calling.
6. If you answered:
a. Knitting often involves math. You could really shine at this craft.
b. Fortunately, gardening requires no math whatsoever!
7. If you answered:
a. Cut-n-paste crafts like decoupage will allow you to utilize all your vintage postcards and magazines.
b. Maybe you should do something with what's inside your fridge? How about cooking?.
8. If you answered:
a. You are obviously quite sensual, and cooking or gardening might be just the thing.
b. You are visually oriented and could enjoy sewing, quilting, needlecrafts, or cut-n-pasting.Make Your Own Gifts
If you are new to crafts, making handmade gifts is a great place to start: They can be quite simple and instantly satisfying. You get the gratification of making it and your friends feel the love when they open it! Here are a few ideas to get you started.DIY CardsA simple homemade card goes a long way to make a plate of cookies or a bouquet of flowers all the more meaningful. This recipe calls for images found in old magazines or from vintage postcards, but truly, all sorts of pictures can work here. Even pages torn from contemporary fashion magazines (abstract images of objects like flowers work best) or newspaper headlines (you can piece phrases together for new meanings) can be repurposed into interesting cards.8 1/2 x 11-inch colored card stock
Images torn from old magazines or newspapers, vintage postcards, or photographs. All of these are easily found at garage sales, estate sales, and thrift shops. (For more information on finding things secondhand, see Chapter 3.)
Elmer's glue or Modge Podge (can be purchased at craft supply stores)
Cut a sheet of colored card stock in half width-wise. Fold one of the halves in half, creating a card. Arrange your image or images on the front of the card, then glue (or Modge Podge) them into place. Once they dry, using the paintbrush, brush glue or Modge Podge over the entire front of the card. This will create a decoupage effect. At first it will look white and yucky. Don't worry. Once it dries (about 10 to 15 minutes), it will provide a hard and stable finish. Experiment with the size of the card stock to create bookmarks, postcards, or name cards.
Excerpted from Get Crafty by Jean Railla. Copyright © 2004 by Jean Railla. Excerpted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.