On Crafting and Paper Tiger

by racheldemy

The history and fable of crafting has meant many things to me over the course of my life – the pride in being able to create something out of raw materials is a fuel of sorts, shaping my perspective about what it means to be a consumer, how I feel about the physical world in this ever-digitizing world, and lately, how I relate to friends who design and craft.

This Christmas I was riddled with inexplicable physical illnesses (hives, anyone?) that prevented me from getting a number of handcrafted gifts finished (or even started, really). Crafted gifts have always meant more to me and I was looking forward to huddling in with some mulled wine and working wool into a brood of tiny creatures. Alas, I couldn’t touch wool socks without breaking out in welts. So, an entire season of Friday Night Lights and cold cucumber chunks defined my December. It was sad at the time; now it’s comical. Time is beautiful in that regard.

While I ended up buying a few gifts for family (feeling only slightly defeated – I mean, we did get Chris’ mom a new baby kitten – it’s difficult to feel bad about that), what really charged me back up and made me give thanks was knowing that I didn’t need to ‘make’ anything for a few of my very good friends. One of the many advantages to having crafty friends is they are perfectly happy (elated, really) to receive a gift of raw materials that they themselves can form and fashion. And while the consumer conventional thought would have you believe that is either lazy or unthoughtful, us lovers-of-craft feel more empowered by a gift like that. The potential of a bolt of fabric or a skein of yarn is intoxicating.

One of my friends who consistently keeps me challenged and recharged is Dianna Potter. This wonderful lady is multi-talented and had the privilege of equally talented parents, who saved her all of their patterns and fabrics, having her dancing and knitting at a young age. In another life, I would have wanted that childhood (though very satisfied with the one I had) and Dianna has done a lot to honor that abundance. And if you asked her, I’m sure she’d tell you that she’d rather have a gift containing a jar of buttons than a DVD any day (unless that DVD was a Truffaut film). I recently spent a day with her, drinking tea and shopping for buttons for the new hexacomb sweater she was finishing that night. I came home wanting to roll around in a pile of yarn. Please spend time exploring her website, Paper Tiger.

I grew up on the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, which illustrate a time when craft was directed solely at survival (and maybe a modicum of pleasure after a days work was done – like, frozen maple syrup candies when Pa pulled out his fiddle at night). These days, DIY and craft has found a new home in this niche of “green sustainable living” but for the most part, craft is synonymous with hobby. I have spent painstaking hours knitting baby blankets for friends, knowing full well I could have gone to Grasshopper and purchased something quick and easy, saving myself money and a pair of aching hands. But we power on. Why?

As I ponder it more and more, perhaps it’s the legacy I want to pass onto my future children, in the same way that my boyfriend has a bin of rock t-shirts he keeps around “because my kid will want these when he or she is a teenager.” I understand completely. Being a hopeless purger of my own stuff, my kids will not have many physical hallmarks of my legacy by which to know and remember me when I’m gone. Which is why giving the gift of craft, much like the “Teach a man to fish” adage, means I will have a legacy of some sort. And if I give birth to the kind of kids I hope to have, it will be a powerful legacy. That… and they can have my gigantic Charley Harper book.