Frequently people ask me what I “get” out of crafting. They point out that it takes a lot of time, it can be messy, and the materials take up valuable storage space. While all of these ideas are true to some extent, crafting provides a plethora of benefits.
Working with your hands invites a “can-do” attitude. Each time we create something, we learn that we are capable of creating something. I realize this sounds simplistic, but the truth in that statement can be profound. Many of us spend our lives thinking we’re not capable of doing something. We tell ourselves we could never have that job, or be in charge of that project, or finish that degree. This negative self-talk convinces us that we are not able to complete complex tasks. However, when we create, we learn through trial and error. We use productive struggle in a safe environment. After all, craft projects are not matters of life and death, so we’re allowed to get them wrong, and then fix them on the next attempt. With each small success we learn that we CAN do things; we CAN figure out how something is put together; we CAN have another shot; we CAN change our minds; we CAN learn and grow and become.
Crafting gives us something to show for our effort. This goes hand-in-hand with that can-do attitude by providing a sense of accomplishment. Many of us are frustrated in our jobs because at the end of the day we don’t feel like we’re any closer to success than we were the day before. This kind of frustration is rampant in my profession because as a teacher it can sometimes be years (if ever) before a student tells me how I helped him or what I taught her. While I do the best I can every day, at times I just need to feel that I finished a project so I can step back and admire my handiwork.
Crafting helps us see the world in a different way. Many of us spend our days in front of a screen – television, smart phone, computer monitor, etc. These bright, moving projections (or static lines of text – as the case may be) frame our world with visual, but non-tangible elements. (After all, we can’t pet that adorable Lil Bub no matter how many times we smile at her photo.) This removal of texture and three-dimensional objects can make the world seem flat and far-removed. When we manipulate wood, paper, fabric, beads, or paint, we come into physical contact with our surroundings. Our brains and eyes are provided with a different kind of stimuli which in turn helps us see our environment, our world, from a new perspective (not to mention giving our tired eyes a rest).
Crafting is cathartic. Color holds connotations for our society at large and for each of us individually. Vibrant colors like red, orange, and yellow make us feel alive and energetic spurring us to move forward. When we create something using these colors it seems to become imbued with that energy, and perhaps the creation makes us smile each time we see it on display. Colors like blue, green, and purple express another mood. Thus my studio becomes a place where I can express emotions freely without having to explain them to anyone.
Crafting a gift for someone shows how much you care. I know that sometimes “homemade” conjures up images of clay ashtrays and cotton ball Santas made by our elementary-aged kiddos, but a piece of art contains a lot of heart. (Cheesy, but true!) When we make something beautiful for a friend or family member we are giving that person a piece of ourselves and a reminder of our most precious resource – time. These kinds of gifts can become cherished mementos of loved ones. As a matter of fact, Lochinvar and I have a Valentine’s Day tradition of only spending a dollar for each year we have been together. While we’re coming up on our 23rd anniversary which provides a little leeway, this was extremely challenging when we were young (and poor). One year he spent two dollars on some pastel colored paper. He cut the paper into squares and folded them into origami flowers. Then he used wire remnants to make stems and put them in a vase from our cabinet using old marbles to hold them in place. This lovely reminder of his gentleness and care lived on my desk at school for many years (until time and moving made them so ragtag that they fell apart). Each day when I came to work and saw my paper bouquet I felt loved. There is strength in that lasting warmth, for the giver and the receiver.
Crafting can be a social event. While I carry out most of my artistic endeavors alone in my studio with old rock and roll playing in the background, sometimes others get involved in my projects. Several years ago I created a fairy wand from silk flowers, ribbon, duct tape, and light weight dowels. These wands were thematically related to a musical that Lochinvar was directing at school, and we planned to sell them as a fundraiser. Since this required us to make quite a few, we created a little assembly line operation and enlisted the help of others. By the time we were done, not only did we have fairy wands but we also had memories of laughter and fun. A craft project is a great “in” with people. Creating something concrete together also helps create intangible connections with those around us.
Hopefully, the next time someone says, “I just don’t get it,” you’ll be able to explain why she should join our crafty ranks to save the world – even if it’s just one little corner of it.