Which craft?

My friend Alyson asked me earnestly, "Do you knit?" We were standing in Coeur de Mailles  in Quebec City, ogling luscious skeins. I felt a magnetic pull to return to knitting, the same avidity I felt when another friend invited me to sew, with her help.

I have not knit since the 1960s, when I produced a turtleneck sweater that strangled my boyfriend. (My mother reknit the neck.)

For nearly twenty years, I was deeply into sewing, the only way to have a yellow seersucker bellbottomed jumpsuit with a matching shawl in small-town Northern Ontario. But I quit in my mid-thirties, when, my taste outpaced my skills, and I wrecked too many lengths of opulent fabric.

I drop by sewing blogs, critiquing (without comment) various projects. Each time I think, Why don't I begin again? Mainly, it is because of the room required for the gear. I'd be buried in buttons, yardage, maybe even machines. It takes a sewing room to raise an outfit.

Knitting is somewhat less demanding of space, but when my heart beat like a hummingbird in that yarn store, I knew, Look out.

So I thought, what hobbies take little space? Some years ago I made pop-up cards and custom-carved rubber stamps; supplies for both will fit into a small box. I enjoy doing some low-key calligraphy, too.

Another criteria for retirement crafting is that the product have some utility, either to me or to the recipient. A handmade object is a form of expression, but also a product. Over the years I have made kites, quilts, enamelled pendants and pins, soft furniture, a cherrywood spice rack. My embroidery enhanced the patched denim of dozens of friends. You could not pay me to house any of it now.

Crafty persons tend to give their creations as gifts. Someone will always appreciate hand knit socks (hint, Alyson), but other times, it may be a matter of pass-the-clutter. (I have many crocheted doilies, thanks to a friend's mother.) Never mind that some efforts aren't perfect; when the item is made by a dear friend or your kids, it's a treasure. But even treasures need house room, so I am reluctant to contribute to that.

Even if you sew your own clothes, you can still overload. I made one skirt in so many fabrics that I can still see the Simplicity pattern in my sleep. Because crafters are enthusiasts, enthusiasts produce, and then the stuff takes on a life of its own.

The other criterion is enjoyment: What delights, engages, and (at least some times) gives a sense of accomplishment?

My present 'craft' is writing: words take no house space. This blog produces a similar ratio of false starts and unsatisfactory results as making clothes. The product is ephemeral; like environmental art, it has its moment, then vanishes. But anyone subjected to an entire apartment full of someone's flower paintings may conclude that is not a bad thing.

And you? If you are a maker, have your avenues of expression changed?  If you've taken up something new, how is the novice stage going? And if you've continued a lifetime of craft, what are you making now?

I'd love to offer a free macramé plant holder as a draw, but all of mine have long gone to pot heaven.


Ah, my best friend knits, and I belong to a sewing group even thought I don't sew! I admire these things so much... I used to be a rather excellent embroiderer, but I don't know if my eyes are equal to the task. And in the last few years I tried and FAILED wretched at sketching - talk about coming to grips with your limitations!

So I put together outfits and wardrobes in PowerPoint, and share them with the world. I don't know if this is a craft, necessarily, but I enjoy it, I make friends doing it, and I don't get bored, so I guess this is going to have to do...

You're always spot-on in the way you describe things - I'm so glad that you take the time to share these thoughts with the rest of the world!

Madame Là-bas said…
I have started countless embroidery and needlepoint projects. If I had completed them, I would have an old lady apartment filled with wall hangings and cushions. I even brought a small project with me to Mexico and visualized myself sitting on a sunny patio, stitching. I do find the eyes don't work that well. I don't knit. I learned to make a square at Brownies so I guess that I could make dish towels but I don't.

I read lots of books and write my blog (sometimes). I enjoy learning language and right now I am trying to practise the four forms of the subjunctive in Spanish. It's harder than in French (or seems so).

My other hobby is reading Janice's blog and trying to come up with wardrobes for myself without spending a lot of money. I guess
travel is a hobby too.

Another interesting topic. Merci.
angiemanzi said…
I love to cook. I love to play with ingredients. I love to entertain. I have a kitchen and a pantry as part of my home so no extra space needed. Great post!
Just yesterday I was having this conversation with a friend as we were having coffee. She is a knitter and I have just come back to it after many years so we are negotiating some lessons for me. However, it is something that I will have to take slowly as yarn is quite expensive - I now have a real appreciation for why hand knit items cost so much!
I used to do some embroidery but my eyes aren't up to that these days. I have been thinking about making my own cards. As you said, the bits and pieces don't take up much room (I live in a small 1 bedroom apt.) and it could not cost as much as store bought cards do these days and would allow me to personalize offerings.
I have a friend who is a weaver and has her loom in her attic - she is part of some short documentaries that are being featured on TVO - here is the website if anyone is interested:
It is the "Farm to Fashion" video http://tvo.org/shortdoc/vote
Cherry said…
I love to sew - clothing. I was in heaven when working for a local theatre company, especially the historical plays.
Alas, we moved. Now I just try not to overfill my own closet.
Jane W. said…
Ah, crafting. Fun yet fraught. I sew and knit and have yet to reconcile process vs. product.
SewingLibrarian said…
As my name says, I sew - for myself and for our house, but not for anyone else. I've also dabbled in needlepoint, crewel embroidery, knitting, and scrap booking over the years, but sewing is what stuck. Yet I'm not sewing as much as I thought I would in retirement. Part of the reason is two active but non-driving teenagers in the house, part is more friends to socialize with here than in our previous town, part is less need for an extensive wardrobe. I helped with costumes for my son's school play recently, and that was fun. But I'm spending more time on genealogy these days. It does generate a product, but one that can be kept on a computer and in a few file boxes.
SewingLibrarian said…
I forgot that I wanted to say to Janice Riggs that many of us appreciate your creativity, your kindness, and your hard work. And the same goes for you, Duchess. PdP and TVF are the first blogs I read in the morning.
Jean Shaw said…
I'm with you, Sewing Librarian--hooked on Passage and Vivienne!

Duchesse, isn't this a continuation of your earlier posts about retirement? And you're absolutely right: Any serious artistic/craft endeavor demands space. If I don't have a dedicated space for something, it isn't going to happen. So my sewing machine now sits out in my hybrid office/yoga room/sewing room. Excess fabric (and yes, I have too much fabric, oh well) is in a closet.
Duchesse said…
Janice: So what do you do in the sewing group? Yes, the digital world provides many opportunities for creativity without space or much expense, unless you get hooked on costly cameras.

Mme: Oh, that's funny- I have seen those apartments. There also tends to be a bird.

angiemanzi: A hobby that gets consumed is a good hobby, as the results always (well, you sound experienced!) welcome.

Cherry: Using your talents in the service of others' art is a magnificent way to express your creativity.

Jane W.: That seems to hint at a stash! You are not alone.

SewingLibrarian: Thanks for contributing genealogy- another interest that has taken off, and you can share it with others, meet new people or reconnect with more distant relatives. Thank you for the encouragement and appreciation.

Jean Shaw: Well, kind of, though I also am writing here about consumption, another of my soap boxes. And I agree, retirement can unleash creative energies, and we have to balance that against space, ability and budget.

Jill said…
First I must say I do enjoy your musings very much! Your posts are perfect in examining those crazy things that haunt the "older" mind. I sew or, more correctly, I used to sew. Being retired I don't have the need for many outfits. That doesn't stop me from dreaming and planning new ones all the time. As pointed out above by Mme, congugating verbs can be a hobby of sorts. I find myself slipping into Italian past tenses often and get enjoyment from it if that makes any sense! But if one wants to downsize, a collection of fabric can be a problem. Mine would have to go. And Jean is right, all this is stemming from consideration of the retired state of being.
Mardel said…
I love knitting and sewing, and at various times have been heavily involved with each. I do want to continue them in my retirement but haven't yet figured out exactly how to pull that off. I also love needlepoint and hand embroidery, as well as gardening, cooking, writing and numerous other tasks.

But you raise excellent points that are very relevant to my own production slow-down. I've accumulated a lot of materials for both of the above crafts. In recent years I've returned to hand embroidery. I used to be quite good, and now I'm not bad and show potential. The problem with all these things is materials and space. I still have a stash of fabric and yarn. I have some embroidery materials but not nearly as much, and I no longer want to produce or own more just for the sake of producing or owning. I think I will continue with small hobbies, and with blogging, although my blog is currently on hiatus while I pack. And I have more vivid creative dreams than I have had in a long time, so for me I think the point is to slow down and to pursue craftsmanship. This may mean that I will make fewer things; I am not interested in knocking out 10 tee shirts for example, but ultimately better things, or more singular things. For the first time in my life the idea of working on one or two things for long periods sounds appealing and I'll probably follow that urge. But it means accepting failure and moving on, and also accepting that my own worth as a craftsperson is not determined by the quantity of things I produce and I'm still working through that transition.
LauraH said…
This post rang so many bells. I used to be an avid sewer and then an avid knitter. Sewing went by the wayside long ago - it takes a lot of room and a lot of skill. I haven't done any knitting for quite a while but I'm not ready to say goodbye. In both cases, looking at..okay drooling over...beautiful fabric and yarn was one of the main attractions. I'm glad to say that I divested myself of my fabric stash ...still have the yarn. Your post has made me realize that I still have sewing notions - love that word - that I could pass on.

Right now my main interest is gardening but that's seasonal and may not last forever. I like the idea of making cards. Since I still send birthday and Christmas cards, it wouldn't be a wasted enterprise. And it doesn't require a while lot of space or equipment.

Not everything has to be long term so I suggest taking a workshop for a day to play with a craft. You get to use the equipment and have some fun and meet some people. I made a lamp in one such workshop, it was great fun and I still use it.

Writing is the perfect craft for you, I love your blog, long may you continue.
My mother was an excellent seamstress and knitter; she could even make tailored suits and do upholstery. Since I drew and painted all the time I wasn't writing, I only dabbled in knitting and of course, back in the day, embroidered and embellished jeans, denim skirts and jackets. But I never got seriously into crafts.

There is a rather deplorable industry of largely pre-made "crafts"; the shops that sell such kits tend to be large and located in the kind of shopping centres incorporating large businesses. One finds many such things at garage sales and church bazaars...

I'm trying to get back into visual arts as I lost my inspiration some time ago due to a disappointing personal situation, but feel more empowered now. I'm translating a book, which is grounding me and sending me back to Italy at least in spirit, and making me want to draw and paint again. That doesn't necessarily take a lot of dedicated space unless one is doing large-scale paintings. There are two work tables in my home office (I don't have a living room), in theory one is for writing on the computer, the other for visual arts, but in the past year it has been used more for storage. I've cleaned it off...

I'm fonder of watercolours than of oil painting, and no, they are NOT easier. Paints, whether oil or watercolour, as well as artist-quality acrylics, are expensive, as are high-quality watercolour papers and canvases.

I certainly can't afford to "retire" until I can qualify for the OAP and supplement, or even then, but it will mean less of a scramble for freelance contracts.

A tie-in to a central aspect of this blog: does anyone here make jewellery?
Beth said…
Gosh. Having been an artist and "maker" of many things all my life, the idea of giving up my studio is enough to induce palpitations. However, eventually we will downsize this space as well, and either move to a smaller workspace or fold it into our home, which will probably have to be larger than the present one. My life, identity, and happiness are tied up in creativity, so I will probably die with a sketchbook or knitting needles in my lap - as my grandmother did at age 92. My take on this subject is that I think everyone needs to be encouraged in creative pursuits, and because so many women hope for this in retirement, and then end up being disappointed or frustrated, we professionals need to do a better job of that encouragement, while being realistic about space constraints and expectations: true mastery of an art or craft requires a lot of time and a long learning curve, but great enjoyment can be found if early projects are simple and reasonable. As for space -- knitting need not take up more than a small basket; a sketchbook and pens and a small watercolor set will fit in a shoebox. And there are out-of-house centers now for many arts and crafts such as pottery, printmaking, photography, quilting. Several of my friends who've moved to retirement communities have rekindled their passion for art, photography or needlework, ceramics or jewelry, because of the studios and tools that are set up in special workshops, open to all residents, with tutors and instruction as desired. On my own blog, I often hear from older people who've been encouraged to start sketching again, for instance -- that makes me happy, because so much in life conspires to add to the negative voices in our heads saying we're too old, not good enough, it costs too much, we don't have space or time, and most of all that it's "too late." I disagree: where there's a will, there's a way, and creativity can and should last a lifetime.
Jane said…
I just finished a beaded wrap bracelet that turned out very nice. Beads don't take up much space. I found the bead holes smaller than they used to be though! More of a hobby than a craft, but I enjoy planning/planting/weeding my flower pots, boxes and beds. I just donated a box of paints and painting supplies to Goodwill. Too many projects, too little time.
Jean Shaw said…
Coming back to add that some sewing folks I know of are really pushing the concept of "work with what you have." Others do a fair amount of refashioning (either their own clothes or items they buy at Goodwill). I am committed to the first idea, as I think it really sparks my creativity.

I read a lot of sewing blogs, and I do wonder about the output of some folks (holy moly, but that's a lotta clothes!). But each to her own, I guess.
Duchesse said…
Beth: You speak eloquently of the rewards of craft, and art. I suspect that is why many women build a bursting stash: the importance of stimulating materials to a maker. There is so little craft for which one can use the required materials required for one project and nothing more- even cooks face the siren call of equipment and ingredients. It is a seesaw between accumulation and the paring down many wish. Studio space isan answer for those who do not want an overflowing home.

Jane: LOL re the holes! A hobby means that the endeavour is intended as an enjoyable pastime, not a way to make a living. But you never know. One of my friends started making necklaces for herself, and strangers begged her to sell them off her neck. She now does a few small art shows a year.

lagatta: Good for you! Clearing the space is the first step and the sign of renewed energy.

LauraH: Every time I buy a card, I think, it's an awful lot for what you get,and a handmade card is charming. When we moved I discovered a box of fabric I'd forgotten about. It was like an time capsule, to see what I had sewn (or thought I would) over 30 years ago.

Mardel: You had the most beautiful sewing room! I wanted to link to it. Will be eager to see what you set up in your new home- and you have "vivid, creative dreams"! Hope you show us what you do.

Nancy K said…
I am a garment sewer and you are certainly right that it takes a lot of room. I have a large sewing room! I was in Montreal many years ago and found it a wonderful place to buy fabric. But, also yarn. I used to knit and I took it up again a few years ago, but the way I learned to knit was too painful for my shoulder so I quit knitting. I've since had surgery on that shoulder and I keep thinking I'll take it up again. But, my first love is really sewing. I make most of my clothing and my current project is my daughter's wedding dress. I have a hard time buying rtw when I see how badly what is in my price range is made. I've been sewing for more than 50 years and I've made everything from coats and jackets to elegant Vogue designer dresses. These days I sew lots more tee shirts and pants than fancy dresses. Starting to sew is a much bigger investment than starting to knit. Knitting is also portable.
Duchesse said…
Nancy K: I am in awe: 50 years of experience and that range. I would love to see the wedding dress. if I had your skill I too would sew, as I feel the same way about rtw. And I know women who are at the novice level and are making lovely, simple things, so it is also a craft that may be begun later in life. Believe me I think of it every time I see an Eileen Fisher top with no buttons, zipper or other demanding details.
Hummingbird5 said…
I love to cross stitch (the craft has evolved massively since the '80s craze). It is creative, meditative, doesn't involve a lot of equipment (I don't have the space), and produces beautiful results for either artful display or functional objects. Yes, there is a sense of *accomplishment*, I guess, but hand embroidery is such a slow-moving process, a stitcher will never produce the quantity of accomplishment valued today (I'd need 150 more years to complete the projects I have planned). I do it purely for the pleasure of stitching lovely fibers and colors into beautiful designs. I'm enjoying reading other responses!
Duchesse said…
Hummingbird5: I have been ogling Pinterest boards of modern hand embroidery, and you walk into the joint. You are so right about how all the styles have changed. So much to admire. Do your eyes tire?

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