CraftStylish RoundTable: The Glorious Triumphs and Agonizing Defeats of Craft

comments (0) December 11th, 2008     

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MichaelaMurphy Michaela Murphy, contributor
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Jennifer Worick went a little nuts with shibori and created this scarf that is so full of bobbles that it strangles when worn.

Jennifer Worick went a little nuts with shibori and created this scarf that is so full of bobbles that it strangles when worn.

Photo: Jennifer Worick

Is it a million o'clock and are you still madly stitching into the night? Are you catching yourself combing the web by dawn’s early light searching for great and easy gifts to make? Or are you making DIY midnight oil to burn while you get it all done by December 25th? Ah, yes, the holidays when every crafter's heart swings madly from one extreme to another as we try to beat the clock and ward off the effects of fatigue and late-night television.

As I push myself into craft overdrive, I find myself reminiscing about the glorious handmade gift success of the past (in an effort to convince myself that the sleep deprivation WILL be worthwhile). And in moments of doubt, I find myself cringing when I remember those seemingly great ideas that after hours and hours of execution turned out to be complete failures. It is heartening to remember those exquisitely sweet and successful moments when the entire universe seemed to be in complete accord with what I was trying to make, and it is humbling to recall that even my best efforts have been vulnerable to failure. As the clock winds down, I am reasurring myself that while one end of the spectrum is highly preferable, both ends are very valuable and—dare I say it?—necessary.

This week’s roundtable asks two questions:

What is your personal crafting high point (an experience, a project, a
new outlook)?

What is your personal crafting low point (a disaster, a huge mistake,
a new outlook)

Please join our roundtable by posting a comment below.

Here's what our bloggers have to say:

Kayte Terry

I have to say that my personal crafty high point was writing a craft book. Coming up with 35 projects, making them, and then writing all the instructions was a lot of work but it was totally worth it!

I can't think of a specific craft low point, but I have definitely had some really bad craft fair days when I sell nothing and people make comments like, "20 bucks for a pincushion?!!" or "I'm going to buy one of your eye pillows just so I can take it apart and copy the pattern." It's so difficult not to take these things personally. Even though crafting is my business, it's also such an extension of myself and an expression of my creativity. When people negatively react to what you put out into the world, it can be hard to take. Of course, the good side is that I am getting much thicker skin!

Jeffery Rudell

My personal crafting high point came while working with a sugar artist on a royal wedding in the Middle East a few years ago. I project managed the event, which entailed baking, assembling, and decorating more than 2,000 individual wedding cakes in Brooklyn, NY, and then putting them on a plane and flying them to a small emirate in the war-torn Gulf for the state wedding of the crown prince.

We had set up a makeshift prep-kitchen inside the queen's Ramadan tent (the only structure on the property—outside of the palace itself—that was air-conditioned), and I was applying 24-karat gold leaf to the surface of each of the hundreds upon hundreds of hand-painted mini-cakes. Then I was placing each cake inside a beautiful, lotus-petal box that I'd help design, and placing them on sterling silver trays which would—within the hour—be delivered to the prince and princess and all of their guests. The woman I was working with glanced up at me, laughed, and then held out a small makeup mirror so that I could see that my face and hair and eyelashes were covered in flecks of gold leaf. We looked at each other as if to ask, "How in the hell did two crazy, creative people end up sitting in the middle of the desert, covered in gold dust and surrounded by nearly a ton of ornate wedding cake?" That answer, of course, lies in the three words buried in the center of that sentence: crazy, creative people.

My crafty low point is not really a point at all, it's more of a vague, extended period of time during which I was trying very hard to figure out whether or not crafting (which I obviously love doing) was something I could afford to pursue.

Most of my work is (like the work of many, many other crafters) labor-intensive and time-consuming. A hundred years ago, time and labor were abundant and manufactured goods were not as plentiful (and were expensive). Now, that equation has reversed itself; goods are plentiful and inexpensive and time and labor is incredibly expensive. At the time I was charging by the hour for my work and simple addition was enough to prove that even if I gave up sleeping entirely, I still was unlikely to make enough money to cover my expenses, let alone save any money for the future.

I was so discouraged at the time that I went off to a bookstore to meander the business section looking for possible "new careers." This is where I happened upon the business strategy known as "value-based pricing." Wikipedia defines value-based pricing as setting selling prices based on the perceived value to the customer rather than on the actual cost of the product, the market price, or competitors' prices. While this was the low- point in my crafting career, it led to me having a much more successful business. I now create projects that look (i.e., "are perceived") to be valuable because they look notably different (e.g., more complex, more delicate, more artistic, fill-in-the-adjective-of-your-choice) and thus, people are willing to pay a higher price for them. Really, it comes down to finding what makes you and your work unique from the work of others in your field and then magnifying and enhancing those differences in the marketplace.

Jennifer Worick

I suppose I had a breakthrough as a knitter when I started knitting a complicated cabled cardigan. I few inches up on the back piece, I started to question the pattern's accuracy. I did some research online and indeed, the pattern was printed incorrectly. I think that experience gave me a lot of confidence as a crafter, cluing me into the fact that I should trust my instincts and own knowledge.

My low point, well, where do I begin? As I've said before, I hate wasting or duplicating time and materials, so when something goes awry, I get agitated. I'm agitated often. With knitting, you can just rip out stitches, which makes it forgiving, but with jewelry making, I waste a lot of sterling wire, which is a drag, and with sewing, you have to cut correctly from the get go, which means I do a lot of planning before even starting. I can't think of any one particular project; I'm sure I've blocked out the memory!

Mary Ray

I've been fortunate to have many "high points" that have been acknowledged by others—the first time was when I won first place in the Fashion Show and Contest at the American Quilter's Society Show in Paducah, KY. I placed several times after that, winning another first and a Best of Show. Each was a real "Miss America" moment. I also won a viewer's choice award in the Bernina Show a few years ago and that was special because there were many more judges making that decision. But some of the best "high points" are those I decide myself. When I can feel that what I've done is good and be pleased not only with the result but also with the effort and the fact that I was able to direct my project to achieve the exact result I was looking for.

And that's important because it doesn't always happen, believe me. Sometimes my great ideas—or at least I thought they were great ideas—just didn't work the way I planned. I talk about this a lot when I teach classes and I have plenty of examples to show my point! And they might have been "low points" if I had given up when things weren't going well. However, if I've learned one thing from creating all these years, it's that any creative project can go wrong—no matter how much experience and skill you have, no matter how many awards you've received—it happens. But, I have also found that when I've had to change plans in midstream, redirect my efforts, change course—whatever you want to call it—the end results have always been better than the original plan would have been. And I have learned so much in the process. So you really can't fail if you stop, think about what you're doing, and try another way. That's what creativity is all about. And when you're finished and you're not sure if what you've done is worth all the effort, set it aside for a while. Don't try it on, don't even look at it. Then, when you bring it out again after being detached from it for a time, you'll be ready to say, "Wow. I made that!"

You can read previous roundtable discussions here.

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