Crafte's Inferno: The Second Circle of Craft Hellcomments (10) August 7th, 2008
Finding myself in this second circle of craft hell was predetermined by genetic fate. When I was nine years old, my mother signed up for a six-week sewing class at our local Sears. She was inspired by the matching mother-daughter fashions that were in vogue and figured, "How hard can it be?" (Oh, how those very words would haunt my own crafting endeavors to come.) My mother imagined us, a la Jackie and Caroline Kennedy, in white gloves, pill-box hats and indentical Balenciaga-style car coats that she would simply whip up via the expert instruction of the Sears sewing teacher. This, in spite of the fact that my mother had never deigned to sew on a button before.
I can remember the gorgeous cherry red linen fabric that she bought for our outfits, determined to master the art of the bias cut in the three weeks left before we were to debut our matching ensembles at Easter mass. By Palm Sunday, my mother was screaming at that same red fabric while the original soundtrack recording of Camelot droned on in the background. My very first foray into garment construction was born out of my attempt to keep my hysterical mother under control. While she cursed the (so far) three-week sewing class curriculum that had failed to deliver her to Balenciaga's level, I sat and read through the pattern instructions. Then, as Julie Andrews (my own personal hero) sang, "Where Are the Simple Joys of Maidenhood?" I sewed my very first seams. My mother was transformed and it was under her prideful gaze that I began to make something that could conceivably be worn. Suddenly, the three remaining and nonrefundable sewing classes were mine. Every Saturday my mother dropped me off at Sears where I sat in class with women who were three times my age and the Balenciaga car coats became mother-daughter Easter skirts. Camelot was restored, and my crafting psychology was born.
Often, it seems that in order for me to figure my way out of, or through, a creative impasse, I need to first create as much chaos as possible. Like my mother, I often accomplish this by choosing projects that are well beyond my current skills set. I do not do this consciously. It is more that the projects that I am inspired to make are usually not ones that are designated "for beginners"—like mother, like daughter. Just like my mother before me, I do not let that stop me, and like my maternal craft model, I'll find myself wretched in frustration and wondering, "What was I thinking?"
You see, when I was first starting out, I didn't want to make a simple scarf: I wanted to make an Irish cable-knit fisherman's sweater. A relatively straighforward nine-patch quilt block? No, no, no, I started with a handmade tumbling block pattern that featured more than 40 different fabrics. If the project didn't seem like it would provoke a personal and existential breakdown that might eventually yield a cathartic and life-changing experience I'd just skip it. "Nah. Oh, how about this hand-pleated, ruched, 30-gored, silk dress for the dance tomorrow?"
Once I found a fabulous 1960s-style curved sofa at a vintage store in Milwaukee. The fabric was in horrible condition, but I loved the shape and seeing that it was only $20, I thought, "I'll take it home and recover it this weekend!" Five months, seven reupholstery books, and two classes later, my "new" sofa was finished and once I had sufficiently gotten over the resentment of having had my entire life become all about upholstery, I was finally able to sit on it with pride.
The advent of the Internet has fueled both my overreaching ambition and my ability to acquire the new skills needed to carry me through. My age helps, too. Years of experience have taught me that the very minute I think the words, "How hard can it be?" I'm in for finding out exactly how hard it can be, and most likely will be, before I break down and learn how to actually do it. This makes me grateful for another handy phrase that has gained some momentum since the days of Camelot: "my creative process." If I could only remember that the next time I think I'm ready to retile the bathroom with hand-fired ceramics.
Coming soon, the adventure through Crafte's Inferno will continue with The Third Circle of Hell: Crafting for the Family.