Crafte's Inferno: The Second Circle of Craft Hell

comments (10) August 7th, 2008     

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MichaelaMurphy Michaela Murphy, contributor
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I no longer have that 60s style sofa but I re-did this antique chair a few years back. It was surprisingly simple--maybe because I knew what I was doing?

I no longer have that 60's style sofa but I re-did this antique chair a few years back. It was surprisingly simple--maybe because I knew what I was doing?

Photo: Michaela Murphy

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.


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Comments (10)

Rachel_P writes: Michaela, love the chair. I so admire you for all the talent you have. If you ever want to pass on the chair dont forget your sister.
Posted: 7:00 pm on August 9th
Vivienne_O writes: Wow, Michaela. We are impressed. When we met you we had no idea that you write so much for this site. You are so talented, this article is very good. You know, you kind of look like Jackie. Very stylish.
Posted: 7:02 pm on August 8th
Asia_Tatiana writes: Ha, Ha Crafte's Inferno, very funny! Your post is too. I love reading this site as much as I love all of the great projects. Oh, I lol when I saw what next week's inferno is--crafting for the family! Can't wait!
Posted: 4:41 pm on August 8th
jillsnodgrass writes: Great chair, Michaela.....I remember some "all nighters" that I pulled sewing for Easter Sunday. As I got older, however, I realized that if it was not done by 5:00 PM on Sat before Easter, it was not going to get done.
Recovering furniture is alot of "hammer and nail" rather than sewing, unless there are cushions w/piping etc. So glad to know you can upholster, may keep some projects for you...

Posted: 4:11 pm on August 8th
Rachel_P writes: First off, what a cool chair i love the Fabric that you used to redo it . The sewing class story really made me laugh. I love the storys you write and how you tie in your childhood to what your doing today. Cant wait for your next post
Posted: 1:36 pm on August 8th
madeline_mcrae writes: I loved reading this post too. I wish that I could relate your experiences to my own crafting--but I can only relate it to other aspects of my life. Maybe if I take a class or two I can cover a chair like that--gorgeous! Thanks for the funny story:)
Posted: 12:34 pm on August 8th
SusanElizabeth writes: So enjoyed reading this post, loved the part about your mom, sewing classes, Jackie, Caroline and Camelot. Upholstered arm chair is lovely!
Posted: 7:02 am on August 8th
Minimeg writes: This basically defines me life, lol. I always go above and beyond when I craft or create art. That is why my friends lovingly call me a masochist... :)
Posted: 12:16 am on August 8th
Carriecan writes: Michaela,
This post made me smile. I can remember my mother and the sewing machine that we bought her one year--the one that ended up gathering dust up in our attic! Maybe there is an entire generation of crafty types, like us, who became DIY enthusiasts because of our mother's wayward ambitions? Thanks for this--your posts are always so great and fun to read:)
Posted: 7:46 pm on August 7th
Jen_W writes: I wish this sounded familiar. I always dip my toe into new crafts rather than reaching for the moon. You are my hero.
Posted: 6:03 pm on August 7th
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