The long-avoided hobby assessment part one: crafting

This is going to be long and self-indulgent. Please skip if you'd rather not spend a thousand or so words inside my head.

I'm half-assedly dragging around the remnants of a lot of hobbies, interests, and side projects these days. I seek clarity about which of these are still truly of interest and value to me and therefore merit the emotional upkeep and occasional attention paid, and which among them are now just baggage and remnants of things I used to like and people I used to be. And you, Extraface, can help me prioritize. Maybe.

So I'm taking a deep breath, and at least starting the process of looking at it all with current and fresh eyes. I'll probably publish this as a fragment to get it out there, and then add to it over time or do a series of these. Thoughts and observations from Vox friends and family are welcome, as maybe you'll catch something I'm missing here. But even if nobody says nothing the exercise of writing about it will help me work through what it all means to me, and that's what I'm after.

First, Crafting.

Current positioning statement and the relevant question(s):

I like crafting, I really do. But I just haven't been doing much of it lately, so is it right that a good 1/2 of my second bedroom/work room is taken up with crafting-related stuff? What about all those RSS feeds about it that I get? And the magazines? Should I make more room for it in my spare time or completely put it away for awhile? And what should I do with tiny envelope?

The navel-gazing:

This is a tricky one to think about. I really first found myself in crafting thanks to an ex-girlfriend who obsessively made stuff to keep herself busy. This is about five years ago now, around the time of the first Boston Bazaar Bizarre. Living with her and seeing all of the neat things she made inspired me to overcome the fear of craft failure that had always kept me out of the game. I'm great at conceiving of things I want to construct and coming up with mental images of just how they should turn out ideally, but my own high expectations and perfectionism are nearly impossible for me to satisfy in most cases. I managed to overcome this for a time. My crafting has always leaned in the direction of utility and aesthetics, and I don't like overly cutesy, folksy, saccharine nostalgic, or overbearingly "artistic" projects. For a couple of years we spent the fall crafting and stockpiling in anticipation of the winter B.B. and came up with some really satisfying objet d'craft. I loved making British style Xmas crackers with real gunpowder snaps inside. Half-marble magnets with miscellaneous images inside. Strange lightswitch plates. Matchbooks and matchboxes re-wrapped with bits from vintage books and magazines. All kinds of things that fell under the category "weird shit". Making actual real physical objects is a very pleasing diversion from working with pixels, words, computer screens, and bits all the time. It saves you money, and it's always a worthy alternative to consider when you can't find exactly what you want in stores and the series of tubes.

During that time we also created a tiny brand and product line that I'm extremely proud of, tiny envelope. It avoided the aforementioned craft pitfalls and it is the closest I've ever been able to get to bringing something from my brain out into the real world exactly the way I wanted it.

When my ex- and I went our separate ways, I maintained my crafting habit for quite a while. I made things myself, and when I moved to Atlanta I tried participating in a few ad-hoc craft groups. But I never quite found the right people. Recently I went to Church of Craft Athens a couple of times, and I liked that but it's too far to drive and doesn't really have critical mass yet. For a while I was also developing a business plan to open a retail store around crafting. It's a long story and I might still do it some day so I won't get into it here. But it's not in the cards right now, and I'm not even sure it's still such a sound idea. I still have boxes and boxes of stuff I collected for the store's secondhand collection in my attic.

I kept tiny envelope going for a while, but eventually it started to feel like too much work and not enough fun for just one person. So it's sleeping right now. Along the way I've received lots of interest and encouragement from people who would like to see it up and running again. I put up a booth at the BlogHer swap meet to sell and trade tiny e's, and the reaction from people was far more enthusiastic than I expected. People really really responded to them. They even bought them. In some sort of weird cosmic coincidence, the woman I was sharing the table with happened to have 2" x 2" business cards, that fit just perfectly inside of a tiny envelope.

I haven't been part of or anywhere near the O'Reilly Make/Craft Magazine/Maker's Faire stuff, and it seems like since last I looked in the subculture has grown and grown and grown. A few people I used to hang out with are now crafting celebs in that little world. There's something distasteful to me about the "crafting scene" as it exists now — so much of it is purely decorative or cutesy or ironic. And it loses something to me when it's the foreground rather than the background of your life. Maybe I'm hitting part of my answer to myself here. Blogs and message boards about crafting no longer interest me if they ever did. Seeking ideas about what to make all the time seems bass-ackwards. It should be the other way around — you should seek to make something and then maybe do research to look for ideas about how and what specifically to do. If you're constantly on the lookout for new things to make for their own sake, you're bound to be overburdened with potential projects all the time. If crafting for its own sake is your main and only side pursuit, maybe you want this. But it just stresses me out.

Conclusions, if any:

  1. Crafting has a lot to offer. I'm not ready to sign away my rights to crafting forever. But.
  2. For some reason I'm not doing much of it lately. It would be nice to figure out why not. Not necessarily essential right now though. File under: hmm.
  3. I don't think I consider myself a "crafter" any more. I make stuff sometimes, and enjoy doing so. That's where it ends.
  4. I like tinyenvelope and (tinyenvelope dot com) lots. Still. But if I were to start it again it would need some more definition and possible help. I'd like to make a tiny envelope 2.0 someday, but I guess I'm figuring that when the right idea or way to think of it presents itself, I'll know. Right now I'm not seeing it.
  5. As an experiment, I think it would be worth my while to move all of my craft-related junk up into my attic. Get it out of my face. Offer the space in my office up to some other pursuit, or let it just be clean unused work space. If I miss it right away, or if I don't miss it at all, or if I only miss it every eighth saturday, that will tell me something important.
  6. Should I let my subscriptions lapse and can my RSS feeds? I have a hard time with this. It's silly, but I'm afraid I'll "fall behind" or something. Maybe just a planned moratorium. Three months with no specifically craft-related feeds and let the magazines pile up or expire.

Read and post comments


  1. May I be so bold is to suggest you're using the wrong word when you say you "crafting". I believe, what you are Mr Extraface, is "creative" and sometimes, that creativity manifests itself in objects that are classifed as craft.
    As a creative person, you make the intangible tangible – that's what creative people do. When you were with your ex-girlfriend, your creativity showed itself in crafting objects and activities mostly because that was your influence and your facility. Now you are in a new town, your creativity seems (to me even though I live a million miles away) to have manifested itself in making your new home yours, blogging, meeting new people and writing for a living (though I know you've done that for a while, the kind of writing you do now seems to draw much more from your own well) along with a whole raft of things I don't know about.
    All these things are creative. They all take your time. They all take brain space. They build on what you already know.
    There are only so many hours in a day and there is only so much room in your head. Your thoughts are always moving forward and all these combined might just mean that you've past the need to craft at the level you did before because your creativity is manifesting itself in all these other outlets. Let the creative boundaries of your life blur into one another – you don't have to decide one or the other – be everything (don't move that stuff into the attic, move it to the KITCHEN!)
    My suggestion (and by this post maybe you already have) create some brain space and some physical space to just be you, and your fingers will let you know what they want to do next. I wouldn't be surprised if your next phase of tangible ideas draw from all the skills you've learned in past pursuits as you build on your set of personal tools: skills learned in business, online, crafting, decorating and interpersonal networking and communication will see your next creative phase be a giant leap ahead of what you've done to date.

  2. Don't put away your sticker-making thingy! I need something to do when I visit.
    I have found that putting things away in the attic is step one in not doing something ever again. Step two is getting rid of the stuff when you move. If you put it away, you have to have an idea that is not only good, but is also so good it is worth it to you to drag everything out again. Of course, since I am a lazy, out of sight out of mind type, this may not apply to you.

  3. DAVE!You know I love you, and that's why I'm saying you are way overthinking this. "Crafting" as a word for making stuff is kind of silly to my mind. You are working on a craft for your living–namely writing. Don't let people call it an art. If you made some reference to being a "crafter" in my presence, I would want to punch you in the mouth. You're a craftsman, dammit, like a plumber or electrician. Like me.Your #4 conclusion is right on the money. Make this stuff when and if you want to.And clean up your stuff if and when you want to. I don't have that luxury, because I share 500ish square feet with another person. I have to move my stuff.One thing I can tell you definitively–get rid of your RSS feeds and groups and what-have-you. Don't let some sense of obligation tie you to a pursuit you're not interested in right now. Don't do that, because it bothers me. Do what you like on your own time. It really is yours.

  4. Jam: Thank you for the kind words and ever-sage advice. I would like my living space to better reflect the things I do on a regular basis, and practically space is limited in my house so I have to make some smart choices. That may mean putting a bunch of stuff away for a while. At least relegating it to the attic. I can always leave a few things out in case they inspire me. Another thing is, although several continents away I may look prolific, up close I feel like I have an awful lot started and not very many finished. And that I'd enjoy it all more if I could only focus on a few things. Remember — this is only part 1 of several talking about the side interests I'm looking at. Not that I expect you to slog through all of them with me, but I wonder if you'll feel the same way when I lay out all of the other stuff I've dipped my toe in to.

  5. tiny e (the person, not tiny envelope): In a way, that may be what I'm trying to get to on purpose. Since it's just collecting dust on the shelves of my workroom, maybe it should move upstairs until it really feels like I want to use it. Then again, xmastime is coming up and that's usually the craftiest time of year.

  6. Jeff: Yeah, i'll probably pare down the RSS feeds and mags. The sense of obligation is the odd part. What is that? It's not like I feel obligated for any other reason than that I do like this stuff when I feel like it. It's just that it feels like mental and physical clutter right now.Like I said in response to Jam, this is only part one. And it's about not wanting to feel like there are so many half-finished or half-abandoned pursuits in my life, because that takes up a lot of mental energy. I don't care about labelling things, but there is a whole set of 'making physical things' people do that's called "crafting". And it involves lots of equipment, raw materials, workspace, etc. This is different from "the craft of writing" or what-have-you. Silly or not, it's a convenient term. The point is, this is something that takes up a fair bit of space in my house, and something I haven't been doing much of, but that I do seem to like. Humor me, this is an 'essay' in the original sense of 'try' or 'attempt' to come to terms with something through the process of writing.

  7. I went through a similar purge phase about a month ago and it
    culminated in a cathartic yard sale. I too had the legacy of a
    number of hobbies that I'd dabbled in in the past, and which I wasn't
    touching any more. I've packed away the paints and some of the
    specialized photography equipment (filters, blotting book). I sold the
    yarn and the needles (except for one beautiful skein and the needles
    the half-finished project is on because I couldn't bear to part with
    something so lovely.) to a delightful neighbor of mine who was much
    gladder than I to have them. I'd say, leave out a few
    particularly important items (the sticker maker beloved by tiny e, for
    example, which sounds v. cool, btw) put the rest in the attic and next
    year at this time if you haven't touched 'em, donate, sell, regift or
    otherwise purge the items from your possession. At least this is what I
    tell myself I'm going to do with the boxes I just put out on the porch.

    A more radical approach would be to get rid of it all now, and see what
    you miss and then selectively replace those items. More expensive, but
    more clutter-reducing too.

    And I agree with the above posters that it seems like you have lots of
    other ways that you are creative in your life, and that that may be why
    the physical crafts are on the wane for you. I know that for me
    right now, physically creating an object is less important than _doing_
    something creative. So instead of knitting, I'm dancing. Still
    creative, but more ephemeral, more social, and at the moment, more
    satisfying than object-crafts, for me.

  8. Thanks for the perspective, Oolonging. I think I'll probably do some sort of combination of what's been suggested and discussed — hold on to some of it but relegate it to the attic, donate some of it, and yard sale some of it. I probably only have a few potential yard sale weekends left until it gets prohibitively chilly.And I might be headed in a similar direction as far as the physical/creative dimension being less important than it once was. I get some of that satisfaction from baking bread, even when it doesn't turn out right. I'm going to keep (slowly) going down my list and writing about what's there, and see where I end up.Thanks, everyone, for the thoughts.

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