Crafts: Pick ’em and stick to ’em through a busy life – Part 1


For those of us who haven’t grown up with crafting traditions among friends or family, the idea of picking a craft sounds exciting but daunting. The blogosphere abounds with beautiful,  inspiring examples of crafting, including sewing, embroidery, and toy-making. Wouldn’t it be lovely to personalize your space, make your clothes, make handmade things for the people you care about? But how to justify the initial investment of time and money, if the craft may not stick, or life will takes over?

In this two-part post, I discuss:

  • Part 1 (this post): strategies to find a craft that may be best matched for your interests and lifestyle, and how to give yourself a good start.
  • Part 2: How to turn the craft you have chosen from a fling into something you regularly do.

Here are my thoughts as someone who seems to regularly dabble in a new craft form, but has managed to stick to a couple on a more or less regular basis. And as someone in the early phase of establishing a career in while parenting two young ‘uns.

Miniature food & dishes in polymer clay, made sporadically over the years
Miniature food & dishes in polymer clay, made over the years; the plates & hunk-o-meat from 2006, fruits from 2013, and cups from winter 2014.

1. Match your hobby to your lifestyle and goals. You will be likely to stick to something if it fits in with your life and the things that make you happy, than something abstract. Personally, the reward centers of my brain just light up when I make something that has functional value, so my crafts are centered on those.

Ask yourself:

  • Portability: Are you looking for something you can do after the kids have gone to bed or something for your commute? Something you can take on family trips?
  • What kinds of things do you want to end up with? Do you want a skill that you can use to make presents at holidays (knitted socks! embroidery! quilt-making!) ? Make gifts for friends with new babies (sewing baby booties/bibs/kimonos/you-name-it!) or for weddings (more embroidery)? Toys the kids will love to pieces and rough around with (dolls/swords/Spiderman costumes)?  Well-fitting clothes (sewing)? Re-create fantasy worlds in miniature (clay models, scenery-making)? Make furniture for your home (woodworking?).

I find that if the craft suits your lifestyle and goals better -and these could change over time – the motivation for your projects will sustain better.

2. Reconnoiter. Interested in making clay figurines? Chances are that there is an online community for it, and plenty of great books in your local library. Surf the websites, look through the tutorials presented. What do the books say you need to buy at a bare mininum? Do projects for beginners motivate you? Are there amazing things you can do with relatively little skill? In most crafts, the answer to this is: “Yes!”.
(note: you will still have to work a bit to achieve these basic skills but it won’t be too bad).

In my books, if there isn’t a beginner project that motivates me (Daleks in Sculpey!), I probably won’t have the patience to take up the craft.

3. Give yourself the best start:
Here are some bad ideas for a first project:

  • Sewing haute couture (high fashion) that you plan to wear to someone’s wedding.
  • With the best of intentions, making an outfit for an adult in your life to wear or that special fancy jacket in time for your girlfriend’s birthday.
  • Embroidering 10 scenes from the Rubai’yat, when you don’t know the first thing about embroidery.

And the sad thing? I actually know people who have done the first two (and of course it didn’t work – surprised?).

My first sewing project (2010): a fashionable and practical tote bag. From the S.E.W. workshop

My story: Here is what I did when I was starting out sewing. Didn’t know a thing about it, didn’t take Home Ec in school,  no family that sewed, and didn’t take my first sewing class until 3 years after I started sewing. I already had a basic Singer sewing machine I had received a few years before as a present (~$120 retail value when it was bought in 2006), which basically sat around collecting dust for 5 years.  I was fishing about hobbies, and wondered if I oughtn’t put the Singer to better use. Searching  Amazon’s website for “beginner sewing”, and browsed through the top hits, reading reviews and looking at the previews.

sew_bookThat was when I hit upon Diana Rupp’s *amazing*(!!!) introduction Sew Everything Workshop; this book was my sole teacher for my first three years of sewing. Ordered the book off Indigo and then just took the book on my commute practically every single day. And surfed and surfed the book and the projects, and surfed and surfed the web.

Diana’s book is great because of her writing style, a fun choice of projects, and great illustrations. It has several projects that indicates the level of skill required. As a test run, I tried the most basic project in the book: a tote bag (see picture above). Worked on it on and off over a month (very unmotivated!) but the result blew me away. I had made a beautiful fabric bag! And the project had all the right mix of things: measuring, cutting, picking the fabric, a gadget that went “whirrrrr” and made nice stitches, and a very usable product at the end of it.

In contrast, I never got beyond – or even through – my first knitting project.

My first - and to date, last -knitting project (mid-2010) : a square piece of cloth. Still on the needle
My first – and to date, last -knitting project (mid-2010) : a square piece of cloth. Still on the needle

The ideas, more succinctly, are these:

  1. Do your homework;  pick books/videos/classes that feel like they are fun to leaf through or will result in you making good projects. If you can’t decide online, borrow a few books from your library.
  2. Getting warmer or cooler? Is this stuff fascinating and do you want to keep checking out more techniques and projects? Or is it quickly losing its allure? This is a good time to listen to your inner voice.
  3. The KISS principle. Pick simple projects that don’t need you to buy too many things but that will end with a product that you will value.
  4. Avoid false economy. Don’t cheapo your way into a project that won’t look good. You don’t have to buy an expensive Liberty print (up to $58 a meter- yikes!) the first time around, but don’t buy the $3 clearance craft fabric unless you believe it will end in something nice. If you’re doing a test run, do it right.

OK, so you found a craft and the honeymoon period is over. How do you make it stick?
In “Crafts: Pickin’ and stickin’: Part 2″, the second part of this post, I discuss strategies for turning the craft into something you do regularly. Read on.

One thought on “Crafts: Pick ’em and stick to ’em through a busy life – Part 1”

  1. Awesome post Shraddha. Thanks for taking the time to write it :). I will be coming back to it every time I need a bit of motivation to keep up with a new crust/hobby.

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