Bryhanna Greenough on finding the little crafter living inside you.
My grandma taught me how to hold the sticks and turn yarn when I was only seven years old. One of my first knitting projects was a sweater for my dad, which by Christmas had only amounted to two wrist-warming bands. For a long time he kept these in a drawer with his long johns.
My mom, on the other hand, doesn’t like doing things with her hands. She once told me she was punished by her teacher for being left-handed, and she still holds her tea in her right. She came of age in the seventies, and, perhaps, as a result I think she equates craft with ‘women’s work’ and won’t have anything to do with it.
But I love craft.
I just love making stuff. It’s usually self-directed. You are your own boss. No one has to hire you.
And I think finding my inner crafter has kept me sane.
When I was in university, my roommate and I would drink tea, smoke, and work on art projects late into the night. I was a little jealous of her. She was going to art school, and she had mostly hands-on projects, while I was a Literature student, and had assignments on Holocaust Literature, and Post-Modern theory which left me feeling depleted.
Once I completed school and got my degree, it was really hard to get paid for anything I liked to do.
I began planning my escape. I decided to get a little more serious about crafting.
At the time I was living in Montreal, and inspiration was everywhere. In the streets and fun little shops around the city I’d see belts and bags made out of weird, unusual materials and cut up t-shirts and think “I could do that,” or, sometimes, “I’ve made something like that before.”
My first attempt at working seriously with craft was based on a rubber shoulder bag I’d made a few years earlier from a tractor inner tube. Rubber is a really fun medium because it can be worked using many of the same techniques as leather. It’s also possible to salvage it at no cost, which, if you’re working on a tight budget like I was, is important.
Rounding up supplies was an adventure. I took the bus to the end of the line in search of inner tubes; rummaged through boxes in the back rooms of bike shops for different types of rubber, old brake cables, and worn out components. At an auto wrecker I climbed into back seat of smashed up cars to cut out seatbelts with a bowie knife (seatbelts made great shoulder straps.) For a fabric lining to put inside each bag, I approached a women’s centre, which let me dig through their unwanted clothing donations.
It cost little more than the price of a leather punch and thread to get things started.
Although I was used to sewing fabric, working with rubber was a whole other adventure. It was dirty and required strong hands. The pieces were curved, not flat and this required a different way of thinking.
The apartment I was living at had a large work table in the main part of the house, which is where I set up shop. Crafty friends and roommates came by to see what I was doing, help out, and try their hand at making their own stuff. I tried to focus on making bags, but elaborate neckpieces and refashioned boots and shoes all became part of the equation.
When the time came, I took time off my day job at a bookstore to take part in a local craft fair. It was fun coming up with a company name, making little tags, business cards, and devising a display, but when the day came, I have to admit, I felt pretty self-conscious. There I was, sitting behind a table, trapped behind all my weird stuff. These bags and neckpieces were an expressive, eccentric part of my personality that I wasn’t used to sharing with just anybody. It reminded me of science fairs in elementary school.
But I survived! I even sold a few things.
Not long after, I began consigning my pieces to a store named Meow. With the store taking a 50 per cent cut, I was making way less than minimum wage. I had created my very own sweatshop, population: one.
But I was happy.
This particular store was special. In the back they had their own in-house design area, with cutting tables, irons, mannequins, and industrial sewing machines, which they, incredibly, invited people to use for free.
It was an amazing experience to work creatively alongside others.
While my real day job required wearing a denim shirt with the store logo, the fellow managing the design area at Meow would often come to work with things like a two-headed mink draped around his neck, sparkle makeup, and wonderful false eyelashes. When any one of us finished a piece, he’d race around the store looking for the best place to display it. He didn’t hold back his technical knowledge, he shared what he knew and helped me any way he could.
This is the time when crafts people are kicking it into high gear up for Christmas. Weird ideas along with the tried and true are sure to be incubating. Get set to see what people living right here, right now feel compelled to produce.
Illustration by Kira Sheppard.