Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"What Do You Make?" (In search of my own craft form)

Being the co-owner of a shop of fine handcraft, I get asked a lot, "What do YOU make?"

My usual response is "I make the shop!" This is both true and allows me to not admit that I myself am not much of a maker-of-things.

Or am I? In my continuing quest to understand "what is craft," today I thought I'd come at it from a personal standpoint and see if that offers some new insights. Because if it's true as some say that crafting is a human tendency, then I must make things. So, what DO I make? What is my craft?

Let's start with what I'm not. I'm not a potter, not a wood-turner, not a jewelry-maker. I've been taught to knit, but it never really took for me. I got a nice sewing machine for Christmas two years ago -- it was all I wanted -- because I aspire to reinvent clothes I don't wear anymore, but I have completed only two modest and lackluster projects.

It's not for want of ideas. I save DIY instructions from craft blogs, I tear pictures from magazines of funkified chairs and dressers, I even have my own sketches and notes for designs. But alas, I am surrounded with so many potential projects and precious few finished ones.

I could chalk this up to being busy with other things like running a business. But that would be disingenuous. It's not like I spend every waking minute on Greenjeans. And I don't watch that much TV.

So, what do I do with myself the rest of the time? Shouldn't I be making things?

Last night, while cruising the 'net, I came across something on Get Crafty that inspired this whole post today: "Your Craft-Q Quiz." "This quiz," the page said, "is designed to help you figure out which craft is right for you." It was like a beacon in my stormy craft sea. At last! I thought. Someone will tell me what to make!

So I got out my paper and pencil and recorded my answers to the eight questions, not sure where they were leading, but confident that they would guide me in the right direction.

And then I looked at the results. And you know what? Turns out I've been crafting all along, I just didn't realize it.

The quiz basically told me (in about eight different ways) that I might like cooking. How about that? I happen to love cooking! I love making crepes, I love making new kinds of soup, I love getting new kitchen gadgets (my cordless immersion blender is the BEST), I love planning menus for dinner parties, I love putting together left overs into delicious new combinations. I've even gone out on focused excursions searching for, say, the perfect madeline pan so I can spend the day trying to master a new recipe after being inspired by a scene in a movie.

Not only that, but dining out is one of my (and Jae's) favorite things in the world to do. And it's not like I'm some glutton. I enjoy it for the experience -- the flavors, the textures, the marvelous improv theater of the restaurant setting. I think you could say, for me dining out is an opportunity to enjoy someone else's craft work.

I rarely think of cooking as craft, but of course, it is. It may not last as long as a fine piece of furniture, but for me good cooking is all about quality, integrity, skill, and love, as is good furniture or good glass-blowing or good toy-making.

And for that matter, good writing, too.

For that's the other thing I make: writing. When I answer the question "what do you make?" I sometimes add that "I'm more of a writer." I suppose this phrasing diminishes the idea that writing, too, can be craft. But I certainly approach it that way. I can sit and work on a piece of writing for hours and hours on end without a break. I write every day, sometimes at length (not just, but including, on this blog). I'm doing my third NaNoWriMo this year, writing a 50,000 word novel in the month of November, and plan to do NaNoEdMo in March when I'll spend 50 hours editing the novel. I make extra money doing freelance editing and I love every mind-bending minute of it. (I'm darn good at it, too.) I even still write letters, the kind you put stamps on.

And come to think of it, there are all kinds of apt craftly metaphors you can use about writing: knitting together ideas, weaving threads of thought, building the argument, sewing it all up at the end. It all makes my mouth water.

I remember reading a great piece in the NY Times once where the writer speaks of polishing off a paragraph while the onions caramelize for soup, or reworking some structural problem while the rack of lamb roasts, going back and forth between stovetop and laptop, shifting mental and manual gears through a productive day. Yup, that sounds about like heaven to me!

So next time I'm asked "what do you make?" I will say with confidence, "writing and cooking."

And I can still add that I make the shop. For shopkeeping, and even housekeeping -- might not those be craft forms, too? I think possibly so. But that's a topic for another time.

Photo: Me (Amy Shaw) working on my 2004 NaNoWriMo at the kitchen table. (Note: I now write without the ashtray! We still have those unfortunate chairs, though...)


Anonymous said...

Oh, I LOVED this was like being at your kitchen table, me with my knitting, you with your laptop, chatting about all the IDEAS...and then eating all kinds of home made GOODNESS...
I think one of the other things to add to your list is ATMOSPHERE...
You crafted a WONDERFUL one with this post!

S-JY said...

Dear Amy,

I heart you.


Emily said...

Hilarious -- I scored "quilting, sewing, needlecrafts" down the line.

As Amy knows, I'm trying to pick up quilting after a three-decade hiatus -- those stuffy patch pillow projects I tried as a kid did not fascinate. But I did continue to sew and embroider into college. And when I found my sewing kit recently after losing it in a mystery box for ... least a few years...well, I was so happy I immediately sat down and began to repair a bag, then socks, and then an old kimono-style robe that's been lying about unwearable for even longer than I lost that kit.