You expect to see a few things when you walk into a classroom. People rushing to finish essays and worksheets, maybe someone snacking, and definitely pockets of people littered around the room chatting. What I did not expect, however, was to see my friends sitting around a table with a good amount of yarn. One was crocheting a hat for a soft toy; a few others were knitting. And I most certainly didn’t think the same people would be huddled around watching the best craftsperson in the class perform surgery on a soft toy (don’t worry, it made a full recovery).
But such is the joy of crafting: it is at once communal and personal.
In the age of mass production and fast-paced lifestyles, it is tempting to sweep something off the shelves. It’s cheaper, more consistent, and requires so much less foresight. But where’s the fun in that?
I must preface this with a disclaimer: I am by no means great at anything art related. My best drawing is probably of stick figures with the sun in the corner of the page. Here’s the surprising thing: I really enjoyed crocheting.
When I realised a colleague’s birthday was coming up, I decided to crochet a tiny Totoro, so that the slightly larger one sitting on her desk wouldn’t be lonely. It took hours. Initially, it was a constant process of rewinding the YouTube video (even though I’d already slowed it down) and texting my far more talented friends for help. Plenty of undoing and redoing. But eventually, I caught on. There is something incredibly therapeutic in repetition – my favourite part is probably when the instruction says chain stitch (x10) or something to that effect. Maybe it’s because it is straightforward, a throwback to childhood when making things didn’t bring with it a set of expectations. Weave in, weave out – and whatever you are making slowly takes form and grows before you. And if you get something wrong, that’s absolutely fine. It’s difficult to make something perfect: the tightness of each stitch matters and is difficult to replicate consistently. A timely reminder, perhaps, that we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves in a world that seemingly strives for perfection all the time. It’s the unevenness that makes it yours.
People are willing to fork out extra for handcrafted items even if they don’t know who made them because they “believe that the creator’s love for the handmade product had somehow transferred to the product itself”. The craft cannot be divorced from the crafting. It’s not only about making a thing, but a memory: conversations, my friends painstakingly finding videos to help me see how to do a stitch from different angles, sending updates as I go. Cheryl Julia Lee’s got it right; there’s something incredible about creating: “Look! I made something! / I am not quite sure what it is, but look! / I made something.”
So the next time you’re tempted to grab something off the shelves – be it for a loved one or yourself – well, you know what to try.