craft Craft For The Soul Creativity handmade Pip-Life

A Crafty Life

crochet for deef cushions and the floor

This piece was first published in The Age Sunday Life Magazine on Sunday 3rd May 2015

When I was 16, I pretended not to like Neil Diamond, Kate Bush, homemade things and pretty clothes. I was earnestly trying to grow up and the things my mum liked or my dad liked or my siblings liked or my Nans liked were certain to keep me trapped in childhood, as far as I was concerned. I needed to carve my own path, make my own rules, be my own person. That meant no ‘uncool’ stuff. No Little House On The Prairie. No DIY dresses. No dunking my toast into my cup of tea and absolutely no snuggling under nanna-style blankets. I needed to find myself.

It turned out I found myself pretty quickly, circling back to a life of homemade coconut tarts, handmade dresses, woolly things and Labyrinth. It took me around six months to realize that no amount of black-clad listening to the Dogs In Space soundtrack or dunk-resistance would erase my homemade history. I pined for tea cosies and freshly bottled jam. It was the briefest identity crisis ever, I think and confirmed that a crafty approach was the one that suited me best.

Thirty years later, I’m still up to my elbows in making things and I couldn’t feel more like myself. Those crafty links to my childhood have provided a firm footing for my adult life. That jam and hand-hooked tea cosy are pretty much what the inside of my head looks like. When I make things or bump up against something homemade. I’m reminded of who I am and where I came from and where I’m going, too.

A crafty life is a kind of axis that I pivot from, mapping family identity with my own, marking the similarities and the differences, moments in time. Noting growth and tweaks and flagging room for improvement too: ‘Yes, I can crochet in front of the telly without looking at my work, just like Nan! I am a success!’ or ‘Neon yellow is not a colour that you’d find in the knitting basket at Mum’s but I’m confident that it’s perfectly paired with a pastel! I’m making my own choices!’ or ‘This basket of unfinished projects is either a reflection of my ability to hatch bright ideas or evidence that I’m commitment-phobe.’ Craft reveals all.

When I think about my early crafty days, hanging out with my Mum or my Dad or my Nanna as they sewed dresses for my sister and I or knitted a matching slacks and tunic set (truly!) or crocheted a cosy blanket, it confirms everything that’s good about living a life together. Not only were they hatching crafty plans to make nice things for us, showing that they cared. They were also modeling a can-do attitude, approaching life creatively, solving problems and fulfilling needs in a DIY way.

The icing on the cake in terms of crafty childhood benefits was that time spent making meant that life slowed down. Craft equaled time spent together.

Nan put aside her other chores and sat beside me with a cup of tea, half-watching ‘Happy Days’ as she stitched row after row, stopping to chuckle occasionally at Fonzie. Or it was my Dad (truly!) smoothing wrinkles from floral fabric on a cutting board in the middle of the living room floor as I dangled my feet from the couch, waiting to see him pin the pattern pieces in a mysterious formation that would eventually form a dress. Or it was my Mum, even, chatting and clattering her knitting needles from the knobbly green armchair at the shack as my brother and I played Trouble in the front of the fire. (I can still hear the dice go ‘kerplunk’!)

These felt like the best of times. We were together, making something from nothing, hanging out amidst murmuring chatter and a quiet kind of industry. It’s only now, looking back, that I realize how much those cosy times impacted on me and how important it is to build times like those into my own life, with my own family, because craft is about so much more than creating an item or continuing traditions and skills.

Craft is about building creative rituals into life, planning ahead, having faith, connections, good intentions and time spent together. It’s also about modeling that aforementioned can-do approach to life, about using creativity as a kind of choose your own adventure (or conversely as a comforting ritual to retreat, slow the world down and find your place again). A crafty life is about sharing a home that’s always a bit work-in-progress, with thoughts and projects flowing freely and plenty of opportunity to hatch ideas and take risks.

Now, when I am making things, I’m aware that I’m not only being super-present for my family (because craft = couch time) and modeling a DIY approach, I’m also slowing things down for myself. Creativity becomes a backdrop for our lives. I look at finished projects and think of the time they mark in our lives, who was trailing in and out of the living room, what was happening in the world.

As I smooth the creases out of a finished thing, I also think about where the crafty sparks came from and what I’ve learnt or achieved. I think about my Mum, my Nans, my Dad, my siblings, my own family. I think about lamingtons, warm Milo, Neil Diamond even. Craft connects me to my world.

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12 Comments

  • Reply
    Deb Baker
    May 7, 2015 at 6:05 PM

    I just love this article so much. It resonated with me on so many levels. I grew up in a super crafty environment – my mum was home economics teacher and my regular complaint growing up was “I’m always standing on pins”. And when she finished teaching she opened a haberdashery shop – I was like a kid in a lolly shop! The house was often a chaotic mess but it was full of love and creativity. My dad and brother would often build model cars and trucks together. It was never ending crafty goodness in our household. I love this article so much that I actually showed it to my husband, to give him a bit more of an insight into my childhood and who I am. He is not the slightest bit interested in blogging and has only a slight interest in crafts but he LOVED this article. I think you sold him on Neil Diamond. You now have a new fan!

  • Reply
    Kate
    May 7, 2015 at 11:37 AM

    Pip – You are a true inspiration! I loved your post. Being from a thrifty and industrious family myself I am no stranger to a bit of craft and a lot of sewing. I love that you are passing on your skills with your books and your awesome blog.
    Big fan

  • Reply
    Lisa
    May 6, 2015 at 10:54 PM

    I really, really enjoyed this Pip. It was just what I needed to read today. And I love the way you write!
    I grew up crafty too. My mum had a craft shop for a while, and a quilting shop later. My grandma taught me to knit (although I’ve forgotten how) and I was partial to a long-stitch. Your story brought back cosy memories and gave me something to think about – I think I need to bring a lot of it back to my life x

  • Reply
    Gemma
    May 6, 2015 at 8:13 PM

    Thank you so much for sharing this Pip! It really hit home with me, crafting is so very important to who I am, it almost defines me as a person, and I love knowing that there’s a whole bustling crafty community all feeling the same way.xx

  • Reply
    Kate @ One Small Life
    May 6, 2015 at 8:04 PM

    I love this post so much Pip. I can’t say I relate to your craft connection, because I didn’t have a childhood anything like yours. But I love this post none the less, or perhaps even all the more. x

  • Reply
    PatrickC
    May 6, 2015 at 5:41 PM

    I really enjoyed the article and was touched by the sentiment. I used to make plastic model aeroplanes with my dad and brother when we were growing up in the 1970’s. My mum and sisters sowed and did a lot of craft together. They have kept most things and my brother and I have kept most of the models, Dad still has some as well. Sadly my kids aren’t interested. If its not an electronic game my son doesn’t look up and the girls are so obsessed with their uni and social media they don’t care, their mum isn’t interested either so the culture dies.

    I did cut the article out to keep in my “scrapbook”

    Cheers,

    PatrickC

  • Reply
    Tash
    May 6, 2015 at 4:46 PM

    This made me cry-in a good way! Happy, plonky, sniffly tears of recognition. I like to make things because they make me feel cosy and happy and safe, my home is a nest of DIY and memories and I would not have it any other way.
    Yes to simple homely bits. x

  • Reply
    Kristy
    May 6, 2015 at 4:43 PM

    Pip, I devoured Craft for The Soul. I’ve always loved reading your blog and this book felt like all the bits of the blog that I love distilled into one awesome book. I’m a secret morning person! I play in a band and have lots of friends who are excellent nighttime folk, but I wake up early no matter what I do. Reading about your morning ritual made me embrace my morning-y self. I’ve been getting up early and making a cup of tea and writing my rambly thoughts out. I’ve been making delicious edible things and sharing them with my friends. I’ve been building pockets of creative time in to my day..and I credit Craft For The Soul with inspiring me to do all of these things! I’m so glad you embraced your inner Milo drinking crafty self and shared it with us all… you bloody rock! xo

  • Reply
    Jennifer
    May 6, 2015 at 1:44 PM

    I loved reading this. Authenticity is so important and it sounds like you are embracing it fully. I think you’re an inspiration. Oh, and I am a major Neil Diamond fan. I love his music, and I think he’s very good-looking. 🙂

  • Reply
    Little White Dove
    May 6, 2015 at 10:16 AM

    What a beautiful life a crafty life is… loved the nostalgia in this post Pip… just beautiful x

  • Reply
    Melissa
    May 6, 2015 at 9:37 AM

    Hi Pip
    this is just what I needed to read. A BIG thank you x I have put chores before our craft time today got a neck ache from too much stress because of this. When I first woke I decided I would do some crafting with my small girl (we home tutor so can pretty much please our selves at times), but as the day went on I decided it was not such a worthwhile task so we didn’t see it through. WHY? you ask. Well we did a market the other day and sold only one small card, then overdraft troubles and profit and loss etc etc…. Since then my head became all saturated with RESULTS. As in I can only make something to sell for my shop or whatever. This made me sad because I couldn’t understand why I was thinking like this and knew It wasn’t how I wanted to be or feel. I know It wasn’t what my daughter wanted to do. I know she wanted to do the creative thing too.
    We got creative in the garden instead, not quite the same today though. Actually my daughter went ahead on her own, sat with our small dog and sewed a beautiful felt pin cushion hand bag of her own design with seed motif & bumble bee and gave it to me x to make me smile x She is amazing x
    After this and after reading”A crafty Life” I feel more relaxed and at ease and remember myself again, also my past family experiences similar to how you described yours and look forward knowing we are worth while beings letting worth while craft moments happen. Making memories.
    Thanks Pip x

  • Reply
    Rebecca Jee
    May 6, 2015 at 8:46 AM

    What a beautiful life! Such a wonderful description of your craft family too. Thank you for sharing your memories and yourself so freely (not just in this piece but all the time!).

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