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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