Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gimme a Sister, Can't Resist Her

My sister Jodi, pictured left, braved two craft shows with me this weekend. We've been bred for this kind of action. We, daughters of a consummate crafter, spent our childhood not just strolling the aisles of every craft show in the Washington, D.C. metro area, but often enough could be found with the cash box behind the booth, too.

We've done the church Christmas craft show and the synagogue Chanukah gift extravaganza. We've done Spartanfest and Sugarloaf. And now we've done Craftboston and SoWa.

Now, as an adult with a budding craft hobby, living in a world and with a husband that would like everything to be commodified, I walk through the shows with mixed emotions. My talkative little brain is asking: "Is my stuff as good as hers?" "How much is he charging for that?" "Why don't you get your act together and open an Etsy shop?" It's as stressful as it is fun, as inspirational as it is overwhelming.

We passed one artist who was selling what I call coffee cozies. Jodi's holding the one I made her for her birthday in the picture in this post. I said, "Hey, look, coffee cozies." And, Jodi, best sister ever, said, "Oh, those are nice, but I like the one you made me much better."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


My mom is what Debbie Stoller, in her classic knitter's guide Stitch and Bitch, calls a "get your freak on" knitter. Says Stoller: "Throwing away their knitting magazines and relieving themselves of the shackles of a pattern, these knitters, also known as artsy-fartsy knitters, like to grab some yarn, grab some needles, and just make something up. Many of them are so busy expressing themselves that they can't be bothered with knitting rules or techniques. The sweaters they make are one-of-a-kind, gorgeous concoctions, though you might not be able to get your head through the collar."

Like many women, I have a deep-seated fear of becoming my mother. I've begun to confront that fear (read the original post on this blog, for instance). I'm trying to embrace the parts of myself that are like my mom, rather than run screaming in the opposite direction.

But, we've always been different sorts of crafters. I tend to like to follow a pattern, usually just choose one color or color scheme for completing any given project, and stick to the basics, not going too far astray from what anyone might call "normal." Sometimes my crafting is like what my mom says about my clothing choices: "Elana, do you ever wear any colors? I mean, it's always black and grey, grey and black." (That exchange happened a few years ago, but sadly it pretty much still holds true.)

For a few weeks, several of us in my office have had a knitting circle, preparing squares for the Pine Street Inn Knit-a-Thon (see more in this post). Our bunch has shown that knitting is a timeless activity - women have been doing it for years, probably because knitting together opens us up to share parts of our lives that we might not otherwise share. We now knit at lunch time, knit during monthly birthday parties, and some of us knit during conference calls (not me, of course!). So when I started working on my square to contribute to the project, I thought it would be a perfect project for me, an old-school knitter. A 9 inch by 9 inch square. What could be harder?

I had forgotten about genetics. I started knitting (see lovely sea of turquoise above) and got 80% of the way through my "square" before I realized it was a rectangle. An 11 inch by 8 inch rectangle. I knit one final inch, did the binding off, shed a tear/gave a huge sigh of relief, and threw it in the pile of squares created by my co-workers.

And the funniest thing happened.
Everyone liked my "square." Even though it was freaky-big and didn't meet the Knit-a-Thon's "requirements." It's the same way I really like the square being created by my co-worker who's knitting for the first time. She's totally charmed me by saying "Elana brought her own sticks." I love that she calls needles sticks - I'm really not making fun. I also love that her knitting is super-tight, full of holes, and that she might drop a stitch, oh, for every five stitches she completes.

So, on this day before Thanksgiving, I'm giving thanks for imperfection, for beginnings, for freaks, and for breaking the rules. Get your freak on, knitters.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Crafter's Delight

A few weeks ago, I made a second Taxi Tote, a fraternal twin to the original much-complimented bag. I had been challenged by my sewing coach to make a second bag on my own, without her supervision. At the time, my life was a little messier than usual, and I needed something to look forward to at the end of the day.

I had been feeling restless and on edge for a couple of weeks already. I was a little nervous to start a relatively complicated project, given that I didn’t want to end each evening in tears, with pin-pricked fingers and covered in thread.

But I found myself smiling through each of the steps involved in creating something by hand - cutting and ironing fabric, seeing the piece take shape, screwing up and having to figure out how to hide a mistake, hand-sewing trim, and finally choosing and attaching the perfect button. Making the second Taxi Tote in something like 3 evenings was testament to my need to have something to hold on to.

I’d call what I experienced crafter’s delight. Crafting for mental health sounds too stodgy; crafter’s high sounds, well, incongruous. What I felt was tinged with enchantment and glee. I was able to make an entire bag on my own. It was a manageable challenge, resulting in a deep sense of satisfaction.

My life, no more and no less than the life of anyone else, is just full of stuff I don’t know how to fix, sometimes seemingly insurmountable challenges. Just as it would be amazing to wave a magic wand and make things better, magic bag-making powers would be pretty neat. I could wave my magic bag wand all day. But, it wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying, or as delightful, as crouching in a vintage shop searching through a basket of buttons, driving all over town looking for unique fabric, or seeing my Taxi Totes hanging together in my home.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Gettin' Knitty Wit It

It's been over 6 weeks since I last posted. I really hadn’t intended for that to happen. In that time, I’ve made some really cute hair accessories and another bag, which you’ll get to see soon. But, also in that time, my good friend Sherri took pictures of her little boy PelĂ© wearing - see!? - his Elanamade hat!

Also in the knitting realm, I’m going to submit a square to Pine Street Inn’s Knit-a-Thon. (Warning: Website may be seizure-inducing.) Though I’m 100% sure that handmade blankets will not wipe out homelessness (sort of like how I’m sure that greater “awareness” about any number of social, economic, or political conditions won’t fix the years of inequality, underfunding, and absolute disregard for humanity that got us into these messes), I do like knitting, and I think the idea of a formerly homeless person getting welcomed to their new home with a handmade blanket is lovely.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Baby Got Hat

Sometimes I think people who have babies are delusional. Yes, I’m aware of the gross generalization I’ve just made, and how I’ve now lost, hm, um, yes, every single friend I had. But, give me just a second. Maybe a couple seconds.

I have to imagine that having a baby by choice is an incredible experience - the anticipation of the little person who will be, the excitement of building a family, the welcoming into the world of someone that, often enough, you were a part of creating. But, I also have to imagine that, during the time one gestates said baby, meets with doctors in preparation for the delivery of the baby, and considers the miracle of life in general (and perhaps also the miracle of lycra), one has considered that this incredible little creature might not be born knowing how to sleep for 6-8 hours straight. It takes time, people, so much time that there are some of us who are still working on it!

I’m pretty much surrounded by people bearing or raising little ones, so I hear a lot of stories about the sleep they’re not getting. The one friend I have who has said that she loves being up, even in the middle of the night, with her baby has only been home with the baby for 3 days. I think she has another thing coming.

It might just be a baby hat.

I found a simple pattern for knitting a hat a few years ago, and recently, as, hm, um, yes, every single friend I have has had a baby, I quickly tired of the baby aisle in Target (sorry, Target you know I love you, but enough is enough) at about the same time that I came into a phenomenal bag of yarn that included several bright, variegated skeins perfect for knitting tiny hats. I decided, after I’d just about lost it in Target (which would totally have been a lot more embarrassing than blogging about how you think your friends are delusional!) that giving something handmade was far superior to continuing to go the store-bought route. Also, a lot more fun for me.

And, since this blog is all about me...

Some babies have already received their hats, and joyously ripped them off their heads immediately. (That was really just one baby, but she’s my favorite, so I forgive her.) I’m hoping some of the parents of the babies, while they’re up in the middle of the night, might send me a picture of the baby in the hat, nudge nudge. If your baby wants one, because baby hats are approximately 100,000 times easier to make than bags, just let me know.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Throw It In The Bag

My husband carries only a few things with him. He’s super low-maintenance, and I like him a lot for that. But, every once in a while, he’ll need some help carrying his stuff. And he’ll ask if I can put his cell phone, or keys, or whatever, in my bag.

Which is when I say to him:

What, you mean
this bag?

Women and our bags. A force to be reckoned with, as many have discovered. The pursuit and purchase of the perfect bag is akin to finding a partner: complementary, not overshadowing, and fun, yet practical. Bags are objects of derision by some - though not all - male partners, who themselves having appropriate pockets in almost all of their clothing, do not understand the need for bags - until the time that they do. Which is when, ladies, I would suggest you implement the strategy outlined above.

The question, “Do you really need another bag?” comes not only from my husband, but from myself, as I constantly try to maintain a semblance of order at home. But, the opportunity to create my very own bag, sewn on my very own sewing machine (which was a gift from said husband’s family, so I should really stop making fun), was presented by a friend and fellow crafter. She coached me as I created this truly fabulous bag (the Taxi Tote from
Seams to Me by Anna Maria Horner).

I knew this bag was a hit when my husband said it was a “real bag.”

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tiny Birdies Made of Felt

The tipping point for this blog - the thing that really pushed me to get my act together and share little tidbits of creativity with friends and family - was this project, and the support and engagement it inspired. So it seems like the right place to start.

I worked on these little cuties over a few days, sometimes even staying up past my bedtime to finish one more. When I complained about being tired, my husband's response was:

"You're still recovering from your raucous night making tiny felt birds."

Clearly, this will not be his last appearance on this blog.

The birds, as I brought them to be one by one, started integrating themselves into our daily existence. Husband clearance is essential to any craft project that might become a permanent fixture in our home, so it was essential that he loved the birds as much as I did. He has assured me that he does.

The pattern is a slight adaptation of one created by Lisa Jordan and showcased on Sew, Mama, Sew! Feel free to post a question in the comments if you're thinking about trying the pattern yourself.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Big Debut

I have a secret.

My mom was right.

Yours probably was, too.

That's a huge secret.

What was my mom right about?

My mom's dream for her little daughter, pictured here, was to be a writer and illustrator of children's books. Or just a writer. Or just an artist. Or a designer. Just something really, dramatically different than what I do now, which is make people uncomfortable by talking about difficult subjects, like sex, violence, and death. Something creative and positive, Elana, not so depressing all the time.

I realized my mom was right some time in the past year when I found myself writing a post for my professional blog (not depressing, it's about suicide prevention!) on I realized that I loved writing, that I was actually good at it, and that it would be really cool to do it more often than I have the opportunity.

I also realized my mom was right some time in the past couple of years when I was sitting on the floor futzing with beads, wire, and miniature pliers, creating a piece of jewelry. Also, again, thanks Mom, when I was knitting a hat for my friend's new baby. And when I was making a birthday card for a friend. And when I fell in love with a pattern for making tiny felt birds.

My mom is a big fan of mine. She is always proud of me, even when I'm making people talk about uncomfortable things. I think she'd like it if I were a little more proud of myself.

Only recently has it become really trendy to be really proud of yourself, and put it out there - there's a whole industry of shameless self-promoters, of which I'm apparently a part (as a blogger, as someone with a Facebook profile, as a tooter of my own horn for my economic survival, as there's no such thing as having a job without having to prove your value added). As I'm usually a little late on picking up on trends, I'm a late adopter with this one, but I'm here now.

So, this blog is for me, and for my mom.

As my mom would want it to, it's going to focus on the positive. It's going to be all about being creative.

Because we are completely incapable of not becoming our own mothers, I have become a crafter, a hoarder of yarn and beads, someone who carries a gallon plastic baggie filled with crafty gear with me on trips.

Because I get paid to do social change, which is a neverending process, in my down-time, I make stuff. In particular, I like to make small things that don't take much time, like earrings or baby hats, because in real life, there are so few opportunities to actually be done with something.

I'm lucky to have met a bunch of people other than my mom who are really interested in and supportive of the little things I make, who often ask me to show them what I'm doing. Since no one ever got anywhere being shy and keeping all of the interesting parts of themselves to themselves, this blog is a way to share my creativity in the way that has increasingly become the way of this world - through absolutely shameless self-promotion.