When I was in high school, I, like many of us, was often found in the common room. Sometimes even when I was supposed to be in class. We read, we talked, we socialised, but we also played cards and chess along with other games. One student was almost always found surrounded by card players, with hearts in particular being a favourite; we would sit round a little table for hours playing hearts, and he’d often manage to win. He had slicked-back hair and the sort of movie star looks that made him seem as though he should be recklessly driving a convertible in the 1960s, and after high school, he moved up to Portland to assume the mantle of hipster that had always been waiting for him. He started working in a knitting shop, became an avid knitter, and transformed into someone crafty — perhaps a natural extension of some of his abilities, perhaps not.
I was thinking of him the other day because I have a large number of friends who craft various things. They make their own envelopes and stationery, they produce calendars and brew beers and make fetching handmade labels for them, they knit of course but they also felt and crochet. Some make fine jewelry and others work with textiles, some weave and others screenprint, or make copper plate etchings, or build tiny little worlds entirely out of wood.
On the one hand, I love being surrounded by artists and creators, people who use their hands to create something extraordinary. And yet, there’s also a part of me that feels inadequate for not being a crafter. Uncool. Like I don’t quite fit in with the company I keep because I’m not as nifty as them — I can turn around a 4,000 word assignment in a day, whip up dinner for four on a few hours notice, and snorgle a cat but good, but my attempts at crafting are almost always pathetic. I used to go to a crafting night with a basic knitting project that I worked on endlessly to give my hands something to do so I could enjoy the company, but being surrounded by crafters was also kind of crushing, in a strange way. They were never snobby or mean (just the contrary, they’re all lovely, kind, warm, welcoming people), but seeing the amazing things they were making reminded me of my own sort of internal complex over crafting.
It’s not just internal, though. We are living in an era where we are experiencing a craft resurgence, particularly in the hipster/borderline hipster circles I inhabit (I keep insisting that I’m not a hipster, but I’m beginning to show worrying symptoms, including excessively complaining about hipsters). I happen to think this is fantastic, do not get me wrong: I firmly believe in retaining, celebrating, and preserving crafting traditions and skills, and democratising them is a fantastic way to do that. I love that young people are taking up tatting and lace knitting and other things that only old fuddy duddies are supposed to be doing, I do.
But I still experience a sort of pressure to be one of them, and the thing is, I’m just not very good at crafting. I’m not a visual person, have hand tremors, and am not patient and deliberate and all those things you need to be to be good at crafting. My experiences with crafting have reminded me of my experiences with music; my father tried me on every instrument under the Sun and a few besides as a child, because he’s a musician and I wanted to be one too, and, no doubt, because he was pleased at the thought of having me follow in his footsteps, but the results were always horrifying, and thus, he gave up the effort. Likewise with crafting. Anything I put my hands to ends up mangled in newly creative and astounding ways. If you could wow craft fairs with complete deconstruction of ‘simple’ ‘easy to do’ ‘even a cat could do it!’ ‘no really just try it!’ sorts of projects, I’d totally be written up in all the magazines.
So a great deal of my anxiety around crafts and crafting is internal, generated by external pressures like, er, the existence of other crafters. I suspect that some of it also has to do with gender and gendering, though, and this intrigues me. One of the delightful aspects of the craft revolution is that it’s been welcoming to people of all genders, with crafters coming from many different walks of life. That said, though, crafting still tends to be positioned by society as large as a female activity and something women do (a way, of course, of undermining the importance of crafting).
As someone whom people frequently read as a woman, perhaps it’s not a surprise that I feel like a bit of a failure for not being in the least bit crafty. It’s not an entirely rational feeling, but then again, not a lot of my feelings about crafts and crafting are, when examined. I feel a pressure to participate in the movement because I feel like I exist alongside it, but I’m not quite of it; because my friends are crafters, because people look at me and assume I’d be good at it because they think I’m a lady, because part of me feels like I’m letting the side down because I’m rubbish at visual arts even though I’m rather good at wrangling the alphabet, which not everyone is.
Perhaps the whole affair has me up in knots because it’s a subtle reminder for me of expectations that we be able to do everything — that it’s not good enough to be talented at one thing, not when I should be good at a multitude of them.
Or maybe I’m just jealous of all my multitalented friends.
Whatever the reason is, I’m no longer afraid to admit that I feel uncool because I’m not crafty. Perhaps admission is the first step to acceptance.