For reasons too complex to go into, my work requires that I do a fair amount of arts & crafts. I know: production editor playing with clay and beads and paper airplanes? Coming home with fingernails painted with palm trees, flip-flops, and sharks? Please believe that it’s part of the job (I have to test directions to make sure they’re clear and say exactly what they mean. Which means I have to make that bracelet or fold that Star Wars paper X-Wing). My daughter is amused, and wonders how I managed to get paid for playing.*
The unintended consequence of all this is that I have become a crafter. I’m beginning to play around with polymer clay, beads, ribbon-weaving… This on top of my occasional sewing or knitting. I am not at the point of taking out subscriptions to craft magazines, or haunting Michael’s or Hobby Lobby. But I can see how this could become expensive and more than a little obsessive. It’s not something I come to via my family: my mother did just enough needlepoint to have some nice pieces to show for it, but disdained anything more plebeian. Thus, I was sent for weaving lessons when I was a kid, when most of my peers were taking ballet or flute. Don’t get me wrong. I really loved weaving. But telling people you couldn’t play because you were going to your weaving lesson was just… my life.
Last summer I was asked, during some down time, to organize the office’s bead collection. We have huge numbers of beads, and to organize them usefully I needed to learn about beads. You would think there was nothing much to know: a bead has a hole in the middle you can run a thread through; what else do you need? But there are all different sorts of beads: glass or plastic or wood or ceramic or polymer; round or faceted or pebbled; “novelty” or seed or cylinder; 15/0 or 11/0 or 8/0 or 6/0, or… It took me months to get all the beads organized. And in the process I became sort of hooked on beading.
Now: I am not a jeweler. I have friends who are jewelers; they go through rock shows knowledgeably separating the coprolite from the chrysoprase, they pore over bits of agate in interesting shapes, with visions of tiaras and statement necklaces dancing in their heads; they spin wire into intricate, astonishing shapes. They make jewelry, and I am not one of them. But give me a needle, some thread, and a bunch of 11/0 beads, and I’m happy (beading is much more portable than a four-hettle floor loom, I’ll tell you). I have learned the ins and outs of the St. Petersburg stitch and the St. Petersburg double; peyote, brick, and ndebele stitches, circular and tubular… Okay, maybe a little obsessive. There’s something remarkably calming about beading. As is often my wont, I fall in love with a project and go ahead and do it regardless of whether it’s my skill level or not. And what draws my eye is not, as far as I can tell, what draws the interest of other beaders. I’m not really one for lots of sparkly faceted crystals. I don’t much care for beading that makes pictures (“Oh, look, it’s Washington crossing the Delaware done in 11/0 silver-lined glass beads!”) and there are a lot of beading projects out there that just look something my grandma would have worn. I don’t do those. I like the stitch-work, and making baskets or flowers or moebius strips (my latest project is a moebius strip bracelet…). I make tiny daffodils and massive roses, and I’ve just started knitting with 8/0 beads and hemp cord.
If this all sounds a little insane, likely it is. I am not aiming to become a professional (it’s astonishing how many professional crafters there are. I had no idea!). But it’s always nice, of an evening, when the dog is trying to infiltrate the couch and the Spouse is snoring gently as the TV plays in the background, to have some work to do. For the moment, it’s beading. Next month? Who knows.
*I do not mention to her that they also pay me for copyediting, proof-reading, clearing permissions, trying to keep projects on schedule… The world of work is a complex place, which she will learn soon enough.