Wednesday, December 29, 2010

People Who Make Stuff

Bill and I have gone around and around over the past several years about the kinds of projects we could do in the area of life stories. We've come up with some really good ideas, some of which have come to fruition. We've worked with individuals and that has been fun and interesting. Today, though, I suddenly understood something that seemed so obvious in the moment I realized it that I felt like a complete and total idiot for not realizing it before. I am totally fascinated by the stories of people who make stuff. I always have been. When I was a kid I used to think my Nana was incredible because she made stuff. She grew food. She preserved it. She cooked it. When she needed slipcovers she got drapes at a rummage sale and made them. She made dolls, doll clothes, and scrap quilts out of old clothes and other bits of fabric that were no longer useful in their previous form. She took nothing--or more precisely, the little bits that used to be something--and made these things into something new and wonderful. Seeds grew into tomatoes, which became sauce after the new seeds had been saved to make more tomatoes. Old bits of fabric became a scrappy quilt that I slept under every single night as a teenager. Nana could look at something--something discarded in many cases--and see its potential. She knew how to make it something else.
So it is with so many people. Sculptors take some chunk of raw material and see something wonderful inside it. Mosaic artists can take little bits of glass and create a materpiece. Painters see a blank canvas and know how to fill it with whole new worlds. This is, to me, amazing. Even more amazing to me are the people like my grandmother, who can take the scraps and discards of life and turn them into warmth and love that you can hold in your hands or wrap yourself up in. This is why I do the yarn work that I do. I am my Nana's granddaughter, after all. I used to think that what I was interested in was women's domestic labor or gendered craft or something like that. And to some degree that's true. I am interested in that. But it's really much simpler than that. I am interested in people who make stuff. I am interested in the kind of creative thinking that allows someone to turn one thing into something else. I think it has to do with the idea of possibility. I am frequently saying to someone, "Just because it has never been done before doesn't mean it can't be done in the future." People who make stuff are all about creating something that has never existed before. They look at old drapes, or a blank canvas, or an odd ball of yarn and they see what it might be. This epiphany came to me this afternoon when I was opening a Christmas gift that my husband ordered for me--it arrived on Friday, but he worked all day and couldn't get to the post office to pick it up. It was a book called Traditional Crafts of Ireland and has a photo of hands working on a fiddle-in-progress on the cover. I was pretty excited. And then it hit me. I have been flailing around for a long time trying to figure out where to focus my time and energy beyond my own yarn work. Here it is--collecting the stories of people who make stuff. Duh! We have already done a few projects in this area with quilters and artists. As we think about what kinds of things to pursue in the year ahead, I am relieved to find that my task of narrowing things down just got a whole lot easier. People who make stuff. Yup. That's the ticket!