What Should I Craft?

How do you decide what to create, and once decided, how do you decide which medium(s) to use?
Those three of you who have explored this blog in depth may hopefully have read my praise of quick-n-dirty crafting for kids.  But sometimes you really want - and Should! - make something truly beautiful!

When I was a teen and in possession of far more time than money, I made hundreds of "millefiore" polymer clay beads. I never seemed to run out of those stupid things - and from the distance of a decade or two, I feel no shame in admitting that many were pretty amateur! After giving my mother as many necklaces as I could convince myself she needed, I was still trying to give them away to kids at art camps years later. My mother has managed to divest herself of most of those beads (some are still decorating her windowsill as vase filler), but her curio cabinets still contain more than a few of my cutsie miniature polymer sculptures.

As an adult, homeowner, and mother of three, things have reversed: I have far more money than time. Although my innate love of crafting and my instinctual cheapness thriftiness remains, I have gradually learned to take a more prosaic look at the projects I tackle. As my husband bluntly puts it, "You can't compete with China."

Once upon a time you saved money by sewing your own dresses and knitting your own hats. No more: the cost of materials alone for a hand-made project often significantly outstrip the cost of a finished mass-produced item, and that's assuming you value your time at zero.  Kind of makes me feel like the heart has been ripped out of crafting: what virtue is left in sewing your kids' clothes or when you can get essentially the same item for half the price at Target?!

But I think there's a better way to look at it. No, you're not saving money. Great! That means you don't have to do this. You're not getting any thrifty points by making your kid a pair of pants, so if the idea of dragging out the sewing machine after the kids are (finally) asleep doesn't fill you with glee...  don't do it! Look, now that we don't need to make warm socks to get us through the winter, that means we get to select the crafts that actually make us happy while we're making them, not just when they're done!

Still, I am also an engineer by nature. This pretty much insists that I'll be calculating the ROI on a big project - or even a little one. Besides, I really don't want to burden my friends and relatives with things they neither want or need (or my kids with clothes that will embarrass them now or when they see the photos in 10 years!)

Therefore, I am learning to ask myself additional questions before taking on a project  - especially if that project is going to cost more than a few dollars or a couple of hours.
  • Will the end project be of inherently higher quality than a purchased version? 
  • Will it be more useful? 
  • Will it be more attractive, customized, or unique? 
  • Will I be creating an heirloom? (And if so, do I / the intended recipient Need any more heirlooms?! Will that person actually truly value what I give in proportion to the time and money cost, or will it simply take up space and collect dust?) 
  • Will I be reusing or repairing items that might otherwise be wasted? 
  • Most importantly, will the pleasure I derive from creating with my own hands balance the time and usually money trade-offs? 
More and more, I am learning to only take on projects that answer "yes" to at least two or three of the above questions!

My new daughter is the (I'd like to think "proud") owner of a large "Blackberry Salad" baby blanket that I crocheted over the course of 3-4 months using about $35 of yarn.  (see photo at top of post) I decided that I Wanted the heirloom, had time for the project during the long pregnancy, would appreciate the look, feel, and durability of high quality materials, and would value the end product far more than a bit of polar-fleece in a cute print.
(Update: I Still hope this will be true - someday! Right now, at age 2.5, she greatly prefers the polar fleece!)

On the flip side, I rather think I erred recently when choosing to sew a new pair of PJ pants to replace my worn-out favorites. I should have kept in mind that, unlike crochet and half-a-dozen other mediums, I don't enjoy sewing very much, nor am I very good at it. Thus, my time should never be valued at zero when contemplating a fabric project.  The $15 absolute cost was competitive with a store bought item, but I probably would have enjoyed shopping for just the right pair rather more than I enjoyed making them! (Ugh, why could I not have kept that in mind as I built up my fabric stash over the last few years?!)

While I'm on this subject, I want to run down a list of Traps for the Modern Crafter

(1) Cheaping Out
The inherent thriftiness in my character always tempts me to spend as little as possible when selecting materials for a project. When I was spending a lot of time with polymer clay, I would sometimes settle for the low cost Sculpey brand, even though it was more delicate and less attractive than Fimo when cured. I have to fight a similar tendency to buy Red Heart Super Saver yarn for blankets or hats despite its inferior texture and "feel." And let's not talk about the many skeins of variegated mid-grade yarn that I pick up on clearance - only to learn they crochet up into truly ugly items! (Note to self: If it's variegated, it doesn't belong in your stash. Really!) Again, having more money than time at this point in my life has helped me fight this, but it is worth reminding yourself again and again that the materials cost of your project is often "small potatoes" compared to the time you are investing. If you want it to last for years, be worn for years, and loved for years, spend that extra 30% on the better materials that will allow it to do so!  

(2) When You've Got a Hammer...
When I browse the Pinterest crochet boards or the Ravelry pattern site for patterns or ideas, I often find myself rolling my eyes at projects that - IMHO - have no business being made in crochet. To rephrase a common aphorism, "When you've got a crochet hook, every project looks like a crochet project!" Look, I know it's a fine line: we're crocheting because we want to, not because we need to. But does that mean that a bed-sized quilt made in solid color single-crochet and decorated with flat crocheted appliques makes sense? Certainly not for me! Crochet is a relatively slow, sometimes tedious process that consumes a lot of expensive yarn. Make your solid colored appliqued blanket out of woven fabric. Save your yarn for a truly beautiful, highly textured or patterned blanket (if that's what you want), or branch out a little and chose a shawl, sweater, or another item that really plays to the strengths of the craft, not its weaknesses. Crocheted dish clothes? OK, if you're bored, or trying out new stitch patterns. Crocheted bags? Really?!
Try and keep an open mind: your crafting method of choice is always going to make more sense on some projects than others. If you really want a beautiful appliqued blanket, perhaps now is the time to learn some quilting? And (I'm talking to myself now!), amigurumi can be Adorable. But sometimes it Makes. No. Sense. Get out the fleece, felt, and faux-fur!
Don't be afraid to branch out and do hybrid projects that exploit your own abilities! My butterfly toy is an example of a project in which I intentionally played to my own strengths as a crafter (and I'd like to think of the mediums and methods themselves) to create something reasonably cute and functional.

To wrap this all up, I believe that being a "Little c-Creator" is part of what it means to be made in the image of our Big-C Creator. There is therefore intrinsic value in the basic act of creation. So create away! But create with wisdom and intent: think carefully when you chose, plan, and buy for your projects!  

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