Friday Five: Handcrafts Edition

Lest you think I’m throwing all of this autodidactic learning material at you because some thinktanker said it was cool, I thought I’d whip up a Friday Five to share with you my own self-directed learning origin story.

I grew up in a very crafty family. Both of my parents crochet and do some type of needlepoint. Mom does at least a dozen other crafts beyond that. So, it came as no surprise when I started making things, too. While I’ve tried my parents’ crafts (they were handy), I’ve played with some other crafts, too. While the list below isn’t exhaustive, these are the crafts I’ve done the longest, or that had some personal significance to me when I was practicing them.

1. Jewelry Design – This is probably the craft I’ve been practicing the longest. I started with friendship pins in elementary school. I gathered all sizes of safety pins and beads. I learned the symbolism behind the colors. (I was already pretty deep into children’s mythology books, so stepping out to other branches of anthropology wasn’t a stretch.) By middle school, I’d switched over to friendship bracelets, which were great for carting around on road trips and to summer camp. (Everyone in my cabin napped. I made bracelets, or taught someone in my cabin how to make their own.) In grad school, I dabbled in beading, which I didn’t enjoy, and then discovered chain mail and wrapped wire. My Etsy shop (which is woefully understocked at the moment) is home to mostly wire jewelry, but maybe someday I’ll make some macrame projects (the grown-up way of saying “friendship bracelets”) for the shop.

2. Crochet & Knitting – Many efforts have been made to teach me crochet over the years, but it never took. I really don’t know why. Maybe it was having to learn a skill by mirror (I’m left-handed), although I did that for years in ballet. Maybe it was just too labor-intensive for free-spirited me. Who knows? Last year, though, I decided I wanted to use up the drawers of yarn gathered from years of other projects, and so I snagged a crochet hook from my mom, set up an account on Ravelry and found a pattern, found a series of instructional videos on YouTube, and made my very first scarf. I’ve made more scarves since then, and they’re being offered in my Etsy shop…when I remember to post them. Knitting still remains elusive to me. After years of trying to make loom knitting work the way I think it should, I”m now in the market for my first needles. I’ve found YouTube videos, and am ready to completely frustrate myself.

3. Needlepoint – Needlepoint was probably my second craft, and it’s the one I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with. I have probably half a dozen or so (conservative estimate) projects started and stowed away in a drawer, and another dozen or so projects waiting to be started. I have a picture I want converted into a cross stitch pattern so I can make it and then frame it to look like a canvas painting. While these projects are time consuming, it’s fun to effectively paint with thread, to handle all those colors, to be able to make a wide variety of projects with nothing more than a needle, thread or yarn, and aida cloth or plastic canvas. I can’t tell you the last time I worked on a needlepoint project, but I should seriously think about trying to finish some of the projects in the drawer.

4. Polymer Clay – I used to love playing with Play-Doh as a kid. I’d make up a full playset, and then smoosh everything down and make something else. (Now you know where that metaphor comes from in the PLE.) To this day, I can’t handle a lump of clay without first turning it into a coiled mug, a throwback to a childhood spent poring over Childcraft books. So, it seemed logical that I would get involved with polymer clay. Except…the only reason I took up polymer clay was because I wanted to make a necklace like one I’d seen on television, and I couldn’t find stones that would work. (I should find that necklace and post a picture of it. It came out completely awful. Heh.) I’ve made canes, toys, and coasters, but I still just can’t make myself get into polymer clay. Perhaps someday.

5. Weaving – Ever since I was a very small child, I have loved Native American handcrafts. There’s a beauty in the work that I think is unrivaled in many other cultures. Mom had a small automated loom, but it was a bit much for elementary school me. When Fisher Price released their loom, I received it the following Christmas. I made so many things on it. I loved it. We still have it. I think I might even know where it is. But none of my current yarn stash is well-suited to it, so I guess I won’t be busting it out and working on it.

So, there you go. A collection of handcrafts I’ve learned, mostly on my own, over the years. When I tell you stories about self-directed learning projects, you’ll know now where I’m coming from…at least on this front. (I”m a self-trained digital storyteller, too. But that’s a conversation for another time.)

Find Five Friday – Girly Geek Edition

I don’t know how things have gone for y’all, but for me it’s been a week. Actually, it’s been a long couple of weeks, and next week will be pretty crazy, too. You may have noticed the blog’s been a little quiet this week. So has the social media. I’m not even sure I’ve done the bare minimum. What I do know is that this week’s Find Five Friday only has four links because things have just been that crazy.

Soooo…on with the show!

1. I have designed jewelry off and on my entire life. I’ve just re-opened an Etsy shop, and was strong-armed last week into a craft show that my work was not a good fit for. But because I have been designing jewelry my whole life, I tend to be fascinated when someone does something interesting with jewelry design, like creating a wearable light show. You can tell from the pictures it’s still a work in progress, but it’s an interesting idea.

2. I’ve also grown up interacting with music. I danced for a long time. I’ve done choirs off and on. In school and at LARP, I even played a couple of instruments. I frequently joke that music runs through my veins, and I can’t imagine not being able to read or interpret sheet music. So, finding out that people with dyslexia can find sheet music daunting was a bit of a surprise. A product designer who has experience trying to get dyslexia and a desire to play music to cooperate has designed a way to create and play music in a way that doesn’t trigger a war with her dyslexia. The Dyssonance looks like Colorforms on steroids, but the idea and implementation are pretty cool.

3. This has been a stressful month for STEM women. In 2013, Mattel released a 2-in-1 Barbie book where one half was called I Can Be…A Computer Engineer. The Barbie line has a mission of trying to show girls all the doors that are open to them, and has come under a lot of heat over the years for the limited number of hard science/STEM professions represented in the line. I suspect this book was part of an attempt to address that. A pair of blogs discovered and shared the book this week, pointing out that while Barbie does design the game featured in the book (girl game designer = good), she then hides behind guy friends to code the game and clean up her virused computer. She then takes credit for both the game and saving the infected computer. Needless to say, women coders and their friends and supporters shredded Mattel, who has now offered a very half-hearted apology for the mess.

The book’s discovery comes only a week after STEM toy developer GoldieBlox announced their Barbie-like action figures. GoldieBlox still leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths after the whole Beastie Boys incident, but their CEO was recently the keynote speaker at a Texas women’s conference where the themes included responsibility and presenting positive role models for up-and-coming STEM women. (I just about spit out my chai when I read that.)

4. While many made memes of the more troubling statements in the Barbie book and some mocked the pink tech and the flash drive necklace, one woman coder created a mock-up of the book (PDF) rewritten to reflect the message Mattel should have put out if they truly want girls to see what they could experience as a coder. The book is heavy-handed, but the message is much more positive.

Also, my inner jewelry designer couldn’t understand those upset about the flash drive necklace. It was completely appropriate to Barbie. But what do I know? I spent part of a season of Pretty Little Liars wanting Jenna’s owl flash drive necklace.


All right, there you go. Four links, but I tried to make up for it in the commentary. Hopefully, I’ll collect five links next week, but we’ll have to see what free time my workload gives me.

JewelryNiche: Learning the Rope (Chain)

This week’s look into the world of my personal projects won’t be nearly as exciting as last week’s, but it’s on my mind at the moment and it does fit in well. We’re going to take a look at my history as a jewelry designer, something I’ve done off and on throughout my life.

When I was a child, I loved to make wearable pieces. Over the course of elementary school, I made friendship pins of all sizes with all kinds of colors and types of bead. I loved playing with bead combinations. In middle school, I shifted over to friendship bracelets. Again, it was all about the color combinations and the patterns I could make with the threads. In high school, I still made friendship bracelets, but I expanded my interests to plastic canvas jewelry and barrettes to go with my wardrobe. (I would honestly wear them. Actually, there are a couple of barrettes I still wear, but I won’t tell if you don’t.)

In college, I was busy with volunteering in museums and dancing with local ballet companies, so my jewelry design went by the wayside. But in grad school, I got involved with live-action roleplaying (LARP), and was fascinated by the chain mail armor. I kept approaching armourers, hoping to learn the skills, but I effectively got blown off. I learned other crafts (including some basic beading techniques), but never found someone willing to teach me how to make chain mail.

Until the day I stumbled across a book on viking knit (which I still can’t do successfully) that just happened to have an entire section dedicated to knitting chains. I got some pliers and some rings and let the book teach me how to create 4-in-1, 6-in-1, the box chain, and the byzantine chain (my favorite knit).

And then my inner twelve-year-old kicked in. I used what I was learning to create jewelry pieces, often starting by making the basic pattern, and then making the next piece with some sort of variation, be it a blending of techniques or adding in beads and other components. I kept picking up more chain styles, eventually learning enough to create my own belly dance belt. (It’s still somewhere in this room, carefully wrapped up in a scarf.) As I learned each new knit, I stumbled through the first few rounds before figuring out an easier way to build that pattern.

I discovered wire jigs and started creating wrapped wire projects, expanding my ability to experiment and play with the materials. I started teaching the occasional class. I created jewelry for arts competitons, and even managed to sell some pieces. Eventually, I got brave enough to open a (long-dead) Etsy shop called JewelryNiche. I sold a few pieces, but other things got in the way and I eventually stopped designing.

I know what you’re thinking: If I stopped designing years ago, why is it on my mind now? Well, I’ve been clearing out my living space, which means going through all of my old crafting materials. Which means coming across all of my old jewelry design materials. I’m not going to lie. Part of me is looking at organizing them by material and offering them through Etsy. Part of me wants to make some kits out of those materials and offer the kits on Etsy. And another part is thinking, I could totally turn these into some jewelry patterns I’ve seen on Pinterest and some old favorites.

Time will tell what I actually decide to do.

All right, so much for Personal Project #2. Because July has an extra week this year, I have to come up with a third personal project to share. And an Etsy shop to plan for and stock. Keep an eye on the sidebar for an announcement.