When I was young, I was crafty. Not in the “sneaky” sense of the word (although I was that, too) but literally – I did crafts, prodigiously. My childhood hobbies included bracelet weaving, beading and bug collecting. I collected Klutz books, those chunky girlhood manuals that advised one on skills such as hair braiding and face painting, and I learned the art of making balloon animals, for which I retain the bizarre muscle memory.
These DIY proclivities persisted into my teens, when I painted on, ripped up and re-stitched half of my clothes; for a while, I thought I might go to art school. But I didn’t. Instead, when I went to university, I forgot about the things I used to do in favour of buckling down and developing some vices. By the time I finished my undergraduate degree, my interest in hobbies, crafts, or creating much of anything with my hands had pretty much evaporated.
I’m not sure exactly why I abandoned hobbies – perhaps the fact that I stopped receiving Plasticine and pipe cleaners for my birthdays factored into it, as well as my need to “focus on my career,” itself the formalized evolution of a former hobby (pontificating). I have interests, certainly, but not really hobbies in the traditional sense. Still, I never had a problem filling my free time. That is, until 2020 – the year the concept of time stopped making sense.
I have been lucky; I work from a peaceful home, pandemic notwithstanding. Occasional boredom is a privilege I have. But, it gets grating, especially in the evenings, when I find myself listless and unable to feel recharged by my regular downtime activities such as reading, watching TV or cooking.
In 2018, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California Los Angeles studied two large datasets of more than 35,000 Americans to scientifically reinforce the conventional wisdom that having too much time on one’s hands is just as depressing as having too little. No science exists to back my theory that free time is even weirder when time means nothing and society kind of feels like it’s collapsing, but I think people can relate.
In fact, I know people can relate, because all year, I’ve watched them turn, en masse, to hobbies – tangible, tactile things that have beginnings and ends and a methodical way of grounding us in the present during a time when the weeks and months otherwise seem to pass in a blur of ambient anxiety.
Scrolling through Instagram, I’ve been impressed by my friends’ amateur wreath-making and watercolour painting, and by the work of creators who have grown their hobbies into businesses, such as Nova Scotia-based Hanna Eidson (@h.h.hooks), who handmakes whimsical rugs shaped like papayas and bananas, and Vancouver’s Innessa Roosen and Hana Pesut, who make and sell beaded jewellery via their line Jules (@wearjules). As a testament to the current allure of hobbies – and the appeal of monetizing them – Etsy Canada saw a 252-per-cent increase in new shops opening during the third quarter of 2020 versus the same time the previous year.
It dawned on me that after years of forsaking my crafty side, I really needed to get a hobby. The problem was figuring out where to start without filling my apartment with costly crafting supplies just to discover what I’m not into.
For a bit of direction, I turned to Emily Arbour, the owner of Ottawa-based crafted goods store Cheerfully Made, and a self-described “41-year-old kid” who hosts Etsy craft events, and mentorship programs on turning hobbies into businesses. She started off by asking me why I wanted a hobby, if it was important for me to make something I wanted to share or keep to myself, and whether I already knew if I’m inclined towards or against anything.
She also told me not to worry about hobby-plagiarism. “There’s a lot of talk about people imitating styles and people stealing other people’s work, but I think when you’re starting a hobby, that’s okay, that’s where you should start,” she says. “Where it gets yucky is when people try and sell [replicas]. But I think it’s exciting to get inspired by what other people are doing. Don’t be afraid you’re copying someone else, because that’s how you find your own way.”
Liberated by Arbour’s advice, I thought about all the inspiring things I’d seen online. I have no pretentions of being able to recreate most of them, but several seemed semi-approachable. For one, I’d noticed some embroiderers bringing the cottagecore look to their wardrobes by stitching colourful mushrooms and vines onto T-shirts or bralettes. I bought a multi-pack of thread from Michaels and was pleasantly surprised with how quickly I embroidered a quaint little toadstool of my own.
Sitting on the couch with my needlework, I felt a wave of self-satisfaction. I thought of myself as being like an Alice Munro character, with a casual domestic proficiency concealing a rich, secret inner life. I imagined gifting friends socks hand-stitched with likenesses of whatever cute little things they held in special favour – hummingbirds, or pineapples; brushing off their impressed exclamations humbly, saying, “Oh, the embroidery was just a little hobby I picked up during the pandemic.” It was the kind of feeling I sometimes get during my sporadic yoga phases – a daydream-y fantasy of being the person who does the thing, which is arguably different than in fact being that person.
The difference between having a hobby and my own penchant for live-action hobby roleplay, I imagine, is consistency. Should I gradually find myself gravitating again and again to the needle and thread, finding satisfaction in the development of my skill, lulling myself into a meditative state as I go, my hobby experiment will have truly succeeded. I can’t say if that will happen for sure, but there’s no need to rush to a conclusion. My threaded needle sits nearby, and there’s plenty of time to see where this will go.
Globe Craft Club
Try a new hobby to fill your winter nights with our series of free livestreamed classes. Every two weeks, Globe and Mail feature writer Jana G. Pruden will host a special guest teaching crafts including collage and embroidery. Our next session will be soap-making with Natalie Pepin, who teaches heritage skills and Indigenous arts through her business, ReSkilled Life. The event will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 2, at 7 p.m. ET, and will be available on our website at tgam.ca/craftclub, where you’ll also find a list of supplies needed and a video of our first session on making cheese. If you try any of our Craft Club projects, show us on social with #globeCraftClub, and join our Facebook group.