As the year winds down, every media outlet seems to devote time to looking ahead. Financial predictions splash across the business pages. Fitness influencers kick their “New Year’s resolution” content into high gear. Streaming services offer recaps of the last year and toss recommendations for the next. Retailers throw good money after bad, trying to sell off remaining inventory after the flurry of holiday shopping.
In this time, many people find themselves undertaking new projects, hobbies, or lifestyles. Of course, I have opinions on the entire culture of New Year’s resolutions, but I am going to stay in my lane. During the cold winter months, many find themselves spending more time indoors, taking up hobbies which complement dark evenings spent in pajamas. Working on puzzles, knitting, crochet, needle point, cross stitch, tatting, embroidery, weaving, sewing, upcycling, mending, painting, sculpting, jewelry making, the list goes on. An abundance of free tutorials available online render these hobbies more accessible to people who do not have access to learning in person or in paid formats.
If you have been thinking of trying out a hobby or a craft, take this as an encouragement (from a total stranger on the internet) to give it a go! In the process of socialization in America, many people absorb certain capitalist values and principles. While these may be beneficial in some areas of life, they do not serve in the pursuit of leisure. Use of this capitalist lens misunderstands the purpose of leisure crafts and consequently misconstrues the value of these acts.
The idea of leisure dates back thousands of years. In Augustan era Rome, members of the upper class enjoyed otium, which is usually translated to mean “leisure.” Like many culturally significant words, this one defies a simple word to word translation. A nuanced understanding would include that this leisure was culturally valued, that it provided an escape from life, that it was seen as a virtuous practice, and that the output of this leisure time did not need to offer an economic or financial value. These Romans learned to play the lyre, they wrote poetry, which in some cases is truly an act of joyful rather than skillful creation, and performed plays.
In the intervening millenia, the practice of leisure has varied greatly in regions, countries, eras, and classes. Capitalism, in its modern American form, does not carve out the same reverence for leisure. Activities are associated with the financial value they create. It is this impulse which shames people for their failure to complete tasks or projects. It is this impulse which judges works of art or craft along financial metrics.
Stepping away from this paradigm of value, we can appreciate the act of creation. We must understand the purpose of the crafts in order to properly assign value to them. For most crafters the goal is to relax, to find calm, to enter a meditative state, to keep hands busy, to create tangible items which can be enjoyed, to dedicate time to a meaningful gift, and to carve out time for restorative self-care. These purposes can be achieved in every step of the process, from researching and learning new skills, shopping for supplies, starting the project, and completing the project. The point of taking up this hobby is not to finish project after project, cranking them out like a cottage industry machine. Most crafters do not have a goal which involves selling their finished projects on a significant scale. Consideration through the capitalist lens misunderstands this purpose and equates value with completion. Some may find satisfaction in finishing an item, but this same joy appears in other steps in the creative process.
I do not know a single person who crafts who does not have a basket or bag of half finished projects. These works in progress, known lovingly as WIPs, can be a source of shame. I learned to knit as a kid. In the 18 years that I’ve been knitting, I have finished a number of sweaters, hats, socks, scarves, shawls, tops, baby clothes, etc. I have also abandoned a large number of projects. In the last couple weeks, I began a tank top only to realize that I lacked adequate yardage and abandon the project. Sometimes, while I am working on a garment, I realize that it doesn’t look like what I imagined. Rather than waste my time finishing something I don’t like, I just unravel it. Sometimes a color doesn’t really work for me when I see it knitted up. Sometimes, I just lose focus or want to make something else instead.
I have tried my hand at crochet. It just doesn’t make sense to my hands in the same way that knitting does. Perhaps in a decade, I could build the same familiarity. Instead, after buying a crochet hook and making a few very lumpy pot holders, I gave up. Every couple years, I pick up an embroidery kit with the intention of cross stitching a simple design. Without fail, the project ends in a tangle of knots or I confuse the shades of pink which are meant to give the rose definition. While these are “failures” in a product centered view, they are successes in a process centered view. I found joy in trying these new crafts. I enjoyed learning something new. I liked challenging myself. I became engrossed in the unfamiliar motions. In that sense, they served their purpose.
When seeking out a new hobby, you can actually benefit from other people who have tried and abandoned the hobby. I have had great luck purchasing knitting needles, yarn, and other craft supplies from Facebook marketplace and garage sales. My sewing machine is a hand me down from a friend who ultimately did not love sewing as much as he thought he would. This cycle of sharing supplies and reusing supplies cuts down on the environmental impact of accumulating the tools for a new hobby while reducing the cost of entry.
Whether you have familiarity with a craft or are jumping into something as a true neophyte, I encourage you to strike out against the product centered mindset. Free yourself to find joy in the act of making. If it doesn’t work out, you can always pass these items along for someone else to enjoy.
Eleni Georgiadis is a classically trained horn player currently residing in Kentucky. Outside of music, she enjoys knitting, sewing, composting, kombucha brewing, and spending time outdoors. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to share her thoughts about sustainability and inclusivity in fashion, weaving together her technical knowledge, passion, and research.