In the quiet of quarantine, many of us turned inward to reflect and put forth creative energy.
Such a moment happened for me among the bookshelf. Organizing books that spanned from undergrad to teaching college, a large chunk of my collection are books I worked on while a publishing assistant and ultimately a publicist. I look back on these days mostly positive, especially the one perk of being a book publicist is working with the authors, sometimes; and when the stars collide and personalities mesh, it’s a great way to make a living.
When a good book comes along, celebrations can surround the launch of it. That is what happened over a decade ago when I met Rebecca Yaker and Patricia Hoskins, authors of One-Yard Wonders, (Storey Publishing) over 300 pages of patterns and instructions of what to do with one yard of fabric. I even started a craft table in my apartment at the time, to take on this original text. While the book is now part of my library, my craft table sold to a former co-worker, and my collection of fabric stashed — until the pandemic beckoned once-unobtainable face masks and my crafty tendencies came rushing back to me.
While the world is slowly coming out of the pandemic, but many of us are still picking up our art supplies to bide our time during shutdowns. My library discovery made me wonder about what my authors in Minnesota were up to, and I recently caught up with one of them.
Since publishing One-Yard Wonders, and two subsequent titles, Yaker has been focusing on more personal projects — growing and picking up new fractions skill sets, including shoemaking, hand and machine knitting, furniture upholstery, weaving, and bra making. “I always seem to come back to sewing as a palate cleanser,” she said.
“It goes without saying, the past year has been nuts, for everyone, for different reasons and overlapping ones,” Yaker said. “For my own sanity, between running my online business (https://www.rebeccayaker.com/), having everyone home 100-percent of the time, helping to coordinate my kids’ distance learning, and more, I’ve been trying to carve out time for personal projects.
“Disappearing into my sewing space definite helps keep me sane.”
A space of one’s own
Humans are social creatures, even those who are more introverted by nature, and as such, we also need to make time for connection, according to Rachel Sikorski, a creative arts therapist, in Buffalo, NY. For those who are more outgoing and energized by social connections, time alone can be difficult.
“Striking a healthy balance might involve carving out time for both — alone and connection, as well as honor our own need for more or less of the things,” she said.
To make time alone more manageable and enriching, which can also be done in groups, even virtually, finding hobbies, activities, and creative outlets can help recharge, rest, and relax; such as reading, listening to music or a podcast, or taking time for creativity (cooking, coloring, painting, drawing, crocheting, or knitting, etc.).
“Kids have a much easier time playing with creativity,” Sikorski said. “As we get older and more self-conscious as adolescents, we may or may not see ourselves as creative or having artistic skills, so we may stop doing these sort of activities. As adults, this is something many of us have to work to cultivate, the ability to get out of our heads and be creative, without analysis or judgment, to experience the value of the process itself.
“I think some crafts can be the way ‘in’ for some adults, and certainly the Internet makes this much more accessible to the masses.”
While Yaker saw an “explosion” in the popularity of crafting during 2020, Sikorski looks at the overall creative process as cathartic and enlightening, and it’s not the first time society has turned to the making of things to help cultivate mindfulness and pause to self-reflect.
According to reports, when World War I ended, shell-shocked soldiers were prescribed embroidery therapy. World War II brought a Victory Knitting campaign to aid service members and refugees, during with the Red Cross published patterns of mitts for riflemen and stump covers for amputees.
“I think people have always turned to art as a way to find the language to express that which words cannot fully capture,” Sikorski said.
Avant grade artists, such as Vincent van Gogh, in various regions and periods of history, challenged the status quo. Instead of representing the reality of nature, the focus shifted to express emotion and internal experience.
While the full impact of the pandemic remains to be seen, it has challenged us in a variety of ways, according to Sikorski. Her clients are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety.
“We’re enduring a (heavy) existential crisis, leading even the youngest to ask questions when confronted with so much sickness and death,” she said. “We’re trying to find ways to pass the time while stuck inside and robbed of our routines, distract from this time and make sense of the injustice in our country and the world; and find ways to cope with it all. The creative activity lends itself well to this need for distraction, redirection, catharsis, representation of complex feelings and ideas; and perhaps most importantly, containment of this difficult material — putting it somewhere, so we don’t have to carry it all day.”
Economics of creativity
While the world economy unraveled during the pandemic, not all industries suffered. The creative economy is set to have a banner year, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, especially in a post-COVID-19 world.
“My local industrial sewing machine technician sold out of all his machines, including the ones that had been sitting on his sales floor for over five years,” Yaker said. “For some people, the pandemic afforded them more time to explore and dabble in new hobbies. That, combined with the Zoom explosion (of classes) has made things so much more accessible.”
“It feels premature to speculate the end of the pandemic. Countless things will forever be different as a result. That said, over the past year, many people were able to expose themselves to new things and/or reignite old passions for making. Hopefully, newfound hobbies will stick, or give way to further exploration and act as a reminder to try new things,” Yaker said. “Craft and the art of making will forever be a significant part of my life.”