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Writing Samples

The Happiness of Handwork

Christine Emming

Published in Vibrant Life magazine, March/April 2019 issue, pages 10-11

Published in Vibrant Life magazine, March/April 2019 issue, pages 10-11

Let a creative outlet awaken your exploratory spirit

By Christine Emming

A joyful revival of handicrafts has brewed for a decade. It gathered slowly, as storms do, a burgeoning knit scene the gateway for a flood of Little House-era hobbies like chair caning and crewel work. Tamed only by their cost to benefit ratio, traditional trades continue to fill recreational class rosters. Yes, it’s likely most participants won’t felt beyond the holiday season. But using our hands to create often tantalizes us to continue exploring.

My own skills classes ranged from pottery to ice hockey speed drills, yet I’ve never regretted an admission. Am I currently tap dancing? No! You’re welcome. But I’ve never laughed harder at anything I have ever tried. Stepping outside my own routine offers such a weird, panicked wonder, it never fails to inspire personal growth.

I began taking classes when my hands ached from their mouse-shaped curve, a product of my full-time design job, plus extra hours building the freelance design company that was my end goal. Knitting would help, Patricia promised, and signed us up for a cheap evening course at a senior center. That first class, Edna yelled that I was “doing it all wrong!” My horror at being singled out nearly killed my interest, because, of course, she was right. As it turns out, I was simply left handed, an anomaly Edna couldn’t fix or advise, even after her eyebrows descended. The class did not help me knit. But I saw people gathered, creating things with their hands and a twist of cheap yarn, the conversation weaving its own pattern. As I watched, an intention grew in me. I puzzled out the motions on the floors of yarn store knitting groups, where I mirrored more patient knitters and looped my wool in slow motion.

Soon I knit while I watched television or sat in teleconferences. Movement calmed my brain and entertained my hands, stretching the tired computer tendons. In time, I learned to read my work, that “reading” knitting was even possible.

Knitting awakened in me the childhood awe – one I’d forgotten. The possibility of creation is addicting, and completing a project in a few hours, autonomously, was a habit that fell away before college when time suddenly abbreviated. My hands ached for use. Purposeful, fulfilling use.

I knit some truly terrible things that year. All family members and friends received hats and scarves as gifts because, like it or not, learning new skills leads to a glut of objects. But I also invested in my craft, building a supply base I still use a decade later, long after my Etsy store shuttered.

This immersion process has repeated itself through a series of interests: woodworking, embroidery, painting, pottery, terrarium-building, sewing and more. The internet makes it easy to lose myself in possibilities these days. The outlets available and the quality of options for learning a new skill improve dramatically year by year.

In-person instruction is best for direct, on-point help, but frequently it’s also the most expensive route to a new skill. Some crafts require equipment too exorbitant to purchase outright. I often search a nearby recreation district for cheaper classes, and 4H is an amazing resource for those with children. But if you lack the time or cash, the internet offers video-based tutorials, both cheap (Creativebug.com subscriptions run $5/month for reliable, quality content) and free (YouTube has an amazing range of offerings, some exceptionally informative, to get you started), that cover the gamut of possibilities.

Hobbies are more than another way to spend money. There’s a natural bent in humans to make, be it a painting or a meal. We are a creative species and our whole being rejoices when used with intention.

The way I learn with my hands is of a different type, a full body experience. My hands mostly knit without me now, and it’s calming work. When the pattern calls for counting, I become a distracted listener for a time, I’ll admit. But unlike so much of life, there’s a tangible item awaiting me on the needles. That work, and the ensuing pride, it calls. 

Of the varied handcrafts Christine Emming has tried, knitting outlasts them all. She is currently building bookshelves for her living room, an expansive and very public undertaking.