By Kaelin Bell
Craft; noun; an activity involving skill in making things by hand.
It’s no secret that many of us have had an increase in free time since the mandatory nonessential business closures began in March, but how are we spending it?
When the pandemic shut down both our university and my place of work, I knew that I needed to find something entertaining that didn’t feel like a waste of glorious free time, so I turned to my trusty old watercolor paints and some 1970s magazines and began to make collages from vintage clippings.
I was curious to see if the people in my community had also turned to crafting while staying at home, so I first reached out to local JoAnn’s fabric store employee and third-year Western student Lindsey Burgess.
“It has been very busy; we’ve been doing hundreds of online orders,” Burgess said. “People are generally buying things to make masks and supplies for painting and sewing.”
Burgess began working at JoAnn’s around the time that the pandemic shut down most of the state, but her coworkers told her that sales per person have nearly doubled over recent months.
“People are buying more items when they come to the store, and at one point, we reached Black Friday level sales,” she said.
After I confirmed that I’m not the only one who’s caught the crafting bug, I wanted to get an idea of what some other community members were creating.
Local business owner and artist Heather Hitt opened Burnish Clay Studio in Bellingham back in February 2019. Hitt makes functional pottery and operates a Community Ceramics Studio which under normal, pandemic-free conditions provides classes, workshops, memberships and other services for ceramic artists.
“So many parts of making pottery require tools and infrastructure, which is why our studio is so necessary — but there are a ton of ways people can still engage with clay at home using easy, everyday items you have around the house,” Hitt said. “I offer 25-lb bags of clay for $13 plus tax for anyone who wants to try it out, and I have a handout on how to safely introduce clay into the home along with a couple simple projects.” The studio does pick-ups of clay and drop offs of finished pieces to fire two days per week.
Burnish Clay Studio’s website features a very helpful page on experimenting with clay play in isolation, and Hitt encouraged anyone who is interested to try their hand and get creative. You can view and purchase Hitt’s pottery here.
Along with local businesses, student artists are also taking advantage of surplus free time to work on their crafts.
Kyle Lind is a third-year student at Western who is working toward a Bachelor’s degree in geology. Lind’s love for gemstones transcends his academic life and takes center stage in his artwork. Lind’s craft of choice is wire wrapping, one of the oldest jewelry making techniques around, in which wire is wrapped precariously around a gemstone to create one of a kind pieces of art.
“Basically, I take raw copper wire of varying thicknesses and shapes, and combine them
together using different weaves and coils to reach the finished product,” Lind said. “I start off by making the frame for the pendant that will help to hold the gemstone in place. Most of the time, I study the shape of the stone and let that guide me in the construction of the frame.”
After Lind secures the stone into place, he moves onto the intricate details.
“Most of the weaves and patterns are done with only my hands, taking upwards of five to seven hours to complete all the detail pieces,” he said.
Lind has been crafting his wire wrappings for two years, buying his wire in bulk and keeping a generous collection of gemstones at his disposal. He sells his art on Etsy and posts photos of his creations on his Instagram page.
First year Western student Jaiya Peaks has dedicated much of her time during the pandemic to creating comics and other digital art featuring original characters. Although Peaks’ craft was not heavily impacted by the pandemic, as it is mostly self-sustaining, her plan to join a comic session at The Comics Place in downtown Bellingham was dashed due to mandatory closures of nonessential businesses.
Peaks takes commissions for her work with prices ranging from $3 to $40 depending on the complexity. The additional free time has allowed Peaks more time to draw and create her comics. “It has been beneficial that I’ve been spending more time creating to keep sane,” Peaks said. You can find her art on her Instagram page.
A 2015 CNN article calls crafting “a natural antidepressant,” citing its way of releasing dopamine in our brains. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that allows us to feel enjoyment and pleasure, and people with low levels of dopamine often express symptoms of depression, such as lethargy and lack of motivation.
“It has been a struggle for me mentally and emotionally to make any new pots since this all started,” Hitt said. “Like a lot of people I keep swinging between days of intense productivity and days of lethargy and depression. However, once I do sit at my potter’s wheel it all falls away. I can totally immerse myself in what my hands are doing and let go of all the fear and anxiety.”
Crafting can put you into a state of “flow”, which in psychology is described as a mental state in which someone is fully immersed in a task while also thoroughly enjoying it. The term “flow” in this context was coined by Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly.
Reaching a state of flow allows you to detach from everything other than what you’re working on in a way that’s similar to meditation, which I personally feel is incredibly valuable in such a stressful and uncertain time.
“Crafting has definitely benefited me during COVID really just the same as it always has,” Lind said. “It forces me to think only about the piece which can be very grounding during stressful times and I’m sure my peers that create feel a similar way.”
The beautiful thing about arts and crafts is that it transcends all boundaries. There is no limit to what can be created over seemingly endless mediums, so there’s something for everyone. The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by big emotions or you’re just plain bored, pick up some materials and get crafting. You might really surprise yourself.