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Crafting Through Crisis:
Americans Rediscover the Home Crafts

By Rachella Sinclair

When San Francisco resident Valarie Arismendez was trapped in New York City after the September 11 terrorist attacks, it took five days of traveling to get home to California. On the last leg of the trip, while driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco, she stopped at a WalMart and called a friend to find out what size knitting needles would be good for a beginner. "I just wanted to be at home, in my own space, doing something constructive I could focus on," said Arismendez.

She is not alone.

Historically, home crafts such as knitting, quilting, sewing and decorative arts experience a resurgence in popularity during times of crisis. Save the blankets for the boys over there, was a popular slogan used during World War One to encourage women to join quilting campaigns.

"Quilting is nurturing," said Marjorie Russell, managing editor for the American Quilters Society in Paducah, Kentucky, "When you talk about issues of safety, and issues of security, belonging and love, quilting touches them all."

Crafts also allow people to express emotions in an artistic way. "We've seen an increased interest in projects that express hope or grief among those people who already quilt. It's a form of expression for them anyway and it falls naturally that in a time of crisis that they would turn to quilting to do it." said Russell.

"People are staying home more and when at home they do crafty stuff," said Gail Tanquary, owner of Creative Accents, a yarn and framing store in San Leandro, California that has experienced an increase in sales since the terrorist attacks. "My Saturdays have been busier than usual," said Tanquary whose sales have grown by 40 percent after September 11, and continue to stay high. "It's the time of year when we get an increase in sales anyway, with fall and Christmas coming, but (the increase) has been more significant than in previous years.

Carolyn Kosin, a retired tool attendant for Southern California Edison, has been doing exactly what Tanquary predicts. "For the first three days I couldn't do anything, but after that, I wanted to stay by the TV and watch the news. I've been sitting and doing crafts while watching television," said Kosin, who has spent her time making Christmas presents, Halloween decorations and topiaries.

A steady stream of beginning knitters have been coming into Tanquary's store. "They're knitting scarves," she said. "That's how we know they're beginners, because they're making the easy things to start." Tanquery recently began teaching a knitting class for the first time in many years. "The people in my class help and inspire one another. I think women look for that group thing, probably more than men do. Coming together, I think that's therapeutic," she said.

Bert Cribbs, a homemaker in Lakewood, California agrees. "I think that the only good thing that's come out of this is that it's brought people closer together," she said. Cribbs has been spending her free time making handmade Christmas cards.

Along with the desire to connect with others, living through a crisis also brings out a desire to help. Tanquary belongs to a knitting guild whose work always involves a charity project. "We haven't talked about this year's project yet, but my guess is that it will most likely be something for the survivors. That makes people feel good too, to do for others. We like knitting and the tradition of doing something for a charity project is there."

"There's a historical precedence of quilters doing things to help people in need," said Russell. "We've done that throughout our nation's existence." According to Russell, there was a monumental effort to make quilts for soldiers during the Civil War. "The organization that did that later became the American Red Cross," says Russell. "There's a real history there."

Indeed there is. Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, started her humanitarian efforts by providing provisions, including quilts, for soldiers during the US's Civil War.

The American Quilters Society is currently sponsoring a project called The Anchor Project. They are asking people to submit one nine inch finished block that will be incorporated into larger quilts. "The reason we're calling it The Anchor Project is because terrorism strikes at fear," said Russell. "We want the project to symbolize what we won't give up, the anchor that holds us down." The project was initially promoted over the Internet a few days after the events of September 11. So far, thousands of people have responded worldwide. Individual quilted blocks have started to arrive and guilds are putting them together, completing the quilts.

"I have them coming in from all over the world. There are so many, I may move out of my office soon," said Russell "I'm sure other quilt projects have had the same experience." The finished quilts will be auctioned or donated to provide relief efforts.

Kosin's church recently held a humanitarian day. "We made quilts, dresses, baby blankets, larger blankets and baby kimonos. We made all cotton clothes for people in warm environments and we crocheted cotton bandages for lepers." When asked why someone would crochet bandages Kosin responded, "There are still countries where leper colonies exist. Those countries don't have drugs or supplies. They need bandages that can be sterilized and reused."

This particular church holds a humanitarian day every year. "The church doesn't tell us where the supplies go," she said, "because it varies from year to year. They ask the Red Cross who needs our donations most, and this year, I'm sure that many of the things we've made will go to the victims and the families affected by the September 11 tragedy."

American Quilters Society
Red Cross

Rachella Sinclair is a writer and self proclaimed know-it-all who lives in San Francisco. She can be reached for comments and questions through email:

©Copyright 2001 Rachella Sinclair for SeniorWomenWeb


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