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.
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
"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
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
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
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
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
American Quilters Society
Red Cross http://www.redcross.org
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: email@example.com
2001 Rachella Sinclair for SeniorWomenWeb