In the fall of 1997, we made our first RL visit to good friends from AmberMUSH, the online RPG where I’d played for years and met my husband and most of my very favorite people in the world. Naturally, Sunday was spent in an all-day gaming marathon with other Amber friends in the DC metro area. I had three friends with babies due in the space of about six weeks, so I crocheted while I played Helga the Wonder Nurse (don’t ask). Our hostess summed up her first impressions later by saying something that flattered me to the tips of my geeky toes: that Cam was as zany and brilliant as advertised, and Jess “knitted rainbows out of thin air.”
Anybody who knows me knows that I’m not very good at stillness. When I talk, I move a lot — gestures, charades, extravagant expressions — and even when I’m supposed to be sitting still, I like my hands to be busy. Could be an Aspie thing, could be a Protestant work ethic thing; who knows. But I’m not a fidgeter, or a doodler, so I make things. All kinds of things, with all kinds of techniques. I crochet, I knit, I cross-stitch, I work with beads and wire, I sew a little, I play with paper, soap, and candles. I am a craft geek.
This was certainly not always the case. I’ve got a very strong creative streak, clearly: obviously, I enjoy writing, and I’ve already detailed my long history with music. But my motor skills have never been what anyone would call reliable. I could not draw anything well enough to save my life or my country. My efforts at origami rapidly look like a receipt that’s gone through the wash. And I feel like the other art supplies I would mess up could be put to so much better use by others that it would be inconsiderate to waste them
I blame most of my crafting impulses on France. When you’re not in school and you’ve read all the books you brought on study abroad and you have a limited income, France gets boring very fast (at least, provincial France does). When my mom, a lifelong multi-talented crafter, came to visit in February, she asked what to bring. Once we’d gotten the Pop Tarts and Spaghetti-Os and real salsa covered, I begged her, “Teach me to cross-stitch, Ma. Bring me yarn and a crochet hook and needles and thread and aida cloth and anything airport security won’t take as a potential weapon. I need something that can keep me busy for hours.” She came ready to teach, no doubt having waited my entire life for me to make this request. And I was HOPELESS. Like, E.T. with cerebral palsy hopeless. Never mind the niceties of yarn tension or stitch regularity. There was serious doubt that I had any neurological control over my own damn thumbs. As often happens when one of us is making a total mess of something, we laughed so hard we cried (and maybe peed a little); we actually cleared our entire car on the train from Paris to Brussels with our loud American hilarity.
But gods know I had the time to practice, and I got pretty good by the time I returned stateside. And I soon found that crafting filled a long-standing need: something to do with my hands as I sat watching TV. It worked even better during long roleplaying sessions. And while it made the guys at Gen Con decidedly uncomfortable when I’d pull out the alien apparatus of needles and fibers and dainty scissors along with my bag of dice and event ticket, I soon found that there were quite a few female gamers who enjoyed the same multi-geek-tasking. One of our long-standing gaming groups was a fairly even gender split: Jim and Shannon Butcher hosted, with Jim running Warhammer Fantasy RP one weekend, and Cam running his Elizabethan Cthulhu d20 hybrid on the opposite weekend, with Clark and Amanda Valentine forming the third stable couple; several of my grad school friends were also long-time players. At first glance, the dining table sent very mixed signals: was this a crafting bee with hex maps? a battle with minis, and the bright squiggles of discarded thread meant something? The girls’ rhythm of the game was easy to follow: we stitched until it was our turn, picked up the dice, rolled, announced, “4 hits, 1 crit, for 112 total. I kill it,” then resumed stitching. Jim called us his delicate flowers.
Jewelry making was more an accident than an act of desperation. Wrong store, right time, and I came out $64 lighter with a new hobby. It turned into a business when I got tired of people trying to buy my jewelry off my body in airports and ladies’ rooms, and I dragged two of my best girlfriends into it with me, for craft fairs and bonding. Thread and yarn on the battle mats switched for Soft Flex and beads, but the results were the same: we made pretty things, we killed monsters, the boys learned to comment supportively.
I don’t have a lot of pictures to show you of my handiwork, because I keep almost none of it for myself. Of the dozens of blankets I’ve crocheted, we own two; of the scarves and hats I’ve knitted, I’ve only kept one. My jewelry box is like the lesson of the shoemaker’s children going barefoot: I wear some of my oldest, most crappily made pieces, because the good stuff goes to art shows. But it brings me peace to make, and joy to see in the hands where it belongs. And the skills occasionally put me in the position to pull of the Great Work of Ninja, such as the last-minute bag for the groom’s glass at our friends’ wedding, a rather spiffy feat of engineering and style if I do say so myself, or the ring pillow with a cross-stitched centerpiece that could be detached and made into a decorative mat within a picture frame.
I know craft geeks are legion, and we find each other in the most wonderful and unexpected ways. My favorite craft geek encounter was in the prep for my own wedding. Our baker had asked us if we had a cake topper for her to use, and we bashfully admitted that we wanted to procure two wind-up Godzilla toys instead. She sighed dreamily, and said, “*Oh*, I just *love* Godzilla.” When we returned for the last consult before the wedding, she reached beneath the table, blushing, and said, “I hope you don’t mind, but I got a little carried away …” And another craft ninja gave us one of the best pieces of our wedding day: two wind-up Godzillas, one with a dainty veil, the other quite dapper in a top hat and kilt. [picture forthcoming]