Crafting is self-care. Crafting is family care, too. And women throughout history have known it and passed it down. This summer, I want to reconnect with myself, my crafts, and my community.
A woman sat in my house two hundred years ago and knit a sweater for her child. Today I sat on my sofa, watching reruns of “The Office” and knitting a sweater for my child. In my home – almost 300 years old – generations of women have used their hands to create clothes for their families and decor for their homes.
The hobby I learned from my mom as a child has made me part of a tradition that spans history: creating useful, everyday household art by women’s hands. It is the very definition of practical magic.
I learned to knit from my mom, who learned from her grandmother. I don’t remember ever seeing my mom sit down to watch TV without having some sewing or knitting in her lap. She made dresses for me (and my Barbies), long skirts with pinafores back when Holly Hobbie and” Little House on the Prairie” were legit fashion muses. She made me weirdly mismatched Snoopy mittens one Christmas that I loved and immediately lost.
During times in my lower-middle-class childhood when we were short on money, my mom made things like homemade soap and knitted washcloths for our relatives for the holidays instead of store-bought things. She would put the homemade gifts into wooden boxes my father built and painted in his workshop, with special designs for every family member. I remember thinking it seemed like a lot more effort and care than the beautiful, glossy, store-bought things we got in return.
Even though she taught me to knit and sew, it wasn’t until I was out of college and working in my first corporate job that the urge to make something struck me again. You know that scene in “Pretty Woman” where Richard Gere as Edward bemoans that his company doesn’t “build anything, [doesn’t] make anything”? That’s how I felt.
I wanted to use my hands to make something real that I could see. I needed it.
As an adult looking back, I realized that my mom hadn’t chosen those crafts just because she had to. While we had little money, yarn was as expensive as store-bought clothes. She decided to create the things she did because she needed to be creative after long hours at work. She needed crafting as self-care, and I realized I did, too.
And so I re-taught myself to knit, then sew, then embroider. I knit socks for the man who became my husband, so his feet would be warm during the NYC winter. I knit my dad a hat to wear when he received chemo at the end of his life. I sewed Christmas ornaments for my childhood friend’s first tree with his new wife. I knit my best friend some mittens to wear to climate change protests. I started to knit sweaters and sew bibs for the babies my friends were having. And I took crafting as self-care seriously, making myself fun berets and fingerless gloves that no store could ever have.
Then the time came for me to knit something for my own kids. And even as good as it felt to make something for all the other people I loved, something about making a coming home outfit for my own child felt like special magic. I imagined weaving a spell of love and protection into every stitch I made; it felt like I could make them happy – make them safe – with every movement of my fingers.
I also thought about how my kids would remember me. My friend Christina wrote about facing her own mortality and choosing what made objects she could leave her husband and daughter when she was gone. What would they have from me, made by my hands, to hang on to?
Did the women who came before us think the same? Did the woman who knit the sweater by the fireplace – maybe just a few feet away from where I sit now – before America was even born also will every stitch she made to be full of a mother’s magic and protection? Did she need crafting as self-care back then, too, sewing impossibly fine flowers on a skirt after an exhausting day of colonial life?
Being part of a whispering echo of history is just one of the reasons I love making things for my family. But crafts have also become a form of self-care I can’t do without. After years of pandemic living full of chaos and anxiety, being able to focus on the next stitch in front of me was something I didn’t know I needed. Taking this time for myself makes me better as a mom, wife, and employee.
You can get started as a maker — and even involve your kids in everyday crafts on rainy days this summer to get them on the path, too!