The Craft Drawers
We moved into an apartment that had a “sun room.” When we moved in, a year and a half ago, it seemed like the sun room would be the room where we would spend the most time; we moved some plants in there and this little breakfast nook table that we bought for slightly too much money at Salvation Army. I put my desk in the sun room, and with my desk came all its accouterments: the big printer I invested in when I was a teacher; my boxes of Neutrons/ Protons print editions; metal caddies for glue sticks and scissors; the typewriter; and, of course, my craft drawers.
I bought the drawers themselves at the Red White and Blue thrift store in New Orleans for $1.99. They’re cheap because they’re made out of cardboard and vinyl; nothing really significant was going to hold up inside. But I fell in love with them because they were yellow and plaid, and I figured that I could use them to grow a collection of craft things.
I’d been reading craft books, and I had this image in my head of the kind of girl who did crafts all day long. She had tons of old game board pieces; she always had homemade granola bars on hand. She had really cool tattoos: like tattoos of envelopes or paper cranes or illustrations from Shel Silverstein’s “The Missing Piece.” She had a septum piercing and she wore a dress like Donna Reed. She had bangs. She was always laughing, could quote every Natalie Wood movie, and had a hot almost-famous musician boyfriend. I thought if I gathered enough craft supplies I would be transformed into this MPDG* fantasy — maybe even overnight.
My friend Leah was the closest real-life iteration to my fantasy craft girl. She had a ton of tattoos, and a septum piercing (I think), and she once decorated a bookshelf with robin’s egg blue paint, cut-out images from 1940s children’s books, and some industrial-grade Mod Podge. I worshipped her. In New Orleans, Leah started hosting a Crafternoon (CUTEST NAME EVER! I WAS DYING!), and, dream come true, she invited me.
The Crafternoon years were probably where things got a little out-of-hand. I started acquiring way more stuff than my cardboard craft drawers would accommodate. I had a steady job and paycheck for the first time in my life, so I (quite rationally, I thought) purchased anything and everything that might translate into a cool craft. When I saw craft instructions in a magazine, I’d immediately go online and buy all the necessary supplies without any immediate intention of making the actual craft. This is how I ended up with a pound of beeswax, 30 packets of beet powder, 20 sets of clock movement, and a hoard of items from the website tinythingsarecute.com.
But I liked buying supplies more than I had the capacity to do projects. I kept telling myself that someday I wouldn’t be working full time and I’d have the energy to make all the things I’d always wanted to make. Maybe I would start a felting business, I told myself. Or I’d make jewelry. (After all, I had the felt, and all the jewelry tools). As long as I kept everything sorted, someday I’d be able to really have a hobby-slash-lifestyle making crafts.
I did make a bunch of Scrabble tile earrings one Christmas; another year I learned how to iron vinyl onto the backs of road maps so they could be sewn into wallets. Otherwise, though, the crafts and the craft drawer fell into disuse. My New Orleans friends shifted around, and we stopped making time for Crafternoons. (There were boyfriends to tend to and parties to go to and rallies to organize.) In the drafty Toulouse Street house, where outdoor pests were an inevitability that came with the warm weather, I found one day that cockroaches had chewed through most of the crayons, and through the bottoms of some of the drawers.
Still, when we moved to Chicago, I took the drawers. I still had a faint notion that I was saving all this stuff — the glitter, the patches, the gemstones, the playing cards, the vintage bird decals — for some other life I was going to lead someday.
It wasn’t until a few weeks ago, when I was cleaning out my desk drawers to prepare for Open Studio Night at school, that an overdue realization hit me: The day when I became Craft Girl Fantasy was never going to come. It was never going to come because I was already living the best life I could imagine. Being in a graduate program at an art school probably allowed me the most flexible to the timeframe I’d need to make crafts all day and all night. And I didn’t want to make crafts. My precious stacks of scrapbooking paper weren’t doing anyone any favors in these forgotten drawers.
So I decided I wanted to have some friends over and take the drawers out and tell people to make whatever they wanted. I wanted to use all the things I had been saving**. I wanted to give away the treasures I’d held onto, thinking that by owning them I was readying myself for something glittering and distant. Then I got sick, and I couldn’t manage to get an invitation out.
But yesterday my friend Rebecca came over, and we put on the winter music and I took the craft drawers out and lay them on the table. We made cards and envelopes. We used some of the stuff I’d been saving — I felt a little pull at my chest when a whole page of bird decals got glued down on the inside of one card (they’d been so valuable to me — but why?). There was a precious dental model set of false teeth in a mustard yellow paper box that I valued more than almost anything else I owned, although I didn’t really have a reason. I kept thinking the were going to be a part of some incredible project someday. “You should just take them out of the drawer and put them on display for people to see them,” Rebecca said. “That is enough.”
We unwound four hours trying to gut the drawers. In the end, we didn’t really even make a dent. I put the drawers back at the end of the day and couldn’t believe how full they still were, given all the work we’d done to empty them out. At least the initial step had been taken: this was the first time I’d let anyone use my precious craft materials. I’d thought that possessing them made me happy; in fact, it made me so much happier to see them being used.
The sun room is kind of ironically named, because it doesn’t get any sun, and it’s the only room in the house that’s not heated. Since Chicago is cold so much of the year, we don’t go in there very often. I never sit at that desk anymore. All the plants that we had such high hopes for on the sill have died.
But I’m going to reclaim the crafts drawer. Or, rather, I’m going to repurpose it. I will relinquish it from its long-held duties as a treasure chest; from now on, it will be an opportunity to feel the joy of letting go.
*Manic Pixie Dream Gir
** I mean hoarding. In a way that wasn't cute. Like Gollum, but less cute.