To date, my do-it-yourself (DIY) efforts have been limited to a white T-shirt enhanced with some fabric markers (easy); six pairs of quirky beaded earrings that refused to hang gracefully from the lobe (challenging); and three botched attempts at sewing a button back on a skirt (pathetic).
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Though I have caught the DIY bug that is steadily, increasingly sweeping the nation — the growing desire to do it ourselves has given birth to a TV network dedicated to self-propelled projects as well as publications like ReadyMade and Make — I’m not quite sure what to do with it.
My innate craftiness seems to be limited by an unsteady hand and sporadic bursts of inspiration that are fond of hitting me while I’m changing my son’s diaper or drying fragile wine glasses — when I can’t take a note or sketch an image. But that’s just an excuse. The truth is, I spend time beating myself up for buying a simple summer dress that I really could have made or wishing I had the skills to refinish a rustic kitchen table set like my friends have so easily done — instead of actually trying to do those things.
People are motivated to do it themselves for a bunch of good reasons. The finicky economy may have given you the push to re-upholster that living room chair your grandmother gave you instead of hiring a professional to do the job. Or maybe you spent part of an afternoon repairing the hole in your rubber rain boots so they’ll spend more time on your feet and less time in an already overcrowded landfill. There are DIYers who make their own clothes or furniture or stuffed animals to ensure that the finished product will be a true original. And there are those who create and construct and repair because the simple act of doing so brings a kind of satisfaction that can’t be found from carrying something home from the store.
Diana Rupp, founder of NYC’s Make Workshop and author of “Sew Everything Workshop,” lists 10 reasons why she sews in her book. Reasons three (I can make what I really want, how I want), five (I can relax and de-stress) and six (I can take pride in a practical skill) are tempting enough to get me to sign up for one of Rupp’s superpopular classes. But juggling work, baby and an ever-shrinking amount of leisure time, I’m motivated most by the de-stressing stuff. “The process of making something is meditative; your heart rate actually slows,” Rupp explained. “Our daily lives are so harried — we’re often overwhelmed. If you can take a few hours to make something, it’s like taking a minivacation.”
Ahhh. I can escape by doing nothing more than making a skirt? And a bag and a dress it seems. Rupp’s Fashion Lab class — participants graduate with a handcrafted skirt, bag and dress — is continually sold out. And while the student body has changed over the years (Make started in 2002), the enthusiasm has only gotten stronger.
“When I first started I got lots of hipster young girls,” says Rupp. “Now I get a lot of ladies who just want to learn. They don’t identify themselves as ‘crafty.’ They think of it more like a life skill. I teach all kinds of people — stockbrokers, surgeons and stay-at-home moms.”
DIY and you
Whether you’re intent on renovating your kitchen or sewing your curtains or making a set of bangle bracelets, technology has made it easier than ever to find tips and suggestions for the DIY project that’s currently occupying your time. Cyberspace has also given dedicated crafters a forum for their work. For me, no Web site exemplifies the heart and soul of the DIYer more than Etsy.com. A liaison between those who make handcrafted goods and those who buy them, the site launched in 2005 with three employees in a Brooklyn apartment and has since grown to more than 70 employees and 2.8 million members.
Etsy provides a community for those who love to create while helping them turn a profit from their handiwork. Adam Brown, a spokesperson for the company, attributes Etsy’s success to the gratification we get from making something. “I think that there is a feeling of satisfaction that’s hard to match when you are holding something that you have created with your own two hands,” he says. “The process of making something can be an almost spiritual experience for some people, where they lose track of time and the outside world because they are completely immersed in their work. I’ve heard many people say that they can’t imagine not making things, that they are driven by an internal force that defies description.”
I wonder if sewing a button on correctly can be a transcendental experience?
Marisa Belger is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience covering health and wellness. She was a founding editor of Lime.com, a multiplatform media company specializing in health, wellness and sustainable living. Marisa also collaborated with Josh Dorfman on “The Lazy Environmentalist” (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang), a comprehensive guide to easy, stylish green living.
Please note: Neither Marisa Belger nor TODAYshow.com has been compensated by the manufacturers or their representatives for her comments or selection of products reviewed in this column.
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