1/17/2013 - When I walk into the Ravel Rousers Knitting Guild meeting in Derry, Donna Mosco tells me not to worry about taking my shoes off; she has a heavy-duty rug that’s easy to clean. The guild’s knitting meetings usually take place at the Marion Gerrish Community Center in Derry, but since it’s New Year’s Day, Mosco has invited guild members to meet at her house.
I slip off my boots anyway, out of habit, but also because there’s a pile of snowy boots sitting at the door. I don’t want to be the girl who gets everyone’s socks wet by tramping snow through the house.
As I walk in, I’m greeted warmly by nine women, all of whom are clutching a pair of knitting needles or a dessert, which Mosco says are a must at every meeting. I’m also greeted by the real reason for the giant shoe pile at the door.
Beautiful socks, in rainbow stripes, in polka dots, in zig zags and pretty patterns. I half wish I’d kept my snowy boots on, because my socks look like rags sewn together next to these hand-knit creations.
But, they tell me, the socks, and everything else they knit, are just a bonus — it’s the process that really matters. Some people knit to keep their hands busy and out of the cookie jar; others channel their anxiety directly into their knitting needles.
And it’s not just knitting that has this power. People who knit, bead, carve, tangle or do any kind of craft usually take it up because of the benefits they reap during the process: relaxation, time to refocus and, oftentimes, a zen-like state of mind where daily aggravations cease to exist. Many crafters describe the same sensation that artists, athletes and those who practice yoga describe; they “get in the zone,” when they work.
“I enjoy other crafts like knitting and weaving, but I think that people really connect with one craft on a fundamental level, whether that be glass, clay, metal...” said Deb Fairchild, an artist and teacher with the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen.
For her, it’s beading.
“It’s a place where I find a lot of patience. It helps me regroup and refocus and get in touch with myself,” she said.
With benefits like these, maybe it’s time to find your own take-me-away craft.
Are you fit to knit?
The ladies at Ravel Rousers Knitting Guild say knitting is the ultimate social craft.
Or at least, it is the way they knit. They meet every other week to socialize and work on their projects. Usually. (Sometimes it’s hard to pay attention when you’re knitting a complex pattern.)
Amy Huntemann is one of the newer members of the group. She began knitting about six years ago when she signed herself and her mother up for knitting classes through Derry Adult Education. It was difficult at first.
“I couldn’t even hold the needles right. I finished with this weird shape that didn’t look like anything,” Huntemann said.
Having lessons — taught by a knitting professional or by someone you know — can be very helpful in terms of learning technique. Once you become comfortable with the craft, the possibilities are endless: cell phone covers, bags, purses, dolls, stuffed animals, and sweaters for your teddy bears, your wine bottles, your koozies, your slippers. But Huntemann credits part of her development to knitting in a group.
“If you’re stuck on something, you can bring it in and get help on it,” she said.
Plus, said Dana Nelson, another guild member who often knits commissioned pieces, you’ll learn new, sometimes better ways to do things, even if you’re not a beginner.
Friends and family members, especially, appreciate knowing a driven knitter.
“People have a better appreciation for handmade things,” Huntemann said.
Her niece and nephew are constantly playing with the dragon puppets she made them because “Aunt Mam-ee” made them.
“You’re also going to end up with exactly what you want.”
Her husband, for instance, asked her to make a chicken hat for him. Where else are you going to find a chicken hat? Nowhere. You have to make it.
There are some patterns that are easy enough that you can do while talking, watching TV, in the car, or, Nelson said, while reading. Others require more concentration.
“I find knitting to be relaxing because I can knit and think about the baby, relative or friend for whom I am knitting,” Mosco said. “The repetitive action, especially on a familiar pattern, provides time to daydream or think about upcoming plans.”
For Mosco, knitting is “me” time: “Keeping my hands busy is never on my mind. Real life keeps my hands busy enough. Knitting is a time just for me and my thoughts of past memories, today’s joys and tomorrow’s possibilities.”
It’s zen (tangle)
In your Zentangle kit, you get a pen, two pencils, a pencil sharpener, a couple of Zentangle tiles, some Zentangle patterns and, if you’re lucky, a piece of raspberry chocolate—that’s if you’re taking a Zentangle class with Diane Ryan.
But the most important thing to know about Zentangle, said Ryan, an instructor at a E.W. Poore weekly Zentangle class, is that it’s not about the result. Don’t even think about what your Zentangle pattern will look like until it’s done. Zentangle is all about the process, she said.
But the result is pretty cool, too. Zentangle is an art form created with pen and ink on a 3 ½ by 3 ½ Zentangle “tile.” In this tile, Zentanglers create repetitive patterns: checkers, squares, circles, lines, swirls, loops and geometric shapes. These lines are called “tangles,” and the 3-inch square is standard Zentangle form, small enough to not be intimidating, big enough to feel like you’ve created a piece of art.
In this piece of art, lines twist and cross-hatch one another, creating boxes, shades and eye-popping forms. It almost looks like a black and white blanket made for one of Tim Burton’s characters, intricate and rich with patterns and textures. But the best part about Zentangle is that it’s so easy to do.
“The pattern is broken down, one line at at time,” Ryan said. So much so that Zentangle itself becomes a meditative process. “When you use the repetition, the right and left side of your brain, it takes you to a meditative state,” and you become so lost in the repetitive pattern that when you’re finished, you don’t even know how it happened.
This art form is slowly but surely making its way across the globe. Sixteen countries, including New Zealand, Taiwan and India, all have Zentangle teachers in them, as do 44 states. The creators of this artform are Massachusetts residents Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas, both artists in different areas before taking up Zentangle.
Thomas was a letter artist, Roberts, a musician and flute artist.
It was 2003 that Thomas and Roberts had a “lightening” moment. Roberts had barged into the studio Thomas was in while she was working on an illuminated letter that comprised of patterns and shapes. She hadn’t moved from her chair for five hours.
“It was a beautiful afternoon, and I was in a great place. When he barged in, I had no idea where I was,” Thomas said. “I started relating and describing the experience I had to Rick.”
Roberts, who had spent 17 years traveling as a monk, responded, “That’s meditation.”
It’s different from any art they did before.
“The difference here is that it’s a combination of freedom and limits put together,” Roberts said.
People have taken so much to Zentangle that some people have actually called it a “gateway drug to art,” he said. People see what they can do here and find the confidence to try other modes of art, too, Roberts said.
Zentangle classes are popping up in art studios all over the New Hampshire. It’s why kids have gravitated toward the art, and why students kept asking Rebecca Fredrickson if she would begin to offer Zentangle classes at her Nashua art studio, Becks Arts Express.
Thomas and Roberts have made it easy to learn, even if you don’t have available formal lessons nearby; their website, zentangle.com, contains newsletters, blogs and YouTube videos with directions, and a directory of Certified Zentangle Teachers (CZT).
Suzanne Binnie, a Hollis resident, started tangling two years ago. She’s a trained painter, so she was at first skeptical about Zentangle; it was one of her students who convinced her to try the new art form.
“I immediately fell in love with it,” said Binnie, who has tangled every day for the past two years. Tangling (the verb form of Zentangle) helps her relax.
KC Morgan, one of the owners at Wild Salamander, found the art really appeals to kids. Her own daughters have started tangling everything, from canvas bags to treasure boxes.
“It’s been a huge hit with the 10-and-up crowd,” Morgan said. “But now even the 9-year-olds are asking for it.”
One of the most important rules in Zentangle: no erasers.
“There is no eraser in life and there is no eraser in a Zentangle kit,” Roberts and Thomas wrote on the website.
The beauty of making a mistake in Zentangle, Binnie said, is that through the mistake, you’ll come up with a new pattern.
“It takes your system into the zone,” Binnie said.
She tangles every night for 15 minutes before she goes to sleep, which helps her mind settle before she shuts her eyes.
“I have a little anxiety, and when you do this, you really relax,” she said.
She teaches Zentangle classes at Wild Salmanadar Arts center, where she’s introduced students to tangling outside the three-inch tile, having recently held a pumpkin Zentangle workshop.
21st Century Scrappy Ladies
There are two misconceptions that Liz Ellingwood and Mandy Sliver, founders of Yankee Scrapper Girls, would like to clear up. One is that scrapbooking is expensive.
Scrapbooking hit big in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which is when companies started manufacturing high-tech scrapbooking tools, intricate scrapbooking paper and a wealth of scrappy gadgets that, for the most part, you don’t even really need, Sliver and Ellingwood say. You don’t have to buy $5 paper to scrapbook.
Another misconception: that you need to be artsy or creative.
“One thing people always say to me is, ‘I’m not creative. I can’t do that.’ The truest definition of scrapbooking is sticking a memory on a page, be it photos, ribbons from your prom dress, a ticket stub,” Ellingwood said.
Ellingwood runs a scrapbooking consulting business out of her home, and Sliver ran her own scrapbooking shop until 2010, when she was forced to close. They knew each other because they were in the scrapbooking business, but they didn’t come together as the Yankee Scrapper Girls (yankeescrappergirls.com) until 2010.
This is the first time they’ve held classes in Manchester, but they’ve already drawn in about 11 new scrappers. Scrapbooking, as with almost any craft, is more fun when you’re doing it with a group of people, they said.
“When you get stuck, I can show whatever I’m working with to Mandy, for instance, and she’s going to look at it with a fresh set of eyes. It’s almost like a quilting bee, too, with the socialization aspect,” Ellingwood said.
Plus, at these parties you’ll have a whole mess of fancy tools to use, like a cricut machine (which uses a blade to cut out designs and enables you to cut out images); circle punches and square punches; idea books; and a sizzix machine.
If you’re not a paper-and-scissors kind of person, digital scrapbooking is the the next up-and-coming thing. Ellingwood and Sliver recommended Creative Memories (creativememories.com), where you can design your scrapbooks online and custom-order.
“There is something to be said about cutting paper, matching things up and measuring them [in traditional scrapbooking]; digital scrapbooking is a different kind of creative outlet,” Sliver said.
But the nice thing about digital scrapbooking is that you can do it anywhere. You don’t have to make a mess. And, if you want, you can order multiple copies of the finished product for friends or relatives. There are still so many people that dislike it because of the fact that you stare at a computer screen all day.
“But I just see it as bringing in more people to the craft,” Ellingwood said.
You’re connecting generations that might not have ever had the chance to connect before.
“It’s not so much about the products and the embellishments and making everything pretty,” Ellingwood said. “It’s about getting your story down. My father died in 1997, and my daughter was born in 2001.She never met him. Through scrapbooks, she can look at those photos and see that her Grandpa Soley was in the Navy and liked beer and was an avid Yankees fan and had dogs. She has a connection with him, even though she never met him.”
Bead it. (Just bead it.)
The best part about beading, said Donna Nordlund, is that you’ll leave with exactly what you want.
“One woman came in last week to create jewelry to match an outfit she was wearing to a wedding,” Nordlund said.
The shop is like a candyland for beaders, with beads of every size, shape, color, texture, make, it might be overwhelming for a beginning beader who doesn’t know exactly what she (or he) wants. Which is why Donna and her daughter, Chris, scattered inspiration jewelry throughout the store to help generate ideas. Some beads are as small as a grain of rice, some as large as a pool ball.
But perhaps the most inspiring creation you’ll see in the shop is Beadopatra and her pet camel, Watusi. Beadopatra is a mannequin decorated entirely of beads, from her bead-laced hair to the swirling patterns of lime green, turquoise, cobalt blue, moss green and bubble gum pink ant-sized beads that coat her entire body. This took her an entire winter to make, Nordlund said.
Of course, if you want to create something intricate, you might have to take one of many classes they offer: Chain Mailles, Dutch Spiral, Flat Spiral, Herringbone, Kumihime, Macrame, Peyote, Chevron, Netting, spiral rope, the St. Petersburg chain, to name a few.
Deb Fairchild, beading teacher with the League of N.H. Craftsmen, says once you get over the initial hurdle — picking your beads, learning the craft, and getting over the initial anxiety, you get into a soothing and therapeutic place.
“It’s a place where you can relax and get away from stress,” Fairchild said.
For beginners, it will usually take 45 minutes to an hour before you get the hang of it. She was a knitter before she was a beader.
“If you like things like knitting or needlepoint (which are also, she adds, things you can include beads in), you might like beading,” Fairchild said. “It’s satisfying when life gets really crazy … But for me, beading also makes me think of where we came from. I like the notion of engaging in an activity that people have been engaged in for thousands of years.”
Keep it glassy
Some crafts, such as creating stained glass pieces, are less repetitive. It’s less about getting into a pattern as it is about keeping a steady hand and practicing. It’s a craft that can be frustrating, said Mark Frank, one of the owners at Renaissance Glassworks — some people come in once and decide that they’d rather purchase the glass than make it — but at the same time, it’s also something that he and a number of his students have found addicting.
There are tools and materials that you need, and so the best way to learn would be going to a place like Renaissance Glassworks (in the Picker Building, 99 Factory St., Nashua, renaissanceglass.com). They usually host three classes at once, every five weeks.
In this craft, the result is certainly a draw — the studio itself is speckled with items for sale, works in progress and glass to choose from in every color imaginable. The best-looking pieces are usually always going to the be ones hanging against the window.
“People like having a hands-on, creative outlet, and when you’re done, you really have something to show for it,” Frank said. “There’s something about turning raw materials into something of value.”
He co-owns the business with his wife, Kathy Frank, which they started in the ‘80s. They were one of the few stained glass companies to survive the struggling economy. They specialize in custom-designed stained glass, perform restorations/repairs and teach classes.
It starts with a pattern. Glass is purchased in large, rectangular sheets. Some are manufactured, some handmade. Wildflowers, birds and nature scenes are popular patterns among New Hampshire residents, but Kathy and Mark Frank provide a template for you your first time. Step one: cut out the pattern shapes. If you don’t get it exactly right at first, you’ll smooth it with a grinder. Before you solder, the shapes should fit together like a puzzle.
Then, you solder the pieces together. In your first class, you’ll use the copper foil method (see box). This means before you solder, you need to attach a copper tape to the edges of shapes, so that when you finally solder, the foil will stick to the copper.
What’s the hardest part about glass fusion?
“All of it,” joked Mark and Kathy Frank’s son Kyle, who regularly works in the Nashua studio.
“We get the same rewards as our students. It’s great to create things of beauty, and to see the finished piece at the end. A lot of times it’s functional as well: we make stained glass mirrors, boxes, etc.,” Mark Frank said.
Wood carving caricatures
When Joe Marshall started woodcarving 30 years ago, he carved birds. That’s what the class specialized in, and so that’s what he learned first.
But he hasn’t made one in 16 years. The last one he made was a life-sized loon, a gift to his daughter. It took so long to make (two years) that he stopped carving birds and started carving Santa statues instead.
He and Jim Thompson meet every month to carve together in Marshall’s basement. Their weekly meeting is one of the only wood carving meet-ups that they know of (their group is called Nashua Woodcarvers; the group used to be much bigger than it is now), but if you’re going to start out, it certainly helps to work with people who carve, too.
“I think a lot of people still carve in New Hampshire but just don’t do it as part of a group,” Thompson said, who has been carving for about 20 years now.
Wood carving involves a little woodworking, a little whittling. Most of the items they create are taken from patterns in books and magazines, but the caricatures are particularly nice to make because if you mess up, it’s okay—it’s supposed to look a little silly.
Usually, the first step is to trace the stencil of the item you’re making on a block of wood (how big depends on the size of the item itself). Then, cut the shape out with a bandsaw. (Some professionals and businesses actually do this “roughed out” part for you, Marshall said.) There are a few different approaches in how you start out, but no matter what, you need to make at least the basic shape of the item you’re carving before you do anything with a smaller knife.
“I enjoy carving; what I like is the challenge of trying to pull the piece out of the wood,” Marshall said.
It can be relaxing or frustrating depending on how things are going. In his experience, those people who have artistic training of some sort seem to take to woodcarving more easily, but as with anything, the more you practice, the better you’ll get.