"I've broken my parents down," Vickey said. "I'm the youngest of three. They've finally gotten used to the idea that I'm a collector of useless degrees." Like those of most high-achieving Asian American kids, Vickey's trajectory was set from the start. At Walnut High she hung with the Honors crowd, the future doctors, lawyers, engineers. She got a degree in film from UCLA, then a master's from USC, then several well-paying Industry jobs. She moved into a cute West Hollywood apartment with her longtime lawyer boyfriend. It seemed like the perfect life.
But it wasn't. "I wanted to do something that I enjoyed and that made me happy, and I remembered how good it felt to do something with my hands. The eighth grade was the first time I made something with a sewing machine," she said. She had always crafted during her childhood. For a while she wasn't crafting, and for a while she was depressed. Crafting, she decided, is the ultimate antidepressant.
On this sweltering Saturday Vickey shuttled back and forth between the bedroom and crafting room, checking for e-mails, sewing in spurts. The set-up seemed makeshift, like a work in progress. The layout of a life not quite yet figured out. On the verge. She plopped a large piece of cardboard on top of the bed to cut cloth on, next to the Husqvarna. Piled in every corner were boxes of stuff. Stuff still unpacked from her former apartment, but also bolts of fabric printed with butterflies or stripes or flowers. Velvet and chiffon and tweed. Stickers and note cards and baggies of buttons shaped like roses. A rainbow of thread. Spools of ribbon. "When I'm feeling uncreative, I come here and sort through this drawer and randomly put stuff together." She knelt down in front of a plastic organizer bin filled with pre-cut squares of cloth. You could pass a whole day in this fashion. Days that would turn into weeks, that would turn into months. In the midst of this nest of possibility was a clear patch of carpet, just enough space for a human or a dog to sit down, stand up and turn around.
Click on any crafter's website, and you can follow the links down a rabbit's hole into a bustling homemade world. The word in cyberspace this summer was that a supercrafter named Susan Beal had moved to L.A. Susan Beal, otherwise known as "SusanStars," was all over the place, literally and figuratively. She commuted regularly between here and Portland but had grown up in North Carolina. She wrote "Monster Mash: How to Sew Polar Fleece Monsters" for a fabric store's in-house magazine; "Chains of Love: Jewelrymaking" and "Buy Curious: How to Buy a Sewing Machine" for Bust magazine; "Fly Girl," an article on bird appliques, for Venus; "Seeding a Business: How to Be Your Own Huckster" for ReadyMade magazine. She was also the official West Coast Crafty columnist for Getcrafty.com. At 31, Susan was the epitome of the one trait that all crafters have in common: By definition, a crafter is a \o7doer\f7. It takes a certain kind of person to hand-knit a scarf--monster pattern or not.
"It's so nice by the pool," Susan was saying. She lives in a modest apartment complex with a pool in the middle in Los Feliz. "Just having some water nearby is soothing." She said it so earnestly and so charmingly that you'd have thought she was talking about the pool at the Ritz rather than the tiny, leaf-strewn kidney bean a stone's throw from the curb, where someone had abandoned a sink, a mattress and a cat-scratched sofa. The neighborhood reminded me of the humble origins of the most famous crafter of all, who grew up in backwater Nutley, N.J., and now rules an empire--Martha Stewart is a notorious doer as well.
Susan's skirt was appliqued with a yarn ball and two knitting needles and the motto "knit or die." She was working on the veil for her wedding. Her wedding dress was a throwback to the 1960s, in bright bubble-gum pink. Various completed projects were scattered about the living room: a quilted "laptop cozy"; homemade lip balms; a sweater whose arms had been drawn and quartered into a matching set of gauntlets, wristlets and CD pouch.
"Learning how to sew on a machine as an adult was like getting a new superpower," Susan said. She has a book of projects coming out that was co-written with three other crafters based on that very idea. The four are drawn on the back cover as superheroes, with go-go boots and capes a-flying. Among other things, they discuss how to make leg warmers for your dog, curtains for your car, a bike helmet cozy in the form of a ladybug, and five kinds of nipple "pasties."