( the handmade life )

Gendy Alimurung is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles

The rebels leading the new craft revolution like to crochet bunny skulls. They hand-pour soaps in the shape of raw steak. They stitch fuzzy purple iPod cozies with the faces of monsters. They are young. They are girls. Except when they are boys. Regardless of gender, they are ironic, and punk rock. They are tech savvy, yet nerdy about yarn, fur, fabric, paper and buttons. They feel the weight of the world on their shoulders, then design a bag to express it. They love nature--owls, naked mole rats and deer. They like pretend creatures too. They are masters of invention, reinvention. They reuse, repurpose, recycle. Something happened to traditional arts and crafts in the past few years. Like a gene exposed to the mutating radiation of the 21st century--the hundred-hour workweeks in front of computers, the informational warp speed, the outsourced sweatshops, the super-slick plastic fantastic--craft went weird. "Rock is dead," is the rebel battle cry. "Long live paper and scissors."

The revolution so far has been a quiet one, taking place in basements and cafes and bedrooms. On a hazy, sweltering Saturday in the perfect suburb of Walnut, Vickey Jang, designer, manufacturer, marketer and sole proprietor of BirdInASkirt.com, was in her workroom at her sewing machine, fighting crafter's block. "God!" she said. "I'll kill myself if I have to sew this seam again." But it could have been worse. Not too long ago, before she quit her job and devoted her life to craft, before she broke up with her boyfriend, before she moved back into her old room in her childhood home, she would have been manning a cubicle, staring at a computer screen, slowly going insane. Staring at a sewing machine--a fancy yellow Husqvarna--was infinitely better. "I love this sewing machine," she said. "It has flowers on it."

It had been a slow day. Most days in Walnut are slow. The Jang residence was immaculate--gleaming white tile, living room a sea of pristine blue carpet. The only exceptions were the mess in Vickey's bedroom and the room she had taken over as her workshop, formerly her sister's room. Next to the sewing machine was an empty tofu box repurposed as a pin repository. "Guess who brought that in," Vickey said. Mrs. Jang, who is old-school and Taiwanese, is a clean freak. She uses tofu boxes for everything: to hold sponges, to scoop dog food, to sprout plants. If the tofu people knew how much use the Jangs got out of their plastic boxes, she likes to joke, they would charge a whole lot more. Mrs. Jang had worried that Vickey would step on a stray pin. "Vickeeeeey!" she said. "Be careful! The needle will go into your vein, travel through your bloodstream and pierce your heart."

"Mom," Vickey sighed, "the needle is not going to pierce my heart."

Point your cursor over the picture of the bird on her website, and a skirt appears on the bird. Vickey's real pet, an African gray parrot, does not wear a skirt. The clothes and accessories on her website--all handmade--represent another life. There are fitted dresses in whimsical prints, with bows and ribbons and friendly buttons. There are A-line polka-dot skirts, and clutches in geeky chic, sexy librarian upholstery fabric. Handmade notebooks wrapped in origami paper, and beaded earrings and necklaces. Flowers of felt and pillows stitched with doves. "I don't wear clothes like this," Vickey said. "I suppose they are the clothes I wish I wore. This is the horse dress." She held up a sleeveless dress with a gray satin sash like a cummerbund. The dress was printed with running horses on a field of forest green. Once, Vickey's dad came in while she was sewing. He pawed through the finished clothes hanging in the closet. "Oh, this is nicely made," he said, appraising a small jacket. "Is it for a child?"

Girls from Japan love her style. They order often from her site. A woman from New York ordered several items--a jacket for fall, a blouse, one of the A-line skirts. Vickey often wonders what the people who order her clothes look like. What are their lives like? On the bed were pieces of a mauve satin jacket, waiting to be tailored. You would look nice in the horse dress, I said. She has long, straight black hair that falls in a river down her back. She is willowy slim in jeans and T-shirt. Vickey blushed. "No, no, no. Where would I wear it to? I have nowhere to go."

There is nowhere to go in Walnut if you are 32 years old and living at your parents' house. There are plenty of hills, a few cows, suburban homes as far as the eye can see. There is a grocery store and a 24-hour doughnut shop. Most of her friends from her former life live an hour's drive away, in the city. Instead, Vickey e-mails back and forth with other crafters she has befriended online, with a girl named Tracy--a glassworker--who goes by the handle "HappyOwl." Maybe the best thing about crafting is the sense that you're connected in some loose way to something bigger.

"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 doer. 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."

"When I'm doing business-related things, I sometimes have to take a break and make a shrine," Susan said. For Day of the Dead, she made a shrine out of her grandmother's old jewelry box. Inside was a gold chain with an ERA pendant. In the '70s her grandma had marched for the Equal Rights Amendment. "I didn't learn how to sew from her. She died before I got the chance. My mom, however, doesn't do anything crafty. It skipped a generation." She paused. "You know, you can make tiny shrines out of Altoids tins. I love those."

Susan says "love" a lot. And "fun." She loves the feeling that people have been doing crafts since time immemorial. She loves that when you're sitting around crafting, you'll start out talking about crafting, but then it will segue into something else. Something about your last vacation, or your family, or problems you're having with your boyfriend, and at the end of it, you've made a sweater. Sometimes she goes to estate sales and picks up abandoned projects, such as dresses that are half-finished, and then finishes them herself. It's about giving old things new life.

I said it looked like she had this whole crafty business thing figured out. She shook her head. "No. This is nothing. You should talk to Jean Railla," she said with awe. "She's a crafting rock star."

*

Jean Railla's getcrafty.com--the "home of the craftistas"--was the first website to bring together the new generation of crafters. And as William Morris had for the Arts and Crafts revival of the late 19th century, Railla, more than anyone, articulated its philosophy. Her 2004 manifesto, the book "Get Crafty: Hip Home Ec," set forth the tenets of the New Domesticity: "Part of crafting your life is not getting caught up in all the shoulds. If you don't want to bake muffins, then, by all means, don't bake muffins."

She elaborated in a phone call. "Because, as women, we have a lot more choices than our mothers and grandmothers did, we can approach domesticity without all the baggage. If we go back a hundred years, women had to hand-knit all the clothes for their families. Now, to actually take the time to hand-make something for ourselves becomes a luxury rather than a necessity."

Which is why the domestic arts are being rediscovered at all socioeconomic levels, from celebrities who knit to corporate lawyers who sew their own clothes to stay-at-home moms who make their own soap. The Hobby Industry Assn. has been tracking the recent rise of the industry, from $23 billion in 2000 to more than $25 billion in 2001 to $29 billion in 2002. Its 2002 study, the most recent available, reported that Americans spent more money on hobbies and crafts than on movie tickets, and that more than three-quarters of U.S. households had at least one member who was into crafting.

Railla, 35, a self-described "third-wave" feminist, lives in New York, and her voice over the phone was a no-nonsense, take-no-crap, girl-power voice. Before her craft conversion, she had hung out in Silver Lake's underground music scene, made music videos, slept on a futon on the floor. When she got a job with an Internet company and her own apartment, she fell in love with "the idea of the domestic." Some feminists, she said, have been upset by the new crafting trend. "Instead of stitching 'n' bitching, they say we should be organizing about pay equity. My response is that I don't know why one has to take away from the other."

Railla has been called part Martha Stewart, part Patti Smith. The Martha part is a reverence for making art out of everyday life, an almost spiritual connection to beauty and the home. The Patti part is about making quilts out of old rock concert T-shirts, about process rather than the end product. "If Martha is like Led Zeppelin, then the New Domesticity is like the Ramones," she said. "It's paring everything down to three notes. It's accessible. It's raw." The old domesticity had a lot of rules. If you didn't do it the right way, then you weren't a good woman, a good wife, a good mom. The New Domesticity is about possibility.

"Overall, there is a disdain for mass culture and mass production," Railla continued. "There's a subset of crafters who are very political. They're anti-sweatshop, anti-materialism, they're into consuming less. Politics do keep coming up, particularly for the early-20s kids, the ones just out of college. For the early-30s people, it's maybe more about beauty and art. A lot of Gen-Xers thought they were going to be artists. The reality of that is they're not. One of the ways around that is to be really creative in how you live your life. You're not an Artist with a capital A, you're a crafter. You get to make weird stuff."

*

There are 4,000 visits to getcrafty.com every day; 75,000 visits a month. People trade advice, gripe, yack about their craft-related injuries, share bits of wisdom heavily laced with irony or cleverness or sincerity.

"My prom is coming up and my bf [boyfriend] is in dire need of a skull pin. Crocheting is my thing so please help!"

"Starting my first Stitch and Bitch. Any suggestions?"

"I made sure to take pictures of us knitting and looking like not freaks."

"P.R.I.C.K. (The Punk Rock Institute of the Crafting Kind) is seeking men and women to participate in a monthly art exchange.... Guidelines: . . . Must be made of nonperishable materials (i.e., no food, fresh flowers, menstrual blood, poop)."

"Ugh! Must craft! Have you ever felt the NEED to make something but can't find the time? ... My boyfriend has gotten into making strange little voodoo-esque dolls, maybe I'll make some of those."

"Someone gave me a bunch of test tubes a while ago but I have no idea what to do with them . . . any ideas? Thanks."

"You could have a science party and do shots out of them."

"Put messages in them and send them out to sea. Or put messages in them and hand them out to sad looking strangers."

"[Use] magnets to stick them to the wall for flower vases."

"Test tube mezuzas!"

"Make babies! . . . ha . . . ha."

Elsewhere on Getcrafty.com, a U.K. crafter posted an article on how to make felt out of pet fur. On Supernaturale.com, a girl described how to make a blenderized solution of moss and beer that could be used to paint "moss graffiti." On Craftster.org, another girl shared a photo of a motor-driven yarn winder her boyfriend built for her, entirely out of Legos. Still elsewhere, someone posted a detailed pattern that could be used to knit a (somewhat) anatomically correct human womb: "I've taken a few liberties with the general shape and scale, as well as leaving out the ligaments. . . . And, of course, the human uterus is not normally bubble gum pink." A set of Duran Duran ofrenda altar candles. A battalion of toy army men holding up the glass top of a coffee table. A pillow shaped like a rice cooker. . . .

*

In the new cottage industry, the world wide web is the cottage. One of the few ways people in the cybercraft movement ever get to know each other in real life is at fairs. By chance, Vickey Jang of Bird In a Skirt and Tracy Bull of Happy Owl Glassworks landed in booths next to each other at last year's Bazaar Bizarre in L.A. Tracy was quiet and serious, and sort of weird, which I was learning could pretty much describe any crafter. For example, she had a thing about teeth. She saved her extracted wisdom molars and her husband's in a small box on a table next to the sofa. At one point, she went to a craft meeting to learn how to encase things in resin. Other people had brought glitter, but Tracy brought human teeth.

Her studio was actually the laundry room of her Silver Lake apartment, with a suitcase-sized kiln squeezed in. Tracy is known for her glass badges and night lights. The badges are squares the size of Scrabble tiles, featuring some sort of animal: a bat, squirrel, doe, snake, porcupine, naked mole rat, sea horse, a slender loris or even a puffer fish.

The images start as glass dust that is wiggled and poked into place with a toothpick or pin, particle by particle, until it resembles a bat or squirrel. "I like carnivorous, weird animals," Tracy was saying, which explained the glass platter in her bedroom depicting a turkey vulture lapping up a piece of road kill surrounded by flies. "Right now the public likes penguins. Sea horses and penguins." Nobody has yet bought the musk ox. "The musk ox," she said, "gets no love."

As she worked, I asked what was inside a small metal Chinese box on her windowsill. "Oh," she said, "I keep my dead bugs in there." She had a dry sense of humor, so I laughed. But then she uncapped the box and there was a dead moth. "I'd been saving this locust for so long," she said, frowning at a dome paperweight with an insect inside. "When I finally encased it, the resin cracked."

On her bedroom wall were prints made by another online crafter, a girl who goes by the name "I'm Smitten." As much as possible, crafters like to buy from each other as a show of support. "I can't believe how many people are on the forums, on Craftster, on Getcrafty, posting everywhere. I feel left out if I'm not in on it, but then I've never met these people anyway, so why should I feel left out? I try not to let it get to me," she said. "Most of the time I'm picturing something completely different from how they are in person. Most of the time, I'm wrong. To have a life and to have a life online is really hard."

She went on to say that she didn't like it much here in Los Angeles, though she'd only moved here two years ago, when she was 26. Like a lot of crafters, she had it bad for nature, to the point that she could see herself escaping into it. "Having a house with a studio in the back, away from the house, would be ideal," Tracy said. "Something deep in the woods or the forest. With lots of wilderness around, where I could work on my stuff at my leisure. I'll probably be moving soon. I don't know."

*

Recently, another online enterprise has attempted to unite the crafters, if not aesthetically, then economically. Etsy.com, a virtual marketplace specifically for handmade goods, was launched this summer. Robert Kalin, its creator, is still in his early 20s and missed out on the dot-com bomb. He brought together the heads of the two most popular free crafting forums, Jean Railla of Getcrafty and Leah Kramer of Craftster (motto: "No Tea Cozies Without Irony"), and brainstormed a crafters-only alternative to EBay. "It can be fairly difficult to set up an e-commerce site on your own. Plus, a lot of people had criticisms about EBay--your stuff gets buried under everyone else's, or the items didn't have the irreverent feel they were looking for," said Kalin. "We made Etsy because EBay has stopped innovating and keeps raising their fees. In a market where competition spurs innovation and price reductions, EBay has had little of one and none of the other." Plus, searching for items in a text-based format, he said, is so 1999. On Etsy you can search by color with a color-picker, or by geographic area with a map.

Kalin, an MIT dropout, thinks in metaphors: EBay is to Etsy as corporate agribusiness is to organic farming. EBay is Goliath; Etsy is David. EBay has 8,900 employees and Etsy has four, therefore EBay has mass, but Etsy has speed.

The Etsy office is actually a house in Brooklyn. The desks were built out of 4-by-4s in the woodshop next door. "Being able to hammer nails into wood reminds me that I'm building something that has to have a function," Kalin said. "These people are selling items that have love and care put into them. They are meaningful. They are innovative in ways that mass-produced items can never be." Kalin himself built a DIY (do-it-yourself) computer housed in an elegant wood and glass case. He listed it in Etsy's "Geekery" category.

In the digital photo he e-mailed me of the Etsy workspace, there were two kittens curled up on a windowsill on a cloudy, rainy day. When I asked him what his favorite listed item was, he sent me a link to a catnip toy: "I think it's the idea of an illicit attractor bundled up inside a cute protective outer layer."

*

On a Sunday, i went to the church of craft. a handful of congregants had commandeered the parlor of an old Mission Revival house in Mt. Washington that had been retrofitted into a cafe called the Mudpuppy. The Church of Craft has nothing to do with God. Rather, it is a loose collection of people who get together to crochet, or decoupage, or needlepoint, or quilt, or, in the case of the acting-Rev. Robert Fontenot, to stitch together as many dime-sized red silk ribbon flowers as humanly possible. Even though he was the one who sent out the e-mail notices and schlepped the bag of free crafting supplies, Robert was not the official reverend. That distinction belonged to Allison Dalton, but she had a toddler at home. Robert was lanky and droll and, like a young Oscar Wilde, seemed underwhelmed with, well, everything.

The tiny flowers that Robert was making were to be affixed--along with satin leaves--to giant 5-foot cursive letters that spelled out the word "ram." He had an art show up at a gallery in Long Beach, a series of intricate embroidery samplers spelling out words such as "slut," "bleed," "whore," "killer" and "abattoir." In his non-crafting life, Robert was studying accounting. When he wasn't studying, he was sitting on the couch making flowers out of ribbon. So far, he had made several thousand of them.

There was a quiet Asian girl sitting in a corner, teaching herself how to smock, and another girl with clunky art-chick eyeglasses and a Tofuzilla T-shirt knitting ferociously. Tracy, from HappyOwlGlass.com, was there with her friend Krissy Harris, a stuffed-monster maker, of BiggerKrissy.com. Tracy and Krissy were thick as thieves over a Japanese Gocco silk-screening machine--sort of like an overgrown Polaroid camera and copy machine combined. They loaded the Gocco with ink and screened a baby-doll T-shirt with the words: "He might still call. Really."

"I'm in love," said Robert. With the Gocco, he meant.

"This might be the answer to your problems," someone said.

"This might be the answer to everyone's problems," Robert corrected.

"Quitting smoking didn't change my life," said Krissy, "but the Gocco machine might." Krissy is a salty, feisty girl. She had once been a workaholic, go-getting business journalist. She had also once taken cheerleading classes. Robert thought that Krissy would have been the cheerleader teaching all the other cheerleaders how to smoke. I could picture it, even though Krissy now thought of herself as a reformed prepster. She had gone to Westlake School for Girls. What kind of crafts would a girl like that make? Online, Krissy was known for her furry monster plushies. But she loved the idea that she could shut down her website at any moment. "I hate it and I love it," she decided. "I was working 100 hours a week at a Web company. Then I found out I had lupus and lost my job," she confided, "so instead I made stuffed toys. I wanted them to be edgy because I was feeling sick and bitter and angry. But they kept coming out cute! I've been trafficking in cute my whole life, so I gave in. Crafting opened up a whole world for me--of friends who made each other toys, of people who got excited about stupid, simple things--when my own world had imploded."

BiggerKrissy's biggest problems were health-related. Her less-big problems had to do with the growing clique of online monster plushie makers. "A lot of the plushie makers are going vinyl," she mused. "It's a guy thing." Entire worlds are being created by the online stuffed-creature makers. When unscrupulous crafters copy other people's toys, it is tantamount to disrupting the ecology of those worlds. Krissy herself had created a universe of strange creatures where no two were alike. This, she said, was due more to her inability to replicate them than to any overt plushie philosophy.

At the other end of the parlor, Susan Beal was working on a fleece cupcake chew toy for dogs. She pulled out a copy of an article she had written for Jo-Ann Fabric & Crafts about how to make your own monster plushies. Krissy bristled. "Great," she said. "They're teaching people how to copy my dolls now. Wait a minute. Susan? Are you SusanStars? You crafty witch, you're SusanStars!" Krissy grinned. "I love SusanStars! Tracy," she said, all tension disappearing, "we should take SusanStars out to play bingo with us."

*

The next weekend, susan beal and I rode the subway to the garment district downtown, which is famous both for its sweatshops and for its 99-cent fabric. Susan was the only white girl on the Red Line. But with her long blond hair in braids, her pink sparkly earrings and Jackie O sunglasses, she probably would have stuck out anywhere.

"Oh my gosh!" she cried, noticing an MTA ad featuring a cheerful African American man in a business suit, knitting on the subway. "That rocks!" A giant ball of yarn was perched on the seat in front of him. "Make the most of your time," the ad read. "It's amazing what you can accomplish when someone else is driving." Even as a supercrafter, Susan's biggest stress was time and money. "More and more people are crafting and opening businesses," she said. "The Web boards move so fast now. It's like the sea is getting bigger and bigger, and the fish are multiplying."

We waded through an ocean of people to get to the Michael Levine fabric store. Susan bought cloth printed with glowy Virgins of Guadalupe, and some lime-green cotton with larger-than-life hands forming peace signs. "Can I get a yard of that when you're done?" asked a pretty young woman in line at the cutting table.

"Sure! What are you going to do with it?"

"I'm thinking of painting a shoe on it. A Nike shoe."

the original arts and crafts movement railed against mechanization. The very technology that was supposed to make life easier was killing the human soul, turning creative craftsmen into mindless laborers. There is nothing new under the sun.

Except the Internet. In one way the craft resurgence is a reaction against technology, but in another way it could not have happened without technology. "It's called the cybercraft movement," said Jean Railla. "One of the best things about it is that it's not just an urban, hip, L.A.-New York thing. All the states are represented." People are doing things communally, like knitting the same pattern at the same time and having a discussion forum about it.

Betsy Greer, an antiwar "craftivist," studied DIY culture for her sociology dissertation at Goldsmiths College of the University of London. She helped organize events such as group knits in museums and on subways. Instead of making doilies or sweaters, participants knitted hand-grenade pouches. Strangers would join the groups. People would ride past their regular stops. Greer predicts that eventually the hip crafting resurgence will go dormant. "There will always be an audience, though," she said. "Any trend will have people to maintain it."

Greer was back home this summer in North Carolina, living with her parents. "I'm thinking about working on a farm to learn traditional craft techniques," she said. "I want to learn to spin yarn, work with the sheep."

*

Vickey Jang's life so far has been defined by the search for meaningful work. Everybody tells her she needs to take her crafting to the next level. You shouldn't be doing this part anymore, said her grandmother, you should hire other people to sew for you. "My parents say I should take my designs to a factory. I mean, they had a factory. A chemical factory in Taiwan," Vickey said. "So I don't think they get it. Paul Frank is the crafting idol. But I just don't think that would be enjoyable. I couldn't bear it, the thought of little fingers in India or somewhere sewing my designs."

On a Friday evening, we had dinner at an Olive Garden. Her mother insisted on giving her some spending money. "I keep telling her this is the last time I am going to take money from her. God, it's too embarrassing." Vickey sighed. "I mean, how old am I? I think she feels sorry for me. She can tell when it's slow by how many packages I bring to the post office." On Etsy.com, a Bird In a Skirt item--an embroidered "tattoo pillow"--was a featured item, chosen by Leah Kramer, the founder of Craftster.org. Someone e-mailed Vickey about possibly stitching their name onto a similar custom pillow. "Where were you six months ago when I was in my embroidery phase?" said Vickey. "I'm gonna tell them no. Only the first copy is enjoyable." It is difficult to imagine a business model built entirely around one-offs, which is exactly what felled the original Arts and Crafts movement. But I suspect the spirit--the humanism, and the sense of subverting the things that would turn us into cogs in a machine--will remain.

Around midnight, Vickey decided to stop for the day. She had sewn a purse that would be going out in the morning. "I didn't do craft for political reasons," she said, stretching, "it just makes me feel good. And I can make a little bit of money off it. Not much, but some. I feel like I can actually finish something." So much in life has no endpoint. So much is uncertain. At least when you make a pillow, you know when you are done. We stood out on the driveway, barefoot. In Walnut, it gets dark enough to see the stars. "I like making one thing for one person," Vickey said. "After they get it in the mail, they write to me and tell me that they are happy. That's the best." From the backyard, her dog, banished during sewing time, howled plaintively. "Oh, Bruno," she murmured, "I'm on my way." Then she headed back inside.

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