Every crafter has a dream. This might seem obvious. By their nature, crafters are very creative people who frequently dream up fantastic creations and artistic expressions. This is not the dream I mean. The dream I’m talking about that every crafter shares pertains to finishing a project on time: the dream of punctuality. The more elaborate, the more creative, the more thoughtful the project, the harder it is to actually finish and deliver to the recipient’s hands on schedule. Now there are many talented people out there who are good at this. These people can plan, create, and deliver a crafted gift on time and have it look flawless. I am not one of these happy few. Anyone who knows me knows that I struggle with punctuality in real life. My clocks are inaccurate by anywhere from 3 minutes to 15 minutes fast in an attempt to trick me into being on time. When I do arrive on time (something that happens more and more consistently over the years, Huzzaaah!) I still breathe a sigh of relief. Time management is one of those buzzwords I put down when someone asks me to list a weakness. What can I say? I always think I can squeeze in just one more thing from my to-do list prior to going anywhere and doing anything else whereupon the cycle of “I can do one more thing before…,” begins again. Over-acheiver+optimist+perfectionist= a perfect storm of someone who is constantly running behind.
Now I am happy to say that when it comes to activities that earn my bread & butter I’m pretty darn good at keeping this perfect storm from ruining my productivity. Lists, self-discipline, and bitter experience help a lot. This is not so when it comes to my crafting hobbies. I am two years behind on a wedding quilt for a friend (Only 13 blocks to go!). I have a bin of in-progress crafts for friends and unfinished home decor for an apartment my hubby and I no longer have. I have three other unfinished quilts cut out for me and my husband with sketches for at least five more, some for family. One of these quilts I’ve been dragging around in a plastic bedding bag for three years. The shame…the shame. If this were a support group I’d have to raise my hand and say something like: “Hi, my name is Ellen. I’m a compulsive crafter with more good intentions than time.” I know I’m not alone.
Yet, this year, 2011, has been a glorious year. I have lived the dream. I have been punctual not once, but twice. The first time I already wrote about. Against all odds, I actually finished a wedding gift for a friend in time to take to her wedding. It was a wonderful feeling. The second time happened earlier this week.
Christmas. The big C. The holiday around which not only the entire kid-year but the crafting-year revolves. Every crafter has seen the headlines on magazines.
“20 quick Christmas crafts for under $15!”
“30 easy-to-craft stocking stuffers!”
“5 easy-to-piece Christmas quilts for gifts” <—HAH! (that is sarcasm)
These headlines lure you in. Oh the joy of being able to be both thrifty and thoughtful. To make the most tear-jerking gift that expresses how much you care for $20 or less for everyone on your gift list. All it takes are craft sticks or cardboard or coffee filters or glycerine soap or fat quarters and some glue, some glitter, talent, and time and you’ll be there. Easy. Piece of cake. *crickets chirping* *wind blowing*
HaahahahaHaaaaHahahahahaHaaaaa!!!<—this is a combination of sarcasm and despair
Yeah. Some of those ideas are great. Some of them are even really nice presents rather than a craft fair horror show. I cherish issues I judiciously purchased that actually have patterns that I can use multiple times or easily modify. They really aren’t all bad. But they are unrealistic. Every single idea takes time to plan, time to organize, and time to assemble. Some are positively complicated. For a trained professional designer with years of practice that time may indeed be negligible but for the hobbyist it most certainly is not. The key, the ultimate key, that these magazines rarely if ever mention is a phrase that it has taken me years to really master: realistic expectations. Realistically, one is not going to be able to make 20 crafted gifts, 30 crafted stocking stuffers, and 5 easy-to-piece bed quilts (an oxymoron) to cover everyone on your list. Realistically, you’ll be danged lucky if you can pull off making one thing for each person/family you want to craft for and it had better be a really simple thing. To pull off something really elaborate you really do have to be like Santa’s legendary work force and start on next Christmas’ crafts on Boxing Day. I am not that organized.
Yet, this year, this Christmas, I actually achieved the dream. I started with a list. A detailed list of what I could reasonably expect to do for people. I crafted simple presents from that list that I knew from my years of experience I could do efficiently from materials I had in my stash. I started early, making the first things around Thanksgiving week. I kept things small and concentrated largely on items I could hand-sew. Last week I pulled a few late-nighters. I felt like an honest to goodness elf or a character from Little House on the Prairie sewing frantically next to a solitary lamp in the middle of the night. I actually like that feeling when it feels like I can achieve my goal by doing it. The warmth of the lamp, the meditative work of stitching pieces of fabric together, the soothing sound of silence punctuated by snores, are all elements I actually enjoy. Perhaps it is because of the quality of magic attached to the feeling of creating something unique for someone one loves. On Tuesday I was able to mail out care boxes of homemade presents for everybody on my list that I won’t get to see in person. I was so happy. I’ve been riding this happy feeling all week. It actually feels like Christmas. It feels like a time of great joy and expectation. I have time to count my blessings; time to just sit with my hubby sipping mochas and writing for fun. There’s no crushing stress. No debilitating feeling of failure and regret. No dread or ribbing about mailing a typically Ellen pan-holiday box in April. It’s nice. It is really nice.
Now, believe it or not, I’m not writing this to brag. I am writing this as a time-capsule, a hopefully inspirational time capsule. See, I know, based on my years of bitter experience, that this glorious moment will probably never come again. If I’m lucky it will be a rare occurrence that will inspire future time capsule type entries. I don’t have children yet. I don’t have pets yet. I don’t have a job yet (please, Santa!). All I have are houseplants and lets face it, they aren’t very demanding. This is a perfect storm of time available for being a realistic, thoughtful, and effective crafter. Hopefully I’ll actually finish some of that backlog I was confessing to having earlier in the post. There will never be a better time after all. Now I think I’ve learned a lot about Christmas crafting. The key is an early start and I will get better, as I’ve always gotten better at organizing elements of my life, as some of those blessed complications of job, pets, and children enter my life-story. But I know, however much I improve, that, realistically, getting everything done and sent off to everyone is probably going to get harder and harder to the point that the typically-Ellen-pan-holiday-box reappears on the scene. That’s okay. I can forgive myself in advance. That said, I’m writing this entry to inspire my future self to not quietly let go of this wonderful feeling. To fight my baser procrastinating instincts in order to achieve a relaxing Christmas holiday through realistic planning and an early start. This is a good feeling that’s worth remembering. I hope, dear readers, you can find it for yourselves. I also hope that you’re having a joyful holiday season devoid of crushing stress and filled with good things like family, friends, cocoa and cookies. To quote Brain from my favorite Christmas special:
“Have a merry Christmas, everyone! Have a very merry Christmas! Joy to the world!”