Crafting for Dummies

To me, “rick-rack” and “Mod Podge” sound like names for oatmeal from a fairy tale.

Illustration by Allegra

As a freelance writer and an English major, I spend a huge percentage of my time thinking about words and typing them into various documents, so thank god I enjoy writing. I love being able to express myself in words, and it’s satisfying to finish an essay or a story or an article and feel like, Oh, word, I made something. Sometimes, though, it can feel a bit anticlimactic. It’s like, after hours or even days and weeks of work, all I have to look at is boring blocks of text on a screen or a page. Bleh.

While I can “decorate a sentence with words” (imagine me saying that in my best night-school creative-writing teacher voice) or whatever, I sometimes want to put my creative energies into a project that I can actually see and touch and otherwise admire when I’m through. However, I have never been someone who could be considered “good with her hands” (THIS IS NOT A SEX JOKE, GET YOUR BRAINS OUT OF THE GUTTER, JEEZ). I’m more the type who looks upon even the simplest DIY tutorials with a mixture of admiration and hopelessness—like, I’m supposed to know what to do with rick-rack or Mod Podge? To me, those words sound like names for oatmeal from a fairy tale, not useful tools to help me create my masterpiece.

For my whole life long, I’ve been jealous of those who are able to visualize and carry out arts-and-crafts projects. My sister Laura is one of these people. We shared a room as teenagers, working side by side on our different artistic ventures, and it always felt so frustrating to fill notebooks with all these quiet sentences while she made gorgeous paintings and sketches that other people could so easily enjoy. Next to her talent, mine felt lonely and invisible.

Then one day, while absentmindedly playing around with some scissors and a stack of fashion magazines, I found myself arranging paper cut-outs into the shape of a lion’s head. It wasn’t “as good” as any of Laura’s artwork, but it was definitely satisfying in a whole new way for me. I realized that anyone can make beautiful things, no matter their skill level. I know I can’t draw for shit, but I can collage; I can BeDazzle. It was just a matter of finding what was right for me. And guess what, guys? Making visual, tangible stuff, even if I’m not the best at it, turns out to be something of a miracle cure for my nerve-shredding anxiety (besides, like, actual medication).

Me with my very first scrap-paper lion head, circa 2008.

So, when deadlines and assignments are piling up all around me, none of which are going to result in something I can hold in my hand, I head to my bedroom, put on a pretty, low-key album, dim the lights, and craft like the wind. I attack magazine pages and rearrange them in the shapes of zoo animals, and transform junky old T-shirts I’ve had since childhood into hot crop-tops. I affix plastic flowers to everything I own, turn shoeboxes into cleverly decorated little vessels for my sunglasses and nail polish, and make flower crowns for my friends. I GO BUCK WITH THE HOT-GLUE GUN.

In experimenting with different kinds of materials, I’ve compiled a list of crafting projects that even the least aesthetically creative people, aka folks like me, can have a glitter-glued ball with:

1. Collage, collage, collage!
Although I find them boring to read, fashion magazines like Vogue and Elle work best for collaging purposes, because there are so many gorgeous colors and textures in their editorials. The only other things you need are scissors and some kind of glue—I use a straight-up Elmer’s Glue Stick, kindergarten-style (I told you this would be mad basic). Then, go to town on paper, a shoebox, or anything else your heart desires. This is my go-to quick project.

2. Flower Crown Realness
Tavi and Petra kind of wrote the book on this one. Let me just tell you that it’s just as easy and awesome as they make it look in this video.

3. Flair You Can Wear in Your Hair (OMG I feel so crafty just saying that)
This category is maybe the simplest one of all. Take whatever boring hair clips or bobby pins you’ve got laying around, then hot-glue dollar-store knick-knacks to them. Bam. Done. I was inspired to start making all kinds of these after I met Ruby, who was wearing a bobby pin that she’d glued a walrus toy to. My mind blown, I copied her, and now we can all have bonkers sea-creature barrettes. Thanks, Rubes.

4. Tiny Baby Zine
I love making little zines when I have a free hour or two. All you need is a piece of printer paper, scissors, a straightedge, maybe tape or glue if you’re feeling fancy, and this guide. Then, fill it with whatever you like. Maybe you’ll even make collages in it? PROJECTCEPTION. Who knew you were so artsy? (I did. Just saying.)

5. Origami Mobile
Take any kind of paper and get down with some YouTube tutorials—I’ve done this two-minute fox one a few times, and it’s super cute and easy. You can stop there if you want, or take some string and tie your creations to a hanger. All of a sudden you’ve got a floating zoo above your bed where you didn’t before. That rules, huh?

6. T-Shirt Surgery
The number-one rule of this project, which I have learned the hard way many times, is this: DON’T TAKE SCISSORS TO A SHIRT THAT WOULD MAKE YOU SAD TO RUIN. It’s so weird—I’m always able to successfully beautify ugly shirts that say, like, “PARK AVE FORD” on them, but the minute I try to do something to a band shirt I love, disaster. So pick a terrible shirt, then cut off the sleeves, stomach, and collar—et voilà! Crop top. Or you can get a little fancier and do one of these rad fringed-bottom ones, of which I probably have 10 million now because they’re so fuunnnnn and easyyyyy and cuuuuuteeeee.

Although I still think of myself as uncoordinated and something of a nightmare in terms of visual intelligence, that makes me feel more triumphant when I finish even a small art project. Each time I put the final flourishes on a flower crown or DIY my own accessories, I overcome my artistic insecurities a little bit. By crafting I prove to myself that I am capable of doing other things besides writing—and having another creative outlet, however casual it may be, takes a little bit of pressure off of my literary projects. I feel way less self-conscious about my word-work when it’s not my only means of expression. Isn’t it funny what just a little hot glue can do for a person’s self-esteem? Also, unlike my term papers about Virginia Woolf or these here articles for you fine people, my lil’ crafts can be private if I want them to be. While it is rewarding when people freak out like, “OMG IS THAT A PIKACHU on your flower crown?!” and then I get to be all, “Oh, I made it myself,” whilst casually flipping my hair a little, I mostly make stuff for my eyes only. When I want to let off creative steam outside of any expectations from other people, I use my collages and rudimentary origamis as little physical diaries that are just for me to enjoy. And once I’m done, writing seems fun and new again.

So, to my sisters whose still lifes look like a collection of mysterious blobs instead of fruit, who accidentally draw five legs on an illustration of a cat (as I once did)—please don’t give up on making things. Maybe your talents lie more in sports or words or math or music or dance, but you can still create your own kind of visual artwork, and possibly even find a special kind of comfort and relief from it. If you experiment with materials and ideas a little bit, I’m sure you can find something that works for you. Find your inspiration, close the door, and then craft your heart out. You’d be surprised at all the things you’ll find you can make, if you try. ♦


  • HollinsCollins November 1st, 2012 7:37 PM

    asfdjhfgjsaf CRAFTING (and Rookie) is MY LIFE.

  • Naomi Morris November 1st, 2012 7:56 PM

    we are on THE SAME PAGE with this amy rose. exactly the same page.

  • MissKnowItAll November 1st, 2012 8:42 PM

    I don’t really like glue or scissors. Paper and sharpies are the way to go

  • Stephanie November 1st, 2012 9:33 PM

    Dude, Amy Rose, once again we prove to be long lost sisters. I’ve always been writer girl, jealousy of my artsy and crafty friends but this year I finally discovered t shirt diys and knitting and they are soooo soothing. Zine making and collaging, also awesome. I need to invest in a hot glue gun so I can try the hair bobble thingys!

  • liviggles November 1st, 2012 9:48 PM

    I LOVE this article so much! I’m super excited for this invention month! Go Rookie!

  • Hannah November 1st, 2012 9:53 PM

    I love this. This makes me want to craft some awesome walrus barrettes now.

    Doing that this weekend. :D

  • Xanath November 1st, 2012 10:37 PM

    this makes me want to cover everything i own in glitter and magazine cut outs instead of getting down to all the boring homework i have to do -sob-

  • oleander November 1st, 2012 11:08 PM

    Love this amy rose!

  • Abby November 2nd, 2012 12:01 AM

    I feel your pain with writing, Amy Rose… I write… ermm… what some people call “erotic literature”… it’s basically written porn, which MUCH more tasteful than real porn, OBVIOUSLY. I post it on a website for people to read for free. But anyway, I’ll tell people that I write, and they’ll be like, “Oh, cool! What do you write? Can I read some of it?” And I’m like, “…ummm….” ha. Oh, the plight of writers, not being able to show off their art like the visual artists…

    Also, I’m SOOO not creative with these kinds of things, either! They look so good but I always try to do them and EPIC FAIL ha. But maybe this will help me!! Anyway, good article!

  • ivoire November 2nd, 2012 1:56 AM

    I wish I could write well though ):

  • Caitlin H. November 2nd, 2012 4:47 AM

    Love this, and Allegra’s illustration!

  • Mary the freak November 2nd, 2012 6:15 AM

    Dude, this article was beyond perfect! Awesome written, amy rose <3
    I love all those ideas. I guess I am a rather crafty person, I am obsessed with crafting! Unfortunately, I have been pretty busy lately so I cannot find enough time to craft… :( But I go CRAZY for my journal. And I am planning a trip to the junk store :)

  • FossilisedUnicorn November 2nd, 2012 9:21 AM

    When I think of crafting my mind automatically seems to presume that it is something other people do and something I can only fantasize about. I actually have a huge collection of cut out images from magazines, but I hardly ever do anything with them. I fantasise about the thing I would glue on bobby pins, but I’ve never even been to a craft shop to buy any material. It’s hard to get my ass out of my head and into the actual world of doing things.

  • LilySew November 2nd, 2012 10:05 AM

    Hahaha, love this article. I spend more time thinking and dreaming of craft projects to do rather than actually making the effort to do them. :D :D

  • ijustreallylikebands November 2nd, 2012 1:52 PM

    I’d never really heard of Mod Podge up until recently (I don’t think we have it in England) and the first time I did it definitely sounded like some kind of porridge!

  • jessthetics November 2nd, 2012 8:49 PM

    So many good ideas! I love crafting but it’s hard to find the time to do big projects, it’s great to have things you can do woth a spare hour or two.

  • Ben November 2nd, 2012 9:54 PM

    I’m really inspired to craft right now! too bad the weekend is only two days long!

  • Moxx November 2nd, 2012 9:57 PM

    so cooooool :))))))) (infinite smiley)

  • PearlFog November 4th, 2012 7:11 AM

    Very inspiring, thank you! I draw quite a bit but I don’t craft much or really stretch myself; you’ve spurred me to try something new :o)

  • AnaRuiz November 5th, 2012 7:40 PM

    I am doing a thing where I am jumping around the room beating my head against the walls trying to decide whether I like the illustration or the article better. Hopefully that I stopped to write an adoring comment is a good prognosis of my future recovery?

  • Sea goddess December 9th, 2012 1:33 AM

    I really want to make collages, but but BUT I’m so terrified of cutting my magazines :( how should I know if it’s worth a collage??

  • disgustinghuman December 26th, 2012 3:24 PM

    Brilliant!! this article is so inspiring!!!

  • Princess Rae May 15th, 2013 6:59 PM

    This is a wonderful article!! I’m a writer as well and share the same sentiments–the little black lines become boring sometimes and I just want to make something pretty and cute and shiny that I can hang in my room or wear or something. I think I’ll go collage now :-)