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Idle Hands No More

by Emily Dent 12 months ago in art
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How crafting with grandma helped me stay calm.

A silhouetted shot of a garland that I made with my grandma hanging in my kitchen window.

I’ve never really considered myself a crafty person—everything I made would end up looking like a collection of Pinterest fails. Once in elementary school art class we made Styrofoam sculptures and I created what my grandparents refer to as my “Potato horse”. I turned a block of Styrofoam into an oblong clump and covered it in brown acrylic paint to match my horse Sonny, shoved some pipe cleaners in it to create limbs and all the other necessary equine accessories, and made a smaller Styrofoam clump for a head. I remember working so hard on this horse and being absolutely over it by the time we had to show off our final project. No matter how hard I tried I could not get the Styrofoam shaved into the shape of a horse and my final product brought laughter rather than admiration. But, 20 some years later, that Potato horse still stands in my grandpa’s office and we are still laughing about it.

After creating my version of Sonny, I realized I am good at some things, but creating art is not one of them. Instead of devoting my time to drawing or sculpting horses, my time was spent caring for and riding them. I preferred spending my time in barns and getting my hands covered in dirt, horse hair, and hay rather than paint and graphite. I belonged in a barn where my hands were busy cleaning something, rather than creating something.

During the Covid-19 quarantine I was working at a therapeutic riding center and my job mainly consisted of taking care of our herd of 28 horses. Everyday I took solace in shedding out winter coats, fluffing shavings in stalls, and all around just keeping my hands busy when everything felt crazy and entirely out of my control. But, this was only 40 hours out of my week and I needed something to keep me busy at home, especially once the weather started pushing me inside.

As the fall sank into winter and I started spending more time indoors after work, I found an even greater need for dexterous stimulation. Watching Netflix or reading a book was no longer easing the anxiety that was plaguing the planet and turning the holiday season sour. I wanted to create something that could keep me busy for a weekend and make my apartment feel more like a Hallmark movie rather than a drafty boarding house from a period piece. I took to Pinterest to find holiday décor items that were budget friendly and relatively easy to make, no sculpting required. I landed on dried orange garlands and wreaths—decorations that required an eye for aesthetics, rather than artistic skill.

Knowing that I would have some time off work to quarantine and get a Covid test before Thanksgiving, I called my grandma to see if she would like to help me make some decorations. Like me, my grandma also needed something to keep her hands busy. So a day of garland making became a weekend full of every decoration you could think of. My grandma spent the weeks leading up to my visit scouring Michael’s and thrift shops for items that could be turned into wreaths, garlands, centerpieces, and signs. She put together a wooden “build your own snowman” kit for me and helped me screw together 4 planks to create my own version of Frosty. By Sunday evening, I had 3 boxes full of holiday décor. We had spent hours meticulously cutting ribbon to tie into bows, used up an entire bag of hot glue sticks, and our eyes were crossing from staring at tiny little details that made each wreath we planned to gift special for its recipient. With each snip of the scissors we fell into gentle conversation that brought familiarity and ease back into our lives—tying up each sentence with literal bows.

My parents found out they both had Covid a week before Christmas and for the first time in my life I was unable to spend the holidays with my family. As I’ve gotten older, I have realized how lucky I am to still have grandparents around and the time I get to spend with them is even sweeter, especially now that I live a few hours away. Instead of spending this time sad and lonely, I had an apartment full of glittering decorations that felt like home and crafting with my grandma a month prior was the best celebration of the holidays I could have imagined anyways. The delay in Christmas meant more time to elegantly wrap gifts and adorn them with leftover supplies from my grandma’s stock. Each gift was wrapped in delicate velvet ribbon and jingled with silver bells and pine cones sourced from my grandma’s backyard, hand-painted by her.

Life is starting to get busier as the days warm up and vaccinations have made socializing a bit safer. I have less need to spend evenings and weekends crafting and I no longer have to quarantine before visiting my grandparents. But, I do still want to spend meaningful time with them. My grandma and I made wreaths to welcome spring and during my next visit she is planning to teach me to use a sewing machine. She is excited to create and share her skills with me and I love learning from her. I am excited to share an interest with someone I love that doesn’t involve taking care of horses and getting covered in dirt. I no longer worry about the end product of something I am creating, like I did long ago with my Styrofoam horse. Crafting and creating are done to bring joy and stimulation. It has formed connections and shared experiences—whether or not my final product looks exactly how I envision it.

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Emily Dent

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