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I Stopped Making Things When I Felt the World had Given up on Me

The joy of making never slips from your hands—as long as you continue to reach for it. By Lori Caldwell.

I’m really great at making big goals in life. I often fall short, but I love trying to stretch myself a little further regardless of the outcome.

My big goal in January 2020 was to commit to making. I decided I would make something—big or small—every day for an entire year. It could be a sewing project or a DIY, or any craft I was interested in. The project didn’t have to be completed in a day, but I had to be in the process of “making” it.

I set this goal because I was having a crisis of confidence. The year before, I had to close my bag-making business for both personal and financial reasons. I hoped that with my experience as a business owner for five years, as a bag designer and maker, and as a leathercraft educator, I would still be able to find meaningful work in my field of experience. But, after months and months of searching and interviewing, I found nothing.

In fact, I couldn’t even find basic employment outside of my field. Even though (and, perhaps in some instances, because) my resume was rich in experience and professional depth, I often couldn’t get an interview. I was 45, starting over, running out of savings, and feeling very unwanted.

Feeling unwanted led me to start questioning my value, not only professionally but personally as well. And, in the process of feeling more and more valueless as time and rejection continued, I began to lack the confidence to do the one thing that always seemed to help boost my confidence—making.


What Happened When I Stopped Making

I have always been a creative maker. When I was a child, I would deconstruct my toys to see how I could recreate them. My mother still can’t talk about the Christmas she spent the entire night prior constructing a Barbie penthouse for me, only to find that three days later, I had completely taken it apart to “redesign” it (FYI—the pieces of a Barbie penthouse will not fit together in any configuration other than the one very confusingly specified in the instructions—much to my disappointment and my mother’s very loud anger).

Making was my way of finding focus, having fun, and sometimes showing off—but, mainly, it was my way of discovering what I was capable of doing and, more importantly, of being.

The joy of making is that discovery is ever-evolving. As I grew older, my creative interests continued to change and grow—from the visual arts to fashion styling to floral design to leatherworking, to bag making to shoemaking, to DIY home projects, and currently to sewing my own clothing and making my own accessories. I have always discovered my ability to create purpose and beauty with my own hands.

In 2019, I gave up on my hands when I felt the world had given up on me.

When I stopped making, I found myself actively trying to make myself smaller. I stopped being social. I started to dress in more muted tones to hide in plain sight. I stopped sharing my thoughts on social media because I didn’t think I had anything worth sharing. The more idle my hands grew, the deeper depression and self-doubt set in.

When I stopped making, I found myself actively trying to make myself smaller. I stopped being social. I started to dress in more muted tones to hide in plain sight.

And then something wonderful happened. I got invited to participate in a small, local craft show.


Stepping Into My Studio Again

At the time, the invitation to the craft show did not feel wonderful. It felt confusing. I was no longer in the craft business, so I didn’t know why I was invited. I didn’t have anything made to participate. I also wasn’t sure if I could make anything that anyone would be interested in buying. The more I thought about it, the more I questioned if I had anything left in me to create something for anyone.

I began to consider accepting the invitation because there was one thing I did have—financial need! I was broke, y’all. My savings were gone, and my bills were growing daily. The stress of mounting debt was beginning to take a hefty toll on my nerves. I was desperate to find a way to start making a living again. So, desperation pushed me into action just when I needed it most.

I stepped into my studio after months of not daring to open the door. I used whatever scraps, leftover hides, and hardware I could find and got to making. I made completely intuitively, without designs or sketches. I let my hands do whatever they wanted with the materials in front of me.

In the middle of that first day back in my studio, I realized that for the first time in a long time, I felt good. I felt like myself. I felt capable and creative and skilled and in-control and free. I realized that for me, making is about staying in constant touch with how capable I am. I can enter a room with nothing in my hands and exit it with something beautiful to share with the world.

I realized that for me, making is about staying in constant touch with how capable I am. I can enter a room with nothing in my hands and exit it with something beautiful to share with the world.

I began doing craft shows again regularly. Wouldn’t it be great if I could write that doing so fixed all my financial worries? It didn’t. However, it did fix a little piece of me and helped me slowly build my confidence again. It also placed me and my work back in the world—where I found that it hadn’t turned its back on me after all. It was just waiting for me to re-discover it.


Now I Leave My Studio Doors Open

I wish I could share with you that I made something every day and knocked my 2020 goal out of the park. I started out strong, but then COVID (insert expletive here) hit. I struggled as everyone did with adapting to a new and frightening reality. And, at times, I found myself depressed and unable to do much more than take my dog out for a walk or two and make myself a meal to eat.

There was, however, one difference this time. This time I left my studio door open.

I have a new goal for 2021. I’m going to try to create an entire me-made wardrobe for the spring. I don’t know if I will reach it, but I’m confident that I will stretch myself a little further than I have before in the process, and I’ll continue to discover that the joy of making never slips from your hands—as long as you continue to reach for it.

Maeve
Cal
Benning

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