permission to just play : by lisa wheeler / by ali dejohn

For as long as I can remember, I’ve made things. My mother was a prolific knitter, sewer, card maker and cross-stitcher, and my childhood was filled with beads, glitter, Play-Doh, pipe cleaners and other assorted craft materials. I remember loving the sense of escape I got when I would make things. The feeling of achievement, of being 100% absorbed in something, and of escaping from the everyday was so wonderful and intoxicating.

After I left home and started working, I kept up my habit, trying out pretty much any type of craft – you name it, I’ve done it, from candle making to screen printing, lino cuts, pottery, jewelry, macrame, embroidery, glass painting and crochet. I’ve never met a craft I didn’t like, and I never had a favourite, although I’d have an intense love affair with each one for a short time (often including making and selling items), until I got bored and tried something new.

My craft challenge has been to learn to let go of the need to make things look like they came out of a store, and embrace randomness and accident. I’ve always judged myself far more harshly than anyone else has, so if my crafts didn’t look ‘shop-worthy’ I’d reject them and give myself a stern talking-to about my lack of skill. And then I’d stop doing that craft completely. Like a lot of people, I’m my own worst enemy at giving myself permission to just play, and not to think of craft as success or failure, or as a competitive sport.

Something else I’ve always loved is travel – coming from New Zealand, every other country is so very far away, and seemed so unreachable and exotic. I especially remember poring over Vogue and other fashion magazines, and loving all the glossy ads, especially when they were for stores on Fifth Avenue. To me, that was the epicentre of glamour, and I would think; wow, if I could walk down Fifth Avenue one day, I will know I’ve made a success of my life. I got that opportunity in 1987, when I won a radio competition to go to New York and watch the world premiere of Leonard Part 6 (truly the worst film ever made, starring Bill Cosby as a detective who could talk to animals). The prize included airport limousine pick-up thanks to Colombia Pictures, a walk down the red carpet, and meeting Bill Cosby at a star-studded premiere at the Hilton, which to my 18-year-old small-town self was truly mind-blowing. That week in December cemented my life-long love affair with the Big Apple, even though strolling down Fifth Avenue wasn’t the life-changing experience I’d expected… (Are those women hookers? Did that guy just try and sell me drugs? Why is there trash on the ground?).

But still, the energy of the city spoke to me in a way I’ll never forget. I felt so alive – like a better, cooler version of myself, and I wanted more. That trip actually set me on the path to being a graphic designer and wanting so much more from my life. 

It would be another 27 years until I returned to New York for the inaugural 2014 Sweet Paul Makerie. In that time I’d worked at a top ad agency, started my own business, lost 100 pounds and moved to Australia. At the time I saw the Makerie advertised online I was having a mid-life crisis – not knowing what the next chapter of my life would look like and rapidly coming up on 50 with no partner, no children and no plans. I’m not a huge believer in astrology, but I’ve always thought it was pretty apt I'm a Pisces – I swim from one side of the bowl to the other and back again, getting distracted by whatever is in front of me and not planning for the future (I wish I was different, but I’m not, so I’m just going to own it!).

The Makerie had everything I loved. Craft (but the super-stylish kind that looks like you’d sell it in a design store). New York City. Glamour. Spontaneity. And most importantly, tax-deductibility. “It’s work-related” my accountant said. “You’re a designer, and you’ll be designing things”. I booked a ticket immediately, and started counting down the days. It’s so hard to put the experience into words, because it was so magic. From walking into the beautifully decorated Hudson Yards venue to the final farewell and goodie bag, it was everything I was hoping for and more. Meeting both of the Pauls, Ali and Krissa, and making some great friends I will have in my life forever – it was more than worth the 30 hours of travelling time to get there.

How much did I love it? I came back again in 2015, and in 2016 (my great friend Jonas came that year from Australia as well, and loved it as much as I did). And after the 2016 Makerie I didn’t go back to Australia, I moved to London to see if I could make a new life for myself there. It’s been 10 months now, and it’s going pretty well. I miss my craft stash, because I sold literally everything I owned except for two suitcases of clothes. Oh, and I also brought the cookie cutter I made in Patti's class, paper flowers from Elise’s class, printed stationery from Lotta’s class, the weaving from Janelle’s class, stitched flower from Ann’s class, embroidery from Adriana’s class, paper cutting from Elsa’s class and my silk scarf from Terrain’s class. Plus all the beautiful memories I made, especially of the kindness, generosity and warmth of everyone who I crafted with. 

I’m trying not to buy lots of new things to replace everything I sold, so I can live light and move easily, but I still get pangs of desire whenever I see beautiful wool, fabrics, beads and ribbons – once an addict, always an addict! I’ve joined the London Craft Club and get my thrills there, but it ain’t New York. Unfortunately I can’t come to this year’s Makerie but I know I’ll be back another time to recapture the magic and I can’t wait.