Crafting 101

Admit it: Most of us think making stuff is cool.

Sure, you can buy a sweater from a boutique, a jar of jam from the supermarket, a set of curtains from a department store. But there’s something special — for both the maker and the recipient — when that sweater is hand-knitted, the jam cooked at home, the window treatment custom made. It’s the difference between produced and crafted.

Many people missed the opportunity to learn a craft or skill from a relative or friend. Homemaking and shop classes faded from school curricula years ago. Even the craftiest among us sometimes long to learn something new. But not everyone has time (or resources) to take a traditional course.

The Internet, to the rescue. Just as online shopping opened virtual store doors at 3 in the morning for pajama-clad consumers, a host of craft-instruction sites allow would-be crafters to learn individual projects and entire skill sets at their leisure. Sites such as Guidecentral, Kollabora and Instructables share peer-to-peer lessons and projects, while Craftsy and Creativebug offer classes by well-respected experts.

Sharing communities

Instructables, launched in 2006, got its start at the MIT Media Lab as a sharing platform for the future founders of Squid Labs. Projects number over a hundred thousand, from cooking to 3-D printing. You can join or follow a community of makers. They’re also taking maker skills full circle: Instructables offers pro memberships to teachers and other formal instructors, and provides hands-on projects to complement school curricula. Guidecentral takes a similar tack, encouraging two-way interaction between instructors and learners. They’ve also embraced the mobile platform, with an app (currently just for Apple iOS) that facilitates both creating projects and following them.

Ask the expert


Photo: Skillshare

Craftsy also has gone mobile (the tablet format is a natural), but that’s not necessarily the big draw. Craftsy, Creativebug and Skillshare all feature big names in their instructor corps.

“We are our own audience, so we went straight to the people we would most want to learn from,” explains Kelly Wilkinson, editorial director at Creativebug, which launched in May 2012. “It also happens that higher-profile instructors are usually very practiced at explaining their craft and they know how to structure their teachings since so many of them offer workshops and classes in person.”

Those “higher-profile” instructors range from textile maven Amy Butler to chocolate expert Alice Medrich to entrepreneur Marc Ecko. But expertise and name recognition can come at a price: While some classes are free, paid subscriptions tally at $17 or more a month; per-class fees can climb up to $50.

Paid or free, the online classes are filling a need. Creativebug founder Jeanne Lewis’ experience is typical: With a career and family, there wasn’t time for in-person classes. “She wanted to take classes whenever her schedule allowed but she couldn’t find anything that fit the bill,” Wilkinson explains. “So she started Creativebug.”

— Terri Hunter-Davis

The creative urge


Photo: Creativebug

Who’s taking these classes? Everyone you’d expect — and not.

“It’s a pretty wide range, but our typical participant is female, creative, and looking for that sense of satisfaction that comes from making something yourself,” says Kelly Wilkinson, editorial director at Creativebug. “That said, we have everyone from 20-something Brooklyn hipsters to crafty grandmothers on our site. The common language is creativity.”

And with most of us increasingly tethered to technology, that creative urge has grown, “creating a real visceral need to unplug and reconnect in a very basic way — the act of holding materials in your hands and creating something.”

A generation ago, we might have done that in a sewing circle or a knitting group. Time and distance conspire against us now.

“Women no longer need or are expected to knit sweaters or sew their families’ clothing” — and often don’t have time to, even if they so choose. “As a result, it’s become a luxury to spend time making something,” says Wilkinson.

But, she adds, “my life feels richer when I choose to spend my time making something.”