Crafting with kids: connecting through the Mess

I thought I’d share with you an essay that I wrote for Chicago Parent magazine. It was published in their November issue and I’ve reprinted it here with a few extra pictures:

I come from a long line of “makers.” My mom and I sew, quilt, knit and cross-stitch, so I am not surprised that my daughter E shows a natural propensity to make things. As a veteran crafter at age 8, she knits, crochets and weaves. She assembles little journals and covers them with drawings. She collects buttons, fabric and yarn. She adds a little extra flair to everything she owns.

button collection

Part of E’s button collection — note the gum ball machine with buttons.

What shocks me is the flip side of all this creativity — the Mess.

I don’t think my childhood crafts resulted in this much chaos, although my mother chuckles knowingly every time I complain. Throughout my house, the Mess spills across every horizontal surface-tables, couches, chairs, and even the floor. We routinely gather it up for recycling or organize it in various bags and boxes, but to no avail. The Mess returns again and again, like an unwanted houseguest who shows up all too soon for another extended stay.

Stacks of God’s Eyes

My daughter never sees the Mess in the same light as I do. To her, it’s an offshoot of her artistic vision rather than another task on my cleaning checklist. The Mess never gets on her nerves, unless it hides her scissors under its cloak of discarded paper. While she concocts her latest craft, it spreads a jumble of paper bits, yarn fluff and broken crayon tips around her.

As two halves of the creative process, the Maker and the Mess are quite content together.

I’m constantly conflicted by this strange pairing of crafting and clutter. On the one hand, the Mess makes me crazy. I hate straightening up the same area over and over. I tire of telling E to put her things away because we need to use the dining room table.

And when other people drop by unexpectedly, I’m embarrassed that my living room looks like a confetti cannon exploded there moments before.

On the other hand, I want to encourage her to pursue these creative paths. I think her artistic hobbies help her to relax and find her true passions in life. If she enjoys folding paper into Star Wars characters and gluing googly eyes on pom-poms, I’m all for it.

Googly-eyed pom-pom mice

More importantly, crafting provides me a way to connect with my child. As E and I curl up on the couch, knitting needles clicking away, we talk not just about yarn and scarves but also about her life, her dreams and her fears.

E's knitting

E’s knitting, right on the floor where she left it.

I’m grateful that she likes to create things with me because it gives us a line of communication that I will hold on to for dear life as she grows up.

So I’ve come to realize that as long as we have crafters in the house, the Mess is here to stay.

I’ll never stop trying to contain it, you understand, but it’s a small price to pay for forging this deep connection to my daughter. A small price indeed.

This article appeared in the November 2012 edition of Chicago Parent.

About thethingaboutjoan

Mom of three who knits a little, bakes a lot, crafts a bit and blogs about it all.
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14 Responses to Crafting with kids: connecting through the Mess

  1. What a lovely article!!! 🙂

  2. Susan Bahr says:

    I always feel like I’m home when I read your posts – you have a way of capturing the joy and frustrations of motherhood and handle them with such grace. Thanks for sharing – too often, it seems I worry about the mess, not the creative process.

    I do have an unrelated question, if you don’t mind- I noticed an ad on this post (I have one on – placed there by wordpress, not by me) – did you ask for this ad? I’m curious because I’ve received an email from a fellow wanting to pay to place an ad on my post. Just wondering if you’ve done this and trying to get feedback. I appreciate it!

    • Thanks for the kind words, Sue! I feel like too often I get frustrated by all the mess left after one of E’s creative brainstorms. I’m finding it’s quite a tricky balance to figure out when I should just let the chaos reign (especially when she’s been called away mid-project) and when I should remind her to clean up after herself. Not as easy as it seems, for me anyway.

      I think the ads at the bottom of the post are placed there by WordPress — and it’s a way for them to keep the part free. I didn’t ask them to put it there, and they didn’t ask me. 🙂

      I think there might be something in the terms of service about having ads on your blog — you might want to check (seems to ring a bell for me, anyway).

      • Susan Bahr says:

        Imagine my joy when I came home from work yesterday to my two older teenagers crafting at the kitchen table – one had pulled out clay – yes, the brown, messy, sticky stuff, and the other was cutting up magazines to make a collage. Did I get upset? Tell them to clean it up?
        Nope. Thanks to your wonderful post, I took a deep breath and smiled.
        It really was good seeing them being so creative.

        As to the ads – since WP already put one on my page, I’m wondering about being paid for one – the only thing is, I hate those bloggers that clutter their site with ads. So, we’ll see. Thanks for your feedback. Love how matter-of-fact and not-freaked-out-at-all you are about them!

  3. Cul de Sac says:

    and now you have change my way to see chaos around here….

    • Thank you so much for that. Your comment made me tear up a little — in the best way possible.

      I’m going to try not to call it the Chaos or the Mess anymore. I’m going to think of it as “The Flip Side” of her creativity. As in “E, you are going to clean up this Flip Side, aren’t you?”

      Think it’ll work?

      • Cul de Sac says:

        I think this will me her laugh and that should work 😉 And I won’t be calling MY mess a mess anymore, I think I’ll go with spontaneous creativity in waiting… my, still, you should see my sewing room… LOL

  4. *le sigh* you put the Maker and the Mess into words. Thank you.

    And I love the gum ball button machine. I think I need to find one now for my ever expanding collection.

  5. Beautiful post, I love the image of you and your daughter knitting away together and talking about life! Sometimes I have to tell myself the mess is worth it too…especially when it involves painting! I hope one day my daughter and I will have a similar way of connecting…she’s only 2 years old, so I can’t expect too much at the moment 😉

  6. I have linked to your blog on my links page. You may find some of the other links interesting. Sue

  7. First of all, congratulations on getting published in Chicago Parent! That is awesome! Secondly, I love the buttons in the gumball machine! I love buttons and have various jars filled with them! Thirdly, I adore this article because this is so much like our house…sometimes I feel our whole house is just one big art project in the making!!

    • Thanks! The gum ball machine kills me – she chomped through the gum as quickly as she could because she really really really wanted to fill it with buttons. That makes me smile every time I see it.
      It’s a tough line for me — trying to teach the kids to clean up after themselves, but still wanting them to be creative and tackle BIG projects that may not be able to be finished in one sitting. Tricky. I doubt I’ll ever really find the true balance, but thinking of the Mess (aka, “the Flip Side”) as the necessary companion of crafting helps me. Somewhat. 🙂

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