Guest editor Mary Jo: Functional Creativity

by kath_red on 02/04/2013

in Green Crafting, Guest Editors 2013

During most of 2013, will hosting a monthly mini-series, each month edited by different crafters and designers. Enjoy!

Mary Jo Borchardt is an Artisan, Farmer, Momma, and Wordsmith keeping a small homestead in the US near Madison, WI.  It is her life’s work to achieve the distinction of Renaissance Woman, whereby she will expertly wield a sheep shears, needle, frying pan, ax, design code, and pen, but perhaps not simultaneously.  She is the voice behind Five Green Acres  – a blog to capture some of the great material that is spawned by such an undertaking, and a mercantile to offer her homegrown :: This is Wool. yarn and original pattern designs.

Intro.spinning Intro.sheep

For the month of April, we’re going to explore the theme of Functional Creativity – Making to fulfill a specific need.  I’d wager that much of the making we already do falls under this category, yet I suspect that we can gain a lot of useful perspective if we examine the whole thing more closely.  I’ll go so far as to say that Making under the guise of Problem Solving vs. making for the sake of Art or Beauty allows us to bypass many of the creative blocks our brain uses to sabotage the process. I speak from experience.

I graduated from college with badge in Art and a vague idea that I’d make and sell it for a living. To get that art into a gallery, I understood, it must convey a brilliant new perspective, must shake up the status quo. I quickly set about making… absolutely nothing. For years. I collected materials, took full-time jobs to sustain me until I could made it big, moved the ever-growing stash of materials from home to home, and cultivated a hearty collection of plans for the pieces that I’d create. Setting out to make these pieces was, for me, each and every time mired in the realization that the ideas were not profound enough, not original enough. So for years I continued to make absolutely nothing.

A number of things came together at the same time to change this: I became reacquainted with my sewing machine, my exacto knife, and glue, ditched the idea of making art and focused instead on making things one could use – us, you, anybody at all, and opened a small shop to sell these things. The impeding birth of my first child inspired me to learn how to knit so that I could make my own woolen cloth diaper covers that I was convinced she needed. I never did knit a single wool soaker but added to my bag of tricks the skill of knitting and the conviction that wool was a fiber I wanted to explore. This trickle of Making that had started slowly over a couple of years quickly exploded into a mushroom cloud of pent-up creativity after we moved to the Five Green Acres homestead and then made another child. A whole house to fill with handmade things, and a new person to adorn – just imagine the force of all those years of stifled creativity coming to a head to meet these needs. That pent-up energy is still propelling me today.

So, make something because you need it. Because you’re cold (Hearth). Because you’re hungry and all you have are three things in the pantry (Feed). Because your kids’ sleeves are too short (Clothe). Because you need a place to live that houses you from the onslaught of the world (Shelter). Set out to make what you need and I promise that beauty will find its way into that thing without you even trying hard to put it there. The things that we make with intention, by hand, that surround us in our everyday are what add to the quality of our life; every Maker knows this. For me, Making is a need only slightly less urgent that breathing. As such, the muscles that support it need to be exercised regularly to keep me sane and balanced and happy. (and Fed, Clothed, Sheltered, and Warm) Letting go of the intense pressure to make lovely, perfect things and instead focusing on making what you need is such a liberating way to approach the Making process.

Let’s do it. For the next four weeks I will be focussing on :: Build the Hearth :: Feed :: Shelter :: Clothe.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Di April 2, 2013 at 8:15 am

Great post- I’m looking forward to reading more!
Most of my making is definitely for functional need. Often it’s a very direct link- purely about meeting the need, often working with what I have at hand. But sometimes it’s almost a case of inventing a need- being inspired by an idea or technique or design, and finding a use for it.


2 Leigh Laurel Studios April 2, 2013 at 8:25 am

Wonderful. I spent all last night thinking about art not for art’s sake but for making utilitarian objects beautiful and enjoyable to use. In fact, it was a game changer with me and my career. As an art history major in college, I was headed down the gallery or museum route. However I found myself drawn more to the process and the craft and the use than to the final product hanging on the wall in a gallery with a ‘do not touch’ sign.
I look forward to reading more. :)
Karin Jordan


3 Heather April 2, 2013 at 1:50 pm

What a lovely start to the month! Can’t wait to see what you have in store!


4 Janel @ Creating Tasty Stories April 2, 2013 at 2:02 pm

I can’t wait to see what’s to come this month. Functional items can be beautiful and I find the creation of them to be very rewarding. Handmade things are just so special and appreciated.


5 Holly April 2, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Bravo, I couldn’t agree more! I’m looking forward to your posts this month.


6 deanna April 2, 2013 at 4:39 pm

well said!


7 Colleen April 2, 2013 at 10:15 pm

Yes! I am such a fan of craftsmanship and form and function. I read something once that has always stayed with me. It told of the pioneers going west and how the women, having left most of their beautiful things behind took up making quilts, to keep their family warm and making them beautiful so as not to break their hearts.


8 Marsha Gibbons April 3, 2013 at 8:38 am

What you said!! It makes me see what I do in a whole new way. I’m an artist wannabe. But I really work full time, not as an artist, have a fabulous family, two precious grandchildren. I’ve gone down every creative rabbit hole imaginable in the name of making stuff! I’m an artist/painter wannabe with a full time job as a realtor. But I fill my spare time with knitting, sewing, mosaic, various crafts, and yes a little painting. Thank you for validating!!


9 Tommie April 4, 2013 at 7:24 am

Making out of need? That should be a great theme for this month. Looking forward to great posts and highly functional crafts!


10 Nicolle April 11, 2013 at 8:36 am

Wonderful idea. This is really the ONLY reason I craft – out of need. I’m a practical, utilitarian type of person and I really love how you will focus on this. Would love to be a part of it. Yay for you :>


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