Crafting My Way Calm: My Attempt to Create a 400-Square-Foot Sanctuary

Crafting My Way Calm: My Attempt to Create a 400-Square-Foot Sanctuary

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Alanna Okun
May 10, 2017
(Image credit: Melanie Rieders )

There are a lot of things my friends make fun of me for. In my apartment alone, there's plenty of fodder: my enormous yarn collection, stacked on a bookshelf directly across from my bed; my hand-embroidered clock, which hangs above the doorway; my small tray of rocks covered in crocheted cotton cozies, which look for all the world as if they are wearing sweaters.

"You made SWEATERS for ROCKS?" my friends lovingly snort, when they come by for dinner or to use the bathroom on our way to somewhere else.

And the answer is….yeah. I guess I did. It doesn't feel as wildly twee and out of place to me, though, as it must to them. I've made a lot of things for my various homes in the two-ish decades I've been crafting, and this apartment — two and a half years in — is no different. In fact, because I'm living alone for the first time, it's even more stuffed to the gills with scraps of fabric and bits of string. When you live with roommates or your parents, you can't reasonably cover every surface with relics from your doily phase, but when no one is watching, the lace can come out in full force.


"When no one is watching, the lace can come out in full force."


Some of the crafts are useful — an ottoman in the hallway that I knitted with yarn an inch thick and stuffed with old towels, the clock before it ran out of batteries and I was too lazy to take it down and change them. Others, like the dozen or so embroidery samplers hanging on the wall in my entryway, are purely decorative, meant to mark moments and words to keep in mind, or just because I liked the way a phrase sounded. There's a hoop telling me not to forget my keys, wallet or the recycling, right next to a quote a friend wrote that I stitched after she died. The reminder fails roughly once a week, but I like to look around and see all these things I've made, humming with their own particular energies, these reminders that I was there. That's their real use, even the rocks in their functionless sweaters: They act as tiny anchors in a world, both inside and outside my head, that can feel so uncertain.

(Image credit: Melanie Rieders )

It's not particularly interesting to be an anxious person, especially now that the apocalypse looms for all of us. I used to feel it far more acutely, my heart pitching a tent in my throat every time I got a lukewarm email from a coworker or a delayed text message from a romantic interest. Crafting was the thing I found that truly helped, as did finally having a space that was just mine — these small, solid methods of controlling my immediate surroundings, of making a series of consequence-free decisions, help bring me back to myself, to the dozens of stitches or several hundred square feet right in front of me.

Of course my life, and the apartment itself, is not without anxiety. About once a year since I moved in, I become convinced that I have bed bugs. I strip the bed and scan the mattress and throw every soft surrounding object into the dryer, propelled by a sense of panic that physically itches as much as any bug bite. Invariably it turns out that there is a different explanation: The welts on my ankle were caused by mosquitoes, the traces of red by my hair dye, the carcass-looking husk (the surest evidence, as any paranoid bed bug blog will have you know at three in the morning) actually a sesame seed from an everything bagel enjoyed, you guessed it, in bed. It's not really the threat of the bugs that scares me, although it would be a minor nightmare to fumigate all that yarn. It's the idea that my home could be infiltrated, could all of a sudden be a source of distress instead of safety, especially in such an insidious way. (Last month, apparently tired of the usual freakout and feeling guilty for having left the stove on, I decided my apartment had carbon monoxide, and bought a second detector to supplement the one already blinking overhead. Neither have, as yet, detected any carbon monoxide.)


"My lease will run out, I'll get a dog and/or a baby, I'll get restless and know that for all that I've loved it there, it's time to go."


All of this is to say that I know my home isn't impermeable, nor is it forever. One day, even if the imaginary bugs and gasses and nuclear stockpile don't get to it first, I will leave. I will want someplace bigger or elsewhere. My lease will run out, I'll get a dog and/or a baby, I'll get restless and know that for all that I've loved it there, it's time to go. In other words: life.

I hope that's not soon. I hope I get to stay here, in the warm well-fitting place, for as long as I can see forward. But I know that when I do go, no matter when that may be, the yarn and the embroideries and the rocks with their handmade sweaters are coming along with me, no matter what my friends may think.

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