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09/19/2010


Why I Craft • by Mark Montano


Not About Perfection
I’m not a Martha Stewart kind of crafts person. That is, you can imagine me crafting in my crowded but fabulous tiny East Village apartment, rather than in a Connecticut farmhouse painted 20 shades of green. Pretty, but just not me. Though I love a great craft store, I’m a find it on the street or in a dollar store kind of crafter. For me, crafting isn’t about attaining some level of perfection (“Look! This duvet is so expertly made, I could have bought it at TARGET!”), but about making something interesting and unique that it couldn’t be mass-produced (“Just try to top this decoupaged lamp, Ikea!”).

In part, this attitude is generational, but it’s also about economics. Now more than ever we’re discovering the joys of creating something rather than going out and buying it. That concept is the story of my entire life. Growing up in a small town in southern Colorado with limited means there wasn’t much of a choice but to create the beautiful things we desired. One of my earliest memories is of my mother antiquing an old desk and then decoupaging cut out roses to each drawer. She was making the most out of something we had and it ended up being a magnificent piece of furniture which is still in my family today.

The Wicker Sofa
Our living room sofa was wicker with horsehair cushions from the 1940s. My dad was about to take it to the dump for someone as a favor in his truck when my mother insisted that we keep it — because she always sees the potential in such things. That’s where I got it from. For the next few years it sat on our back porch, where we would pick off the old paint with seam rippers to get it ready for a new coat of paint. For hours we would chat and pick and laugh and think about how it would look when it was done.

When we finished and it was repainted and with the new upholstery (which my dad did), we had an awesome sofa which instilled a sense of pride in me and my mom. You see, going out to buy a new sofa or a new desk just wasn’t in the budget for a family with 5 growing boys and a new house to pay for. I’m still in awe at the grace and beauty of my parents and how they raised us.

Lovely
The funny thing is I never even thought that we should go out and buy something new anyway, it was always more fun (more challenging) to see if we could make something from scratch ourselves or rework something that we already had. The paintings in our living room were of Spanish women in beautiful dresses posed for dance … all painted by my mother. The painting of my father was in fact a self portrait he had done in high school. The other art on our walls was from years of grade school projects which were framed and displayed with pride. Our quilts and crocheted doilies were from our great aunts who loved to work with their hands. Our house was lovely, truly lovely, but only because we had actually made it that way ourselves. Only years and years later did I even hear the word “crafting”. For me, it was just a necessary and very fun way of life.

In retrospect, I’m sure my parents could have paid for a new desk, but why when what they really wanted was something that reflected who we were? Could we have purchased a new sofa? Probably, but I would not have given up the hours spent with my mother picking off the paint and imagining how beautiful it was going to be. And let’s face it, there is nothing better than seeing your old favorite shirt in a quilt that your grandmother made for you.

Jungle Scene
In junior high, while Martha was busy with her catering business, I was at home, finally having secured permission to paint my room any way I wanted. Before you knew it there was an entire jungle scene on the wall designed to hide the water pipe jutting out of the corner. It was quickly turned in to a tall green vine. I sewed my own curtains because there was no way in a town so small that there were curtains to match. I sewed the pillows and settled in to my life as the jungle boy.

Next I tackled beadwork and then pottery (not my forte) and finally settled on sewing. I think from the time I was 14 there wasn’t a day that went by that I wasn’t making a new shirt, hemming pants for my brothers, or sewing blouses for my mother. My sewing table was a desk made from the shell of an old large television console. You know the kind from the 50s and 60s. My grandfather took out the screen and speakers and painted it and it was the perfect size for me. Where the speakers had been was the perfect nooks for my supplies. Now most families might have thought it was odd that the oldest boy sewed like a dream but in fact I had learned from my dad who did auto upholstery in his car shop to make extra money. I’m just going to say it, my dad probably sews better than I do.

No Matter What
By the time I was old enough to head out on my own, I knew that no matter what my means, I could create an environment and anything I needed by using my own two hands. When I moved to New York I didn’t even have a suitcase! Instead my clothes were in a box on the plane and my carry on was a Singer 1955 portable sewing machine. A gift from my mother when I was 16. It’s still in perfect condition. My love for sewing and fashion turned into an amazing internship at Oscar de la Renta after college and then in to my own collection with runway shows during New York Fashion Week. Later my friendships in the fashion industry would turn in to a freelance gig as a contributing editor at Cosmo Girl Magazine where I could turn my love of creating into a monthly article called Cool Room. By then I had come full circle and was able to show girls everywhere that you didn’t have to be rich to have an amazing environment, you just had to be crafty. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

To Leave Exhausted
It’s years later now and I have 6 published books under my belt, countless runway shows that still air on fashion TV, I’ve starred in (and I say “starred” with a wink and a chuckle) 5 different TV shows which you can catch here and there on several different channels and every day I’m still busy looking for my next creative adventure. When I die, which could be from an overdose of Sharpie and E-6000 glue fumes, I want to be in a bed that I created out of popsicle sticks and in a quilt of my old shirts. I want to be exhausted and know that I left the world a better place.

Mark Montano is author of The Big-Ass Book of Crafts and The Big-Ass Book of Home Décor. Visit markmontano.com.

Comments

I've seen the Big Ass book, now I know about the person who wrote it. I saw you and your Mom in my mind's eye sitting on the porch picking at the wicker couch. I would do this and I have done things like that. I gave my grandsons a sewing lesson to keep them entertained one day and they loved it and I know they will remember it. My mom has a Singer portable from the 50s and she's always said don't let anything happen to it after she's gone. I've used it and can't believe how nicely it hums alone. Thanks for sharing your story, it was original and heartfelt.

I love hearing your story of how you grew up and crafted your life! I love the idea of repurposing, the challenge, the pleasure of giving new life to objects! I believe your vision is making the world a better place; Your book is wonderful~

What a great story! I love this! I grew up sewing and making everything from scratch too. I grew up in a time and place and environment that really encouraged individuality. I wanted to be different from the other kids and never even considered blending into the crowd.

I would really have loved to have seen your jungle boy environment, too cool! Thank you for sharing your story!

I loved your vision before and I love it even more now. There is nothing better then creating something with what you have and with your own hands. Thanks for making my day much brighter.

P.S. I love both the big ass books, I can hardly put them down. Keep it coming!

LOVE knowing the story behind the man...thanks for sharing, mark. i could see your story in my mind as i read it...your parents sound awesome, and they obviously taught you SO much through their own creativity. they must be so proud of you!

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