'Perfect Strangers': Crafters Commentator Susan Orlean visits a craft store near Boston to talk to crafters about why they do what they do. She encounters the store's craft guru, whose job it is to teach crafting, and to counsel those crafters who are stuck.
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'Perfect Strangers': Crafters

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'Perfect Strangers': Crafters

'Perfect Strangers': Crafters

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From time to time, we turn to writer Susan Orlean for her personal observations on the ordinary and extraordinary people and places that surround us. We call her essays Perfect Strangers.

SUSAN ORLEAN reporting:

There's nothing quite as full of hope and possibility, as full of the magic of transformation as a craft supply store. It's the world of clay yet unmolded, of lanyard yet unbraided, the world of all those projects I plan on doing someday. One recent afternoon as the craft urge was rising in me, I dropped by A.C. Moore in Framingham, Massachusetts, a giant place filled with every craft product imaginable and unimaginable, and I wanted all of them.

A web, heat and bond, iron-on adhesive hem...


A book called "Creating Lifelike Animals In Polymer Clay."

Quick, easy, rigid wrap...

A clay gun.

A great book, "Clay Techniques With a Pasta Machine."

A pin bin for your push pins.

Here we are in the paint. You've got face paint, Christmas paint, fabric paint, acrylic paint, ultra-temp paint, glitter paint, tempura paint, fluorescent paint, poster paint, finger paint. That's what I've got to get, a couple of those.

It was a busy afternoon in A.C. Moore. The store was jammed with scrapbookers and knitters and bead devotees. In the clay department, I ran into a small girl with a very big project.

Unidentified Girl #1: We have to make a model of the Earth to show the crust, mantle, the inner core and the outer core, and maybe some Silly Putty for like the liquidy materials.

ORLEAN: And then I met a gentleman from England, who was buying embroidery supplies for his daughter.

Are there big craft stores like this in England?

Unidentified Man: Nothing like this.

ORLEAN: This is sort of a craft paradise.

Unidentified Man: Right. And for me, personally, I collect carrots. Like in the craft department, they have this--vegetables are plastic. I've already got that one, so I can't get that one.

ORLEAN: The resident craft guru at A.C. Moore is Sannica Beittonda(ph). She sees the inherent potential in every product in the store.

What are these?

Ms. SANNICA BEITTONDA (A.C. Moore): These are the ever popular googly eyes, something that I use almost every day here. Just place two of those on a pom-pom and it's--you've got yourself an instant bug.

ORLEAN: Sannica, though, is partisan. She doesn't knit. She doesn't do origami. She isn't crazy about jumbo chenille loopies. On the other hand, she loves any craft involving a pipe cleaner or a Popsicle stick. And she believes absolutely in glue.

Ms. BEITTONDA: I don't think any woman is a real woman without a glue gun, so my glue gun is the first thing I plug in when I come in in the mornings.

ORLEAN: As Sannica sees it, glue is not just glue. It's something existential.

Ms. BEITTONDA: Everything in life is held together somehow, and in a crafter's life, it's held together by glue.

ORLEAN: I myself am purchasing glue and anti-glue.

Ms. BEITTONDA: There you go.

ORLEAN: So I guess I'm doing the entire craft cycle.

Ms. BEITTONDA: You will come a full circle after you've...

ORLEAN: I'll glue it together, and then I'll unglue it.

Ms. BEITTONDA: There we go.

ORLEAN: Sometimes in the craft world, there are crises. Your Xyron sticker maker jams or your wood-burning set goes up in flames. That's when people turn to Sannica, and believe me, she's heard it all.

Unidentified Woman #1: And the spray adhesive came out in blobs instead of a steady spray.

Unidentified Woman #2: ...these little fairies about this big anywhere.

Unidentified Woman #3: ...find the candles for the windows?

Unidentified Woman #4: What kind of spray paint can turn her silver containers into gold?

Unidentified Girl #2: ...for the many size presents, because it's hard to fit everything in the ornament...

ORLEAN: But most of the time crafts solve crises. This occurred to me while Sannica and I were examining a mysterious product from Beadalon Industries: a battery-operator bead reamer.

Ms. BEITTONDA: This is used to enlarge the holes of plastic beads and pearls and so on. But I don't know if it...

ORLEAN: Is there a lot of call for this?

Ms. BEITTONDA: I have found that we sell everything that you don't need, but that brings enjoyment. So this is not like your daily bread and butter, but this is to keep you from going insane on a Saturday night if you don't have a date.

ORLEAN: Why do you think--I mean, at a time where everybody's talking about how they have no time, crafts seem to be bigger than ever.

Ms. BEITTONDA: It's therapy. With a bottle of glue and some shapes, you can forget about the outside world, forget about the rat race and just get it out of your system.

ORLEAN: I think maybe the busier you are, the more it means to do something that actually can't be rushed.

Ms. BEITTONDA: Exactly.

ORLEAN: It's like you just put everything on hold and say, `Look, I'm glueing my foam shapes, and I don't care what happens to the rest of the world.'

Ms. BEITTONDA: You can do anything you want to. It's very relaxing.

ORLEAN: At this point the day was winding down and Sannica was getting ready to head home.

What does your basement look like? Do you have a million craft projects down there that you're working on?

Ms. BEITTONDA: I don't have a single thing. I get my creative fix here at the store, and then I go home to a very clean and neat apartment with not a paintbrush out of place.

ORLEAN: Before Sannica left, I described my recent struggle to assemble a plastic cow, and I confessed to her that I had solved it using the ultimate glue. I hired someone to do it for me.

Ms. BEITTONDA: There we go. If all else fails, that's the way I like to do things.

ORLEAN: Now back to my knitting.

INSKEEP: That's Susan Orlean, a staff writer at The New Yorker Magazine. She's also the author of "My Kind of Place: Travel Stories from a Woman Who's Been Everywhere." Now if you want to see how she crafted a telephone, go to npr.org.

This is NPR News.

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