Crafting on a Shoestring in Coffee County

CraftingA rising interest in crafting coupled with a strengthening commitment to reuse and recycle inspired Extension agents Mary McLean and Karen Jones to hold their first crafting workshop in Coffee County in September 2012. The title of the workshop, Crafting on a Shoestring, reflects another driving force for the class: the straggling economy. “It’s hard down here,” McLean says. “There are so many people who are unemployed.”

The economic downturn has fueled crafting nationwide, bolstered by new sites like Pinterest and Etsy. “A lot of people think crafting is too expensive. We want to show them it’s affordable, and that you can make things that look nice,” Jones says. “People want something they can make inexpensively but that doesn’t look cheap.” At the first workshop, McLean and Jones showed participants how to craft necklaces from washers, scarves from t-shirts, and candy dishes from fishbowls. “Everybody loved those necklaces and it was the simplest thing ever to do,” McLean relates. “And inexpensive.”

Ten people attended the first workshop, which cost $10 per person, and each attendee took home four crafts. All of the participants, who ranged in age from teenagers to seniors, were thrilled with the experience and promised to return for the next class. Jones and McLean plan to hold the workshops seasonally, with the next focused on the holidays. Participants will make crafts they can gift to ease the expense of the holiday season, turning glass bottles into Santa figurines and scraps of paper into decorative magnets.

McLean and Jones, both longtime crafters, are experts at buying within a budget. They strive to keep the cost of each craft under $1. They also make all of the crafts themselves beforehand, learning how to cut corners to make the process even less costly. They also repurpose household items, like adding stick-on rhinestones to take-out plastic silverware for a girl’s birthday party. “It dresses it up and makes it look special, but it’s freebie stuff that you’d normally throw away,” Jones points out.

“People with a lot of money will still go out and buy gifts,” Jones says. “But a lot of people want to make things with a personal touch. Last year, my whole family decided everyone had to make their own Christmas present for the name they drew.” McLean adds that the crafting movement is especially popular with kids, who “love to craft and get few opportunities to do anything like that in school” and with seniors, who “like working with their hands.”

McLean and Jones’ workshops harken back to the 1920’s and 1930’s, when home demonstration agents across the South taught women to make crafts from objects found at home and in nature to supplement farm incomes during lean times. Jones and McLean are well aware of Extension’s role ninety years ago. Citing a local teacher’s request for a craft workshop for 6th-9th graders, McLean predicts that “once the word gets out, I can see a lot of that coming back.”

Last Updated: May 20, 2014