This is why making matters to Samantha BrunsonPublished on 4 February 2020 By Holly Butteriss 12 min read
Samantha Brunson is a self identified knitaholic, elderly millennial, and owner of the wonderful Bobble Club House (plus she has an absolutely gorgeous Instagram!). Samantha is a superstar when it comes to craft and her making journey is truly inspiring. Through a patchwork of family history and an insatiable need to create, we can begin to understand why this maker, makes.
I would run my fingers over the stitches and try to imagine the stories that they held.
It's Black History Month this February here in the US. What does Black History Month mean to me? It’s a question that I struggled with for most of my childhood and teenage years. Growing up I felt as though I lived in two worlds. There was the world of my predominantly white town. Where I was often the only person of color in my class. Then there was the world of Jersey City, New Jersey. Where my father’s family is from and where my Grandfather ran the African American Historical Society Museum. Every Black History Month those worlds would come together when my father would offer to come to my school and do a lecture on slavery, and the African American experience. Kindergarten through to fifth grade, my Dad would walk into my class, pull out slave shackles, and pass them around the room. At the time the best word to describe my reaction to this was… mortification.
Of course, everything looks different with age and perspective. Turns out my lawyer father taking a day off of work to show my classmates shackles and quilts from the underground railroad was about more than embarrassing his daughter. It was an example of how much he values storytelling and the importance of our history. Because of this and so many memories like this, I now know how important it is to tell our stories and to never forget where we came from.
A few months ago I was thinking about all of this when I saw a posting from LoveCrafts asking makers to share 'Why They Make'. It was a big and complicated question for me to tackle; one that I've probably only just began to scratch the surface of. But I appreciate the opportunity to share my story with all of you. It might not be an elementary school classroom but I guess in my own way I’m carrying on the tradition that my father started.
Before we get into this I do want to call out a few makers who I believe you should be following if you aren’t already. These makers of color inspire me every day and I’m so grateful to be in this community with them.
@jeanettesloan, @maralicoleknits, @creativececi, @visuvios_crafts, @ocean_bythesea, @thedreamcrochet, @ggmadeit, @lolabeanyarnco, @callmedwj, @detroitknots, @tlyarncrafts, @gregorystitch, @knitsandbobs, @bayronhandmade, @knitandcroshay, @cosmic_crochet_creations, @itsreallyrelle, @julieatwork, @commuknity, @loopnthreads, @northknits, @theobsessiveknitter, @astitchtowear, and the @therookiehooker.
Making has always been in my life even if I didn't always know that at the time. Recently LoveCrafts asked bloggers to tackle this seemingly simple question. Why do you make? It seemes like the perfect opportunity for me to open up a little more and tell you about my own crafting journey. My life can be mapped out in a series of handmade objects. Not all of them were made by myself. But they all informed who I am in one way or another. A quilt made for the underground railroad, a wedding gift from a stranger, a lumpy sweater, hand-dyed hanks, and crochet mandalas. One having little to do with the other except for the fact that they all made me the maker that I am today.
The underground railroad
I'm a Brunson and that means many things. For the purpose of this story though, it means that I grew up in the halls of the African American Historical Society Museum in Jersey City. My grandfather ran it while he was alive and my father runs it now; an archive of African and African American artefacts. I grew up knowing what slave shackles felt like, and tapping on drums that were older than my oldest living relative. But even when I was too young to know what they meant, my favorite part of the collection was the quilts. I grew up knowing the power that a handmade item can possess, that an object can hold the maker's pain, hope, and resilience in each stitch.
In the summer my dad would pick my sister and me up from camp and much to our dismay we would drive over to the museum. When we got there my dad would pull out a key ring that held what looked like hundreds of keys, but what was probably only thirty or fifty. He would shuffle through them and open up each door to the museum, finding exactly the right label-less keys on the very first try. He would go off to the back office and my sister and I were free to roam the halls. Almost immediately I would find my way to my quilts. The main room of the museum was filled with quilts, many of which were used by the underground railroad. Draped over roofs to warn, invite, and spread information. Their symbols became ingrained in my memory. I would sit in the room and sneakily touch them even though I knew that I wasn't supposed to. I would run my fingers over the stitches and try to imagine the stories that they held. They loomed large over my childhood and probably had a greater impact over me than I will ever know.
Making is a part of me. I don't feel like I have much choice in the matter and I don't see it leaving me any time soon. It's my connection to my past and a road map to my future. It's been my lifeline and helped me find my voice.
The first sweater
I often say that making feels like it's in my bones, but making didn't take over my life until I reached college. I had been struggling for a year and a half in art school. I'm not a particularly gifted illustrator and I couldn't find the words to express the images that were bouncing around in my head. Until that is, I picked up a crochet hook. I can only describe it as love at first loop. Crochet flipped a switch that had always been inside of me but that I never even knew was there. It flowed out of me. It was as though I was a shaken-up soda can and crochet popped the pull tab. I made a sweater for my final project that year and just couldn't stop. I loved that lumpy sweater and kept finding new directions to twist the yarn in. When I finally ran out of thread I felt a sense of relief, because otherwise, I might not have ever put it down. It was freedom.
A stranger's gift
The year after college I decided to write a book that combined my love of crochet and family recipes. The cookbook required me to travel around the country and collect recipes from family members that I quickly realized I barely knew. One of the first stops on the journey was to my Aunt Christine's home in Florida. I may have met her before that day, but I have no memory of that. She was one of my grandfather's three sisters, but I wouldn't have been able to pick her out of a lineup, except for the fact that she was a Brunson in every sense of the word. I met her by myself and we sat silently in her apartment for a long time before we felt comfortable enough to talk. We were strangers to each other and even the stories she shared with me about the family I thought I knew so well seemed like they were describing people and places I didn't recognize.
She started to tell me the recipe she was going to contribute to the book "add a pinch here", "add a dash there". No real specifics. Nothing I could use. I was beginning to think that I had gone all the way to Florida for nothing. She must have picked up on the distance between us because she brought up a story about how she had crocheted my mom and dad a wedding blanket. She wanted to know if they still had it. I instantly knew which one she was talking about. It had been my pillow fort, movie night companion, it had kept me warm during sick days, and my dad had used it to scoop up my sister and me after games of monster. I had no idea that she had created an item that was in so many of my childhood memories. Just like that, she wasn't a stranger anymore. She was beyond thrilled to hear that I crocheted too. She couldn't crochet anymore due to her arthritis. She went to her room and came back with a crisp white crochet blanket. It was half done and had a bright red crochet hook sticking out of the last loop. She passed it to me and told me it was mine now. A new object to pass on. I only met her in person that one time, but by the end of that day I felt closer to her than I do to some family members that I've known all my life.
I feel most at peace when I have a project on my hook or needles and I know that something is off with me if I haven't made time for my making process. The first time I realized this about myself was during my first year of working a job I didn't like. I was working for a company that doesn't even exist anymore and I could see the writing on the wall. Not to be overly dramatic, but it was the Titanic. I knew that it was only a matter of time before the ship went down. I had taken the job on a whim and was so happy to have work that I honestly didn't stop to think about if I even wanted to do it.
I hadn't made anything for over a year. Somewhere along the way, I let it go. My life consisted of waking up, working, and... yep that was about it. I wouldn't have called it by its name, depression, at the time. But looking back that's probably what it was. One day I was scrolling online when I found a website selling hanks of yarn. I had never even heard of the word hank before, but it stirred up something in me. I ordered two almost immediately and dove headfirst into researching what to do with it once it came. When it finally arrived I took a weekend and hand-dyed it into six separate colors. I instantly felt more myself than I had in months and knew that making was not something that I should let go of with such little care.
After that weekend I used the hand-dyed yarn to expand my knitting knowledge. I would come home from work and knit a new swatch. Each day tackling a skill I hadn't tried before. When my job came to a screeching halt six months later, I had made hundreds of swatches and had a full knitting library. I decided to start SOSA Knitwear and walked into a new chapter of my life with a complete portfolio to show potential clients, and a new appreciation for making's ability to change my life.
In past BobbleClubHouse.com blog posts I’ve written about my expectations for the fashion industry vs the reality of working in it. But a few years into SOSA I was feeling pretty disillusioned. One of the things that I love so much about making is what some people call the 'maker's high'. That elevated feeling that you get when you're working on a project. I can work for hours when I'm in this state, never moving or taking breaks to eat. It's difficult to reach this state when your heart isn't in it. I was making every day, but I had very little emotional connection to the work.
One day an idea struck me like a bolt of lightning and I just couldn't shake it. Big canvases covered in crochet and knitting. The idea burrowed into my brain until my only option was to make them. Years later I would be talking to one of my idols, Jacqui Fink, and she would describe the moment she had the idea for her art by saying that she heard a voice one day that told her to "make big". It was very much like that for me. All of a sudden I had this urge to crochet mandalas and experiments in texture. I knew what they were going to become and it was all I could do to keep up with the idea. It took a year of my life, but I had no choice, I very rarely do. One contains a section of my Aunt Christine's white quilt and they were placed on display at the African American Historical Society museum when they were finished.
Making is a part of me. I don't feel like I have much choice in the matter and I don't see it leaving me any time soon. It's my connection to my past and a road map to my future. It's been my lifeline and helped me find my voice. Quite simply, I'm a maker and every day I'm so grateful for everything my crafting practice has given to my life. So now I want to know... why do you make?