Small Crafts

I took the time today to wrap four of my hangers in leftover lengths of cotton yarn. It reminded me of the importance of small crafts, those which are wholly unimpressive. I spend quite a bit of time working on things meant as much for others as for myself–the intricate fair isle/selbu hat I just completed, for example, which, as my fingers became fatigued and my eyelids twitched, I pushed through by imagining all the compliments I would received once it was finished and paraded down Smith Street. Small crafts, like these “Nanny hangers,” as we call them in my family, are meant only for their owner. Rarely are guests in my home invited to peer into my closet–but when they do, they always comment on the rainbow inside.

The often-crazy color combinations are not usually trendy, nor are they generally classic. They represent the random balls of scrap yarn my grandmother, Nanny (or Sophie–though even some of her peers call her Nanny) pulled from her stash contained in plastic bags (“Nanny bags”, as we call them). She isn’t a crafty woman–she was much more content to scrub floors and watch the kids than sew hems or iron curtains–but she made an art of Nanny hangers. She gave them out, six at a time, to anyone who asked for some. And everyone who saw them asked for some. We would help, six years old sitting next to her with a hanger squeezed between our knees to keep them upright like she did, but she had to start them–that was the trickiest part. Usually we just picked out the color combinations for her–purple and hunter green, lemon yellow and ketchup red–and enjoyed the fruits of her labor.

Nanny is the one grinning on the right.

Every time I open my closet, I smile and thank her for the dozens of Nanny hangers she made for me. They’ve held up remarkably well. They add an unexpected burst of color and handmade to my dark and often dreary closet; they don’t squeak when you slide them across the bar; and (the most coveted quality) nothing ever slips off them, not pants or camisoles or silky boatnecks.

This is a quiet craft, modest and unpretentious and workhorse, much like Nanny. But it makes life just that much easier, that much quirkier, that much happier–just like, you guessed it, Nanny. I’m glad I paused to make a couple, the way Nanny taught me, and remind myself that the payoff of hand-making things is not always about the praise.

*Note: I would have used this opportunity to give you a lesson in making wrapped (or Nanny) hangers, but my amazing little sister is working on developing a consumer-charity (think Tom’s Shoes or Warby Parker) in Kenya based on them, and I didn’t want to jump her shark. I’ll talk it over with her and, with her okay, share with you.

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