Handmade: Creating a new beginning in 2021

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News

It was a time when cloth dolls were all the rage among many collectors. So, for several years, I burned the midnight oil, honing my skills as a needle-sculpted doll artist, sometimes until 3 or 4 a.m. I sold my little “Brown Folks,” dressed in Victorian-inspired garments, at local craft shows, along with a few beaded jewelry items I made. “Those were the days,” as they say!

There were craft shows everywhere. A week seldom went by that you didn’t hear about organizers of an upcoming show, many in Detroit, inviting crafters to be vendors. The crafting industry was booming. Handmade items were in demand, once again, and it seemed anyone and everyone with an inkling of crafting skills had jumped on board.

Manufacturers kept a close eye on what folks were making at their kitchen table, besides dinner. Items only slightly similar to those meticulously made by hand were quickly being mass produced and popping up on store shelves everywhere, but nothing can compete with the art of handmade. The look says it all.

Brown models an asymmetrical vest she crocheted using cotton and acrylic yarn.

Back then, most crafters hadn’t started selling their work Online, so you only knew of these talented makers if you attended a show, or through word-of-mouth.

At the time, we had an art critic/writer, but no one was covering these amazing crafters, who used a range of mediums to bring their creativity to fruition. I felt they, too, deserved “15 minutes of fame" to showcase their exceptional work. I brought the subject up in a couple staff meetings, noting the crafting industry was huge, and growing even more by leaps and bounds.

About three years later my editor called yours truly into her office to say she wanted me to write a weekly craft column for our “Homestyle” section. Although it was never my intent to be the person to fill the void, I jumped at the opportunity, and submitted three possible names for the column, one of course being “Handmade.”

After writing my first column (May of 2007) on how to make a memory wire bracelet (real simple, but I had to start somewhere), I asked my editor, “What if I run out of ideas?” Her reply -- “You can’t!”

Handmade columnist Jocelynn Brown models her "Batik Chic" jacket, consisting of yo-yos of fabric stitched together, in the studio at The Detroit News in Detroit, Michigan on April 14, 2010.

So, for the past 13½ years, I’ve written a column practically every week that appeared in this space. Ideas kept coming. The more columns I wrote, the easier it got to find a subject. I've stayed motivated through the years by telling myself – You’re revealing local talent one crafter at a time!

Regular readers of Handmade know I've sometimes featured my own projects, including a turquoise crocheted vest that was the result of falling off my "yarn diet" after not being able to resist a fuzzy variegated cake of fiber I found in a local craft store. I also wrote a column that included a photo of yours truly sporting an over-the-top look, as I was decked out in handmade finery I'd made in past years.

It's all been such a great experience, but I've decided this will be my last Handmade column. However, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for reading, and all the compliments and kind remarks you emailed, snail mailed and expressed with a quick phone call. Those words meant the world to me, and often made my day. As a writer, you always hope someone is reading your words, but knowing makes all the difference!

Jocelynn Brown

And, to all of you who said “yes,” when I phoned to ask for an interview, please know I couldn’t have done it without you! Thanks for making Handmade such a wonderful and enlightening part of my work assignments. I learned so much from you, including how to read a knitting pattern, do tapestry crochet, the difference between a warp and weft, fulling and felting, the meaning of fat quarter, jump ring, base metal -- the list goes on to include dabbling in broomstick lace and Tunisian crochet. I appreciate all the years of inspiration, and, without a doubt, I’m a better crafter because of you!

Also, thanks for the laughs we shared during interviews, and not hanging up on me when I dug deep for information, asking questions that made even yours truly a bit uncomfortable. It was sometimes those answers that made the story.

Now -- after nearly 35 years, I've chosen to leave the paper, and as far as planning a "second act" -- well, that can be difficult in the midst of a pandemic. In the meantime, you can rest assured I’ll be doing a lot of knitting, crocheting, and a little beading and sewing. And, if you ever see me prancing about the craft aisles like a kid in a toy store, please don’t hesitate to say, “Hey -- I remember you!”

Columnist Jocelynn Brown models some of her handmade clothing, jewelry and accessories in 2013. Brown has been writing her column since 2007.

Contact Jocelynn Brown on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade/