Please welcome Malia to the Smarty Pants stage! In her own words, Malia is "big dork for all things crafty," and even has a group knitting blog, Elegant Yarniverse!
The only thing that rivals my love of YA fiction is my love of craft. If you know me in person, you know I always have some yarn on me. More often than not, that means I’m knitting a pair of socks, because handknit socks are super fun to make, portable, and the last word in comfy. Also, one can never have too many socks. I wish I could knit you all a pair of socks so you could know that joy, but instead I’m going to tell you about three of my all-time favorite YA books/series that also just so happen to have an element of craftiness to them. It's probably not a coincidence.
Island of the Blue Dolphins
by Scott O’Dell
The craftiness: Our heroine Karala is alone on an island doing it all for herself. She has to make just about everything she needs to survive, including a fence. Out of whale bones. The best thing she makes, if you can even believe she can top the fence, is a fabulous outfit featuring iridescent cormorant feathers and otter fur.
Why it's so good: Karala is an amazing character because she's simultaneously strong and girly, qualities that in literature often seem to be mutually exclusive. The aforementioned outfit is seriously fancy. She could have made clothes out of any old sea birds that live around the Channel Islands, where the novel is set--sea gulls, pelicans, etc-- but our girl wanted the cormorant feathers because they're shiny and beautiful. Another fun fact: sea otter fur is the finest fur of any mammal. I've felt it myself when a park ranger was telling me about sea otters during a family trip to Alaska. It’s swank, and she wasn’t about to settle for some sea lion pelt. She clearly felt really fabulous in that getup.
Bottom line: Seek out beautiful materials and be proud of the gorgeous things you make with them.
Anne of Green Gables
by Lucy Maud Montgomery
The craftiness: Knitting happens a lot in this book. It seems an ever-present activity that the adult women do, and Anne’s antics are constantly going to make someone exasperatedly set their knitting in their lap.
Why it's so good: It may seem that Anne is too much of a dreamer to tolerate sitting still and making the small repetitive movements knitting involves, but she knows knitting, crochet, and patchwork--it’s just mostly mentioned in passing. After all, she loves beautiful things and must have been looking for ways to embellish that heinous wincey dress, right? Much as I love crafting, I have to admit omitting lengthy descriptions of her knitting in favor of one where she is getting drunk with her bestie is a good editorial decision. There is a passage, however, in which Diana teaches her a new crochet stitch that no one else in the whole town knows and they vow to keep it a secret. Now that is some bosom friendship.
Bottom Line: While it's perfectly lovely to enjoy solo crafty endeavors, there is real joy to be found in crafting with a friend.
Little House on the Prairie Series
by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The craftiness: The books are rife with crafting, the whole series long (except don’t read that last book where she starts referring to Almanzo as Manly--gross). Laura Ingalls Wilder has Proustian levels of sense memory, and it shows in all the descriptions of handmade goods. In these books, there's everything: quilting, dressmaking, cooking, woodworking, candy making, doll making, bullet making, and how to make a super fun balloon out of a pig's bladder.
Why it's so good: Laura, our heroine, gives herself a bit of a hard time when it comes to crafting--she’s constantly comparing herself to Mary, the perfect Marcia-Brady-esque member of the Ingalls family. Nevertheless, Laura obviously appreciates handmade goods. There are such fascinating descriptions of the meals they eat, the new dresses they get, how awesome that bladder balloon was, everything. When I read (and reread, and reread) these as a kid, I was actually jealous of how cool their lives were when they weren't almost dying as a result of some terrible decision Pa made. If you've been dabbling in growing tomatoes or keeping bees on your fire escape as a small effort towards self-sufficiency, you should definitely reread these books.
Bottom line: Craft can be more than a hobby; it can be a lifestyle.
Since you’re reading this, I know you’re already sold on how awesome YA books are. If you’re looking to kindle or rekindle a relationship with the crafty side of yourself, check these books out. Your own personal cormorant feather dress is just waiting for you to make it.