The webs we weave, not to mention bibs, stools, wreaths . .


Women love handicrafts.

We like to buy them, travel to obscure little towns to buy more of them, do them, take classes to learn to do more of them, decorate with them, add on to our homes so we can decorate with more of them . . .

If the pioneer women, on whose kitchens we pattern ours, could see their butter churns decorated with tole painting and standing in a corner, or the brooms they bloodied their hands wrapping dressed up with cross-stitch bibs, they might have us all burned as witches.

Is it something in the nesting instinct of women that moves them to clutter their homes with bears, bunnies, wreaths and welcome signs? How many acres of flowers have died so we could fill bowls, baskets and crock pots with potpourri? Do we appreciate, as we deck the house in country baskets that were our foremothers' only form of storage, that they might have sold their children for our nice kitchen cabinets?

Don't we understand that we are going to have to dust all this stuff?

"I think these things appeal to the innate creative need in all of us," says Anne Chamberlain, first vice president of the Naval Academy Women's Club, which sponsors an enormously popular craft show each year at the academy. Four hundred crafters compete for the 130 booths at the fall show, and 3,000 to 4,000 women visit and spend perhaps $130,000 at the one-day event.

"So many people enjoy doing crafts themselves. And they enjoy seeing what other people do," she says.

My own theory is that crafts satisfy a special need in women to do something and have it stay done. Beds must be made again each day. That is also true for dinner. The same clothes get washed and folded every week. Even the children you lovingly bore are just works in progress.

But there is something about stenciling a room. It stays stenciled.

My sisters and I have covered the crafting spectrum. Quilting, cross-stitching, stenciling, basket-making, doll-making, tole painting, sweat shirt decorating. It is our escape into creativity from the redundancy of household chores. My sister has been known to lose herself in cross-stitch while the children cried, the washer flooded and the dinner burned. But she made a footstool cover you could die for.

Christmas brings out the worst in us. We are either staying up all night desperately trying to finish those needlepoint Christmas stockings for the kids, or we are draping the kitchen with the hand-painted sweat shirts we are giving to all the nieces and nephews.

Or worse yet, we are standing five-deep, wallets out, at a crafts fair booth waiting to pay too much for something we know we could do if we had enough time.

These days that is me. I do my crafts with my credit card. I have been working on the same sampler for so long, it will be an antique by the time it is done. And I'm going to have to call Thailand and have someone come pick up all the reed left from my basket-making phase.

But I have been out among them, and I can tell you what is hot. Hand-smocked dresses for the American Girl dolls are big, very big. So are those collage pins, made from old coins, old buttons, old watch parts, old stamps. Seasonal flags are big. You can get a crab Christmas flag these days. Paper jewelry, including origami earrings, is popular. Personally, I like the larger crafts. Your handmade armoires and your hand-hewn china cupboards.

Although a number of vendors these days are men, especially in the doll house, furniture, decoy and pottery departments, there doesn't seem to be much for men to buy, unless you want a floppy-eared bunny in a Buffalo Bills dress.

But men don't get it anyway. My husband says that when he visits my sisters, he feels like he never left home. Everywhere he looks, same stuff.

My sister Elizabeth's husband is equally unappreciative. Here she was, walking on furniture half the night, stenciling borders near the ceiling of every room in her house, and he was giving her a hard time. She reponded by stenciling T-shirts for the kids that said: "I stood still and my Mommie stenciled me."

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