Exploring the company we keep at UCI and beyond

Roller derby girls. God Without Religion. Harry Potter enthusiasts (fanatics?). These are a small sampling of the groups and organizations that have formed at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and around Orange County. Members share a devotion to their cause and a desire to pursue it in collaboration with others, which are the subjects we examine in this blog.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Do It Yourself at UCI by Martha Davis

Today Alex, a second year Science and Engineering student at UCI, has traded in math equations and 4” textbooks, opting to turn his focus towards creating a piñata with balloons, newspaper, flour water, and colorful tissue paper. While Alex usually finds himself bogged down with grueling engineering homework where one problem can typically take over several hours and several pages, today he takes a break with the DIY (Do It Yourself) crafting club on campus where students from all different majors and creative backgrounds are welcome to try their hand at creativity. Sometimes, substituting a notebook for a balloon, and calculator for some tissue paper can be just the ticket for a stressful release. Co-Founded by UCI sophomores Hannah Hirsekorn, Tiger Souvannakoumane, and Melissa Maldonado, DIY is dedicated to the hand-made and spreading awareness towards a crafting revolution.

Hannah, Tiger, and Melissa recognize a handmade revolution emerging today, and actually the trend of “do it yourself” started in the 1950s when families started fixing houses themselves. With an increase of user friendly manuals available, people were more easily able to paint, install carpet, and put in lighting fixtures themselves. Then, the trend turned toward the Hippie revolution in the 1960s when people opted to make new clothes out of used ones to not only be unique, but also to defy mass-producing cooperations. Today, the “do it yourself” trend can be partially attributed to crafting icons like Martha Stuart who appeals to women looking to add personal touches of elegance into their home. Certainly, with the rise of television “how to” demonstrations and internet blogs crafting has become an increasingly popular pass time. In fact, Tiger, Hannah, and DIY member Hannah Avarquez all have their own Etsy account, a website that allows people to create their own online profile to sell vintage items and handmade creations. An online craft fair, if you will. Though the rise of crafting has been largely influenced by new technology, it has also seen a rise in popularity as young celebrities have turned to crafts such as knitting and crocheting during their time on set between filming. Big time stars like Cameron Diaz and Hilary Swank have all been noted to try their hand at knitting, influencing their young fans to do the same.

Hannah wants to bring “DIY” awareness to the UCI campus through her club. Hannah explains, “DIY is a craft revolution. It’s about the handmade and doing things for yourself, and going against and working with technology… it’s about bringing back the old sewing and all that kind of stuff. And also, incorporating it into the modern world.” Hannah, Tiger, and Melissa all agree that crafting brings them a creative outlet, as well as a sense of accomplishment when they finish a project. Since Hannah, Tiger, and Melissa are all art majors, crafting gives them a creative release that their school projects cannot fulfill.

During a typical meeting, Hannah, Tiger, and Melissa will first hold a craft-making demonstration for a project they all agreed to prior to the meeting day. Then, they will either get lost in their own crafting experience, or circulate around the room and help with other member’s projects. These projects have included the making and designing of hair barrettes, mother’s day cards and jars, t-shirts, quilts, cupcakes, charcoal drawings, fabric flowers, piñatas, and even pasta. The trick to coming up with an idea for meeting is by making sure the craft can be completed within two hours (time allotted per each meeting), that the project does not require complicated tools, and that the craft is relatively inexpensive since the DIY budget is based on $5/quarter dues from each member. Because the club’s attendance ranges anywhere from 5 to 25 people, money is tight and consequently so are supplies. However, a tight budget has not dampened their desire to come up with fun and unique ideas. If anything, it forces them to be more creative to use supplies they already have, like using an old t-shirt for fabric, using old photos for collages, or using sticks found on the ground for decoration.

Even though Hannah, Tiger, and Melissa’s major have them constantly around art, their club manages to bring together a diverse group in the means of study concentration. DIY contains members studying art, journalism, global cultures, urban design, and even engineering among others. Melissa explains “A lot of our members are really creative, but they’re not art majors, and they want a chance to just be creative, stress free, and relaxed. So, they come and make these crazy cards, sew crazy creatures, and make little hair barrettes. Everyone can be really creative, that’s the best part of our club.” Besides containing various concentrations of study, DIY also has a surprisingly consistent male membership, and let’s face it; the prospect of crafting does not ring the bells of interest in a lot of men, and finding gender-neutral crafts can be a bit strenuous. Therefore, the groups flower barrettes also functioned as flower pins.

During the piñata meeting, DIY member Alex paper maches a balloon that will later turn into a sturdy shell for candy, and muses about his big mechanical engineering project due on Wednesday that he has yet to finish. Though, dipping newspaper pieces into flour water and then meticulously placing them onto his orange balloon seem to sooth any anxiety he has about his upcoming school duties. Similarly, during the Mother’s day glass jar decorating and card making meeting, newcomer Charlie, a 2nd year science and engineering major, admits that rather than crafting right now, he should probably be writing his 8 page paper due the next morning, which he hasn’t started. Again, gluing delicate colorful pieces of paper to his glass jar seem to take his mind off of his paper topic. Charlie silently holds up several colored pieces of paper in blues and greens and places them against the jar and then puts them back down again. Though he is “in the zone”, all his creative efforts come to a sudden and blatant close with one rapid turn of his elbow, causing his mother’s day jar to fall of his desk and violently break onto the floor. “I guess this is a sign that I should be working on my paper.”

Breaking jars are not the only ailment challenging the smooth running of DIY. One challenge Hannah faces is the logistics of being recognized as an official UCI club. Though she wants to have school recognition, a lot of red tape is required to maintain club status. Hannah, Tiger, and Melissa all had to take a CORE test and go through a club organization orientation. There are a lot of rules they need to demonstrate proficiency in, and a lot of precautions they are advised to take but that are hard to accomplish. For instance, DIY has not been able to purchase the school’s club insurance because of the excessive cost. Hannah has enough trouble affording bi-monthly crafting supplies, and cannot afford to put money into insurance. So, should someone run a sewing needle through their finger, technically Hannah is responsible and has to pay for any repercussions. That just means their crafts not only have to be time-conscious, user-friendly, and inexpensive, but also insanely safety proof. No one better step on that glass!

Besides club logistics holding DIY back, the group attendance is almost impossible to predict. Though DIY has several consistent members that come to every meeting, there is no way to account for a big group of friends that shows up after seeing a DIY poster on campus. Hannah says, “Sometimes there are big groups of people that will come together, but then some meetings they just won’t come. It’s fine, but sometimes it makes it hard to plan crafts because it’s hard to know how many people are going to be there and how many supplies we’re going to need.”

Though DIY faces a few setbacks, there’s no doubt that they manage to have fun at every meeting. At their charcoal drawing meeting, Tiger has a hard time finding an inspiring object to draw, so he asks Corinne if he can draw her plushy sea otter backpack. After drawing the sea otter, Tiger asks Corinne to model in the middle of the room with one leg up in the air and one hand extending outward into a claw. It’s not long before the whole room starts drawing Corinne, and then drawing her without ever looking at the paper; a drawing technique Hannah shares with DIY that she learned in one of her art classes. Corinne’s blue pigtails and animated face offers a perfect template for a bold drawing, and good entertainment as well.

During the quilting meeting, Hannah shrieks, “Corinne, why do you think you’re so special that you don’t have to make your quilt square the same size as everyone else!?” Apparently, Corinne missed the memo that she was supposed to leave at lease a centimeter around her 12”x12” fabric square so Hannah could have room to sew all the squares together. Hannah slowly shakes her head back and forth with a faint smile on her face, perhaps musing how she might be able to work around this faux pas.

DIY meetings offer humorous moments, but they can also be eerily quiet too. Sometimes members get so wrapped up in their own creations that they forget to talk altogether. It’s fascinating how some meetings are especially social and full of laugher, while others are more peaceful and methodical. While the quilt-patch sewing meeting had members too entranced with the process of sewing buttons and fabric pieces to their quilt square to talk, the piñata meeting had people laughing, questioning each other’s forms, and sharing stories. These stories often fill the room with good moods, like when Hannah tells everyone about the time she made a stencil of her boyfriend holding a balloon, and attempted to sell it at a craft fair. Tiger pointed it out to an old woman who said “oh my gosh, I like this one” and bought it. “So, now some random lady has a stencil of my boyfriend.” Also entertaining is when people take supplies from the meeting’s official project and start making other creations, like when Corinne found a strip of lace, and a piece of fabric with a printed bird on it and started sewing them onto her jeans.

DIY members all consider crafting as a soothing means to relax and de-stress, but some also find motivation to craft as they consider the prospect of selling their creations. Along with his Etsy account, Tiger has sold some of his hand-screened t-shirts at various craft fairs in Orange County. Likewise, Hannah has set up several of her own booths at craft fairs, and at some school-sponsored events like UCI Wayzgoose where UCI clubs are welcomed to set up a table in Aldrich Park to entice prospective members to join. Unfortunately, DIY was not included in the Wayzgoose brochure this year, despite Hannah having signed up and paid for a reserved spot. DIY had been forgotten; just another bump in the road for first year clubs, but Hannah managed to set up a table anyways. Her table displayed hand-made headbands, barrettes, retro cards, t-shirts, and buttons that they were hoping to sell in order to put more money towards club supplies. They also put out manila envelopes, ribbon, old photos, buttons, glue, and scissors with hopes that students passing by would be inspired to make their own cards. At the end of the day, a hearty amount of the card-making supplies were gone, as well as a respectable amount of projects that were for sale. Overall, it was a successful craft day.

Though fun and entertainment is always welcome at DIY meetings and events, Hannah, Tiger, and Melissa take crafting very seriously. They want people to recognize the craft movement, and vision their club as an established art force. To them, crafting is more than a hobby, and one of Hannah’s biggest fears about the club is that people perceive them as a group that glues macaroni pieces to card stock. They want more people to regularly attend craft fairs, where they frequent their own craft booths, and appreciate people’s ability to make beautiful creations from scratch. Further, they do not recognize a distinguishing separation between arts and crafts. Melissa says, “Craft making is a kind of art form. We take it very seriously, and our projects are artsy. I mean, people make hair barrettes and get really into it like it’s their own piece of art they want to make perfect. Craft making is just a different way of making art.”

Hannah also gets irked by those who do not appreciate the hard work and skill that is put into making art. While some people switch their major to art with hopes for an easier work load, Hannah rebuts, “What, do they think art is going to be easier, NO!” She even wrote a paper in one of her art classes about UCI’s art buildings being completely separated from the rest of the school buildings. She finds it ironic that while all the other major’s buildings are linked by a circle, students must take a bridge to reach the art buildings all the way on the other side of campus. Is there a reason the art rooms are separated from all the others?

With their first year coming to a close Hannah, Tiger, and Melissa have new ideas for next year that are intended to make the club even more successful. Rather than planning meetings solely by themselves, they are holding club elections to vote for a president, vice president, treasurer, secretary, history recorder (takes pictures at meetings and documents craft ideas), ideas person, and advertising liaison (someone to popularize DIY through posters). With all the position requests turned in, Tiger reveals that everyone will pretty much get the position they want, or at least be involved in the planning somehow. Along with DIY “officers”, Hannah has new event ideas to liven up the DIY club, like a 24 hour knit-a-thon where everyone is invited to watch movies and knit all day and all night. Is there a prize for the longest scarf? Maybe. In essence, Hannah works hard to ensure the survival of her club upon her graduation. She says, “My vision for this club is to just become an established art force. I just really want people to recognize this movement, this craft movement that’s going on right now, and participate in it.” after reminiscing about the first year of DIY under her belt, sometimes handmade.

8 hours of meeting observations
lengthy interview with the group founders
3 smeller interviews with group members
2 hours observation at craft fair
craft research through 3 UCI data basis'

*Photos by Tiger Souvannakoumane

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