by Ramona Walhof
From the former Editor: I can’t count the times that I have spoken with a newly blind person who laments the loss of crafting as an inevitable consequence of blindness. I know that this does not have to be true, but, except for knitting, I am not an arts-and-crafts person, so I can give little hands-on advice or help. Ramona Walhof is a longtime Federation leader who has always enjoyed sewing, knitting, and other handcrafts. In the following article she describes the work of one of the NFB divisions with which she is active. Some readers will be interested in becoming members, but all of us should know about the Krafters’ work so that we can pass along the information to those who need to know about their work and learn how to keep active with the crafts they love. This is what Ramona says:
Although only three years old, the Krafters Division of the NFB is probably the most active of the thirty NFB divisions. Federationists may wish to know more about its activities, and some may wish to join.
President Joyce Kane from Connecticut has done crafts all her life. She knits, crochets, makes clothing and quilts with her sewing machine, does safety pin beading, and is interested in all sorts of other arts and crafts. Joyce lost her vision fourteen years ago and began looking for and creating techniques to do the things she had always enjoyed in order to continue doing them without vision. She joined the Federation and was soon elected to office in her chapter and state affiliate. She was president of her chapter in southern Connecticut for eight years. Joyce made contact with other blind crafters and found that most had experience and ideas to share. Several years ago she contacted President Maurer about forming an NFB division. He recommended she hold an organizing meeting at the 2008 convention.
Before that meeting Joyce had recruited officers and board members from all over the country. Dr. Maurer asked me to help the group write its constitution along the lines customarily followed by NFB divisions. I didn't think I had time for one more activity but was elected to the board and now serve as secretary. This division is different from others in which I have been active, and it is a lot of fun.
By the time of the organizing meeting in 2008, Cindy Sheets of Kentucky had agreed to develop a website: <www.KraftersKorner.org>. Laurie Porter of Wisconsin and some others had agreed to teach classes by conference telephone. Diane Filipe of Colorado brought handmade ceramic Braille pins to sell at the 2009 convention as the first division fundraiser. Before organizing, the group had already begun holding Monday night chats by conference phone calls each week, and in 2012 these chats continue.
The listserv, nfb-krafters-korner was established before the division was organized. Today approximately 150 people are subscribed to this list, and it is one of the most active of all the nfbnet lists now in operation. From 15 to 40 messages may appear on this list most days. Topics cover crafts from quilting to pottery, from crocheting to weaving, from making Christmas decorations to using the sewing machine. Some of the topics discussed during December of 2011 were candy wreaths, blocking knitted items, crafts that can be done one-handed for someone about to have surgery on her shoulder, crocheted cupcakes, snowmen made on the knifty knitter loom, gumdrop trees, sewing rags for rugs, and on and on. To join this list, go to <www.nfbnet.org> and select the link entitled Join or Drop NFBnet Mailing Lists.
President Kane is always eager to recruit volunteers to teach classes. Frequently three or four classes are taught by conference phone call each week. Some classes are complete in one hour, while others stretch over three or four lessons, each lasting from one to two hours. During 2011 twenty-nine classes were offered and completed. Anywhere from three to fifteen students can be in a class.
As usual Joyce was recruiting teachers and students last fall. After some thought I realized there might be some interest in machine sewing, but we had to find out whether members had access to sewing machines. It turned out that some people did. They had to learn how to thread their machines before the class began. We couldn't teach that by phone to people using a variety of machines. Each student in that class now has a new apron. Both Joyce and I were very pleased that we could explain the techniques by phone, and the students were also happy. As you might guess, Joyce is encouraging me to teach another class, this time on making T-shirts as a means of teaching techniques used to sew knitted or stretchy fabrics.
On the listserv, problems are posed and answered by other crafters. Members have learned new crafts and new methods. Newly blind people have gained confidence and ideas for pursuing the craft activities they wish to master.
We have heard many stories of individuals who have conquered fears or other problems. One member, Jewell Boll from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, sold her sewing machine when she lost her sight and is now excited about taking up sewing again. She wants to tell those who are newly blind not to become angry and frustrated. She says that, if she had been in touch with more blind people when she became blind, she would have done things differently. She is looking for a machine to purchase and has sought opinions on the listserv about various models.
Another member, Lynda Lambert from Pennsylvania, was a painter and was depressed and angry when she became blind about four years ago, but she is now enthusiastically producing large and beautiful pottery and beaded items. She held an art show displaying her work last fall and received compliments from those who visited. She also sold several pieces at satisfactory prices. You may wish to check out her website, <http://lyndalambert.com>. Lynda has a lot of ideas, and she entertains other listers as she shares her experiences. She says an artist just can't stop being an artist, even when she has to turn to a different art. Her standards are high, and that will not change. Lynda also knits and does other arts and crafts.
Another painter who lost her vision continued to knit dish cloths while recovering from her surgery, but this was not enough of an outlet for her love of art. After some training at BLIND, Incorporated, in Minnesota, Jeanny Nylander returned home to Lacrosse to find that her husband had bought her a potter's wheel. She had taken pottery in college and enjoyed it. She contacted Joyce Kane and Lynda Lambert through the Krafters Division, and pottery has become her new art. She is again making and selling art. Both Lynda and Jeanny are extremely complimentary about the opportunities they have discovered from each other and from the division. The two led a discussion about pottery for other crafters and taught a class in January of 2012 by conference call. They are planning to teach other classes in coming months. Both say that artists have a need to share ideas and techniques.
Another crafter, Jaselli Walter, uses clay that does not need to be fired. She has led a Monday night chat about this, and members are eager to learn more about what she does. Division members are encouraged to list items they have made for sale on the first and the fifteenth of each month. We have plans to make sales opportunities available on the website as soon as possible. The group also makes items for charities.
Becky Frankeberger from Washington State taught a Tunisian crochet class in January and February, using an email list. Becky is a machine knitter and has gone into business selling items she has made. See her work at <www.butterflyknitting.com>. A write-up on her and her work appears on <www.KraftersKorner.org>.
Representatives from a group of blind quilters have joined the list, and I am sure we will learn more from them.Division dues are ten dollars per year and may be paid directly to the treasurer, Diane Filipe, 1455 44th Avenue Place, Greeley, Colorado 80634, or pay using PayPal on the website, <www.KraftersKorner.org>. Classes are free to members, and they are described ahead of time on the website. Anyone who has questions or suggestions should contact President Joyce Kane at (203) 378-8928 or email her at <email@example.com>. All those interested in arts and crafts should come to the division meeting at the convention in Dallas this summer. I believe we will also have a display and sale of handmade items Saturday afternoon, the day before the exhibit room opens. Please check your agenda for times and locations. Plans are moving forward for a busy week. If anyone has requests, don't be shy. We can't guarantee to do everything you can dream up, but anything could happen.