Edit desk: My collegiate craft closet

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Marissa McCloy

I spread my fingers apart and let the water flow through them.

The softness of the water against my hands never fails to amaze me.

Every time I kayak, I take breaks from paddling to let my fingers glide through the water, and every time I do, my dad tells me it slows the boat.

He knows this because he built a kayak from hand.

For several months, our attic turned into a woodshop. My dad bought lumber from Lowe’s and sawed and hammered away, withstanding the chilly temperatures of the unfinished space through the fall and winter.

I grew up learning the importance of making things by hand. My father, who now finds himself counting down the hours of his 50-hour week in the office, began his career working in the field as a plumber. He and my mom started dating when they were building a neighborhood together — he was a plumber and she was a construction superintendent.

In addition to the kayak that was diligently constructed in our attic, I watched my parents make countless items over the years: curtains, a refurbished tandem bicycle, a custom magic show stand for a talent show.  

Throughout my childhood, they included me and my sister in their projects. We constructed some pretty elaborate Halloween costumes, including a Staples Easy Button, an aquarium and the Statue of Liberty.

My sister and I now create things independently working with supplies we keep in our “craft closet.”

I am fortunate to have some opportunity continue my craft at Lehigh. 

My design major includes courses such as two-dimensional design and three-dimensional design where we are assigned to create handmade projects.

Besides these projects, however, I’m forced to spend a lot of time paging through textbooks and working on my computer.

Lehigh students spend hours writing papers, studying and completing online assignments to prepare for on-paper and online office jobs.

I worry that college educations could make us lose touch with touch. We might forget how satisfying and important it is to make things by hand.

Education includes a lot of creation early on.

Preschool and elementary school students spend a significant amount of time making things. They learn by doing. However, the hands-on activity declines as kids move up through the grades and can almost diminish by the time they get to college.

If you make the effort, you can continue to make things at Lehigh, and you absolutely should.

The wave of pride and accomplishment I experience holding my handmade project is unmatchable. The best way to understand how something functions is to physically make or alter it.

Recently, I have been writing a series of lifestyle articles about theater department courses, which teach students how to make items, such as costumes, sets and props.

Every professor, student and theater staff member I interviewed for these articles emphasized the importance of practical experience.

For instance, scenic design professor Melpomene Katakalos, agrees that, at a university, it can be difficult to learn not just your field’s theory, but also the actual practice.

Likewise, shop supervisor Bailey Sheehan, who works in paint and props, and costume coordinator Pam Richey, said the best way to become familiar with their respective fields is to practice hands-on techniques and solve issues through trial and error.

There are several opportunities to hone your craft of choice on campus. 

Besides courses offered by the theater department, Lehigh’s campus is home to the design labs, a network of lab spaces where students can craft projects.

The labs include a woodshop, prototyping lab, and laser cutter and CNC router rooms. There are also 3-D printers available to students.

On a smaller scale, students can create various projects at “Make and Take Fridays,” which offer a free craft activity each week.

Students often don’t think to carve an hour out of their weeks to actually make something, but I believe it’s an important practice.

Even if you’ve never had hobbies that involve crafting, building or making, why not escape the library and see what your hands can do besides type and write. If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll be surprised to learn what you’re capable of building and relieve stress along the way.

Marissa McCloy, ’20, is the deputy lifestyle editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]

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