San Francisco Chronicle

Lookie at this article that was sent to me by some buddies in San Fran. Oh and I am coming home to Austin today and I can’t wait!

DIY Or just watch it on TV Like cooking shows, craft shows allow the viewer a vicarious accomplishment
By: Margo Freistadt

The stained-glass work is “dazzling!!” The fabric is “all girl!!” The jewelry you can make is “fabulous!!” If you could get subtitles for the crafting shows on the DIY network, the most common punctuation would be the double exclamation point.

The DIY (Do It Yourself) cable network began in 1999 as a home-improvement channel with some craft offerings, but most shows were in the how-to-install-a-toilet genre. Since then, it has expanded its programming in the more traditionally feminine realms. This year’s list includes a lineup of snazzy, hip, young hosts for shows about quilting, jewelry making, scrapbooking and knitting as well as other needlework crafts.

In some ways, these programs are the crafting equivalent of cooking shows — with viewers getting a vicarious taste of an alternative universe. You watch the amazing stuff on “Yan Can Cook,” but in your heart you know you’ll just buy takeout from Panda Express.

So you could imagine several ways of watching the relentlessly cheerful Michele Beschen promise that “cutting glass is very simple” while she whips through a demonstration of how to fashion vertical blinds from strips of stained glass.

One way, of course, is to actually try it — if a fully equipped stained-glass studio should happen to appear in your living room, complete with the flux and the lead-free solder, the marble slab and the little clamp that holds the metal rings while you solder them to pieces of glass.

Or you could just marvel at Beschen’s virtuosity and plan on buying something similar at that cute boutique in Half Moon Bay.

For people who really do intend to give it a try, the show hosts frequently refer viewers to the DIY Web site ( for step-by-step instructions, patterns, templates, measurements and recipes. Beats the heck out of trying to take notes.

Perhaps to counter our natural inclination to lie down and just watch, Jennifer Perkins, host of the “Craft Lab” show, stands in for us, the schlump viewers. Her visitors are actual experts on various crafts. On the season premiere, the guest was a photographer-craftswoman using several techniques, starting with a photo emulsion transfer.

The craftswoman did her magic while Perkins — standing next to the expert with her own set of photos, trays of water and pastel pens — asked our questions. Perkins soldiered on, smudging and smushing the photo the way we would, as the expert assured her (and us) that the imperfections are “part of the charm!!”

These shows can make you proud to be female: It’s all about encouraging us to develop new skills, to shed the fear, to try a new path, to find ways to express our creativity and individuality. And the supportive language is uber-feminine: “Cute!!” “Excellent!!” “Nifty!!” “You’re amazing!!”

At one point in “Craft Lab,” as a panel of wood was dampened so a photographic image could adhere, it was described as “like you’re moisturizing it a bit.” Language we understand but that wouldn’t fly on “Warehouse Warriors.”

Several DIY shows, while not veering too radically from the “let’s-get-it-done-by-the commercial-break” pace of television, touch on the ways that crafting has traditionally allowed women to slow down. In real life, women (and some men) relax by quilting or knitting precisely because they don’t want to finish up by the commercial break.

The TV craft shows are stuck with this tension: Their medium pulls them along at the advertising-driven pace of modern life, while they try to honor crafting and its innately slower pace.

Women traditionally celebrate connections to each other through crafts. Many quilts carried in covered wagons across the American West were parting gifts made by friends in the communities left behind. They were tangible expressions of the threads tying women together.

Women still do this: Many modern quilts mark events for a family or friend — the birth of a baby, a wedding, a graduation from kindergarten. Just about any knitter can rattle off the names of dozens of female friends who wear her scarves.

Women also traditionally gathered to quilt or knit in groups to connect with other women. My husband’s grandmother rode into Corvallis, Mont., every Wednesday for the Ladies’ Aid quilting group. The women pieced and hand-stitched double wedding ring quilts to raise money for the church’s faraway missions. But the women also looked forward to the klatch as a time to catch up on the talk of the town.

The DIY programs try to touch this side of crafting. On a recent “Knitty Gritty” show, hostess Vickie Howell talks through a project of knitting, Swiss darning and felting a purse. Her guest is celebrity knitter Kelley Deal, from the rock band the Breeders. Meanwhile, three young women sit together on a couch behind them, happily knitting away.

And on the show “Uncommon Threads,” hip young host Allison Whitlock interviews, in her Australian accent, a group of middle-aged women from Phoenix who get together for crafting parties. The reality is still there, women connecting with other women, and it shines through the filter of television.

Watching these shows, you can imagine the fantasy version, like the cooking shows that let you dream of the imaginary world where your French onion soup brings friends and relatives into the warmth of your kitchen. In the craft-show fantasy, you and a group of female friends who’ve known and loved you for years (even though you just moved here from, say, Boston) get together every few weeks for an evening of quilting, crocheting, knitting and commiserating.

Some of these DIY shows highlight the hosts’ broad-brush creativity rather than focusing on a specific craft. In “Creative Juice,” the hosts choose a theme of apples for the half-hour show. During the next 30 minutes, they make gilded apples (plastic forms gilded with a thin layer of golden mesh), use apples as the stamp for printing cards, make apple-infused vodka and finally bake apple crisp. We follow the energetic and cheerful young hosts from the farmers’ market all the way through the apple-themed cards for the gift bottles of flavored vodka.

“B. Original” is another show that doesn’t zero in on a specific craft. Instead, Michele Beschen runs through stained glass, driftwood art and birdhouses.

The shows occasionally stretch credulity by touting just about anything as quick and easy: “It shouldn’t take more than an hour or two!!” Several of the shows have some version of an Easy-Medium-Hard meter, which generally points to “easy.” It’s clearly these shows’ intent not to put us off, to try to get us to fit this stuff into our underskilled, overscheduled world.

But one of the lovely things about allowing yourself to be creative, about expressing yourself in solid materials such as fabric, yarn or paper, is that you can step outside of time for a bit — shed your busy self for a few hours and lodge yourself somewhere else. And it probably won’t be particularly “easy” on the meter.

But that’s what makes it satisfying!!

Getting creative
DIY Network’s lineup of youthful, edgy craft shows includes:

“B. Original”: Host Michele Beschen hammers, drills and solders, sometimes working with specific crafts such as stained glass. But she’s really a generalist, promising to find ways to creatively reuse household items. And she does it without shedding her glamorous jewelry.

“Knitty Gritty”: Host Vickie Howell, called “the rock star of knitting” by the editor of Knit.1 magazine, and her guests create hip projects, such as leg warmers and an iPod cozy (

“Jewelry Making”: Comedian and actress Jackie Guerra and her guests show how easy and satisfying it is to make your own sparkles and spangles (

“Craft Lab”: Host Jennifer Perkins, a member of the Austin Craft Mafia along with Howell, seems happy in a variety of crafts, from working with vintage fabrics to making jewelry (

“Material Girls”: Hosts Cat Wei, Kelly Keener and April Eden do a sort of “Hipsters’ Eye on the Straight Girl’s Home” show. They take an ordinary room and make it over dramatically using just fabric, a bit of paint and their confident attitudes.

“Uncommon Threads”: Australian-born host Allison Whitlock visits with guest groups of needle arts crafters from around the country. She focuses on knitting, appliqué, crochet, patchwork, and rug making (

Where to find it

The DIY Network is Channel 204 on Comcast in the Bay Area. It’s also available by satellite on DISHTV, Channel 111, and DirectTV, Channel 230.

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