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Our Maker Life 2018, and other thoughts on this Maker community

Such an incredible group of Makers. Photo by Katelyn Todd Photography and Our Maker Life.

It’s been just over two weeks since the Our Maker Life 2018 event in Chicago, and I have been still struggling the entire time to find the right words to describe it. I’m not alone. I see a lot of my new friends from that weekend making similar statements on Instagram. Emily from The Blue Mouse called it life changing, and I don’t think that’s overstating it. I am forever changed by my experience there.

A few weeks ago, I felt completely defeated and demoralized. I FaceTimed my friend Rachael of Addison James Knitwear and melted into a puddle of tears over how hopeless it felt to make a place for myself here in the online fiber community. I wondered what made me unique or worthy of anyone’s attention. I lamented that every time I came up with a concept for a crochet pattern or design, I saw someone else come out with something like it before I got a chance to. I cried over how much effort I felt I was putting in for such little return. I felt invisible and ready to give up.

And then I went to Our Maker Life.

I was so nervous in the days leading up to it, I thought I might be sick. Still, I was determined not to hide in a corner but instead to put myself out there and try to make the most of it. So on Friday, the day before the actual event, when Reshma of Hello Lavender Design posted to her Instagram Story saying she was hanging out at Heritage Outpost coffee shop for the morning if anyone wanted to join her, I decided to be brave. I hopped in a shower, got myself ready for the day, and then sent her a DM and asked if she was still there. Even though she had made the public invite, I felt presumptuous to ask. I felt like, “Who do I think I am to think she’d want to hang out with me? That I’m legit enough/important enough/good enough to be among those who respond to her?” But I did my best to tell that girl in my head to shut up and made the ask anyway. And naturally, she responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes! Come on down!” and so I did. (Spoiler alert: this, right here, is the most major takeaway of the weekend.)

Reshma of Hello Lavender Design and I at Heritage Outpost coffee shop the day before the event. She's as lovely inside as she is out.

Reshma, Yesenia, and I. Conversation and laughter came easily, as you can see.

Meeting Reshma that morning took the edge off the enormity of everything. She was just so lovely. Her husband Mike and friend Margi were there with her, too, and we fell easily into conversation and comfortable coffee shop hang time, Mike and Margi on their computers, Reshma and I with our yarn and needles in hand. Shortly thereafter, Yesenia of Seniya Studio joined us as well, and it was similarly easy. Later that afternoon, when the three of us - Yesenia, Reshma, and I - walked into a yarn store full of some of my absolute favorite makers (people I’d call role models and even idols) I walked a little taller. When I felt overwhelmed, I could look across the room and catch Reshma’s eye, and already feel so much better. Time and again over the less than 48 hours we all spent together, the connections made were so immediate and so strong, we adopted the rhythms of years long friendships.

Even with that comforting fact, I still felt myself shaking when I spotted a shock of hot pink hair near the front door. Jessica Carey of The Hook Nook had just walked in.

Let me pause for a second here to talk about exactly why it was it is that I love Jessica so much and was so excited/terrified to meet her. There’s the sheer numbers thing, sure. She has such a huge audience on Instagram and on her blog, she’s basically the closest thing to a celebrity this community has. But I look up to her for way more than that. For as long as I’ve been following her (three years??) she has been willing to be vulnerable. Honest. REAL. She shows up with her fab pink hair all curled and her lipstick done perfectly just as often as she shows up with bed head and last night’s makeup. What I’m saying is, she's very good at what she does, but she’s not perfect, and she doesn’t pretend to be. None of us are perfect - in our personal lives, in our businesses, in our skill sets, in our Instagram feeds - but all too many these days *pretend* to be, and it’s exhausting. Not so with Jessica. And if she can do that - show up as her true self and be wildly successful - than so could I.

So she walked in to the store, and I worked hard at not freaking out. I focused elsewhere. I scanned the room for anyone else I sort of knew, anyone who might sort of know me. As a small account (less than 1,000 followers on Instagram at the time) I was unsure if anyone there was actually aware of who I was. But then I saw Ashley of Toasty Tribe Handmades. I caught her eye, and she flashed me a smile of recognition and a wave, so I went to meet her officially, trying not to fangirl too hard and flock to Jessica. I told myself to focus on the many other connections to be made there, and not to pin all my hopes for the weekend on whether or not I would actually get a chance to meet her. I was doing a relatively good job of it, too, when Jessica looked right at me. All of the sudden she was right in front of me - there was just one person between me and her - and she sort of peeked around that person’s shoulder, pointed right at me and said, “I know that purple hair!” and came and gave me a hug.

Y’all. I could have died happy right then.

I know that sounds so silly, but to have this woman I look up to so much just completely shatter that negative narrative that runs in my head about being invisible and forgettable…

I was like the Grinch. I think my heart grew three sizes that day.

The real kicker was that Jessica was shaking. I said something to the effect of, “I’m not freaking out, it’s fine,” and she said, “I am!” as if *she* was the one who needed reassurance. There it was again. The humanity. The realness. No facade. No forced perfection and poise. A real person - a bit of an introvert, like many of us in the fiber community - meeting dozens of people at once, and feeling all the overwhelming anxious excitement we were all feeling. A person.

That yarn store full of makers all left on a trolley tour that I hadn’t been quick enough to snag a ticket to, and there was a moment when I could have felt really sorry for myself. But I was too happy for that. I told myself I was rejecting FOMO, and FaceTimed my husband instead, reliving the moment in happy hyperventilation. Then I practically pranced to the nearest sports pub and bought myself a beer.

I spent the rest of that day doing what little bit of sightseeing time would allow. Chicago is certainly a beautiful city. It’s architecture is something pretty special, and it’s very clean. I saw The Bean and nearby Crown Fountain before heading back to the friend’s house where I was staying.

Cloud Gate, nicknamed "The Bean" in Millennial Park in Chicago.

The next morning was the event itself. To retell every moment of that day would take me another 2,000 characters, and I’m not sure you want to read that. But I don’t believe there was a single moment when a smile left my face.

Some highlights:

-Listening to Brittany of @behooked talk about the nuts and bolts stuff of setting goals and reaching success within this industry.

Tara, Lee, and I

-Having Tara from @shesrooted say, “I just love following you! You’re so funny!” (What?! The concept that someone could be an enthusiastic follower, who actually recognizes me to the point of being able to separate me from the other makers she follows had not occurred to me before.)

-Having Lee of @coco.crochet.lee introduce herself to me, as if I didn’t know who she was. Further evidence of the humility within this community.

Shannon, Ashlee, and Darian. Photo credit to Katelyn Todd Photography and Our Maker Life.

-Meeting Shannon (@shannoncreates_), Darian (@knittingbydarian), and Ashlee (@wanderingashtree) in line that morning, and touching base with them continually throughout the day. Beautiful souls, all, and extremely talented. “Here! Just let me bust out a brand new crochet tee that I’ve never made before in just 24 hours and have it be effing fashion perfection!”

-Listening to the presentations from Love Crochet/Love Knitting and Koigu Wool Designs, learning about some of the collaborative opportunities that may be possible and the kind of skill, patience, and dedication that goes into building the brands we love.

-Hugging Kristina of @miramarwoods. Hands down the best hugger.

-Working with The Wool from We Are Knitters for the first time!! Whoa, is that an amazing experience in your hands!

-Sitting side by side with makers like Jake of @isthatkenyarn, Emily of @thebluemouse_, Ali of @explorerknits, knitting with said Wool, laughing with each other, learning from each other, and just doing what we all love in the presence of people like us.

A very jocular group of knitters during the We Are Knitters KAL. Photo credit to Katelyn Todd Photography and Our Maker Life.

There was so much more, to the point that even the memories are overwhelming. But without a doubt, my favorite part of the event was listening to Jessica speak.

Her speech… it still leaves me feeling all heart swelly and happy. Again, she was so nervous. I don’t want to sound like I’m reveling in someone else’s discomfort - that’s the furthest thing from my intention - but it just humanized her even further. She was visibly shaking, and her voice trembled as she spoke. She repeatedly lost her spot in her cards, or dropped them altogether. I wanted to run up and hug her.

Jessica Carey of The Hook Nook during her relatable but moving speech.

What she chose to talk about that day was fear. About how long she has lived with it. About using it motivate you. About taking the leap despite it. And she could not have been a more perfect example of practicing what you preach in that moment. During one particularly long pause where she frantically scanned her notes to find her place, someone shouted, “You’re doing great!” and I shouted, “We love you!” and it felt silly - like some groupie at a concert - but it was also just so true. You could feel the collective energy in that room trying to wrap her in reassurance, grateful to not be the only one, resonating with every word she said. Because what she had to say was powerful.

When we broke for lunch after her speech, I was more filled up, encouraged, and excited about this Maker journey than I have ever been.

Later that night, many of us went out to dinner. I was lucky enough to sit near Christie of @christieboddendesigns, Emily of @thebluemouse_, Janine of @knitsnknotswpg and Kim of @coziknots. Once again, conversation was easy and enjoyable. (I think there's something about loving knitting or crocheting that just pretty much guarantees a person is going to be wonderful. I might be a little biased.) Finally, some of us went out to a bar after dinner and had a drink.

Ali of Explorer Knits, Ashley of Toasty Tribe Handmades, Reshma of Hello Lavender Designs, and I felt cocktail hour before dinner was a good idea. We were right.

At the end of it all, when it was time to go home, my feet were screaming and my body was exhausted, but my heart was so full. Some around me were sad that it was over, but I couldn’t bring myself to be. It had all been too perfect to be anything but absolutely happy. And the friendships formed were too wonderful to let them fall apart. I knew we were all officially going to be each other’s biggest fans and supporters online. I knew that I would make a point of seeing many of these people in person again. And you can bet your butt that I made the decision right then and there that I will be at Our Maker Life 2019, period.

So what was the most major takeaway of the weekend?

Don’t be afraid.

Don’t undersell yourself. Don’t imagine that the people behind the big accounts we follow are anything but just people. Don’t get wrapped up in your own insecurities, believing the worst about others’ motivations despite their seemingly kind comments online (I can't be the only one guilty of this). All of us here in this community of crocheters and knitters and macrame artists are just people. People who love to touch soft things, who marvel at the idea of bringing something into the world that wasn’t here before, who dream of getting to do it more and more. We’re all out here to do our best, and we’re better when we do it together.

My phone takes terrible pictures, but I couldn't care less in this moment.

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