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Craft and hobby rooms are homes new hot spots

Twelve-year-old Chloe Stanwick finds fun at the end of a glue gun, making rodent-sized playthings from cardboard boxes for her hamster Spud.

Meanwhile, her mother, Jennifer Flores, can be found designing a new decor item, sharpening her needle skills or reveling in the art of wrapping.

“Crafting and being creative and doing art is something that’s important to us,” explains Flores. That, and spending time as a family, “is really what this room is all about,” adds the DIY blogger whose website is called ramblingrenovators.ca.

The craft room — once an “empty shell” in the basement of their Etobicoke home — is well-organized and decorated in a pretty blue-and-white “modern coastal” theme. It provides storage and work space for all their activities, messy ones included. The durable, easy-to-wipe surfaces of a Corian countertop, laminate flooring and “beat-up” vintage harvest table make short work of clean-up.

Drawers under the bench seat in Jennifer Flores' home craft room offer sizable storage spaces.

It’s a fun and functional space that could inspire other crafters as the pandemic wears on and interest in home-based creativity continues to build. In fact, searches on Houzz.com for art studios — a category that includes “personal space for creative hobbies that support mental well-being” — leaped a whopping 875 per cent last spring, compared to the same period in 2020.

Sewing projects of all types and sizes keep business booming at the Ultimate Sewing Center in Oshawa’s south end. The full-service, hands-on, how-to store attracts a wide range of hobbyists, from grandmas teaching embroidery to their grandkids to novice sew-it-yourselfers.

Popular projects include mask-making, cushions for outdoor furniture and quilting — “the buzz” right now, says owner Shirley Eichler, a lifelong sewist who just redid her own 500-square-foot basement room.

Kids are also getting in on the act with patterns for making stuffed animals from colorful fabrics or grandpa’s favorite shirt, she adds.

Cupboards and drawers provide a place for supplies in the renovated basement room.

But not all crafters are cut from the same cloth, according to Eichler. “Men are coming in to sew, too,” with interests that run to speaker and car seat covers, and custom-made headliners (the name for the fabric lining on a car ceiling).

Eichler, who’s been in the business for decades, notes that many customers are folks in need of stress relief. “We call it thread therapy,” she adds.

With only 20 minutes required to whip up a table runner or three hours to stitch four placemats, even those who are new to needlework can find “instant gratification,” she points out.

Eichler notes that while machines are “so much easier now,” her store offers free lessons with the purchase of a new or used one.

Customers are flocking to Shirley Eichler's Ultimate Sewing Center in Oshawa for fabric and notions, to invest in a machine, or learn a new hobby.

She links the new and booming appeal of homemade to a few factors: uniqueness, better quality and durability. Sustainability is also sewn into projects such as repurposing jeans into back packs, and cutting up old wool sweaters to make mittens.

Most hobbyists benefit from having a designated place for their handiwork, whether it’s a corner to park an easel, a closet converted to a mini studio or an entire room for family members to release their inner Michelangelo.

Planning is key, says do-it-yourselfer Flores, who designed her family’s craft room to combine functionality with style. Outfitted with a long cabinet and a bench seat flanked by two tower cabinets, it has multiple drawers and cupboards to keep everything organized and easy to access. Special “zones” are used to store craft, sewing and party supplies as well as wrapping paper, household tools and decor items.

“As a mom, I was always telling everyone where everything was. Now they can find it themselves,” says Flores, adding Chloe “can just go there” any time to do tie-dye, painting or school projects.

“Nothing beats daylight when it comes to creating,” says contemporary artist Krista Sobocan.

Flores and her husband Sean Stanwick, a life-long DIYer with a background in architecture, did all the painting and installation of cabinetry, flooring, shiplap and shelving themselves.

She describes the room as a “fun place” for hosting “crafternoon parties” but also a quiet area to unravel on her own.

For professional artist Krista Sobocan, the creative space in her work-live loft became her salvation when she turned to painting to express her “feelings of frustration, fear and loneliness” after the first COVID lockdown.

Her work in mixed media, which often depicts surrealist female figures and self-portraits, became a “meditative practice,” she says.

Jennifer Flores watches daughter Chloe work on a new drawing with one of the young artist's paintings on display.

With her easel next to the windows and art supplies close at hand, she finds that her creativity flows, allowing her to produce more.

Sobocan calls natural lighting “best for any artist” because it doesn’t alter colors and provides a peaceful environment. “Nothing beats daylight when it comes to creating.”

Her loft in an old wartime bullet factory in the west end has no closets so she created a curtain-covered storage space for art supplies and equipment under the stairs.

When she’s ready to paint, she sets up a jar of favorite brushes, paints, mixing palette, candles and incense on an old wooden trolley near her easel.

A shadow box of bottle caps is among the DIY craft projects that decorate the hobby room in Jennifer Flores's home.

“When I start a new piece I have to make sure my space is perfect because the energy of the space affects the energy of the piece,” explains Sobocan, whose contemporary artwork has been shown at galleries across the city. “Having it all right there ready to go… is an important part of the process.”

Depending on the size of the piece and what stage it’s at, she’ll paint standing up, sitting on a chair or nestled on a floor cushion.

Sobocan advises amateur artists to plan what materials they’ll need before starting a piece, then arrange everything nearby in the right order “so your flow isn’t interrupted.”

Setting up an environment that inspires and feels good is “setting yourself up for success,” she says.

Paint brushes are given an artistic touch in a pretty jug at Jennifer Flores's home hobby room.

CV

Carola Vyhnak is a Cobourg-based writer covering personal finance, home and real-estate stories. She is a contributor for the Star. Reach her from her via email: cvyhnak@gmail.com

Tips for a creative space

The pros share a few ideas about setting up a space to create at home.

DIYer Jennifer Flores

  • Small craft supplies can be stored in anything from mason jars and plastic bins to baskets and budget-friendly shoe boxes.
  • To keep items visible and organized, use labeled, stackable, see-through containers. Don’t overfill them.
  • Keep similar things organized in the same place — for example, kids’ stuff like markers, crayons, glue, and art supplies.
  • Enure your storage plan provides a home for everything, including larger items such as long tubes of wrapping paper and sewing or Cricut machines.
  • Cutlery trays for small items and a peg board for tools help keep things neat.
  • “Make it fun” by displaying your work or adding decorative touches.

Sewing expert Shirley Eichler:

  • Design your space or room on paper first to create flow — “like a kitchen” — between the different components.
  • Buy quality tools and supplies.
  • Have a good cutting surface for fabric; a chest freezer works well in basement spaces.

  • Sewing machine prices range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars so first test-drive different models before buying.

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