It Pleases Me

working handsA folklorist, traveling in rural America, meets an elderly farmer. The old man is tired, from hard work with his herd and his land, yet works in the evening to make chairs he needs for his home.

The chairs he has crafted could be considered finished—they are strong and sound—but the old man continues, with weary hands, to carve flourishes and curlicues into the wood, to decorate his utilitarian creations.

The folklorist, a specialist in material culture, asks the man, “Why? Why do you take the time to decorate the chairs when they are perfectly serviceable?” The old man is silent, thinking, perhaps for the first time, about his motivation, his desire. And then he answers:

“Because it pleases me.”

I heard this story, told by folklorist Henry Glassie, many years ago as an undergraduate when Glassie came to visit my college. Since then, I have thought often of the story, the old farmer, and his desire to create beauty and to please himself.

The fact that this story, and none of the others Glassie undoubtedly told, has stuck with me suggests to me that it touched a nerve with me, even as a young person just starting to make things with my hands.

It seemed, and still seems, so profound to me.

In my painting classes, I was taught to follow rules of perspective and color theory. In my jewelry making classes, I was taught design principles and told that my designs were too predictable. In my communication courses, I was taught that good speeches are audience-centered. As a teenage girl in the 1970s, I was taught to please others.

No one ever suggested that it was okay, a legitimate undertaking, to make something a certain way just because it pleased me.

And the idea that an old farmer, a man of practical considerations and hard work, with his feet firmly planted on the ground, would find pleasure in making beauty was also a revelation. I knew old farmers; I was genetically bound to old farmers! Did old farmers feel things like that? Might I?

Since I heard this story, it has informed my understanding of other makers and my understanding of myself. True craftsmen are pleased with what they create, with the skill it takes, with overcoming the difficulties of the task, with the mastery and the creating, not just of a thing but of some thing, beautiful to their eyes.

So, I’ve thought hard about what pleases me and sought to make things accordingly.

I’ve made a lot of different sorts of things in my life, from embroidering on my jeans as a teenager to majoring in metalsmithing in college to calligraphy to spinning to weaving. I’ve worked in polymer clay, beads, yarn, paint, silver, linen, and chocolate.

Along the way, there have been many other creative outlets that moved me not at all. I’ve tried some and moved on. Others . . . just never spoke to me.

These are the things I’ve been thinking about as I’ve been tempering chocolate and packaging candy these last few weeks. I’ll write more about my thoughts in the next couple of weeks, I’m sure, as my schedule calms down and my thoughts become clearer.

I’m hoping, right now, that you are thinking about what you make and how it pleases you. I imagine that what pleases you is different, in some ways, than what pleases me. And yet we share the deep satisfaction of feeling fulfilled, in important ways, by the making.

What aspect of your work, your craft, do you do simply because of the pleasure it brings to you?

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53 thoughts on “It Pleases Me

  1. You have beautifully, and perfectly, described how I feel when sitting at my machine and sketching, with thread, on the sandwiched quilt before me! I have laughingly described myself as “obsessed” with this process but “passionate”, “driven” would be closer to the truth. The desire to add beauty to that which serves a purpose (or not!!!) is my motivation to do it. And do it I MUST………..it’s an inner compulsion that won’t allow me to rest until expressed!!!!!!
    Thank you so much for this post. It has struck a chord/nerve with me, also, and I must pass it along on my bloggy home!!!! Thanksgiving Blessings to you and your family!!!! and hugs………………Doreen

    • It’s pretty evident how much quilting pleases you–you work so hard and are so productive! I like the image of sketching with thread–I guess that’s really what free motion quilting is all about!

      • That’s it!!!!! The design “magically” appears on the fabric!!! Also love the latest phrase….”thread painting”. I think these words work very well especially for non-stitchers.

  2. What a lovely story and how beautiful to learn from your thoughts and life experiences. Thank you so much, wise Kerry.
    And I was pleasantly brought back to the time when my oldest son was a thoughtful little fellow who soaked up the world with his big eyes. He was about five and at that time I made Waldorf dolls and seasonal displays in that tradition. He could look at them for hours and one day he said, ‘ I really love looking at this’. So I asked : ‘ Why?’ And he said…’Because it pleases me’ . This was one of those many moments that children taught me a life lesson.
    What pleases me more than anything in the world when it comes to creative outlets, is my journey to develop my illustrative works…. as yuo well know;0) Lots of love and a Happy Thanks Giving, Johanna

    • That story about your son is so sweet! He sounds like a serious and thoughtful little boy (and man?) I wonder why you are so drawn to your illustrative works, specifically, right now, as opposed to the knitting or other outlets you have. Do you think it’s the sense of a new challenge that you find so pleasing?

      • Absolutely, in drawing I find my challenges both in skills and personal development. Also, unlike you I am not a gifted writer, I feel that I can tell more stories through my drawings. My thoughtful little boy has become an adult fellow of almost 24! He graduated last year and since then worked on avarage 12 hours a day in a socalled Start Up business..it payed of, they found investors! you will like him, he has lots of stories to tell and has a great sense of humor and an eye for beauty in the world. So you see, I do understand your feelings towards your lovely niece too;0) have a lovely weekend, Johanna

      • It’s funny–I think of you as a very gifted writer, with a spare, warm style all your own. But I agree, your drawings and photos complement your words in big ways! That’s wonderful news about your son getting investors! It must make you so proud (and relieved!) to see him flourishing. What kind of business is it?

      • Yes! Proud and relieved…although the hardworkers themselves were pretty down to earth about it. They saw their start up as a great opportunity to gain unique work experience and develop their network etc in a time when it is so hard to find jobs for young graduates. They all even did free lance work on the side to compliment their (mostly non-existing;0)) incomes. But of course, this outcome is what they dreamed of and so,so wel deserved! They develop all kind of applications for so-called beacons for large bussinesses. Incredible clever and rather complicated to a not so computer savvy mom;0) Thank you for your interest, Kerry. Enjoy your Saturday (early morning)! Lots of love from Ohio!

  3. Loving what you do pleases you and that’s why you do what you do. It is your gift keep doing your very BEST. Enjoy and have a Blessed Thanksgiving Day. Blessings Always Everyone, Mtetar

  4. I love this post! It validates the desire to make something because of the satisfaction not necessarily the purpose! I love reading all the roads you have gone down, some stuck and some did not. I get it! I love going mentally into the zone (zone of passion which translates into the no time zone, maybe just like eating chocolate). Wonderful post that I will look forward to reading more about as you continue to share. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Kerry!

    • I think you DO get all of this! I look at your posts and can see a definite “look,” your aesthetic, and it’s so clear that arranging your groupings of pretty things pleases you–beauty for the sake of beauty!

  5. It makes me whole, makes me powerful… it pleases me. There are so many ways we describe our creative journey. This was a lovely story, both from the folklorist and from you.

    Thanks for being my blog-friend. I do believe if we had a chance, we would be friends more deeply than that. Blessings on you and yours always.

    • Isn’t it interesting, how we become friends and know which other bloggers we have a deeper connection with? Thanks for being my blog-friend, too. I am very intrigued with your idea that quilting makes you powerful. I’d love to see you write in more detail about that–is it the power of mastery? Of making something out of nothing? Of having a kind of “voice”?

      • It is all three. Most of all it is the power of expression. I did write about it fairly recently… this one…
        https://catbirdquilts.wordpress.com/2014/09/02/be-powerful-create/
        But there are other related elements, too. Simply being skilled in a task is powerful, but knowing I can vary how I do that task gives me more opportunities. And the fact that I SEE differently now than I did even three years ago is pretty darn exciting. Both the vision and the recognition of it lends power. Let’s generalize all that — the ability and the recognition and confidence in that ability make me powerful.

        I hope you have a wonderful day. This was a lovely way to start mine, coffee with a friend. 🙂

  6. Kerry, this just may be the secret of the universe 🙂 Not in a selfish me-me-me way, but in a what deeply satisfies the soul way. Perhaps because of capitalism, we are so focused on creating what we think others will want/like rather than what we want/like. I think we’ve all been to the place where we don’t know if we truly want/like something or if it’s cultural conditioning. At least I hope we’ve all been there, because it means we’re trying to untangle that mess 🙂 I think it also speaks to intrinsic (vs. external) motivations. It feels very against the grain in our society to do something without financial gain or gain in status, huh? Lots to think about this morning — thank you for sharing this story and your story (steaming a bit about your jewelry professors — hmph).

    • Yup, that’s me–keeper of the secrets of the universe! 😉 I agree absolutely that our cultural conditioning makes it more and more difficult to know what really pleases us and what we need for our own sense of wholeness. Because I sell on Etsy, I read the forums sometimes and am so undone by all the young crafters who are obsessed with questions of “what will people buy”–I wonder if they’ve ever asked themselves, what do I want to make?

  7. The process of knitting pleases me, the way the yarn feels and the way I twist it around the needles pleases me. Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

    • So, a lot of your pleasure is purely tactile–I’ve been finding that with the weaving I’ve been doing. I like learning the feel of, say, cotton and linen vs. wool.

  8. What a wonderful story and what a wonderful question to ask Kerry! Right now, at this time of my life I am most fortunate I am able to spend all day doing things that please me. Some things, it must be said, please me more than others! But still now I am a free agent and no longer bound to timetables and appointments and the demands of a career – every day pleases me!

    In my creative work the return to mixed media painting has pleased me the most – every painting brings improvement in my skills and ability. I am mostly pleased when I hear viewers say ‘I like this one the best’ with succeeding works – I am pleased because then I know I am getting better at my craft.

    • It’s been so interesting reading these comments and seeing how different people talk about what pleases them. For you, it sounds like your pleasure comes from developing skill and mastery. Others talk about the feeling of power or the purely tactile appeal of the work they do. I’m getting all kinds of new thoughts from you folks!

      • You are nearly right Kerry – one of my main imperfections is that once I have mastered something enough to please me, I move on – the process doesn’t hold me any more. This is why I will always be a painter, not a an artist – or a crafter, not an artisan. 🙂 [I saw your comment about that word ‘crafter’ could we be craftmakers? No, I don’t like that either – lets try and invent ourselves a new word!]

        I derive enormous pleasure within the creative process, I like seeing something emerge – but once done, it’s done. A friend was just asking why I don’t hang my art in my art room. It had never occurred to me to do that! Finished pieces sit in a portfolio, or in a box or on other peoples walls.

        I came back to read all the comments, isn’t it interesting! This was a great post that could spark ongoing conversations for a long time!

      • I’m exactly like that, Pauline! Once I get pretty good at something I seem to drop it and move on to the next challenge. It makes me sad, in a way–how expert might have I become, if I had just stuck with one craft? But being a “jill of all trades” just fits me better, I guess!

      • I know – that’s me too! But then I think perhaps we just like to be challenging ourselves constantly? And that’s not a bad way to be when I think of it like that 🙂 Your work here is done 🙂

  9. Pingback: Finding Joy in Making | jeanweaves

  10. You are a true artist! I love all things kitchen and also combining that with writing. If everyone could find joy in what they do, we’d all get along so much better 🙂
    I read a quote once about the world needing to be filled with people who did what brings them joy.

    Speaking of joy: so so so excited for the day your candy arrives! 😀

    • It’s funny, isn’t it? I’ve never thought of myself as an artist and would not be able to bring myself to describe myself that way–it sounds too lofty. But I do know I’m a good craftsman–I feel like I can control craftsmanship and attention to detail it ways I can’t control artistry and vision. And how come there’s not a good non-gender-specific word for craftsman? I don’t like crafter . . .

  11. I can see why that story from the folklorist resonated with you… How beautifully written! Thank you for sharing it with us… I have been accused (jokingly) of being “proud” of myself, simply because I have loved what I made! LOL! I have also had someone call my quilt designs “cartoon’ish”. Fortunately, I choose things to make that make me happy. If others enjoy it as well, that’s great. But it isn’t my ultimate goal…

    I love designing quilts that bring me joy through use of color and whimsy!

  12. What a lovely post… I think it’s good to acknowledge what pleases us and what doesn’t… and leave the things that don’t behind. Currently I’m starting to acknowledge that using a sewing machine doesn’t please me much and I should just consider it a tool rather than a hobby, whilst using a crochet hook or knitting needles nearly always pleases me and that’s where I should place my energy.

    • It took me awhile to come to grips with hating sewing on a machine, too! I wanted to like it but I simply do not. Someone told me, a long time ago, that just because I COULD do something well, that didn’t mean I had to do it. That may seem obvious but hearing it said was revelatory for me.

    • I have always thought of my machine as a tool – it makes things I like or require and is especially handy when I go off on one of my room change-overs [which I am currently in the midst of] I wonder if we would love sewing as much if we painstakingly hand-stitched every item? When I was young I had a Victorian nightdress that I adored. It was all handmade and every seam was french stitched and each stitch was tiny and perfect. The buttons were also hand made and the lace was probably too as it had little imperfections in it. I wore this nightdress to bed sometimes, but mostly used it to swan around in in the early morning and late evening. I always felt fabulous when I wore it and wondered if this was because it was made with so much care and attention and love.

      • I love that image of you swanning around in the dress! I used to have an extravagant satin dressing gown and I did the same thing–it made me feel so glamorous! And on the subject of sewing, I much prefer hand sewing to machine but I don’t do any sewing of clothes either way.

  13. Thanks for putting into words my inchoate thoughts about why I quilt. I’m lucky I have the financial independence to make what I like. Of course it’s nice to have others say they like what I make, but ultimately it has to please me.

    • I like when I make something that pleases me and someone else really loves it, too–it’s as if I know that that person and I have a real connection! You make a good point about financial independence–many people are making things because they HAVE to, and that means they need to think about pleasing customers first. We have a real luxury when we can work to please ourselves.

  14. Recently a friend was telling me how she was going to decorate the interior of her house for Fall when her 20+ son asked “why bother? No-one will see it” and she said to him “Because it pleases me to see it”. I think we spend a lot of our younger years doing things to fit in with other people/ideas/rules and then, as we get older, there’s a sort of tipping point when our own pleasure in doing things “just because” takes over.

    • I think you’re definitely right that, for many people, age is liberating–we can care less about what others think. Figuring out what really pleases us, deep down, can also take some introspection, too, and honesty with oneself.

    • What a fabulous, spot-on comment! I absolutely agree – and one of the wonderful things for me now is having the freedom to recreate my interior whenever, however I like – just because!. I make it ‘my kind of beautiful’ on a shoestring and with imagination.

  15. I can totally relate to this. Often for me, it’s baking that I do simply because it pleases me. I cook because I need to eat but baking or making sweets is an extravagance. The ingredients and the tools can be expensive, it’s time consuming and occasionally results in epic failures that render the expense a waste. And for me, when I bake, it’s mainly for other people — I’m too health conscience to allow myself to indulge in my baked good beyond a few bites and it’s only just me and my husband at home, so I bring everything to work to share with my co-workers. But I still bake and make sweets because I enjoy the process and I enjoy the happiness of sharing it with others, even if I get nothing out of it but a bit of gratitude.

    • I’ve always felt the same way about baking–something about the process, and the pleasure it brings to others, just comforts me. When I was in grad school and really stressed I would make loaf after loaf of zucchini bread–my sister always knew when I had a big paper due!

  16. Thanks for this lovely post. I picture you in the “making” but also thinking as your hands keep busy, and these thoughts come to the fore to then be put out into the universe. Gah–I sound so trite and clicheed and sentimental, but your post doesn’t, which is also part of the gift.

    I’ll be thinking about this all day, pulling it out to turn it over and over as my hands touch all of our handcrafted Christmas decorations (it’s decorating weekend), and realizing as I pull them out of their boxes, that these, too, pleased their makers. A lovely circle.

    • I don’t think it sounds trite at all! It is interesting–I do feel like I do my best thinking and musing while I’m engaged in some of these repetitive crafting tasks. The circle of which you speak is one I love–the pleasure apparent in making, the pleasure of beholding both the handmade item and the pleasure it embodies, and so on. When I get my ornaments out, I’m going to be super-conscious of all this!

  17. Pingback: I’m pleased too | The Snail of Happiness

  18. I love this post. Yes, I play with yarn because it pleases me. I may not wear the hats but the process of making them pleases me. Seeing others enjoy them pleases me. Thank you for making me smile this morning.

  19. Pingback: The Craftsman’s Creed, in the Depth It Deserves | Love Those "Hands at Home"

  20. Pingback: It Pleases Me: A Personal Aesthetic | Love Those "Hands at Home"

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