Thoughtful Revolution

Decoupage (and Why I Love It)

For most of my life, everyone who’s been anyone has also been a knitter.  I say this, dear readers, with a complete lack of sarcasm.  Though the older folks in our lives (read: parents) continue to think of of knitting as vaguely oppressive, the province of “bovine grandmothers” who’d slept through the sexual revolution, we teenagers know better.  The knitters in our schools are the hip countercultural types, the ones who match their hand-crocheted scarves with fishnet stockings and whose painstakingly crafted beanies sport Rasta colors.  Knitting is hip, it is sexy, it is DIY, it is radical.  It is, as so many knitters will tell you, a way of declaring freedom from the sweatshop-driven, earth-hating, nonconformist-breeding system of production.  And while it has been reduced, as faddish pastimes inevitably will be, to one of the trappings of a label (If you wanna be a Certified Indie Chick, lace up your Chucks and pick up those needles!), it still manages to keep its trendy veneer of bohemian independence.  In short, if you’re a knitter, you’re a bad-ass.  If you’re not, no matter how otherwise rebellious you may be, you’re inexorably out of the loop.

So imagine my chagrin when, after putting in my best efforts, I discovered something that I was sure would dash to hell any hopes of a social life: I didn’t like knitting.

To be frank, I found it boring.  The image — that of a young, copiously pierced, black-plastic-rimmed-glasses-clad, Artistic-with-a-capital-A knitter — was enchanting; the activity itself was not.  I lacked the attention span to keep up that regimen of stitch after stitch after stitch, with no room for improvisation or little flourishes or even the tiniest mindless deviation from the pattern, and as hard as I tried my attention span simply would not stretch.  Finally, I gave in.  My first and only scarf is still languishing in a corner, stuck at a length and consistency that might, with luck, manage to keep a Keebler elf warm on a slightly cloudy day.

This, inevitably, led to despair.  Would all my friends abandon me?  Would I lose all hope of becoming the iconoclastic crafty chica I so hoped to emulate?  Would I continue to support the all-devouring capitalist system with my capitulation to store-bought mittens?

Ladies and gentlemen, I tell you now: Decoupage saved my life.

Or at least my self-esteem.  In a funk from the crash-and-burn misery of my knitting experiment, I gave up on the DIY ethic completely, in a move that might be called “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”  For weeks I wept that I was unoriginal, uninspired, a waste of space, because I could muster neither the creativity nor motivation to knit.  It was decoupage — an activity that I took up on a whim — that made me remember my love for crafts, that glorious desire to put something new into the world.

Decoupage is the beautifying of an object with nothing more than paper scraps, scissors, and glue (or rubber cement, if you prefer).  Together with its more free-form sister, collage, it takes the detritus of civilization, of daily life, of affluenza, and puts it to an artistic and practical purpose.  You don’t need no fancy yarns or bamboo needles to decoupage, only an eye for color and access to your neighbors’ paper scraps.  It is quintessentially Freegan.  It is quintessentially DIY — in many ways, may I add, more so than knitting.  And it creates the sort of personalized sheen that few objects, whether storebought or handmade, can muster.  After all, you didn’t just sew together the pattern: you created it, down to the last tiny shard of text from what once was a March 2008 copy of Newsweek.

Decoupage is easy, it’s fun, it’s cheap to produce.  It’s even, dare I say it, liberating, and not only in a strict political sense.  It allows for all the little flourishes and halfway-through epiphanies that knitting actively forbids — in fact, the more license you take, the cooler it looks.  Want to layer that baby’s head on top of a military tank, which in turn is perched atop a line of sheet music, which itself is nestled between the ankles of a surly elephant about to charge?  Go for it.  It’ll all be under the same layer of glue anyway.  And such creative success, the kind that allows endorphins to pump through one’s head and Elmer’s-soaked fingers, will lead to a rekindling of creativity throughout one’s quotidian life — it certainly did for me.  I no longer feel like a failure as an artist because knitting leaves me cold.  I could make my way into the elite Countercultural Artists Brigade, though at this point I’ve lost much of my longing to do so.  I have my stack of Vogues and Washington Posts and cast-off worksheets and old art exhibit fliers, and I have a big strong gluestick and a perfectly sharpened pair of scissors, and that, dear readers, is all I need.


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  1. * Stefan says:

    Isn’t a desire to be like the nonconformists a little hypocritical?

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 8 months ago
    • * thoughtfulrevolution says:

      …I was trying for irony. I probably should have been a little less subtle…?

      | Reply Posted 8 years, 8 months ago
      • * Stefan says:

        No. I was just being thick.

        Posted 8 years, 8 months ago
  2. * Sarah says:

    Hey you, I happen to take slightly sarcastic offense at your cracks about copious piercing and chucks! 😛 Also, can somebody explain to me why CONVERSE of all things have become the neo-punk activist trademark when they’re made with sweatshop labor? Yes, I wear them (I’m total hypocrite), but I’ve not bought a pair in two years since I’ve made a conscientious effort to not buy sweat shop made things first hand at the very least, money permitting (Thankfully there isn’t much I need any more!).

    In all seriousness I get what you’re saying entirely. My “young, copiously pierced, black-plastic-rimmed-glasses-clad, Artistic-with-a-capital-A” girlfriend can’t stand knitting either. She does crochet from time to time, which I haven’t been taught yet for her and Meridian are absurdly over scheduled. I find it meditative, Izzi finds it worse than watching paint dry.

    I love that collage has worked out so well for you! I know you have confidence issues about other mediums but will you please come over one day and we’ll just play with stuff? I think you would do really well with wire sculpture or photography because it’s so hands on and immediate. I took a mini-workshop on it one day with the lovely Josh Yavelberg (Who, coincidental got me into collage too, even though it’s not HIS medium and while I really liked it and do play with it sometimes it’s not my favorite medium. Maybe since your artistic skill is more apparent (TOLD YOU THAT YOU HAD A GOOD EYE AND TALENT!!!) to yourself, muster the self-esteem to sign up for a photography, ceramics, sculpture or drawing class to play with other mediums. I find it really inspiring to just even play with other mediums even if I end up not liking them in the long run. Just an artist to artist suggestion, by no means a demand. I just see a lot of creativity in you and want to see all the different things you can do with it!

    I’ve been getting caught up on your blog posts by the way and I want to tell you what an amazing job you’ve been doing. Your writing is great and keeps getting better. You make all your points logically and clearly with a strong sense of style and a nice dose of humor, if my writing loving but completely inept self does says so. Also, I agree with what Leila said on facebook, “it makes me feel less smart because she’s got all the smart”.

    Finally, on my long and probably rambling comment, I demand you call/IM/come see me as soon as you can for I miss talking to you terribly. Keep up the amazing work in all formats!

    Much love and respect,

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 7 months ago

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