Four years ago, inspired by her love of crafting, Ali DeJohn began offering a mishmash of projects at weekend retreats near Boulder, Colo. Women came from around the world, and a business was born.
Today, The Makerie hosts high-end crafting retreats in Colorado and New York City. Its July retreat was a full day of printing, knitting and cooking workshops plus three meals and cocktails outdoors at a Lyons, Colorado, farm. The cost was $365.
Why pay hundreds of dollars to craft with strangers for a day?
"It's about physically being together," muses Hannah Milman, who visits creative communities throughout the country as editorial director of crafts for Martha Stewart Living. "It's about survival. It's primal. It's joyous."
Many crafters like to do their sewing, knitting, scrapbooking and other handicrafts and hobbies together in homes, at classes or on retreats.
"Everybody has a certain level of anxiety; it's part of the human condition," says Patricia Pitta, a Manhasset, New York, clinical and family psychologist. Creative work can lower anxiety, and so can being with others, says Pitta, whose book "Solving Modern Family Dilemmas" (Routledge) will be released this month.
"There's only so much people can get from the 'I'," she says. "You're still left alone."
Togetherness also feeds the creative process, many artists say. Ideas burst forth, possibilities unfold and skills are improved.
Lisa LeBlanc joined a Kalamazoo, Michigan, calligraphy guild 7 years ago after a chance conversation with her dentist. She's learned about styles and materials from fellow members, and the experience has led her into other art forms, such as watercolor painting.
"It's really changed my life," says LeBlanc. "It's the encouragement you get, the feedback and the support ... . You can toil away on your own in your room with whatever you're doing, but if you don't get feedback from other people, you don't know if you're improving."
Upstairs Circus has turned the urge to craft in community into a business: The Denver bar offers a project menu alongside its liquor lists, and features rows of long tables with tool-filled caddies. Co-owner Matt Johannsen says his small bar caters to large groups — from bridal parties to company team-building groups — and walk-in customers. Crafting "coaches" circulate among the busy tables.
"When you're by yourself, you're limited to your own ideas. When you're in a social space, you can bounce your ideas off friends and strangers even," says Johannsen. "It's something constructive to do besides just to eat and drink."
Jodi Flynn Rethmeier, of Lincoln, Nebraska, started attending scrapbooking retreats with friends 14 years ago. She and 24 other women stay at a Wahoo, Nebraska, hotel — 30 miles north of Lincoln — and scrapbook in rented space at a local bank.
Rethmeier, a mother of five, looks forward to these biannual retreats as a chance to recharge.
"It turned out to be 14 years of mutual support," she says. "We have so much fun. We've seen each other through births and weddings and additions to the families, and we have seen each other through funerals and tragedies and hardships. The scrapbooking is icing on the cake."
For DeJohn, of The Makerie, a day or weekend of crafting energizes other aspects of a creative person's life.
"It's hard to find creative time in our busy lives, to feel the empowerment of making something with our hands," says DeJohn. "Knowing the capabilities of what you can create as a human being is so fulfilling."
"Some people get lost in a book," she adds. "I get lost in making things."