Mike: photographer, carpenter, travel planner, salmon catcher, reader, NYT crossword puzzle solver in ink, pizza maker, embroidery critic and designer
Jen: writer, puzzle maker, gardener, embroiderer, sourdough keeper, designer, animal watcher, blueberry picker, reader, crafter in many mediums
Home and office: rural Alaska
I, Jen, have been a crafter and needleworker since I was dexterous enough to thread a needle. I have early memories of the family crafting candles and ornaments for holiday gifts. My mother made clothes for herself, my sister, and me, and mimicking her, I made clothes for my Barbies. I was allowed to use Mom’s sewing machine at a very early age; or maybe I neglected to ask.
I got my first embroidery kit at about age 5 or 6. It was a bright yellow, red, and orange lion. The picture was printed on a large piece of shiny paper. I glued the canvas to the front of the paper, and then poked my blue plastic needle, threaded with acrylic yarn, through the paper and over the canvas fibers. It took ages to finish that lion.
I was in the 4-H Sewing Club, and in seventh grade Home Ec, before I sewed the obligatory pillow, I embroidered my name on the fabric. Mom made the pattern and taught me the stem stitch. It was a turquoise blue pillow with lace trim and my name stitched in white embroidery floss.
As I grew up and discovered I wanted things, my father’s stock answer was “make it.” Most of the time I rolled my eyes and stomped away, but sometimes I did as he suggested. More than once, I made clothes patterns out of newspaper or re-made old clothes into new clothes.
After college, when I moved across the country for a seasonal job, I took my sewing machine on the plane with me.
As I said, I’ve been a crafter all my life.
In the beginning, we were caretakers in Alaska. Remote lodges that operate in the summer often hire caretakers during the winter to be a presence and watch over lodge facilities and equipment. (No, I’ve never seen The Shining; I don’t do scary.) Most winters found us snuggled into tiny but toasty cabins accessible by bush planes (or dog sleds or snowmachines if one were truly determined). We had no electricity, running water, telephone, mail service, or neighbors, unless you count the moose, martens, and magpies. We’ve relished the opportunity to explore remote corners of Alaska from Bristol Bay to the Arctic.Work for caretakers varies. Sometimes we shoveled snow–from airplane wings and cabin roofs–and sometimes we gathered wood. Boggy tundra can prevent wood gathering during the spring, summer, and fall, but in the winter the ground freezes, and we hauled wood on sleds behind snowmachines. We were even weather observers one winter, transmitting coded weather information eleven times every day to the National Weather Service to assist small planes flying in the vicinity.
Perhaps the biggest job, though, was simply being there and taking care of ourselves. Medical help was a long way off, as were restaurants, grocery stores, and theaters. Supplies we purchased in September had to get us through until May–food, books, and craft supplies included. Planning was essential. Daily chores take longer under those primitive conditions. To bathe, for instance, meant hauling water, chopping wood to heat the sauna, heating the sauna and water, and then, well, bathing. And to have a sandwich, we first had to bake the bread. (Okay, we could have frozen store bread as we froze everything else; we just chose to bake fresh bread.) But even so, we had time on our hands as there was no sitting around watching TV at night or going bowling or hanging out with friends.
We filled our time with hobbies: woodworking, writing, guitar-playing, skiing, photography, snowshoeing, reading, and–here it is!–stitching. In fact, the #1 activity of choice for all our years of caretaking was a combination of reading and stitching. Mike read aloud while I stitched. This continues to be a choice activity for us, and I suspect it always will be, although now we call it “work.” During a winter on the Stony River I created a cross stitch design from one of Mike’s photos of Denali (aka Mt. McKinley–the highest mountain in North America). I did it for fun with no plan beyond creating the stitched piece. Mike was so impressed (and surprised, I hate to admit) he charted a photo of a Dall sheep ram. And that was it–we were hooked by the challenge and the endless possibilities. Next, Mike began to design a sampler of nature, wildlife, and outdoor activities. Then there were more animals, a toy shelf, tropical fish, and on and on.
That was ten years ago. Can you believe it? My, how much we’ve learned and how things have changed: the needlework industry, our interests and abilities, technology and the way stitchers congregate and communicate. As we go forward from here, we aim to direct our business with the values and principles that guide our everyday lives. This is our Funk & Weber Manifesto:
We’re glad you’re here, and we hope you’ll stick around and participate so we can get to know you.
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