Arts & Culture Maplewood South Orange

Fear and Crafting in South Orange With ‘SOMA Artsy Craftsy’

Donna Ritter and Kari Capone getting crafty in South Orange.

The artists at Jenny Barnett Rohrs’ new monthly meetup, SOMA Artsy Craftsy, have endured their share of scorn.

“You should see the comments on my videos,” says Rohrs. “Too perky, can’t stand your voice…one woman snarked about how dirty my hands were. I was working in inks, for Pete’s sake!”

There are nods all around. “Someone called my yarn storage system ‘binders full of bullsh**,’” laughs Kari Capone.

No wonder crafters flock to the gathering Rohrs calls “a safe atmosphere for growth and exploration.” They range from hobbyists like knitter and quilter Helen-Marie Goff of Maplewood to mixed media artist Chrissy McIntyre, whose work is featured at galleries and art events around town, and needle felt artist (and Kitchen a la Mode owner) Ben Salmon.

Trained as a music therapist, Rohrs soon discovered that “I needed an outlet to release the sorrow I was absorbing at work.” She found it through furniture restoration and upcycling, quilting, jewelry making, and, eventually, a series of videos, Craft Test Dummies, that have earned more than 56,000 followers on YouTube.

Stress relief is a motivating factor for nearly everyone in the room. As soon as the crafters sit down, the knitting needles come out. Helen-Marie is knitting a scarf for her son Connor in his college colors. Weaver Donna Ritter of South Orange is working in chunky wool, while Capone chooses a delicate pattern in peach.

“I’ve always had fiber in my life,” says Ritter, whose woven jewelry (including a gorgeous series honoring Pride Month) and textiles are featured on SomaGeneralStore.com. “I have more yarn than I will ever use in my lifetime.”

Martha McDonald gets special satisfaction from “transforming materials that other people think are garbage,” including a striking rocker that she redid for the Rustoleum Chair Challenge. She also enjoys “visible mending” and reusing construction debris to create art.

Denise Gustavson, who co-owns Renaissance Art Studio in Millburn, has a more personal reason for embarking on what Rohrs calls “the crafter’s journey.” “I’ve spent my career teaching other people to make art. Crafting helps me discover who I am.”

Rohrs’ ultimate goal is to create a craft guild-style monthly meetup where crafters can learn from each other and develop a local community. Crafters are invited to join her Facebook group, SOMA Artsy Craftsy, to learn about future events.

Deborah Gaines was once stabbed by a knitting needle but hopes to make a scarf one day.

Follow her at huffingtonpost/author/deborah-gaines

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