Have you ever done a craft swap? They’re one of my favorite ways to get creative and push myself to try new crafts/techniques.
What’s a craft swap, you ask? I’m no expert on the topic–and each is a little different–but most look like this: someone (or a couple someones) decide to organize a swap and put out the call for participants on Instagram, blogs, and other places where crafty types lurk. They decide on a theme for the swap, and send out forms for participants to indicate things like their color/fabric preferences, things they like relating to the theme, and whether they have any allergies (this is important, especially since so many of us crafters have furry friends who like to send along a bit of themselves on every craft!). Each participant is then partnered with another participant. The swaps I’ve participated in have all been secret swaps, so you don’t know who “has” you until the end of the swap. You get a record of your partner’s preferences as listed in the entry form, and you use those responses to guide your project.
At the outset of the swap, the moderators set expectations for the type, size, and price range for the craft. Most swaps will also ask you to send along a little extra in your package–things like chocolate, tea, or a little something related to the theme and your partner’s interest. Throughout the swap period you post check-ins on Instagram or via email. This helps make sure everyone’s making progress, but it’s also a great way to see how other people have responded to the swap theme.
Moderators understand that sometimes life happens and people need to drop out of the swap. They set policies at the outset about check-ins and what to do if you need to drop out; if they need a replacement for someone who dropped out, they put out a call for “angels,” people willing to step in mid-swap. Sometimes this is someone already involved in the swap who’s willing to tackle two packages, and sometimes it’s someone who wasn’t involved in the swap initially but wants to help out. The moderators I’ve worked with have been great at making sure that no one gets left behind in their swap–everyone who signs up and submits a package receives a package, even if it’s not from their original partner.
At the end of the swap, you post an update letting your moderator know that you’ve shipped your package. Once you receive yours from your partner, you post it on social media and get to brag about how your partner was the most awesome partner of them all.
I tried my first craft swap, the very popular Schnitzel & Boo Mini Quilt Swap, last fall. It was a blast! My quilting skills can best be described as “novice,” so I was a little nervous at first. But it ended up being awesome–I actually finished my first quilt (I’d only ever done quilt tops before) and used gorgeous fabrics I wouldn’t normally pick for myself.
The package I received in return was amazing. My partner knew I was interested in travel, so she made me a quilt with suitcases. It is so beautiful! She also included a travel journal and fancy pens (stationary AND fabric? Now that’s a winning combination). The best part of it, hands down, was the community. Following the Swap moderators and fellow swappers on Instagram introduced me to some incredibly talented (and wonderfully kind) crafters. I still follow many of those folks and get so inspired by the amazing things they do!
Craft swaps are time-consuming. Some swaps require you to make multiple crafts, and even ones that only require a single craft take time. Many of the swaps I’ve done have been on relatively short timelines too, so you’ve got to work fast. For someone like me who’s always bemoaning the lack of time I have between work and school, you’d think I’d ditch the craft swaps, right? Well, that’d probably be the smart thing to do. But I’ve actually gone in the opposite direction: I’ve signed up for more craft swaps.
Why do this to myself, you ask? Part of it is that I have very little self-control and can’t help myself from signing up when I see a cool themed swap. But I also made a conscious decision to do more swaps this year. I love the sense of community they create. Now that I spend most of my time either at work or holed up in my apartment doing school stuff, having an online community of crafters who support me in both my crafting and my other work has been invaluable. I also love how adhering to a swap theme and my partner’s preferences pushes me to think beyond my go-to colors and styles. I’ve discovered some things that I never would have explored before.
But perhaps most importantly, signing up for craft swaps when I don’t have time for anything forces me to make time for myself. Think about the first thing you neglect when you get overwhelmed by obligations: it’s probably yourself, right? (Ok, in my case the first thing to go was cleaning/chores, but self-care was next on the list). When you’ve got to cut something out of your life, “you” tends to be the easiest choice. After all, who’s going to get mad at you if you don’t take care of yourself? There’s no boss or deadline telling you to care for yourself, so it’s easy to forget that neglecting self-care actually has very serious consequences.
Crafting feeds my soul in ways that the other work I do just doesn’t. It makes me happy and brings me peace. But when I have a million papers due, emails to answer, and meetings to attend, it’s hard to justify taking time to make something for myself. But making something for someone else? Crafting something with love, tailoring it to someone’s interests? That I can do. The deadlines and check-ins for swaps force me to take a little time each week to craft, and instead of feeling guilty about it, I get to feel like I’m checking another thing off my list (and relaxing in the process!). And getting a craft in return, knowing that someone who doesn’t even know you put so much time and love into making something for you? That gives you warm fuzzies that can get you through even the toughest day.
So, what do y’all think? Are you as into craft swaps as me? Which ones are you working on now? (For myself, I’m currently doing a swap with librarians [my first go at moderating–eep!], the Victorian Era Craft Swap, and the Disney Mug Rug Swap). Let me know of your favorite swaps–I’m always looking for more to check out!