It’s Monday, October 28th, which means that those of us who dare to construct a last-minute Halloween costume are now fanning out in the aisles of craft stores across the country, doing our best to fashion a coherent ensemble from felt and yarn and construction paper and googly eyes. For many people, this is the only time of year that we descend upon these types of stores, and we don’t think about them again until October rolls back around.
But, of course, there are 51 other weeks of the year when people are making all kinds of things for all kinds of reasons. So we stopped into a handful of arts and crafts stores around New York City, well in advance of the Halloween rush, to find out what exactly these people are up to.
We listened to stories about their lives, wacky crafting histories, and current obsessions—from karate-studio missions to apartment renovations.
The Student: Mashael
What brought you to the store today? I’m going to grad school at NYU and I’m a photographer. I’m working on a short film inspired by my favorite artist, Etel Adnan, she does these abstract paintings and I’m kind of using her color scheme to talk about the idea of home. She has an amazing book called the Arab Apocalypse and that’s like source material for this. In my short film, I’m using yarn as a motif related to what brings you back home. That’s usually what I explore in my photography—identity.
When are you shooting the film? This week. I cast a couple of people. It’s going to be one really long shot—I love when art films can be a little bit uncomfortable and disturbing, a little too long. It really makes you sit with the work.
How often do you find yourself in a craft store? All the time. I love to host and I love themes [laughs]. I just threw a housewarming that was themed “Arab Disco” and we played Arab and North African disco music.
What’s your weirdest craft store project of all-time? I make my own jewelry, so I’m often here buying hooks and stuff like that, but I would have to say this [film] one. I’m just buying yarn right now, but it’s going to be so much more than that.
What’s your favorite section? The beads. I get so distracted!
The Teacher: Esther
Age: “Too old”
Favorite section: Crochet
What brought you here today? I’m a teacher at a not-for-profit called Super Happy Healthy Kids, and I usually get a lot of supplies here for my students. Sometimes I come once a month, sometimes I come every week, depending on what they need. They’re very creative, my students. It just never seems to be enough. Which is a good thing. When I come to Michaels, I go aisle by aisle. I just need peace, you know, with myself. I don’t even bring my team.
What will you be doing with the stuff in your cart? With the pompoms, honestly, I don’t know. I’m sure the kids will figure something out. We need more pipe cleaners. The spiders—we’re making slime later, so I thought we could put the spiders in the slime.
What’s the weirdest craft store project you’ve done? In our edible art program, we made monsters out of rice balls. That was probably the funniest. We used seaweed.
The Roomies: Zaynab Tawil, Praneet Kang, Calvin Reedy
What brought you guys here?
Zaynab: I love it here! I watercolor, and it started off kind of casual, but I’ve been doing it more therapeutically because I hashtag-can’t-afford-therapy [laughs]. I write poetry, so a lot of my watercolors have been inspired by that recently.
Do all of you watercolor or are you just running an errand together?
Calvin: We had brunch, we’re on our way back home.
Praneet: I was checking out the supplies too. I sketch a bit.
What’s your weirdest craft store project?
Zaynab: Last year I wanted to be Ivy for Halloween so I bought a bunch of nasty green cloth and I was very certain that I would be able to hand-sew my costume. I was not able to do that. I literally just threw it out.
Praneet: I got into looming once.
Calvin: Wow, she’s a weaver on the low!
Praneet: With my mom!
Zaynab: [laughs] Ah ok. I was like, “How, when, where? We’ve lived with you for so long, where’s the loom?”
What’s your favorite section?
Zaynab: I love the mini sketchbooks, it’s interesting to think about what could be accomplished with a smaller size.
Praneet: I like the pastels and I want to get into them but I don’t think I’m good enough yet.
Calvin: I love seeing all the organized colors. It just does something to me.
The Creative Kid: Marina
What brought you to Michaels today? It was raining and we wanted to go inside so we came to Michaels. It’s my favorite place.
What art are you working on right now? I’m using the black paper… with fall themes.
Do you have a favorite section? Yes. This! [Gestures to the jewelry section.]
How often do you come here? Not really often.
Not really often? You’d like to come more? Yes, I would like to!
The Spray Painter: Adam
From: New York City
What’s the weirdest craft store project you’ve done? Last year for Halloween, I was Wendy Williams when she fainted when she had the Statue of Liberty costume on. So I came here to make that.
That’s incredible. You put it together from scratch? It did not stay for even 30 minutes.
Good thing you just had to fall, right? Yeah. That’s all I did.
What brought you here today? I need to get some spray paint, because I’m spray-painting fake leaves for my apartment.
Cool. Are you an artist? Yeah. I went to art school, but I don’t get paid to do it or anything. I do it as a hobby now.
The Photographer: Ash
Job: Photographer and photo assistant
What brings you here? I’m looking for props and styling stuff for a shoot—backgrounds and fabrics and scrapbook paper. The shoot is for a jewelry company, rings mostly. I’ve never been to this location, so I don’t know where everything is. I really want plain stuff—minimal, natural, monotone.
How frequently do you come to these types of stores? I typically don’t come here for shoots—usually a stylist would do this, but I’m doing it for this shoot. Otherwise, I’d find myself at a craft store like once a month.
What’s your weirdest-ever craft store project? One time I had a project for school that was like, “Here’s an Oreo. Make it into a person.” So we made an Oreo surfing on a milk wave. We made a surfboard for it. It was cool.
Do you typically make your Halloween costume? I love Halloween but I’m really lazy about it. I usually wait till the last minute and then go to a thrift store and pull together something weird. I was Xenon last year, and just wore a lot of shiny stuff.
Check out Ash’s photography here.
The Daydreamer & Archivist: Mo
From: Jamaica, Queens
What brought you here? I’m working on a project painting queer folktale paintings so I got canvases and paints and little jars to mix my colors. I’ve been painting for a long time, I just started doing these folk tales because I’m dreaming about moving out of New York and they’re based in the countryside with chickens and other animals. There are a lot of women in bed dreaming. I just finished reading Alice Walker’s memoir and she has eight chickens and she just writes about her love for them.
Are there any artists who you’re inspired by? Yeah, there are a few, and I’m really paying attention to their edges. The way they paint the edge of a person’s face to the background feels very seamless and it’s just beautiful. I feel like I have a lot of hard edges that feel more illustrative and I want it to feel more painterly.
What’s been your wildest craft store project? Making marionette puppets about two years ago. They were made out of papier-mâché, wood, little eyelet screws, and feathers. They were bird puppets and I performed with them for some kids.
What did you study in school? I made my own major—art and art history. I’m an archivist at the Studio Museum. I’ve been there for a year.
Do you have a favorite store section? I love looking at the fluid acrylic paints, but I have a very sensual relationship with the brushes when I have time.
The Landscaper: Mac
From: New Jersey
What brought you here? I’m working on landscapes for this show in February. I’m not sure if this will be in the show, but I’m working to submit. My friend just opened her own gallery in her apartment and she’s been having a lot of group shows there. I’m really interested in this painter Marianne Mitchell. She makes abstract landscapes that kind of remind me of James Turrell’s work, but they’re more colorful. I haven’t really been doing landscapes for that long but I’m getting this today to teach my friends how to mix oils and solvents and stuff.
Are they also artists? One of them makes pottery and the other one is a photographer.
Do you primarily work on landscapes? No, I’m usually more into figures, like ghosts. I do this thing with Aztec clay with the background that makes it really textured and gives it a cool cracking effect.
What’s the most memorable craft store project you’ve embarked upon? I was trying really hard to make a resin cast of my friend’s family crest. The crest features three fish, and I made it, and then I realized that his family switched it up and the fish are backwards. I tried to heat it and bend it, it was just… done. It was supposed to be a birthday present and I still haven’t given it [laughs].
The Entrepreneur: Majee
What brought you here? I’m starting my own business, it’s a printing company. I do business cards and labels and stuff like that. Soon it’s going to turn into banners and t-shirts and hoodies. I just came today to pick up some boxes so I can spray paint and put my logo on it and ship out some business cards.
How often do you come? This is my first time here.
Do you have a favorite section? Well, I like the glitter [laughs] and the spray paint and I like the different boxes. I saw that they have heart-shaped boxes and when I send out my stuff I want to make sure that the client feels appreciated and like I put a lot of thought into it.
Do you do all the graphic design too? Yeah, I custom design everything. But I went to school for human resources, actually. This is something that I like to do in my spare time that I can probably turn into something that is forever.
The Nice Brother: Emilio
From: Caracas, Venezuela
What brings you here? I’m just looking for a frame for this—I was sent by my karate master to get it. Her daughter might’ve done it. It would have been years ago.
So you’re on a karate studio mission? Literally, exactly. She was like, “Hey, do you have like 20 minutes to do this?” And I was like sure.
You work there? Yeah. I’ve been there since I was 6 years old.
What’s the weirdest craft store project you’ve done? My little sister is nine years younger, so my mom will be like, “Go figure out how to make what she’s making for whatever.” And I’m like, “What do you mean for whatever?” She’ll be like, “Just make a turkey, figure how to make a turkey!”
Do you take your little sister with you usually? I mean, if she’s lucky.
Photos by Franey Miller.