Of all the creative people I've met, writers are the ones who most often do creative things outside their own art. It's not uncommon for a fiction writer to also be an artist, crafter, musician, dressmaker, poet, weaver, sculptor, potter, etc. Very often these non-writing activities are on the hobby level -- writing consumes a lot of our spare time -- but a few writers end up having two creative careers.
For the last twenty years, quilts have been my private passion. I make them, restore them, study them and collect them. I often collaborate with other quilters and fabric artists on joint projects. I have two going at the moment that are turning out to be a lot of fun; one is with another author.
Quilts are also a nice side business. For a time I moonlighted as a quilt buyer for a friend who is an antique dealer, and recently I was offered a full-time job as a quilting teacher (and you'll never know how close I came to accepting that one.) It is nice to have something to fall back on, something you enjoy that no one else can mess with or spoil for you. That alone makes up for a lot of what happens during a career in Publishing.
As arts go, quilting isn't very complicated. Most people regard a quilt as an ordinary household item. It's made out of two layers of fabric and a center filling of fiber batting that are sandwiched, pinned and sewn together. Its purpose is to cover a sleeping person and keep them warm. Women often make them by hand for baby shower and wedding gifts, sometimes getting together in sewing groups known as quilting bees. Pretty, practical, and humble, that's about all you can say about the quilt. You can buy one at your local department store (imported from countries overseas that pay women in sweatshops about ten cents an hour to sew them) for as little as $19.95.
At the same time, quilting is an art with a very rich and diverse history. We know from tomb objects in Egypt that quilts may have been made and used as far back as 3,400 B.C. The oldest preserved quilt in existence is The Guicciardini quilt, made sometime during the 14th century in Sicily and, according to The Bent Needle at Force Majeure Farm'a blog, is currently undergoing restoration at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. As for how much they're worth, I think the world record is still held by a Civil War era pictorial quilt that Sotheby's auctioned off in 1991 for $264,000.00. Not bad for a humble bed covering.
I hang quilts around my house like artwork because to me, they are. Here's the one on display in my living room right now (click on image for larger view):
Having a creative outlet isn't a requirement, but it helps. When I need to blow off some steam, or think about a problem story, or just not think at all, I regularly go to my quilting table. My sewing machine never crashes on me. Fabric does not vanish on me (unless I didn't buy enough.) My running threads all make sense and usually are simple to untangle. The end result may never make it to a store the way my books do, but when I'm cold, it keeps me warm.
What sort of creative outlets do you have (or would you like to have)? How do they help you cope with what life throws at you?