H OW COULD THE SISTER PROJECT resist someone with the nickname “Sister Diane?” When a friend turned us on to the prolific and passionate crafter Diane Gilleland, we had to delve into her work as both a creator of, and a zealous advocate for, things made by hand. Through her blog, podcasts and writing, Diane teaches and spreads the word about the power of handmade articles. She is less an aficionado of one particular craft than a supporter of spending time making things, whatever they are. As she says on her blog, showcasing an arguably unfortunate creation from a vintage craft guide: “Frankly, if somebody had a nice couple of hours making it, it’s A-OK in my book.”
Diane learned to craft as a girl from her mother, and has never stopped. But it’s only in the last few years that she’s had the courage to make crafting the center of her career. She writes for a variety of craft magazines and websites, and teaches classes ranging from crocheting wire into jewelry and recycling books into purses. Her first book, Kanzashi In Bloom: 20 Simple Fold-and-Sew Projects to Wear and Give, will be out in July from Watson-Guptill.
“Even though I’ve been a crafter my whole life, it was rarely easy to find other crafters,” says Diane. “The internet, of course, changed all that.”
Sister Diane met one of her closest sister-friends, Rachel Hodson, through her blog.
“The web makes real friendship possible,” she says, “even over thousands of miles, because in the context of blogs, we get to skip the small-talk and dive deeply into the subjects we love most.”
Diane played a role in growing the crafting community in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, when she founded a chapter of the Church of Craft there.
“When I first read about the Church of Craft in BUST Magazine, I wished there were a chapter in Portland,” she recalls. “I knew how restorative crafting was for me personally, and I suspected that this renewal would be even greater in company. But, being a shy person, it took a year before it occurred to me that if I started a chapter in Portland, then we’d have one!”
This was an enormous step for her, Diane says, “inviting strangers to craft with me in a public place. I will never forget how nervous I felt driving to that first meeting. But 10 people showed up, and I met Susan Beal, who is still a wonderful friend to this day.”
Over the five and a half years that Diane ran the group, which she took a break from doing last summer, it grew to more than 1,000 members.
“The core experience of each meeting was the same, no matter who showed up: strangers becoming friends over craft. We’d start out swapping favorite sources for rick rack, and end up discussing big life questions.”
And what about that nickname? “Well, when I started the C of C chapter, the organization asked that I choose an ‘official name’ as a ‘flock leader.’ So I chose Sister Diane. I also had to become ordained as a minister—online, via the nondenominational Universal Life Church.”
Diane has performed a wedding as a Church of Craft minister, and today she podcasts under the name Sister Diane. “The nickname has kind of stuck to me,” she says. (Links to some of her most popular podcasts, also available at her CraftyPod blog, are at the bottom of this post, along with a sideshow of her handiworks.)
Her circle is a wide one, including those who come as strangers and those who she has known: Even Diane’s mom, her original inspiration for hand-making, is a big part of Diane’s crafting sisterhood.
“We launched a blog for her last year all about winter holidays, and she had a great time sharing her projects and recipes. She was amazed when perfect strangers began leaving nice comments, and sending emails.”
Diane’s firm belief: “When you share the best of what’s in you, people will respond beautifully.” In the case of Sister Diane, we couldn’t agree more.
THE TSP INTERVIEW WITH SISTER DIANE GILLELAND
A. “You know you’re a sister when you know exactly who to call to share the monumental news that you just found a bag of vintage rhinestone buttons at the thrift store.”
Q. What are your best-of and also your worst-of sisterhood experiences?
A. “I have a wonderful brother, but no biological sisters. So I always think of my close friends as a sisterhood. The best experiences of these friendships are those absolutely casual times: watching a film together but talking through the whole thing, teaching each other to crochet, standing transfixed together in the Japanese craft-book store.
“I think the most challenging aspect of these sister-friendships comes from how profoundly women’s lives can change, and how often this in turn changes close friendships. Since I’ve chosen not to marry or have children, I’ve watched a number of treasured bonds alter and fade as friends became immersed in these very big adventures. It’s sad, but life is nothing if not ever-changing.”
Q. Are there cultural or pop-culture references that make you think of your sibling or of sisterhood?
A. “My favorite ‘sister books’ are all Jane Austen novels, so it follows that I’ve also gleefully watched the film adaptations many times with my sisters. Ang Lee’s 1995 Sense and Sensibility tops the list, followed by the 1995 Persuasion (because Amanda Root as Anne Elliot was a sister to everyone in that film). The 1996 Emma is another lovely one (but it must be said: that may have more to do with Jeremy Northam than sisterhood).”
Q. What does the word sister mean to you?
A. “I think of sisterhood in terms of understanding. There are so many common experiences women share, regardless of generation or geography. It’s glorious how we all have this potential to see and comprehend each other.
“When I organized Church of Craft meetings in Portland, I never got tired of watching women of all ages and backgrounds, who hadn’t met before, gather around tables and find common ground.”
Q. What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from your sister?
A. “There is huge creative and spiritual possibility in gathering with your favorite women to make things. Any form of creative work busies our hands and relaxes our minds, which in turn sets the stage for deep sharing and personal revelations. I love to make things alone, but it’s always more meaningful in the company of sisters.”
A SLIDE SHOW OF DIANE’S GILLELAND’S WORK
The tutorials for projects featured in the slide show include:
SOME OF TSP’S FAVORITE SISTER DIANE PODCASTS
- An interview with C of C co-founder Callie Janoff.
- Crafty New Year’s Resolutions. Still relevant despite their vintage.
- An interview with Kay Bailey, who makes art quilts from special objects her clients provide. “She’s a very heartfelt person, and her work is beautiful,” says Diane. “This interview says a lot about craft and the bonds between people.”
- An interview with Amy Kleene, who makes craft items designed for spiritual use. “The interview speaks to the special energies that handmade items carry,” says Diane.
(TSP’s curator of gallery shows like this one is Paige Smith Orloff, one of our founding sisters. Learn more about Paige on her blog, “Hey, Little Sister.”)