Crafting isn’t just about making cute things

Celia Wren

THE WASHINGTON POST – Sutton Foster understands the power of time-consuming hobbies, especially those that yield tactile results.

In her charming memoir, the two-time Tony Award winner and star of TV’s Bunheads and Younger, shows how projects involving coloured pencils, epoxy glue and – chiefly – yarn have helped her cope with heartbreak and stress, including backstage spitefulness, tabloid voyeurism and a painful relationship with her agoraphobic mother.

“My crafts have helped hold me together and given me a place to pour all of my love or sadness into,” she wrote in Hooked, a book that comes with a subtitle that will seem less hyperbolic by the time you turn the last page: “How Crafting Saved My Life.”

Foster structured her memoir around projects that reflect chapters in her life. Drawings of fertility deities, in Copic markers, recall her struggle to get pregnant before she and husband Ted Griffin, a screenwriter, opted for adoption.

A wood-and-glass mosaic of a near-airborne woman captured her mind-set shortly before she passed up a safe role on Broadway in Les Miserables for a more interesting gig as a mere understudy in the then-in-development Thoroughly Modern Millie. That gutsy decision positioned her for a Tony Award-winning turn in the title role, after the original lead left the show.

The framework allows for glimpses of professional and private milestones, such as Foster’s divorce from her first husband, actor Christian Borle (associated craft: crocheted granny-square blanket); and the thrill of finally meeting longtime idol Patti LuPone (paper-on-plywood collage reading “Badass”). Woven through are memories of growing up in the South and in Detroit, alongside her brother, Hunter (also a stage actor), and witnessing their mother’s transformation into a troubled recluse. Cross-stitch “was one of the few things I had ever really seen her enjoy”, Foster wrote, explaining that picking up the antiquated art form was in part a way to connect with her mother, and in part a way to deal with her own social anxiety when she was in a touring theatre group in her late teens. “It was a form of self-protection,” she wrote, “I don’t need to socialise! I have a project to work on!”

Hooked plays a dual role – as a memoir and a how-to book. Foster’s recollections are punctuated by recipes, a crochet pattern, gardening tips, and at times, unfortunately, simplistic empowerment speak: “I had unknowingly started to take ownership of my actions,” she wrote of a period in which she bought a house and played the nightclub singer Reno in Anything Goes – a character so “ballsy” that as a real-life introvert with good-girl tendencies, she initially had trouble embracing the role. (She went on to win her second Tony for the part).

But such moments are fleeting and don’t deter from the book’s overall appeal. Foster’s tale is laced with self-deprecating humour, detailed childhood memories and insight about the many challenges of becoming a stage and television actor – the cliques, the rivalries, the relentless auditions and rehearsals and time spent on the road. “Whenever I felt lonely,” Foster wrote, “I had my cross-stitch to keep me company.”

Foster makes a persuasive case that hobbies are a salvation, and a universal one at that. More people can probably aspire to crocheting a blanket than can tap dance to multiple Tonys, as Foster has. Hooked shows its author to be both exceptional and much like the fretting rest of us. Pass the yarn.