Smile Politely

Getting crafty with Tumbling Blocks

The idea of working within a set of rules, yet creating your own thing, and sending that to somebody else … is just interesting and fun. — Dorie Schwarz

Anyone who maintains a blog (or any project, really) over a period of time has to be inspired and supported, and being a part of a community can help maintain the momentum. Sometimes, though, it can be intimidating at first.

Dorie Schwarz, who has been blogging about her crafting activities at Tumbling Blocks for two and a half years, knows that better than most. “I guess I never thought that I would blog,” Schwarz said, “based on the people that I knew that blogged, [who] were way more outspoken than I was. They knew about all sorts of things, every political issue, had researched them, fully understood them, and could be very erudite in discussing any of them. That was definitely not me.”

So, first she had to get enough self-confidence to put herself out there, and that inspiration came from a couple of online sources: Knitta Please, an Austin-based “guerrilla knitting graffiti” site, and WhipUp, a collaborative crafting blog. After discovering these online communities with a friend in late 2006, “I was just blown over by how amazing this was,” Schwarz recalled. “It was all very do-it-yourself, it was easy to get there, I could imagine myself doing that, and I felt like, ‘Oh, this is what I do.’

“They do all things craft, and they’re sharing their ideas, and they’re sharing their patterns, and they’re being witty and creative, and they’re all being very nice to each other about it.”

Soon, she was documenting her own creations on her own blog, and “I found out that I liked it and I found that it came way more naturally than I thought that it would.”

Schwarz and her husband had purchased an old farmhouse outside Farmer City (she’s originally from “the beautiful Jersey Shore”), and she expected that Tumbling Blocks would split time between documenting her knitting, sewing, and quilting projects and their shared home-improvement endeavors. However, that hasn’t been how it’s come to pass. “It turned out to be way more about crafts,” she admitted. “Sometimes I mention the house, and I end up doing way more crafting as a result of it.” They’ve also recently added chickens and bees to their family, which make occasional appearances on her blog.

That variety is part of what keeps Tumbling Blocks vital and interesting. In a given month, there might be a post about a sewing project, information about crafts from her daughter’s birthday party, a recipe or two, and some photos from around their acreage.

Which isn’t to say that it’s easy to keep a steady stream of content flowing onto the site. Lately, Schwarz’ job at Human Kinetics has been sapping her blogging reserves, and she’s not interested in just going through the motions. “If you go to write your blog post and all you can say is, ‘I made this. Here it is.’ That’s not really interesting. That’s not really worth saying,” she said. “I feel sad when I can’t make stuff, or when I can’t get it up there and posted, and I lose touch with people that I’ve met through the craft blogs, because they’re all nice.”

Her favorite projects have been collaborations with fellow-crafters from around the world: a quilting block swap through elsie marley called “one quilt”; a medallion quilt-along hosted by bloomin workshop; and various needlecraft projects, usually involving Japanese fabrics from superbuzzy. She explained, “It’s been fun. Again, everybody is very supportive of each other.”

On the other hand, not every site is so unfailingly supportive. One such site is Instructables, where Schwarz is a frequent contributor — “usually when they’re having a contest. I really like contests.” She submitted a Halloween skeleton costume that she made for her daughter, and a particular comment still cracked her up. “I’ve got to get it just right: ‘That costume has scoliosis. But way to be there for your childrenses,'” she said with a laugh. “It’s like, ‘Yeah, it’s crooked, but I see that it must have been important for you to do for your kids somehow, so way to be there [laughs]. I just love that one; it makes me laugh every time that I think of it. It’s not that it’s mean, it’s just different.”

And that’s a great part of participating in a community. If you get a lot of great feedback, it’s much easier to let the weird comments slide. There’s no question that Dorie Schwarz is worthy of all the positive reinforcement that Tumbling Blocks gets.


There are many tremendous bloggers in Champaign-Urbana, and this column will recognize them one blog at a time. Every other Tuesday, we’ll shine a light on a different outstanding local blog, explaining how they got started and revealing what keeps them going and where they’re headed. If you know a local blog that you’d like to see profiled in this space, send me a tip at joelgillespie [at] smilepolitely [dot] com.


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