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Sociable crafter

Jode Eye got hooked on craftmaking seven years ago when she was living in West Virginia and pregnant with her first child. She met Jeane Dwyer, a woman who became a friend as well as a fellow craftmaker.

Eye, who had been a teacher before daughter Whitney was born, decided to take a year off from her job. In that year, she said, "Jeannie basically taught me how to be an at-home mom, which is a version of crafting in itself."

Craftmaking wasn't entirely foreign to Eye: Her father was an educator by profession and a woodworker by avocation and her mother made Christmas ornaments every year.

"But I think that there are two times in a woman's life when she is more open to crafts: when she first stays home with children or when she retires," Eye said. "I was lucky enough to start early."

Four years ago, the Eyes moved to Clearwater _ just before Whitney's sister Meredith was born _ and Eye retired from teaching to turn her attention fulltime to kids and to crafts.

She stays away from long-term projects such as quilting and cross-stitch samplers, preferring to work on gifts and decorative items for her home, things that can be made in as little as a few hours or as much as a week.

Whitney and Meredith often wear their mother's projects: hair-bows, decorated T-shirts (see the directions below for Eye's Lace Heart T-shirt), decorated sweatshirts-turned-jackets, button covers, holiday outfits or Halloween costumes, and they're following their mother's example, working on simple projects of their own at home.

"People who love to craft almost instinctively find others who like to do the same thing," Eye said. She has formed a craft group with several friends, and they meet weekly to make everything from curtains, valances and pillows for their homes to decorative baskets, dried flower hangings, button covers, clothing, gifts and holiday decorations.

"One of us hears about a new project or sees something at a craft show, and we all try it together," she said, "and I'm still getting ideas from Jeane."

The way Eye and her friends do it, craftmaking offers benefits far beyond the finished projects. It gives them the chance to develop new skills, the challenge of being creative and innovative in a variety of ways and the opportunity to develop friendships.

"It's interesting to see how differently we all work," Eye said about her group. "I work really fast, and I can talk and work. Others work very slowly and meticulously, and they stop and put their projects down to talk. I follow directions exactly _ it must come from my years as a teacher. Others can visualize what they want to do in their minds, and they work through trial and error to get that project done. Even when we're all making the same thing, crafting is as individual as the person working on it."

Eye estimates that she spends 8 to 15 hours a week on various crafts. She also teaches crafts at women's gatherings at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Clearwater, in Sunday school classrooms and Vacation Bible School.

Eye gives away a lot of her creations but says, "My rule is that I always keep the first thing I make of any project. I have a friend who gives everything away and has nothing left for herself. This way, I always have a pattern to go by _ and something to look at after the hours of work."

Hot glue guns have revolutionized her crafting, she said. "If you're creative and really good at a glue gun, you can do most crafts and never learn to sew," she said.

"There's one Christmas present I have to show you," she said smiling, as she headed into her kitchen. "Let's seewhere is it?"

The gift in question was a sign her husband Brian had given her: the word CRAFTS within a circle with a slash mark through it.

"I guess I lost _ or misplaced _ it," she said, laughing. "I think he was joking!"

Lace Heart T-Shirts:

Materials: 1 T-shirt; 2{ yards each of two ribbons, one a pattern, the other a plain color; 24 inches of a bound lace or eyelet; 1 piece construction paper; double-sided, heat-bonded adhesive.

Time: 2-3 hours.

Cost: $4-$8 for T-shirt. Ribbons: starting at 50 cents a yard.

1. Make a heart from the construction paper, approximately 6 inches long.

2. Cut the two ribbons into eight 8-inch lengths. Save remaining ribbon.

3. Side by side, lay out one set of 8-inch ribbon lengths. Weight one end with a book or other heavy object.

4. Weave the second set of 8-inch ribbons through those that are lying on the table, just as a basket is woven. Starting with the eight lengths of ribbons lying on the table, lift up alternating ribbons (first, third, fifth and seventh ribbons) and slide a length of the contrasting ribbon through. Lay those down. Lift up the second, fourth, sixth and eighth ribbons and slide another length of ribbon through. Continue in this way until all eight pieces of ribbon are woven.

5. Make the resulting square tight, without excess room between each strand of ribbon.

6. Using a hot iron, press the square of woven ribbons onto one side of the heat-bonded, double-sided adhesive.

7. Place the square of woven ribbon so that one corner faces you and the weaving is on the diagonal. Place the paper heart over the pattern and cut around the heart pattern, discarding excess ribbon.

8. Remove the paper from the back side of the heat-bonded interfacing and carefully position the heart on the chest of the T-shirt. Iron it on.

9. Pin lace around the outline of the heart, starting and ending at the top center indentation. Top-stitch the lace into place.

10. For a fancier shirt, sew leftover ribbon around the neck and sleeves.

Note: This same technique can be used to apply woven ribbon hearts onto sweatshirts, placemats, the backs of jackets, bureau scarves and bedspreads.