Letting go of the pressure to be perfect? That's a craft

Los Angeles, CA - October 04: Sam Reece is an LA-based comedian who has been championing the therapeutic quality of making imperfect art through her online persona, Shitty Craft Club, and here she poses for a portrait in her crafting studio on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA. Reece has written a book of the same title that pairs craft projects with personal essays about what the act of gluing beads to trash has taught her about herself. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
Sam Reece, a Los Angeles-based comedian who has been championing the therapeutic quality of making imperfect art, poses in her crafting studio. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

For Sam Reece, just about anything can be a craft. Hot-gluing an assortment of beads to a mirror frame? A craft. Taking a shower without getting your hair wet? A craft. Having literally one sip of water? Craft.

This is the ethos of Shitty Craft Club, the silly and supportive community of craft enthusiasts that Reece has been building for the better part of five years. In the club: Everyone is welcome and everyone is a model. There are no bad ideas and googly eyes can go on anything. Perfectionism is the enemy and hot glue guns are your frenemy.

“The whole point is to make something without the pressure of purpose,” says Reece, whose mop of shoulder-length wavy brown hair is typically pulled back into a messy ponytail and who occasionally barters for handmade clothes with other crafters and artists she meets. “Crafting, for me, has been a way to get out of the mind-set of being perfect.” Thanks in no small part to her astrological sign (Virgo), Reece says she’s always been hard on herself when it comes to creating and starting new projects, whether it was writing (and crossing out and rewriting) in her diary as an angsty teen or starting a sewing class in her 30s.

Sam Reece in her crafting studio.
Sam Reece's book pairs craft projects with personal essays about what the act of gluing beads to trash has taught her about herself. Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times

The club unofficially started IRL in 2019 in Brooklyn when Reece realized her creative outlets had become mostly career-related. Working at an ad agency by day and doing improv at Upright Citizens Brigade by night was burning (and bumming) her out. So, “on a not-so-Virgo whim,” she bought a bunch of crafting supplies, found a small community space, and emailed friends. “About 30 people showed up,” Reece says of that first meeting. “Just creative people I knew who also needed an excuse to make something just for fun.”

Read more: 11 places in L.A. to get your creativity flowing. Pottery! Neon bending! Bookbinding!

The craft that night was decorating sunglasses. Outside of that, no rules. As the group spent three hours sticking things to glasses, Reece discovered the joy that came with hot glue and a bag of rhinestones. “There’s no time to think: See bead! Grab bead! Glue bead!” Thanks to donations from attendees, Reece made just enough money that night to cover costs and to do it again a month later and then again a month after that. “I was adamant that this wasn’t going to be a business. All the money I made would go back into the next event.” Things started snowballing from there.

Various vibrant wall hangings adorn Sam Reece's crafting studio.
Various vibrant wall hangings adorn Sam Reece's crafting studio. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Soon, she was throwing crafting parties around the city, attendance expanded beyond just her friends, and businesses like Milk Bar and the Ace Hotel began to hire her to put on events. Then the pandemic hit, everyone was forced to stay home, and Reece had to rethink a few things. As the world fell apart, she put crafting on hold and focused back on her day job, writing tweets for Combos snacks and Men’s Wearhouse and doing the occasional craft with her roommate to pass the time.

She tried holding crafting events over Zoom, but the vibe wasn’t right. Finally, after about a year of crafting solo, a friend talked her into making TikTok videos, and the club quickly garnered a following. Once again, Reece felt like she had a platform to create. “These videos became a way to merge my art and comedy. I could also explore what I liked to make. It was silly and fun.” Shitty Craft Club now has 250,000 followers across TikTok and Instagram.

Different pieces by Sam Reece.
Different pieces by Sam Reece. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
Sam Reece stands in front of a pink floral curtain in her crafting studio.
Sam Reece, with a floral backdrop in her crafting studio. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

For the last two years, Reece has lived with her partner on the east side of Los Angeles, pursuing TV writing and performing as one part of the comedy duo Girls With Brown Hair. And yes, crafting. Now that the world is back and a little safer, Reece is working on holding more crafting events in person again.

On a recent Wednesday night in downtown L.A., Reece and about 30 other crafting devotees, primarily young women with a penchant for glitter and early-2000s nostalgia, gather for a special in-person craft event to celebrate the launch of her new book, “Shitty Craft Club: A Club For Gluing Beads to Trash, Talking About Our Feelings, and Making Silly Things.” (Getting people to turn up on a weeknight? Definitely a craft.) Tonight’s activity is decorating slime-green tote bags with the club logo. Before anyone is allowed to plug in a hot glue gun, however, Reece asks everyone to take the club oath. “Please repeat after me,” she announces.

I am a gorgeous and incredible artist!

I allow myself to be silly!

I won’t pursue legal action if I burn myself with a hot glue gun!

Everything I make is wonderful and never wrong or bad!

I accept that creating art should, above all else, be fun!

No, but seriously, I will not sue Sam if I don't have fingerprints in the morning.

Read more: L.A.'s Renaissance Club sends members on mystery experiences. Here's what happens

And with that, Mandy Moore’s 1999 pop hit “Candy” blasts over the speakers, and the pillaging for pom poms and fringe begins. Some become laser-focused on their designs; others start chatting and introducing themselves as they wander to different tables, looking for beads and plastic shrimp. Reece, wearing a flowy mint-green dress with butterflies in her hair, floats around the tables like a crafting fairy godmother with words of encouragement and reminders that this isn’t a competition. Everyone’s tote bags are lovely.

A beaded heart frames a mirror that shows a reflection of a cat
Sam Reece holds one of her pieces showing a reflection of her cat, Emma Stone. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Once the last bead is glued, everyone stands around eating rainbow confetti cake and bopping along to Michelle Branch while waiting to take photos in front of a shimmery step-and-repeat. There’s a very communal spirit in the air. Singing your fingerprints with hot glue (voluntarily!) can really bring a group together.

“I’m trying to do more of these kinds of outings,” says Natalie Hierholzer, a craft enthusiast who found the club via her Instagram algorithm. Having driven from the Westside to attend this event, she feels it’s an excellent alternative to parties and bars, which can be awkward. “Like, what do you do with your hands at a party? You always drink or smoke too much just to have something to do with them!”

Sam Reece works on a bejeweled basketball in her studio.
Sam Reece works on a bejeweled basketball in her studio. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

In her new book, Reece pairs DIY projects with humorous essays about her life and how crafting has helped her explore her identity. “I’m getting better at letting go of perfectionism, but it’s hard to kick.” Crafting has taught her that it’s OK to be bad at a new skill and that, as adults, we often forget about the joy of doing something just because it’s fun.

Read more: Awaken your inner child at this welcoming collage club for adults

“Perfectionism leaks into every part of your life,” she says, so it’s essential to have an outlet that reminds you to let go. In her opinion, this is the reason the club has earned such a following. “For me, this has been such a journey into authenticity. I've been discovering a lot about myself, exploring my inner child and what's fun.” Watching her do this permits people to start doing the same for themselves. To her, it’s all about letting people know they aren’t alone. “I’m like, look, we all have these weird vases or whatever in our homes. Let’s put beads on them together!”

Once she’s done promoting the book, Reece acknowledges that she wants to think about what could be next for the club. After protecting it for so long from becoming “a business,” she now has visions of turning it into a TV show. And there will definitely be more in-person events. “Essentially, I want it to become an empire,” she says. “I mean, what else am I going to do? Get another 9-to-5 job?”

Sign up for L.A. Goes Out, a weekly newsletter about exploring and experiencing Los Angeles from the L.A. Times.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.