Crafting My Way Out of Urbanism Guilt

A Lack of Local Hobby Shops Perpetuates Car Centric Lifestyles

I would throw away my car keys tomorrow if it weren’t for my fabric and yarn addiction.

Ok, that sentence is a bit harsh, especially considering that I’m a Black queer person originally from North Carolina living in Washington, DC, who has been crafting and sewing since I was 6, which was 32 years ago.

But, for nearly 14 years I have called myself The Black Urbanist.  Yet can’t stop needing a car, even to help in my quest to reduce my dependence on clothing made in sweatshops, and clothing that I only use a few times and toss away. 

Between September of 2016 and April of 2019, I went carless. I’d just come off of working for a few months in Kansas City for BikeWalkKC and I’d successfully managed to become car-lite, walking to work and the nearby Costco, but driving to our independent fabric store, the JoAnn and the Target and the Trader Joes and the IKEA. One of those Targets was on a bus line that ran seven days a week, but it was already a 30-minute drive to get there. I’d even driven my car halfway across the country from my hometown of Greensboro, NC to take the job in the summer of 2015.

But I was getting the itch to be in a more dense urban environment back on the East Coast. Plus, I had no desire to drive my car alone back across the country, especially since I had had help to go to Kansas City, but no one expected me to be over it so quickly. Plus, DC is known for its transit infrastructure, so I decided to take the leap and sell my first Honda Accord.

I drove my car to the airport on the morning of September 19, 2016, handed the keys to the person who paid me $1000 for it, and walked my four suitcases onto a one-way Southwest Airlines flight to Washington National Airport and my next chapter.

However, I ran into so many issues with my crafting during my first year in DC being car-free. I could walk to the DC USA complex with Target, Best Buy, Bed Bath and Beyond, Marshalls, DSW, and a litany of other suburban boxes, all contained in one gigantic box that took up two city blocks and four stories.

None of those little boxes was a JoAnn, Michaels, or even an independent fabric and crafts store. So, my hobby of crafting, which helped me navigate the storms of doing urbanism public engagement and advocacy work nearly disappeared.

I went from winning contests like best-decorated apartment and piddling with a tabletop loom and an aluminum crochet hook to crying and weeping in my English basement apartment. Wishing I had my car to do gig work to supplement my meager temp job funds my dwindling savings and my growing credit card debt.

The next year, after that basement apartment flooded, things started to turn around and I spent a year in Baltimore, with access to a vehicle, wearing myself out doing gig work, but with a better support network of friends and creativity, despite being too tired to craft.

I even got into a journalism fellowship, got a coffeehouse job with benefits in DC, and moved back to a top-floor room not far from the basement apartment in September of 2018. In October of 2018 I fell in love, with my partner. In March of 2019, I fell in love again, with crochet, after taking the Metro to a crosstown DC public library that had crochet lessons and a stitch meetup.  I moved in with my partner the next month, with dreams of filling our one-bedroom apartment home with love and yarn.

But it was very quickly that I learned that being car-free in my new inner suburb neighborhood of Oxon Hill, Maryland, a developed, but unincorporated part of Prince George’s (PG) County, Maryland, despite access to Zipcars and lots of buses going in and out of DC and PG County, was not going to be easy. 

I was on the way to pick up a Zipcar just across the street from our apartment on a warm March day, legs bare in my bright blue dress. I had a lecture to give that evening at Morgan State University, about an hour and a half drive away at rush hour.

I was followed by a driver in the parking lot, despite getting out of the way of traffic. I had to duck under another vehicle to get away from this person and safely get to my already reserved Zipcar. 

I made it to my lecture, a little late, but unscathed. However, we signed the papers for our Honda Fit two weeks later at a dealership in Sterling, Virginia, near Dulles Airport. To get there we took Metro, then Uber as the Silver Line extension was one, not operating and two, not right off the train from the dealership.

The car gave me the gift of being able to drive away from those parking lot predators, not involve law enforcement, and drive to yarn and fabric communities that didn’t balk at a Black lesbian couple, with a gender nonconforming member, coming in and touching fabric and yarn. 

We just moved back into DC in 2023, and we pay $325 a month to store our car under our apartment building and take it out to the grocery store and our craft journeys.

But, I continue to have this notion that despite the joy that my crafting brings me, I’m failing urbanism. But am I really? 

Below is a racial density dot map of the Washington DC area crafted by Ben Schmdt using 2020 Census data:

And here is a map via my personal Google Maps page of the locations of the big box store JoAnn in our region. While transit does come to many of these locations, I live on top of those stars at the heart of the following map:

And for fun, here are Michael’s locations via Google Maps. A little bit closer in, but I’m still talking about having at least a 30-minute train, bus, or even car ride to any craft store I want to go to.

Those of you who know our craft supply community know that I can get to DC’s singular independent yarn store within a 20-minute Metro ride. However, they have steps, and that makes them lose accessibility points to me, as I want to support stores that anyone I know can go to. Same with another Metro-accessible, but not building accessible cluster of independent fiber stores in Old Town Alexandria, VA

I wasn’t able to overlay those maps, but if you wanted to download them and splice them together, you’ll see that all the stores tend to be over the blue dots which represent a cluster of 150 white or Asian people, with some on the borders of the orange and pink dots which represent Black and Latine people.

And yes, I can and do order some of my craft supplies to my apartment building. Part of the fun of this community, and its success, is handling yarn and fiber and sharing tips and techniques.

I also find it less challenging to mask up in spaces with air quality issues, not just from COVID, but older fabrics and yarn, than I do to take transit to craft.

I should not be ashamed of not being a gold star urbanist, despite the obvious racial and economic disparities in the siting of these business locations and their lack of transit access.

What I can do, is release myself from my urbanist perfectionism.

Urbanism is a team effort, much like mitigating climate change and ensuring racial, gender, and disability justice happen in our communities. 

Meanwhile, last weekend, I had the best time doing loom weaving at my favorite independent fiber stores under one roof, Sweet Pea Fiber, and Three Little Birds Sewing Company. My two fellow millennial classmates both had connections to environmental and urban planning work. All three of us either drove there or had our significant others come to pick us up as they were using their vehicles to shop and consolidate trips to the suburbs as we all live in parts of DC proper.

When I resume my regular Sunday afternoon craft activity at Gathering Yarns, another PG County Black-owned fiber shop that has a couch and tables for N95 and cloth-masked fiber folk to spread out their projects, and chat, I’ll take my car out again, but go to the Aldi next door for groceries.

What I won’t do, is despair while doing my best to defy gentrification and displacement and poor planning. 

Kristen E. Jeffers is an Advisor to Resident Urbanist. She is one of the first people to bring the concept of Black urbanism to the internet and social media in 2010 by purchasing and launching The Black Urbanist, which in its 13th year continues to be a resource for Black urbanism at the intersection of feminism and queer/trans life. She is the author of the forthcoming Defying Gentrification a workbook for Black queer feminist urbanism. She is the creator of the K. Jeffers Index for Black Queer Feminist Urbanism, a guide, measure, and data center to assess the thrivance of black queer feminist urbanist people globally, and curator of the Black Queer Feminist Urbanist Book Cannon and School. Finally, under the banner of KristPattern, she shares her own journey into sustainable fashion and invites others to do the same. A sought-after public speaker, workshop leader, and cultural critic, she makes her home with her partner just outside of Washington, DC. She is a proud and concerned native of Greensboro, North Carolina. You can follow them on Twitter, Instagram, Threads, and LinkedIn.


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