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Meet the Maker: Esther Ajayi

Who said crochets are only for period dramas? Esther is making crocheting cool again and bringing the beloved craft to Chicagoans, one Maker Lab class at a time.

An Artist’s Evolution: From Hobbies to Mission

It all started with manga.

When Esther was introduced to the style and colors of manga and anime as a child, she knew she had to take up drawing. As her passion for illustrating her own characters and comic books grew, she eventually expanded her art to include other mediums such as digital drawing, oil painting, and crocheting with the support of her family, friends, and teachers.

“It was my art teachers that told me I had a talent and pushed me to continue creating,” Esther says. “They made me feel more comfortable sharing my art with the world rather than just keeping it to myself.”

What started out as a personal hobby evolved into Esther’s mission as an artist: to explore different mediums and highlight how saturated colors can play off and complement dark skin.

“I was insecure with myself when I was younger, and I didn’t want to stand out. Getting into art made me realize just how beautifu; colors can be against dark skin. I want to capture the beauty of Black skin against bright colors. I want to show that Black folks can wear bright colors and shouldn’t have to hide.”

Her portraits feature bright and bold colors as backgrounds, contrasting against dark skin. “I want to say my work tells a story, but really, it captures a feeling. The color often is the emotion the person is feeling.”

Making Crochet Cool (and Accessible) Again

Like many others, Esther picked up crocheting during quarantine. It functioned as an art and inexpensive self-care activity but eventually took on a larger role in her work. As the Fall Maker-in-Residence at Chicago Public Library, Esther is making crocheting accessible to Chicagoans of all maker experiences!  

So how does Esther get library users to pick up a needle, yarn, and make a knot? As they say, great things come in threes!

“I broke it down into three classes and focused on common stitches and projects that could not only introduce people to the breadth of crocheting but also allow them to continue exploring it outside of the Maker Lab. Each class increased in difficulty, too.”

The first class focused on the basics like how to hold your yarn and needle, and a few common stitches such as a slip stitch and single crochet stitch. The second class involved making a 4×4 granny square, by working in circles from the center outward. The third class consisted of making a scarf, just in time for Chicago’s winter weather!

Having just wrapped up her last class, Esther explains that each class required her to adjust her teaching approach.

“Everyone learns so differently. Some people took to crocheting easily and didn’t need me to instruct them as much. Other classes required me to be a bit more hands on and walk them through a different stitch step-by-step,” she says.

“I learned how to adjust my teaching to people’s neeeds and make crocheting digestible to a wide audience (and I made some friends of all ages along the way!”

At the end of her class, Esther answers questions from Library users who are eager to finish and show off their final projects. It’s clear that her lessons are resonating and even inspiring them to continue creating beyond the formal lessons. DIY holiday gifts, anyone?

Weaving Our Collective Story Together

Some Maker Lab participants will even get to see their finished granny squares in Esther’s final project: a 3 feet by 5 feet blanket consisting of 100 crocheted squares that tell Chicago’s collective story!

“I am including squares that are colors representative of Chicago. There’s blue, red, grey, white, green, and yellow.” Other elements include monuments central to Chicago’s cultural landscape like Lake Michigan, the Bean, the Cubs and White Sox (on opposite sides, naturally), and the Great Chicago Fire.

“I have two more to add. Spoiler: one is the Harold Washington Library Center.”

As per Maker-in-Residence tradition, the final project will be on display on the window facing State Street outside of Harold Washington Library Center in December for everyone to see. And though Esther’s residency is concluding, she knows the bonds she’s made here are forever.

“The thing that has excited me most about this project and my residency is the community,” Esther says. “I’ve enjoyed meeting people and seeing who shows up, who comes back, and who wanted to show off their work and contribute to my project. As cheesy as it sounds, we weaved bonds through crocheting.”

The Maker Lab, the only FREE maker space in Chicago, is a donor-powered program where Library users can experiment with state-of-the-art technology such as design software, electronic & laser cutters, and 3D printers to make a creative project, business idea, or design prototype come to life. This program is made possible thanks to our sponsors: Comcast, Exelon, Peoples Gas and generous donors to the Library Foundation.

This holiday season, give the gift of creativity and innovation to Chicagoans. A gift of $25 funds materials for two Maker Lab participants!