PRATIE PLACE

Monday, December 17, 2007

What's old is new again: youngsters macrame iPod covers.

(Shown here: "Custom Gadget Monkey Cozy" from etsy.com.)

I absolutely do not mean to put this down. I'm a do-it-yourselfer, many of my best friends are do-it-yourselfers, all my homes have been mazes of finished and unfinished projects...

I indoctrinated my kids so thoroughly, they can't bear to use machine-made wrapping paper or buy greeting cards. (Remember potato prints?)

Now I'm working on Menticia: we're doing an all-afternoon craft blitz this coming Friday to make presents for her family.

It's fascinating the care and time people put into making things, things one person considers gorgeous and another might shrink from with horror. That's art. What a wonderful human impulse - missing from some of us, lurking within others, sometimes blossoming into life-changing obsession.

Have you seen the knitted bacteria?

Extracts from
Handmade 2.0
By Rob Walker for the New York Times, December 16, 2007

The declaration from something called the Handmade Consortium materialized on a Web site called buyhandmade.org in late October. "I pledge to buy handmade this holiday season, and request that others do the same for me," it said ... within a few weeks, more than 6,500 people had done so.

The consortium's most prominent member was the online shopping bazaar Etsy, a very much for-profit entity that bills itself as "your place to buy & sell all things handmade." Etsy does not fulfill orders from an inventory; it's a place where sellers set up virtual storefronts, giving the site a cut of sales... more than 70,000 — about 90 percent of whom were women — were using Etsy to peddle their jewelry, art, toys, clothes, dishware, stationery, zines and a variety of objects from the mundane to the highly idiosyncratic.

Browsing Etsy is both exhilarating and exhausting. There is enough here to mount an astonishing museum exhibition. There is also plenty of junk.

"Our ties to the local and human sources of our goods have been lost," the Handmade Pledge site asserts. "Buying handmade helps us reconnect." The idea is a digital-age version of artisanal culture — that the future of shopping is all about the past.

Making something yourself is a form of "political statement" and a protest against chain stores that are turning "America into one big mini-mall."

Readers of the first issue of Craft magazine might have eagerly followed the instructions to stitch a robot. But surely others gravitated to a related article about the popularity of a style of hand-stitched robot that you could buy on Etsy.

On some level the Etsy idea is not really techno-progressive at all. It's nostalgic. The company is host to a book club, which Kalin participates in, and when I visited, the most recent reading assignment was "The Wal-Mart Effect," a book that assesses the societywide impact of that mass retailer's success. Kalin seems flabbergasted that anyone would shop at Wal-Mart to save 12 cents on a peach instead of supporting a local farmer.

Buying something from the person who made it is "the opposite of what Wal-Mart is right now: just this massively impersonal experience," he told me earlier. "Handmade isn't a fad, it's a resurgence, one that is of a piece with the booming interest in organic food."

Etsy charges 20 cents per listing and 3.5 percent of the final sale price; this is generally lower and certainly less complicated than eBay's fee structure; it also charges up to $15 if creators want to highlight a particular item on the site's high-traffic showcase pages.

"Running a small business yourself, and trying to separate yourself from the masses — it's a political statement in its own."

While this is an art movement, or an ideological movement, or a shopping movement, it is also — and probably fundamentally — a work movement.

Another element of the Handmade Pledge: "The ascendancy of chain-store culture and global manufacturing has left us dressing, furnishing and decorating alike." It's a shrewd pitch, because the consumer craving for novelty, for the unique, the special, seems unquenchable.

Buying something from an indie craft artist can result in a buyer-seller connection, but it can also make consumption itself feel like a creative act.


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