Is It Handmade or Not?
Frankly, I prefer to write about anything that touches on my handmade pillows, textile, other people who make things with their hands, and of course home decor. But recently, the question of what is truly handmade has reached a near declaration of war between the purist and "would be redefiner of handmade" on one side and those who follow the modern usage of handmade as defined in dictionaries on the other side.
Let me state up front: I stand with the modern, accepted usage of handmade: using tools to make an item by hand--not mass produced with a machine or even an assembly line style. Why? Let me illustrate what I believe to be handmade.
First, if you are unaware of the current heated discussion, it recently started with Etsy management attempting to redefine what it claims is handmade to justify its new policies that will allow sellers to use manufacturers to produce their items, even drop ship the sellers finished goods. This new policy goes so far as to state that the seller can act as the designer, even pay someone else to design the product. In short, the seller doesn't have to touch the item. Many sellers are, to say the least, outraged. Their reasons range from a concern of a flood of resellers and mass produced goods to the onslaught of cheap, poorly made products. Worse, there is a real concern that the lone seller will not be found in searches, which is already a problem. Some sellers or many sellers are leaving Etsy or waiting out the holiday season or planning to leave Etsy in the new year. Many are also staying to see what the future brings.
Radio talk shows, news paper ads and articles are covering the debate, such as The New York Times article on "Etsy's Industrial Revolution" and the 198 readers' comments, mostly negative. The writer appears to argue that for an item to be truly handmade, the creator must make every part of the item and she uses her archeological background to support her position. For example, for a knitter who has truly handmade a sweater, the knitter would have raised the sheep, sheered it, processed the wool (cleaned and dyed it, etc.), spun it and then actually knitted the sweater. Of course, the knitter would have harvested the berries or tea or what ever was used to create the dye, as well as whittled the wooden needles--after cutting down a tree or scavenging just the right size branches from the ground. Or in the case of the scarf in the above photo, the creator would have made the spinning wheel and loom.
The creator for that scarf describes her relationship with how she makes them and it is evident in the exquisitely finished piece:
Color, pattern and texture--and their interplay--intrigue me. I work slowly, savoring every part of the design process, and I love adding little surprise elements to each piece. My textiles are deliberately quirky, but special. The plied fringes I like to make are twisted by hand, a minimum of 100 times each, for a secure finish. Every bit of yarn in an m.m. handwoven has traveled through my hands--and been loved--many, many times!
m. m. handwovens
I have been a secret admire of Gilgulim creations and have featured one of her jewelry pieces before. Her jewelry is unique not only in design but in the materials she uses. She takes common materials we see everyday and turns them into something "unique" and utterly beautiful. But here, read how she describes her art:
Only when my eldest daughters left home I felt the need for a room of my own physically, mentally and creatively.
Searching the Brussels's flea-market I found a stack of neckties and right away I knew this was to become my future raw material for jewels. It took me another year to invent and perfect my line of alternative fiber jewels and to open Gilgulim shop on ETSY.
Another year passed and I left my day job to become a full time jeweler and a searcher for new ways to express women's inner feelings in the way they dress up.
My present jewels are made of different textiles I collect or buy around the world including reclaimed cloths I find in my surrounding.
The fabrics are washed, ironed and cut into the right straps and rolled into beads. The beads are carefully hand stitched with strong though hardly seen stitches. No glue is used during the process and the final product is soft to the skin, very light and colorful.
Hagar Arnon Elbaz
I recently ran across this award winning jeweler and was immediately struck by the intricacy in her designs. A graduate of the Maryland Institute of Art, majoring in crafts with a focus on jewelery/metal, she describes how she now works:
My work combines precious metals, stones, plastics, polymers, glass or whatever object catches my eye. My designs are contemporary combining both organic and geometric forms. The majority of my pieces are pendants, necklaces and earrings, though I do occasionally make other items. My main focus in the past was fabricating metals to create my designs. In 2004 I discovered a new medium called PMC (Precious Metal Clay), which is clay like material composed of fine silver. Fine Silver is the highest quality silver, essentially 999% pure silver, as compared to the 925% silver of sterling silver. I enjoy exploring this new medium and combining it with other materials. I strive to always improve on my designs and techniques and to make jewelry that is creative, unusual, elegant and fun to wear.
I'm fascinated by the workmanship found in Mundomini's miniatures. It brings out both the child and the adult in me and I want to touch every piece. I can spend a good deal of time just investigating every detail. This is how the creator describes her own fascination and pleasure in creating her lovely miniatures:
I like to make thumbnails, I like the whole process that leads them sometimes, I think I entertain too much, I can spend hours to design a plate, even days with paper or fabric, the truth is I love to do treatment images with the computer,
All of them give them the same dedication, regardless of the economic bottom line, they are all made [w]ith the same care and dedication
Personally I do not like being a perfectionist, but with the miniatures is something else, my photos are made with 4 O6 increases, this expansion are even defects that do not exist, that is the reason that a thorough and look under the magnifying glass that optimum results.
I like trying all techniques, learning (self) with the result, it is my greatest satisfaction.
Of course when I post on the blog and read my latest comments from my fans or do a sale on Etsy, my satisfaction is greatly increased, the final filter of the work, the recognition of other, very important
If I were still knitting, getting a pottery bowl from Island Girl would be a must. Her love in her work makes it a treasure to have:
My work emerges from my love of nature and all things magical. I was the kid who always had a sketchbook in hand, creating my enchanted forests filled with unicorns, dragons and secret passageways. I’m still that kid at heart and I endeavor to express that in my work.
I am drawn to tropical, equestrian and magical motifs. They are done with a touch of “Wabi Sabi”– creating beauty in things unconventional. Combining function and beauty while using age old methods and processes of the craft. My work brings warmth,and whimsy into everyday spaces. I work with earthenware, stoneware and porcelain clays, I fire in one of my two electric kilns.
All my work is created entirely in my studio by me from the original design to the finished product.
Island Girl Pottery
Jennifer Ladd's creations are simply adorable--and so very, very colorful. She also makes clutch bags. But I must admit, I love her baby booties. And besides, she lives in my old home town! But listen or rather read Jennifer's story straight from her:
I have been sewing since as long as I can remember (my mom says I started when I was 3, but I think she's exaggerating!).
I learned to sew by watching my Grandma make clothes in her basement. I spent hours at the side of her machine, and one day I picked up some scissors and some fabric scraps and I created a dress for my doll. I haven't stopped sewing since!
I opened my shop after my first daughter came home from Vietnam. I love spending time with her, but I needed a break from Sesame Street, crayons, and puzzles.
Now after I put my girls to bed, I relax in the silence for a few minutes, and then sit down at my machine and enjoy the hum of the sewing machine and the challenge of creating something cute every day. I love the creative process and I never tire of sewing cool purses!
Yes, Chuck Byrd actually makes his wall art decals by hand and he loves what he does:
We are the team of Jeanette and Chuck Cobb. Our studio is a 1900 sq ft shop here on our property in Beautiful DeMotte, Indiana. DeMotte is a very small town, so small the newspaper only comes out once a week, but it is the right size for us. We both do design work and we each have our own style of design which is one of the reasons we work so well together, besides getting to work with my best friend everyday.
About 15 years ago I started cutting decals,sign and wall art.
We do a lot of custom work and enjoy it very much.
These are just a tiny, tiny few of the examples of what I consider handmade goods. There are hundreds of thousands of people all over the world who use tools and materials created by someone else. And then they create something with it using their imaginations, their skills and talents--but most of all with the love in their hearts for what they do. They shape a uniqueness in that item that many of us would have never seen or could even image. They share their creations with us, each of them knowing that someone sought them out, love their work and display their creations in their most prized possessions--be it in their homes, on their bodies or a gift. Yes, mass produced goods have their place in our societies. But for the discerning buyer wanting the uniqueness of a nub in a hand-loom scarf with each bullion turned 100 times; a necklace that was once a necktie; or cute baby's booties that may have been made at midnight only a handmade item in the traditional usage of the word fits.
To the purist, I offer one of my favorite quotes:
To create an apple pie from scratch, I must first create the universe.
And to those who would attempt to re-define what is handmade to justify a business venture, I would say you are simply wrong. Tradition and the accepted use of a meaning doesn't start with you but with the people of societies and cultures.