Last year, along with ten thousand other people, I happily signed the Buy Handmade pledge. Then came the stress and the guilt. Some of my family made following the rules easy. I gave my jewelry or jewelry made by friends to my mother, sister, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law. My brother Tim was easy - I had planned on getting him one of Tina Seamonster's "sometimes I worry about zombies" t-shirts since I first saw them. More challenging were my 17-year-old, soccer obsessed brother, my dad, my father-in-law, and of course, my husband. I scoured Etsy for hours, worried about it at every craft show I was at last season, and in the end only bought handmade for one of the four. I felt like a horrible person. A horrible person who gave my family members gifts they really wanted and used.
I've never really liked Christmas much. I find the entire gift giving (and receiving) process stressful enough without imposing a vague but strict rule on the whole thing. So this year, I swung the other direction. Like someone on a restricted calorie diet who finally gives up and eats the entire chocolate cake in one sitting, I bought an assortment of mass-produced goods. The process was relatively easy and stress free. And once again I feel like a horrible person. A horrible person who is going to give my family members gifts they want and will actually use.
After a year of running a business making things by hand, I'm tired. I'm frustrated by this rosy facade the handmade community is hiding behind. Making stuff by hand is a hard way to make a living. Don't let anyone tell you it isn't. If it wasn't hard, we never would have had the Industrial Revolution. I'm not exactly living the dream here - I work in a garage with no heat, I'm broke, and I'm stressed. And I'm guessing I'm not the only one.
I'm tired of the blatant copying. Artists work hard to develop a signature style or design, and if you're lucky enough to be a successful Etsy seller, there are twenty people waiting in the wings to rip you off. And every blogger who showcases one of these copycats and every person who buys from them is just making the problem worse.
I'm tired of people looking to handmade as a place to score a bargain. Making things by hand isn't cheap. If it was, we never would have had the Industrial Revolution. And I understand that everyone is feeling the pinch of the economy right now. But you shouldn't expect to get things more cheaply because they are handmade. The next time you think of something as expensive, imagine how long it would take you to make that. And what you would want to get paid for your time while making it. Plus, what its going to cost you to pay the mortgage, heat, electric, and your student loans. Suddenly that item probably seems cheap. Perhaps you should offer to pay more for it. If money's tight, but you still want to gift handmade, make something yourself.
"Handmade” is a slippery term to define anyway. In The Nature and Art of Workmanship, Dave Pye asks, “Is anything really made by hand?” All he comes up with are baskets and coil-built pots. Everything else requires a tool of some sort – whether that tool is a crochet hook or a power saw. Is my jewelry not really "handmade" because I use tools? And what about a computer and a laser cutter? Where do they fall on the handmade continuum? Today's technology blurs the line between handmade and manufactured. And its getting fuzzier everyday.
Instead of handmade, I think small is a better criteria. Items produced in small numbers - by hand, tool, or machine. Items purchased from local sources. With original designs and quality materials. Where the artist receives a fair price for her work. And if you can't afford any of that, than making things might just be the solution.
So for next year I'm thinking about starting my own pledge. The Buy Small/Local/ResponsiblySourced/OriginallyDesigned/FairPriced or Make it Yourself pledge. It doesn't roll off the tongue like Buy Handmade, but perhaps I'll get through Christmas without feeling like a horrible person.