The Craftonomics of Our Handmade Nation

comments (6) April 6th, 2009     

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Jen_W Jennifer Worick, contributor
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Portland crafters created this gorgeous embroidered banner for the films premiere.
Filmmaker Faythe Levine was on hand to answer questions after each of the four sold-out screenings.
Craftstylish blogger Lee Meredith made awesome PDX badges for our group to wear with pride.
Portland crafters created this gorgeous embroidered banner for the films premiere.

Portland crafters created this gorgeous embroidered banner for the film's premiere.

Photo: Jennifer Worick

I had the good fortune to meet up with amazing crafters this weekend in Portland for the Northwest premiere of Faythe Levine’s Handmade Nation, a film exploring the indie craft movement and community. I won’t twist the knife by detailing the many events I enjoyed throughout the weekend (Tiki bar! Crafternoon—hosted by the lovely Susan Beal—with about 15 men and women! Waffle wagon! Crafty Wonderland!). Rather, I’d love to touch on some of the questions the film raised for me personally.

Portland crafters created this gorgeous embroidered banner for the film's premiere.

Let me just say that while I dip my toe in the indie craft world, I’ve come to the dance late. I’m a writer who crafted for fun and then started writing about the crafts I love. Now, it’s an integral part of my life and who I am. Handmade Nation showcased hard-core crafters around the country who discussed their creative process, the origins of the indie craft movement (many trace its roots to punk rock), and the challenges of creating.

A panel on Saturday had crafters from the film and companion book exploring the many facets of the indie craft movement. Shown here are Garth Johnson, Jill Bliss, Faythe Levine, Susan Beal, and part of Kate Bingaman-Burt.

One of the discussions of late has centered around the economics of crafting. How can we monetize our work? Is it feasible to make a living around our respective crafts? If so, how? Some of the folks in the film inspired me and made me see that teaching, writing, and somehow branding our work are ways to make a craft career a reality, even if it is a tough row to hoe. I wish all noncrafters could see this film, just so they can value our work more and see what an absolutely difficult path it is to support yourself as a crafter; living the dream can sometimes prove a nightmare.

With the idea that the indie craft movement came out of punk rock, I started wondering if there’s cachet in being a “starving artist,” that you might lose craft street cred if you partner with Target to produce note cards or mass-produce shirts based on your pattern and design. I’ve always liked to eat (Michaela can attest to this), and I see no shame in asking for what my work is worth and liking nice things, whether they are handmade or not. My primary income comes from writing books and articles and lecturing about worst-case scenarios at colleges around the country. Craftwise, I’ve set up at craft bazaars, held trunk shows, and wholesaled pieces to boutiques. (I have yet to get an etsy store under way.) While there are many satisfactions to selling my work through various venues, the financial ROI is, shall we say, slim. The cost of materials, tools, display components, and marketing efforts should all be figured into the mix.

Then there’s my time.

When all is said and done, it’s just not cost-effective for me to focus all of my energies on producing crafts. But it isn’t a bad idea to concentrate my energies on writing about crafts, maybe developing lectures or workshops.

I now want to throw this topic out to you: I’m curious to know how you make coin from your crafty pursuits? What are your goals for your craft? Do you just do it for the love of creating, or do you regard it as a viable business? Handmade Nation started a dialogue. Let’s keep it going.

Craftstylish blogger Lee Meredith made awesome PDX badges for our group to wear with pride.

For more photos of crafters displaying their creations at the Handmade Nation premiere, check out the Museum of Contemporary Craft’s flickr site. If you are ever in Portland, stop at The Museum of Contemporary Craft; they are truly doing some awe-inspiring things. Mandy Greer’s Dr. Seuss-meets-the-Mesozoic-era crochet instillation made my jaw drop.

In the future, you can find me at my website or blogs, Things I Want to Punch in the Face and Prairie Tales. My new book, Backcountry Betty: Crafting with Style, is in stores now.

posted in: embroidery, business, community, indie, handmade nation, film

Comments (6)

lisalady161 writes: I tend to side with MonicaElaine...I and my DH both fear that if I had to do it for a living I'd lose my love for it.

I was trained in the Fine Arts (Theatre) and the many skills I learned have helped me mightily when crafting gifts for my beloveds, which is my main focus right now.

One of my 'crafts' is gardening and growing herbs. That has led to a side job of presenting herb growing and cooking presentations in my community...and over the last three years it's gotten quite successful for me! If you'd told me 20 years ago this was how I'd be using my performance training I'd have cocked a skeptical brow at you. But it does demonstrate how crafting is more than just producing of the great gifts of craft is the pleasure of teaching it to others!
Posted: 1:07 pm on April 23rd
Ciaobella writes: I've taken my love for yarn and fabric, combined with my professional work and years overseas to build a company specializing in small tours for textile lovers. Just like the craft world, there are a lot of "industrial" travel opportunities. We offer something different.

Customers are happy and I've enjoyed meeting people and learning things. Could I have made more money doing something else? Definitely. On occasion I ponder this, but mainly I'm just working hard to make it successful!

Alanna from Tactile Travel
Posted: 4:49 pm on April 9th
Fanie writes: What an interesting question, Jennifer. :)

I think that if someone wants to follow a career in crafting, it's a must to follow some kind of small business/entrepreneur classes. It really helps clear your mind on wheter to make your craft a career or to just keep it as a hobby.

And I think it's very personnal on wheter you want to keep crafting for fun, for a little revenue or to become the next Crafty Chica. ;-)

Posted: 3:11 pm on April 7th
Sister_Diane writes: I'm glad you're raising these questions, because there are more ways to find income in crafting than to make finished goods for sale. You can also write articles and books, take photographs, teach classes, design projects for manufacturers, create and sell patterns or kits, produce online how-tos - there are so many possibilities.

I think it's always a good idea to diversify - to pursue several different income projects at once. Yes, it's more work, but it also brings more financial security, especially in turbulent times.
Posted: 12:05 pm on April 7th
MonicaElaine writes: I craft because I love it. I have an shop, but truthfully most things on their are vintage/retro patterns and a couple of handmade things. I wish, truly, truly wish I could craft and make a living at it.

With that said though, I have a terrible fear if I put too much time and energy in to doing it for money, I will lose my love for it. I would venture to bet that I am like a lot of others in that ..... If you sell something, you do it to support your crafting habit, and maybe just to clean out so more stash can be acquired!

Great article, great read.
Posted: 3:41 pm on April 6th
Fiberfads writes: When I was a child, I loved the idea of giving handmade gifts but never had any idea how to construct them. (I did not come from a crafty family.) As an adult, while my knitting skills were developing, I only made gifts for friends and family. I felt that the art of knitting was for giving. Then, I discovered a local women's shelter who was in desperate need of funds. I thought maybe I could share this "giving" concept with someone outside of my personal zone. Fiberfads! was born with the proceeds being donated to this shelter. Although I have not made much money from sales, the little I have made has been helpful.

Could I live off of my sales? Absolutely not, but I suppose I never thought about knitting and felting as a job, more as a passion for creating something with my hands that could be passed on to someone else...someone else who would understand the worth of handmade goods. That's why I like to sell to other crafters because they "get it."

I'm pretty sure I would knit whether there was someone to knit for or not. The excitement of taking a mess of yarn and forming a practical or artistic creation is just too great for me to ignore!

Adele from Fiberfads!
Posted: 1:26 pm on April 6th
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