The Craftonomics of Our Handmade Nationcomments (6) April 6th, 2009
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.
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.
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.
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.