Handmade

If you’ve got much to do with crafting and handmaking in the UK then you probably know of Folksy. It is far and away the biggest of the UK handmade sites and for good reason.

And if you know of Folksy then you will almost certainly have picked up on the furore going on over there over the tweaks and ‘tightening up’ of their policies on what constitutes ‘handmade’.

I’m not going to go into a discussion of what’s going on over at Folksy. I’m waiting to hear whether I’ll still be allowed to sell my stitch markers on there or whether I will need to find a new venue for those. And to be honest, I don’t really want to badmouth a site that I have previously really enjoyed using and felt comfortable with. But, like a lot of other people, I am furious at the way this has been handled. Let’s leave it at that.

What I do want to talk about is this idea of what is or is not handmade. Because, let me tell you, if you haven’t hit the forums over at Folksy of late, debate is raging over there and it’s not pretty. There’s a lot of really hurtful things being said about what does and does not constitute something being handmade and it’s divisive and ugly.

So let’s deal with this.

Handmade, to me, means I’m buying something made by a person, not by a machine.

It means buying something that another human being has worked on, with their hands or their tools etc.

It means I am buying something that someone has made from materials they have chosen and arranged in a particular way, whether that means smelting silver and forging it into a particular shape, or that they have taken a pre-pack pendant and combined it with beads and chain and turned it into something new.

It means I am buying something that someone has put a little piece of themselves into.

And this is what we need to remember when we’re discussing what does and does not constitute ‘handmade’. Remember how it feels when you make something yourself. Think about how you would feel if someone looked at it and told you that it wasn’t ‘good enough’.That it didn’t count as handmade. How would you feel?

Not everyone has the same taste. The fact that there are sellers offering such a smorgasboard of items is something that I have always loved about Folksy. If I want to buy a really high end bespoke piece of jewellery or pottery, I can find something on there that will suit. Equally, if what I’m looking for is a quirky, slightly goth or steam punky piece of costume jewellery I can find that too. And as far as I am concerned, both pieces are handmade.

Does one take somewhat more specialised skills then the other? Absolutely. And that is something that should be acknowledged. But writing off the skill involved in creating that piece of costume jewellery is wrong.

I’ve been trying to think of an analogy that will help explain what I mean and I keep coming back to music.

You have a beautiful violin piece performed by a classically trained virtuoso. And that’s wonderful and sometimes you want nothing more than to listen to that soaring glorious violin because it is just stunning that someone can be that talented and create something so wonderful. And no one would ever argue that that is not music.

And then you have a dance track, where someone has carefully taken two songs that mesh together somehow, in terms of tempo or the key in which each song is written, the theme of the lyrics etcetera. And someone with an incredibly good ear has taken those diverse elements and very carefully pulled them apart and mixed them back together to create something new and clever.

Is anyone going to argue that that’s not music too?

It’s all the same thing. It takes an incredibly good ear to create that dance track. It takes an understanding of what makes that music work, of how an element of one song can be taken and placed next to an element of another song and it will make this new and exciting thing. And it takes a good eye and lots of skill to take those beads and that pendant and this particular piece of chain and that particular type of clasp and those ribbons and combine them all together to make something new.

I’m not arguing the rights and wrongs of how Folksy are tightening up their policies. Ultimately it is their site, to be run their way and they have the right to vet who sells what on there. They have the right to decide that certain items don’t fit the vision they apparently have for where the site is going. I may not necessarily agree with what they define as handmade but ultimately if I choose to continue selling in that forum then I have to abide by those rules.

I just want to remind all of us as a community of makers, that what unites us, or should unite us, is that joy we feel when we finish something, that sense of accomplishment that comes when we make something that someone else looks at and wants to buy. We shouldn’t be pointing our fingers at each others’ work, denigrating it  or belittling each other.

There’s so much more I want to say on this topic but it’s really late and I need to get to bed because I’ve got work to do tomorrow.

If you have an opinion on any of this, whether you agree or disagree or whatever, please do leave a comment. I’d love to see some discussion about what we all think constitutes handmade.

Night night.

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2 Comments

Filed under crafty life

2 responses to “Handmade

  1. I’m absolutely with you. I haven’t read the Folksy stuff, and I don’t claim to know the ins & outs of this particular debate, but, to continue your analogy, I’m not sure karaoke qualifies as music! Personal taste should allow fora wide range, but, in the past, we have allowed some seriously unskilled products to be treated as craft and sold for high prices, and that brought down the standard across the board. The craft world in this country is still suffering as a result of this collapse in understanding the true value of skills that happened in the 60s, which is why the American Market is so much better.
    We need to stop judging on personal taste and snobbery, and start learning about and appreciating hard earned skills, and the quality products that result from them.
    Thank you for such a clearly thought out and articulate piece.

    • I like your karaoke analogy. I think that could be applied to stuff like where people are simply re-selling something they’ve bought on Ebay. I think you make a valid point about needing to respect and value skills. The problem is, where do us new crafty people LEARN those skills. Because skills like, for example, wood turning and carving are maybe not quite so highly valued any more, where do the kids who may be interested in that area go to actually learn to hone that interest into an actual craft? How do they even get the opportunity to realise they are interested in it?

      I used to share a flat with a friend from high school. He dropped out of school aged 15 or 16 (back in Australia) and he was never interested in academic studies but he was bloody good with his hands. So he got an apprenticeship, went to TAFE (Technical And Further Education colleges in Australia) and he became a joiner. His boss recognised that he had a real flair for shaping the wood and he started making things like beds. He even made his own futon matress. I’ve long since lost touch with him and have no idea if he ever ended up making a career out of it or if he simply carried on as a more general joiner. But he had the opportunity to find out that that was what he was good at. I don’t see those opportunities here.

      We need to start teaching each other these skills. I’m mulling it over for another post, actually.
      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

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