Effort, Detail, and “Craziness” – Understanding What We Put Into and Get Out of Our Craft

If you are any sort of artist (or crafter, artisan, maker, etc), or have any sort of hobby where making things is involved, you’ve probably heard some of these a fair share of times:

“Oh my god, that’s so much work!”

“I don’t think I’d have the patience for that.”

“You did that all by hand? You’re crazy!”

For many, it can be wearisome to hear time and time again “I tried knitting a scarf once but gave up halfway through,” any time we are seen with our yarn out in public. These are things we hear time and time again, usually from well-meaning folks who want to express how impressed they are by the skills we possess and they do not (or, as I like to think, haven’t learned yet ;P). It’s easy for us to get frustrated, and as someone who is personally extremely prone to this sort of frustration, I am doing what I can to start giving people the benefit of the doubt a little bit more.

I think this is a very easy attitude to have, this fascination and puzzlement with the handmade process, considering the industrial society we live in. For many, many people, the idea that clothing or furniture or other products have to be “made” is just not something that crosses their mind; you just go to the store and it is there, and you buy it. We assume that everything is made by machines, an automated process, and we forget that often someone has to be there to work the machine. I come across this attitude at my job all the time – I work in a factory setting, where we do custom printing from images that users upload online. It’s quite obvious from some of the images I see on a regular basis that some people probably don’t even realize that real people are processing and packaging their order. Consumer culture, especially now with so much happening online, makes us forget just how much work goes into making the things that we buy.

So much so has this been forgotten, that when someone meticulously works on something handmade, if it’s not a hobby we share, it is considered “too much work.”

For those that are not creatively inclined, this is an attitude that I admittedly find disappointing, but one that I can at least reasonably understand for the above mentioned reasons. What honestly upsets me, however, is when I hear these sorts of statements from my fellow artists. A friend of mine from college, who is a fairly serious painter, once asked me why I choose to spin yarn when I could just buy it in a store. Several of my coworkers, all of whom partake in some sort of creative art, have noted amazement (tinged with concern for my sanity) over my hand embroidered patches. I have to ask myself, why this knee-jerk aversion to attention to detail? Though it may not be the particular craft they practice, surely they can understand the pleasure that comes from making and creating. It’s not always about the end result, but the process. In that sense, it doesn’t necessarily matter how many hours went into making something – we did it because we enjoyed doing it. Surely, there are times when we might go overboard to make something truly incredible, and we may feel like we have gotten in over our heads. But I would say, even then, if we choose to keep going it is because at the end of the day, it is something that makes us happy.

Trying to combat this attitude is part of what keeps me going, and I know it is a big part of the maker movement right now. Just take a look at the #slowfashion hashtag on Twitter. Handmade, indie, ethical, local…all these things have been rising in the public eye in recent years. Because of this, it is my hope that people will start becoming more conscious of how we think about and talk to artisans, makers, and hobbyists. If our goal is to fight our dependence on mass-produced consumer culture, I think it is important not to be dismissive of the time and attention to detail crafters put into their work. Even if the intention is to express admiration for the person’s skills, think about how saying “Oh I couldn’t do that” can unintentionally imply a waste of time. Not everything is about filling a consumer need, either. We humans do a lot of things to fill our time on this earth and give it meaning. Some people like to bike or run marathons – these things are simply not for me. However, both running and embroidery take time and dedication, and have a similar kind of worth in that they bring enjoyment to the people that practice them. I’d like to see more people recognize that others, just like themselves, find hard work to not really be so much work at all when it is something that makes them happy.

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