What HandMade Has to Do With The Economy

Why hand made, and what’s it got to do with the economy?

Seems as though everywhere we look these days, “handmade” is popping up. The tremendous success of Etsy** and of shops like Beehive Co-op** are reflections of this. There seems to be a greater value placed on handmade goods these days, a recognition that the effort and love that go into creating something from scratch is worthwhile. But, don’t we all think that ALL the time? So where is the relationship between a “downturned” economy and a new respect for handmade?

I would argue that during times of economic belt-tightening, we are reminded–whether consciously or subconsciously–that there is a chain of events that leads to any object you hold in your hand, and that regardless of how openly we acknowledge them, there are emotions associated with those events (not to mention repercussions to them). When I purchase a t-shirt from a chain department store, it began in a nation far away, made by hands I will never meet, anonymously, perhaps under undesirable conditions. When I wear it and walk down the street, I may pass someone wearing the exact same t-shirt, or a dozen people wearing it. When I wash it, I don’t take exceptional care of it, because it’s disposable and has an ephemeral nature, as if it never was intended to be something I treasure.

If I buy a more expensive shirt from a boutique, do I feel differently? To a degree. Because it likely cost more, I probably take better care of it. And perhaps because of the boutique cache, I might feel that I’m less likely to greet the same shirt passing me in the opposite direction. But it was still, almost certainly, made by someone far away, indifferently, with no thought to me as the recipient.

When I buy handmade, though, from a small seller who has touched each t-shirt individually, who has thought about who would buy it and wear it, who has taken the time to make it something special, I feel that. It comes through the fabric, somehow, and translates itself into how I walk and how I care for the garment.

When I MAKE handmade? That takes it to a whole ‘nother level. Knowing not just that I’ve made it, but who for and with what materials and where I was when I made it and what I was thinking as I took each stitch, all that gets put into the project. Even if it’s a quickie project that costs pennies and isn’t meant to be an heirloom, even then I get a feeling of satisfaction and enjoyment out of taking each stitch and seeing the finished product, as if a part of me is fed by the act of creating something new. I know, it sounds crazy, but it’s totally true, and I think ultimately the reason that when the economy forces us to examine what we buy and where we put our precious resources, we turn to the handmade is this: because a handmade object is a relationship between the maker and the made, and between the object and the user.

Human beings, regardless of their cultural background or nationality, are about relationships. It’s how we are made, and is at the heart of all we do, when you get right down to it. Relationships between us and other people, between us and the world around us, between us and the work we do, between us and ideas. Those relationships change form depending on the circumstances, and I believe that when our backs are to the wall and the wallet is bare, we choose the relationships that have the deepest value to us, and the ones that have the most power to outlast. Handmade does that, in spades.

According to some sources, the United States has experienced 12 recessions since Great Depression, and all have led to a return of handmade. What does that say about us as a society? That we spend huge amounts of time spending money on things that don’t matter until we’re forced to step back and evaluate our choices? Well, yes. I think that’s exactly what it says. That is, in some ways, a basic part of human nature: that we tend to take the easiest route until it is blocked off, at which point we reach deep inside ourselves and find reserves of character we might not have known we had.

I, for one, am delighted to see so many folks taking time in ways we haven’t, possibly for decades. I revel in the moments when I sit down and stitch slowly, deliberately, by hand. They remind me of what I am doing and where I am going. I don’t multitask, unless you consider that as I create, I talk and listen, so that as I build relationship with what I’m creating, I build relationship with those around me.

I sure hope handmade is here to stay. It brings out the best in us, no matter what shape the economy is in.

This piece was written by Deborah Moebes


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