Isn’t that always the million dollar question among crafters? The discussion can get really ugly in some forums – there’s a lot of emotion involved in the thought. Anything you spend enough time on begins to reflect some of your own self-worth, and denying its value can be almost physically painful. But what about to people who were not involved in an artifact’s creation? From a broad, objective standpoint, is handmade truly superior? I won’t be posting much knitting here over the next couple weeks as I work on unpublished designs, to let’s have a nice discussion instead. Here’s what I’ve gleaned over the years of talking about it to countless crafters and non-crafters alike.
1. If there is something unusual about your body, handmade is the way to go.
Are your socks always too loose? The fingers of your gloves too long? Do you frequently have to choose between clothes that fit your waist or clothes that fit your hips (that’d be me)? Then loving, or being, a handcrafter is a beautiful, beautiful thing. No longer do you have to resign yourself to ill-fitting clothes. No more having to get all your professional clothing tailored either – at least some of it can surely be handmade! Since the truth is almost none of us are shaped like the mythical beings that mass-produced clothing is designed to fit, this is probably where the most undeniable value of handmade is.
2. If you value having something unique, handmade will give you that.
You won’t find the average crafting pattern on a department store shelf. Even if you use one of the most popular patterns from one of the most popular sources for your craft, you probably won’t choose exactly the same media and exactly the same colors as many other people. Add in individualized shape and size for your extra special body, or some tweaks and technique changes for your own personal preferences, and there’s nothing else like your masterpiece in the whole entire world. If you want unique, you’ve got it.
3. For some people, the hours of sweat, headaches, and aching wrists they know went into a sweater really do make it more valuable. These people are not the majority.
Just like your baby is always the cutest, and the smartest, your handmade piece is always superior to store-bought. To you. Others who do your craft or similar crafts will probably also appreciate just how long it took you to make your piece, and just how difficult it was (or was not). They’re also the most likely to be aware of just how much that cashmere-silk blend actually cost, although ironically that’s the part non-crafters might be more likely to care about. Every now and then you’ll find a non-crafter who does truly appreciate the love that goes into every handmade object. Typically, these people have some other frequently undervalued skill, or love someone who does. However, these people who truly “get” how much of you goes into each handmade item? They are every bit as rare and precious as the item itself. Don’t assume your new friend is one of them.
4. Some items will truly not ever be as good when made at gauges and with materials accessible to handcrafters.
No handmade fabric will ever truly replace denim, leather, or any number of other fabrics. Either, like leather, the material literally can not be made by hand, or like denim, the fiber may exist but human hands simply can not work at the necessary gauge. You will never knit a pair of pants as practical as a good pair of blue jeans, and you will never crochet a bathing suit that stays put and dries as well as a store-bought swimsuit. You just won’t.
5. You can safely expect surprise gifts to end in tears and resentment. For everyone.
It can be surprisingly difficult to identify those rare people mentioned in #3. Even if they ask you, unsolicited, to make them something that’s no guarantee they really understand what they’re asking for. If they never ask, it may be because they don’t want anything handmade, but it could also be because they do understand how big a gift something handmade can be, and they don’t feel right asking for so much. Add in the fact that art is highly personal, and what one person finds beautiful may be garish or boring to another. How many bizarro, random gifts have you gotten from well-meaning friends or relatives (the proverbial reindeer sweater, anyone?) over the years that made you wonder whether the giver actually knew you at all? Were you then resentful about having to trot the gift out every time you saw the person after? Now imagine you’re on the other side of that exchange, and the beautiful gift you put hours and hours of thought and effort into gets an, “Oh…thank you” in response. More tears and resentment. Even worse if you’re making something where sizing is important, like a sweater – more effort AND more chances to make it unusable. Trust me, it’s much happier if everyone involved knows exactly what’s going on, and everyone opted in.
So what do you think? Is handmade superior?