Hooray for inter-library loan! I finally got my copy of Handmade Nation: the rise of DIY, art, craft and design, a documentary by Faythe Levine. One of the themes throughout this documentary is craft as a way to get away from capitalism as it exists today. Andrew Wagner from American Craft Magazine says in the documentary that a crafter is “someone making stuff by themselves, for themselves.” Sabrina Gschwandtner of KnitKnit Magazine says that “a crafter is… making a stance against hyper consumer culture” and Dennis Stevens of Redefining Craft says that “people are subverting the capitalistic big box retail system.”
Really? Maybe some are.
The pressure to sell what you make, to participate in capitalism and not just make “by yourself, for yourself” is enormous. Every time I make something someone tells me that I should sell it. And don’t think it hasn’t occurred to me. A simple crunch of the numbers, however, shows me that I would make less than a dollar per hour to make one of my dolls, and only a couple dollars per hour to make a doll’s t-shirt. This is the reason I only dabble in selling – most of the things I make are given away. But the lure is so strong – make money from doing what you love!
This view is supported by Sara Mosle in her article for Slate. She says that the allure of etsy.com “is the feminist promise that you can have a family and create hip arts and crafts from home during flexible, reasonable hours while still having a respectable, fulfilling, and remunerative career.” This fantasy, of course, is false, and it is only peddled to women. Etsy is made up of 96% women because men “have evaluated the site on purely economic terms and found it wanting.” One of their biggest success stories only makes $15,000 per year, and that is before the costs of supplies are deducted from the gross profits. “Etsy exerts a downward pressure on prices,” Mosle claims, because the crafter is in competition with the rest of the world, and therefore cannot charge a premium. Sounds like capitalism as we know it – people doing piecework for below-subsistence pay.
Some of us choose not to participate. I craft because I love to make things and generally give away the items that I make. Other things I keep for myself.