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.

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3 thoughts on “Crafting away from capitalism?

  1. Interesting blog post. I am also told that I should sell what I make. I do the numbers crunch and realize that I would never make any money if I tried to do that. I am content to make what I love to make and give it to people I deem are worthy of a handmade gift. Now that DH and I are in a money crunch (and I have a room full of yarn and fabric), I prefer to make gifts instead of buy them. I have extra time, not extra money. And I’m really ok with it. I don’t miss the shopping. I don’t miss the crowds. I certainly won’t miss the frenzy come Christmas time.

  2. I totally agree! People are always saying: you should sell that! People will spend a lot of money on that! But honestly, it’s not true. It is super hard to sell handmade stuff for an amount that makes it actually worth it.

    And I just realized that selling (to me) zaps my creativity. If I have to make something over and over again, I get pretty tired of it. I like to make completely different things all the time and making these things sometimes take a LOT of time, b/c they are new to me. I love the learning process.

    Unfortunately, because I am not making money doing these things, I feel like I am wasting time. I tell myself: I could be doing something more productive (i.e. making money).

  3. I’ve decided to sell my crafts. It’s simply because I can’t stop creating, and I don’t personally need 100 scarfs, or thousands of skiens of yarn. And I don’t have enough people to give it away to. My prices will seem exorbenent to pretty much everyone, but I’m not willing to make less then 5$ an hour per craft. The time at the shows for me is a chance to get a break from SAHM life. I don’t count it as part of my profit margin. So, while I choose to sell and buy into the comercialism, I understand why people don’t. I’ll never have an Etsy, Artfire or otherwise online shop. They just don’t seem sensible to me.

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