08 June 11

Midwest Craft Caucus Thoughts: #1

I was lucky enough to attend the Midwest Craft Caucus this past weekend in Columbus, Ohio. It was refreshing, invigorating, creative, and gave me quite a bit to think about. I don’t know that I came away with answers, but I came away with new questions.

I want to take some time to flesh out what I’m thinking. But it won’t be a wrap-up or even a description of what I did or learned. Just some thoughts rolling around and in no particular order of importance.

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In 2003 we were so revolutionary in Chicago, Boston, Austin for doing indie craft shows because the only other things that existed were the Kountry Krafts and the high-end art craft shows. Then the slightly smaller shows popped up. Now craft shows in more rural settings, small towns, and more adventurous locations that don’t rely on a young, hip, urban shopping audience are popping up. This means that craft is mainstream. We’re no longer the weirdos that no one gets. We’re just the “slightly off the norm” folks that seem more committed than necessary. This means that not only do we need to thank our grandmas for a) crafting with care in the first place b) supporting the make-do and mend philosophy that the Baby Boomer generation has ignored but that we’re now finding wickedly necessary and cool to boot c) teaching us how to craft in many cases d) crafting enough that there are cool books from the 70s and and before that we can still check out of the library so that even folks in hipster-starved parts of America can still get their craft on. This also means we owe a huge apology to Kountry Krafters as well. Because all y’all were crafting quietly from the late 70s through the 90s, buying kits, and focusing on easier assembly goods, it means that there are still some stores that sell crafting goods in person. Which may go against our anti-sweatshop, anti-indie ethos, however (not all craftstores are chains and) it also means that there are still people manufacturing craft supplies, even If they’re not sweatshop free and located in the US. The fact that they exist means that we were capable of finding the supplies we needed to help us find our voice.

When the craft movement first went indie, we differentiated ourselves from the “snowman poop” sellers by focusing on our young indie design sensibilities. “Comic sans is totally ironic, dude!” “Owls and octopuses rule the world!” “Tea cozy? Forget that! How’bout a dildo cozy instead?” When we started we explained how we were different by describing the design sense of our work. We focused on how we didn’t use kits to make our goods, but we used what we had around and found cool ways to get it to become something new, something exciting.

However times have changed. Urban crafters don’t have a lock on cute owls, putting a bird on it, or even reusing materials. What started out as a city crafter vs. kountry krafter ethos difference has since become more nuanced. Much more nuanced. Now it is okay to use pre-made embroidery patterns (as long as they’re created by crafty doyenne Jenny Hart and not a mass-marketed [and posing as an indie] brand with questionable ethics). It is okay to buy pre-made pieces to assemble into a final product that is far cooler than its original parts. But, is it? Is our movement really all about avoiding slave labor, sweatshops, child labor? Or are we starting to rationalize buying cool Japanese fabric that was printed in China because it is too cute to be ignored? As we focus on how we want people to buy locally, are we being hypocrites by going online and buying all of our craft supplies for the lowest price possible? Is it even possible to get all of our raw materials in the US any more? And if it isn’t, is that where we should be focusing our energy?

So what really differentiates the indie craft movement from the craft movement? Where is the line drawn?

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