Have you noticed the change? In the last few years, more and more little handmade businesses are popping up, and thriving. More people are taking the time and effort to learn a old-fashioned craft. Knitting isn’t just for granny any more, it’s actually…popular! And I have a few thoughts on why the tides are slowly turning back to slow, contemplative work of making goods by hand. Read on!
In these modern manufacturing, sellers can make higher profits by making goods in bulk. In turn they can sell their goods for cheaper, and people can get what they want for not much money. And in many ways, that’s a good thing.
Affordable goods have made comfortable living a reality for many people. And this has given us more time to spend cultivating other skills, like music and culture. So it’s not all bad.
BUT, cheap and easy isn’t ALWAYS better, it turns out. I myself love both the feeling of having something handmade by an artisan, and the feeling for creating something by hand myself. Sometimes it’s better to do things the slow, inefficient way. Let me show you what I mean.
You are special
Ok, that may sound a little cheesy, but it’s really quite true!
Each person in this world is unique, with their own thoughts and ideas, their own bodies and histories. It makes sense that we humans would be drawn to things that are also unique. Things that, in a way, reflect something that is at the very core of who we are.
I have always longed for a pair of boots that were created especially and exactly for my feet. I mean, I’ve been thinking about those boots since I was a kid. This is probably because I read about the cobbler in “Farmer Boy” who went from house to house and handcrafted a pair of custom boots for each family member, every year. It was just the way things were done back then, but it seems pretty far fetched now days.
Somehow, there’s a deep need in us to be individuals. Yes, we can find meaning in belonging to certain groups. Our nationality, our ethnicity, our faith, our family, even smaller things like our hobbies or our hair colors. We’re great at grouping up, and there is worth in that too. But at the same time, it’s only natural that we would long to be unique, to find a way to be like no one else. And the things we create and keep nearest to us are just one expression of that longing.
Is “custom made” just an extravagance?
Have you ever wanted to have a dress or suit sewn specifically to fit your body? Tailors are still around, but the majority of us just own mass produced clothing because it’s low cost, even if it’s ill fitting or poor quality. The virtue of frugality is hammered into us pretty hard sometimes. It seems like a waste to throw money at a luxury like a custom fitted piece of clothing, doesn’t it?
My answer is no, it’s not a waste. And by the way, I do think that frugality is an important virtue. But for me, owning something that is crafted specifically for me is a way of acknowledging that I’m not just one of millions. I’m the one an only me!
Now, this is not the popular self-exultation that’s floating around the culture at the moment. It’s not that I deserve something special and extravagant because I’m more special than anyone else. Not at all. It’s just one way of showing what is already true about me. I’m just as God made me, and only me, and to enjoy that fact is completely natural!
Of course, custom made clothing may be a poor example of my point. Even a person who cannot afford more than they clothes on their back can have their own way of expressing just who they are. But do you see where I’m going with this? People are uniquely custom made by God, and desiring anything unique is a reflection of that fact. In other words, you are special, and that’s a good thing!
The power of personal connection
There is something powerful about knowing the maker of the things I own. When I buy a candle or a bird house or a loaf of bread at the farmers’ market, I love meeting and chatting with the person who actually created it. Why is this? I mean, if I just grabbed something similar off a shelf at Target, wouldn’t it fulfill the same need?
Again, no it wouldn’t. Because deep down I desire more than just utilitarian function, or cost savings, or convenience. I don’t dismiss these qualities when I make decisions about what I spend my time or money on. But I just want more. It’s not greedy, it’s natural. I want history and meaning and human connection. I want quality and beauty and thoughtfulness of design. I want things that speak to me, not just things that are useful, cheap, and easy.
A quality connoisseur
Another reason I often make things by hand (or buy handmade things directly from the maker) is that I’m a connoisseur of quality. For example, if I go to the store to buy an apron, even a huge store may only have six options for fabrics or design. When I make my own apron, I can choose any fabric or design that speaks to me, that will serve me best. The quality of the fabric. The placement of a waist band. There’s a secret glee to that, my friends. “Custom made” isn’t just for the rich and famous. And it’s not a wasteful extravagance, as we may have been taught to think. It fulfills us on a deep level, and that’s no waste.
What about saving money?
While it may save us cash to make things by hand, it often is more costly if we count the time spent to produce things by hand. This isn’t a blanket rule, but here’s an example. I may be able to buy the fabric to make a dress for $8, and that is much less than I would pay for nice dress from a shop. But it would also take me 5-10 hours to make that dress, and even if I value my time at a low wage, that’s one pricey dress.
Still, you’ll find me at the sewing machine every year, creating clothing for my family. Why? If it’s not about frugality, and not always about quality (there are amazing creators of the highest quality clothes these days!), why would I spend time doing it myself? And here we arrive at my favorite reason to embrace making things myself…
Finding pleasure in the process
You knew I was going to get to this point, right? If you’ve been around Cottage Chronicles for long, this will be that comforting and familiar old refrain “Cultivating peace and purpose.”
I have learned to love the slow, methodical, yet surprisingly creative art of sewing. The same is true with cooking. With painting. With gardening. With home education. The real pleasure of doing something doesn’t have to be just in the final product. There can be enjoyment all along the way.
Yep, I have a car and could just buy that produce at a grocery store. And I shop at Target somethings, and buy myself clothes. I’ve order dish towels on Amazon like anyone else, or bought soap that was made in a factory. Like I said, it’s not all bad.
Yet when I do go through the process of handmaking things, I’m reminded that in very important ways, it’s better. It fills me up somehow. It’s a time to be peaceful and to focus. It’s a time to put my skill and hard work into something tangible. My hemlines may be a bit wobbly and my produce may not be picture perfect, but that’s not the point. These things speak to me because, like me, they are individuals. We kinda just go together.