Das Craft

In 1844, Karl Marx wrote that part of the problem with capitalism is that it alienates people from the products they make, turning production from an act of human creativity into a relationship between two things: labor and output. He said that when people make things themselves, they enjoy an “individual manifestation of [their] life during the activity.” Of course, he said some other stuff about the worldwide workers’ revolution, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I want to talk about making things yourself.

Crafting gets a bad rap. For one thing, as much as I’d like to think of it as egalitarian, it’s gotten a reputation as an exclusively bourgeois pastime. Only the leisure class, declare naysayers, can sit around for hours perfecting their quilting techniques, and only they can drop hundreds of dollars at the big-box craft stores.  Moreover, craft supplies are part of the shopping-industrial complex, part of the system that tells people that what they need to make themselves happy is to buy something new, from a large store, at retail price—which is terrible for the environment and the human psyche.

But making things by hand doesn’t have to be about having the shiny new Martha Stewart scrapbooking tools. With care, making an effort to make things yourself can be a creative, even revolutionary, act. To take things you would throw out and turn them into something you can still use, or to design and create something yourself that works better than what you could have bought, is incredibly fulfilling. Breaking down the barrier between yourself and the things you use every day can change the way you see your life, helping you look at the world through the eyes of an artist instead of a consumer. And crafting can be eco-friendly, if you expand your definition of what a craft supply is and where it can come from.

I’ve certainly been guilty of assuming that I need the new thing to be happy, that I need to always buy new when I look for supplies. I want to change that. Part of the reason is that I’m a broke college student and I don’t want to spend more on a craft project than I would on a comparable store-bought item. But part of it is that I want to change the way I make things, to challenge myself. I want the things I make to be more environmentally sustainable, more inexpensive, more useful and beautiful and unique—and most importantly, more accessible to other people who aren’t privileged, college-educated, or affluent. I want to take better care of the planet and maybe encourage other people to try their hand at crafting things themselves.

And so I’m challenging myself to design projects that are all from pre-used or recycled materials, that are low-impact, and that are, most importantly, cheap and easy for anyone to do. Oh, and useful. And because that sounds like a tall order for one person, I’m going to do my best to track down people who are already handcrafting in revolutionary ways, to see if they can steer me in the right direction.

Marx also said that part of the pleasure of making things is that of seeing another human use them. “In your enjoyment or use of my product,” he wrote, “I would have the direct enjoyment…of being conscious of having satisfied a human need by my work.” I hope I can do just that. Coming up will be projects, tutorials, musings, and tales of enterprising and remarkable people. Stay tuned.



1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Kat
    May 30, 2010 @ 18:52:51

    I’ll be watching. 🙂


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