Crafty Chic & Me

Not so sure about how the current craze for handicrafts will play out.  My mother’s generation saw an enthusiasm for the homelier arts rage onto the scene during the Sixties before limping off the stage in the late Seventies.  Was it macrame that killed the craft movement?  One can only speculate, but for my money, it was macrame.  Just how many of those plant holders could a person have, anyway?  Macrame, and of course, string art.  You know, string art.  Where you attach tiny nails to a dark velvet background and then wrap string around the nailheads to form a pattern, say, of a sailing ship. 

The previous image came from here, and the person who made it is quite pleased with it.  Good for her, but her joy comes at the expense of the larger craft movement.  Because with the resurgence of string art, I can feel a cold wind blowing on our DIY fun.  Especially when such projects are proposed without the least hint of irony.

But I admit to being a bit of a naysayer about this craft thing for a while now.  Maybe it’s because for me, the movement has emphasized that I’m no longer very young, having seen this trend come and go, and then come again.   About four years ago when the current crafty craze was really hitting its stride I thought to myself: I can live with this retro stuff, this revisiting the better-left-for-dead ’70s-era art, with its sketches of big-eyed girls with flowers in their hair and spindly-leg deer and woodsy this-es and thats.  But what I can’t live with is the apparent lack of awareness that all of this has been done before.  And to add insult to injury, it’s been done in my lifetime.  I’ve already seen all this stuff.  And no, I still don’t want it.   And another thing I thought four years ago was: I will try to be a good sport about this, but I have my limits.  And they begin at owls.  Nothing against owls, which are mightily impressive in real life, but if owls should appear in craftland, I’ll know for sure that the crafty craze does not originate in originating anything, but is just a way to regurgitate the past, sentimentalizing it in the process (and finding a market for all that unwanted 70’s stuff at Goodwill).  When owls randomly start showing up everywhere, I told myself,  I am officially jumping off this bandwagon.

And lo and behold, wouldn’t you know it.  Owls proliferated on etsy and in Brooklyn – which is the same thing, really – and that’s when I quit the crafty craze.  (But not before I snapped up a vintage log stool at the flea market with an owl artistically rendered in woodburning on its seat as inventory for my store.  I sold it without shame).  Certain aspects of the trend toward craft are wonderful: the resurrection of knitting and letter-press is a gift not to be denied.  But overly precious woodland creatures in any manifestation are doomed to look dated in about say…five minutes.  And not a minute too soon.

So, rant accomplished, I am moving on to celebrate, in what is an apparent contradiction, the fact that I just recently scored a vintage crafty needlepoint piece (photo below). And why does needlepoint make the cut?  Well, it’s not necessarily the medium that’s the problem when it comes to craft, it’s the message.  And the message that this thing sends is: I’m not sure, really, but it somehow seems more desirable than a vapid depiction of mushrooms – another ’70s thematic favorite.  Maybe it says that we are a nation of patriotic types who like to celebrate this fact in our decorative arts.   Maybe it says that a whole generation of needlepointers were caught up in the bicentennial brouhaha that swept the nation like a fever circa 1976 as they crafted every neo-Colonial thing they could come up with.  I can’t explain just why, but to me this piece is a relic worth keeping of a craft craze generally worth forgetting.  It emerges from the murk of meaningless stylized deer and owls, the double-tiered plant holders, the string-on-velvet works of art, much like the eagle itself, a symbol of grace, power, and persistence.

God Bless America – as our Presidents are so fond of saying – crafters and all.

Magazine Talk: Crafts with Marth-er

When the history of the great Craft/DIY Revolution of the last decade is written (and it will be written.  Probably as a doctoral dissertation, if the state of American education continues its downward spiral), no doubt no one will be credited more than Martha Stewart for the flourishing of Craft in this country.  And deservedly so.  The woman is amazing: originally a one-woman cottage industry, now expanded into a entire hive of worker bees, all with their own ivy league educations, barn jackets, and glue guns.  I never actually want to read one of her publications, but always pick them up anyway, knowing they will be chock-full of helpful information, earnestly researched and meticulously photographed.  Reading Martha Stewart’s Living is like taking medicine, in that it that both heals and inspires.  Actually, maybe it’s more like a vitamin than a medicine.  Either way you don’t want a dose of her, yet you’re always glad you had one after it’s over.

That said, this month’s Living left me wanting in the usually reliable Crafting department.  Perhaps Marther is a victim of her own success.  With blogs breeding like rabbits – half of them devoted to churning out handmade wonders – and magazines like Woman’s Day and Better Homes & Gardens (formerly Marther’s sad little sisters when it comes to featuring projects you actually would be proud of) stepping it up when it comes to crafts, the team at Living is really under some pressure to stay on the cutting edge.  (I can think of lots of puns here but I’ll spare you.)

Witness this month’s “Crafting: handmade goods” feature.  Wowsa.  Here it is: