Made By Hand
February 27, 2012 10:45 AM   Subscribe

Craftsmen and women, some of them the last of their breed, making their art by hand and profiled in beautiful short-form videos: Knifemaker. Ornamental glass artist (previously). Master printer . Swordguard maker (previously). Beekeeper and honey maker. Stone lettercarvers. Carmaker. More, and related, at This Is Made By Hand, and (less related, but still wonderful) eGarage.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul (19 comments total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
Awesome. I can't wait to watch these.
posted by OmieWise at 10:49 AM on February 27, 2012

I'm starting to see a rejection of mass-produced art and craftforms, personally. While we may be happy to have an exact copy of a million other devices that perform essential functions, when it comes to personal expression there's a definite trend towards hand-made and local. Unfortunately for craftspeople, artists and artisans to enjoy a similar standard of living to their customers (which seems just) there will need to be a lot more of this rejection-of-sameness. Also, I guess, as the cost of shipping things heads ever upwards, this will become more and more economically viable.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:08 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

The beekeeper doesn't make the honey. Please do not wrong the humble honeybee.
posted by Nomyte at 11:13 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

oh goodness yes I have found what I will be watching during Minecraft this week :)
posted by rebent at 11:18 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

+1 on seanmpuckett's note about artisans struggling to get a great standard of living. It seems like as a society we don't reward these types of work very much.

NYT recently had an article on a guy who makes paper by hand:
Can a Papermaker Help to Save Civilization?

This quote caught my attention:

Barrett’s work has been driven by the notion that good materials, worked by hand, transmit their power in ways that the products of less painstaking manufacture can’t. “I have to believe that the eye and the hand take it all in, even when we’re not aware of it,” he said.

On the amateur front, I've long been super interested in making things by hand- how to sew clothes, making yogurt, bread, yadda yadda, learning how to use a letterpress machine and whatever else I can wrangle myself into and find the time to learn. I blame a lot of this on my parents; my mother used to work on a living historical farm at a park where they would dress up in 1800s style clothes and farm just as the original residents would do so in the 1880s, so I've been exposed to maybe more of that stuff at an impressionable age than I might otherwise have. It can be hugely rewarding to make something yourself once you know how, so I hope that we don't really lose these small scale artisan skills.
posted by lyra4 at 11:22 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was just recently thinking of doing a post on the Craftsmanship Museum (itself a marvel of 1996-era web design), which is devoted to machining.
posted by DU at 11:30 AM on February 27, 2012

As a knifemaker myself, it's hard to call the craft "dying" nowadays -- there are several sites devoted to knifemaking and related crafts, where practitioners share tips and tricks, coordinate gatherings, and offer instruction to newbies. Personally, I've been getting into recreating the ancient steels (wootz, blister and shear steel, wrought iron, and so on) and making knives and swords out of that -- and there are active communities doing the same on at least one forum, and we have our own gatherings and mailing lists as well. I'm also a beekeeper, which has dedicated magazines, forums, and is actually a commercial activity with players from the backyard apiarist to corporate polinators-for-hire with semi-trailers loaded with hives that are driven around the country. I suspect that with the advent of the Internet that legacy crafts won't so much die off as much as get distributed more widely, and the info archived for future generations in case the current one loses interest.
posted by Blackanvil at 11:48 AM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thanks for this post. I had already seen the videos, but I could watch them on repeat for the rest of the week and be happy.

These are some of the things I have bought from artisans in the last 5 years, all made mostly by hand, all of them with mass produced counterparts that usually cost way less:

Bicycle frame
Kitchen knife
Whittling knife
Grain mill
Glass percolator
Bicycle panniers
Assorted beer brewing gadgets (bottling wand, mash screen, etc.)

All these items were made by young people who had to put a lot of effort into learning the craft. Without an exception, they were willing to personally talk to me, accommodate my needs, and offer incredibly good customer service. The products are of supreme quality, and they look great.

Based on what I get from having followed this artisans for the last few years, the demand for high-quality handcrafted items is growing every day, and the quality and variety of offerings are getting better all the time. At least the knife, bicycle and glass artisans are making a pretty good living, as good or better than what I was making as an engineer 2 years ago.

I would love to live in a world where masters of whatever craft they choose can make as good a living as anyone else. I still dream of quitting my well paying and soul destroying job to become an artisan in the things I love, the things I do as a hobby. But I don't because I don't want to be poor again. And at risk of derailing this, I am afraid to be poor because of how expensive health care and legal defense are in both countries where I can legally reside.

I like to think I do my part by once in a while not buying some mass produced piece of crap and saving the money towards something way better and more personal.
posted by Ayn Rand and God at 12:40 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

All this shit is romantic when your life doesn't depend on doing it right.

I am a spinner. I can start with the fleece off a sheep's back, and given some time and three wooden sticks (one with a weight on it), I can produce a nice article of warm clothing. I do it for fun, because I don't have to. My great-great-grandmother had to do it for survival, and her diary tells me it was grim drudgery.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 12:41 PM on February 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

Just about everything is grim drudgery when you have to do it for survival.
posted by aramaic at 1:34 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

For me, these questions of the value (monetary, emotional, societal, whathaveyou) are both intellectually interesting and personally... real, I guess. I agree that there is real value in objects made by hand with care, but I also worry about fetishizing crafts that were once, as Mary Ellen points out, about nothing more than simple survival.

I know first-hand (technically, second-hand, I suppose) what it means to try to make a living as a craftsperson because my mother was one. She was a hand weaver of scarves, shawls, and more complicated stuff, and dyed all her own warps. Her work was beautiful and useful, and she could barely sell it for break-even prices. This is a fact of life for craftspeople. Their time is limited, so their output will always be limited. Scarcity and beauty drive up the price, so few are willing to pay. C'est la vie.

For myself, there is a resonance in an object that I know to be hand-made. I feel the weight of the hours that a person (frustrated, inspired, bored, whathaveyou) spent actually handling that thing. I like that weight. But what if I don't know it was handmade? Well, I don't feel that weight. So is it really there at all? I'd like to think so, and that the failure to recognize that is in me (the observer), but I can't be sure. In the end, I try to keep handmade things in my life because it reminds me that the makers of those things are real people with inner lives. And that connection is valuable. To me, anyway.
posted by that's candlepin at 1:34 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd also recommend Craft In America on PBS as a related series.
posted by thegears at 6:41 PM on February 27, 2012

Just about everything is grim drudgery when you have to do it for survival.

Counterpoint: eating. Eating is beautiful, like sex. One thing enters another, where it is masticated.
posted by Nomyte at 7:41 PM on February 27, 2012

Counterpoint: eating. Eating is beautiful, like sex. One thing enters another, where it is masticated.

I think you are doing sex wrong.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:42 PM on February 27, 2012

As a knifemaker myself

Do you have a link to your stuff, Blackanvil?

I've just started to get interested in knifemaking. I've been following along the SugarCreek Forge Build Along on YouTube, in which an experienced knifemaker gets novices to follow along as they make their first knife.

If he does it again next year, I'll definitely take a shot at it myself.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:02 AM on February 28, 2012

I make soap. Lovely soap from happy goats. There is no profit in soap, if I sell it a price people are happy to pay. Some of it is competition from people who buy melt and pour detergent and sell it as "handmade soap", some of it from companies like Lush who co-opted the natural movement and some of it is the million dollar liability insurance I have to carry in case someone slips on a bar of soap and sues me, but all of it meant that it just was more hassle to sell product than it was worth. That said, I love doing it, and I still make it, but now I barter w/ other crafters instead of trying to make a living doing it.
posted by dejah420 at 8:18 AM on February 28, 2012

Oops, was on phone when I posted that earlier, and didn't notice that I'd deleted a paragraph. What I meant to say at the end of my previous comment was:

I learned out to make soap in the late 1970s, in the Appalachian mountains from a woman in her 80's. She had no daughters, and I was the first kid she'd taught how to make soap since the 1950s. While I've changed the methods slightly, in that (until recently) sodium hydroxide was easier to get than making your own potassium hydroxide, and sodium makes a much "cleaner" and harder product; the methods I use are the same methods that soapmakers have been using since someone figured out that if you mix fat and potash you get something that bubbles and lifts dirt away from surfaces.

I kinda hope that either my son or my niece takes an interest in it, if only because I'd like to continue a tradition of teaching the next generation how to do something useful.
posted by dejah420 at 11:59 AM on February 28, 2012

That movie about the guy who makes guards for Japanese swords is some kind of astonishing. I didn't think it was viable to have a career doing work of that quality in this day and age.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:13 PM on February 28, 2012

It makes me sad that furnituremaking has pretty much gone away; our furniture isn't often made by cabinetmakers or woodworkers, but usually made by machines instead, with a far lower build quality, and 1/10th or less the durability.
posted by talldean at 9:05 AM on February 29, 2012

« Older "It's not a race where you need good luck. It's a...   |   Australian dubtechno and dubstep from... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments