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Monday, March 30, 2009

TGIM: When "Handmade" doesn't mean Handmade

In one of my posts last week, I briefly touched on the idea that just because something is made by human hands, it isn't necessarily "handmade." When most of us are looking for something that is handmade, they are looking for something crafted by an artisan; a piece that is made with inspiration behind it. However, some pieces that are made created by artisans are made using components that totally go against the spirit of "handmade."

I will probably ruffle a few feathers with this post. And I have heard the argument that if I buy sterling toggles from a store to use in my jewelry, I am no better than other people who buy cheap items in bulk from overseas. I have been told, that since the glass I use to make my lampwork beads is from a factory in Italy, I have no right to talk about the components other people use.

Of course, I do not have the right to judge. But I do have the right to educate. And consumers have the right to be educated on just how much of their handmade item has the true spirit of a handmade artisan good.

Being a bead & jewelry artist, I will use this example: if you want to use lampwork beads in your work, you can use those made by independent artisans, or you can use the mass produced beads from China or India. Yes, there are some very pretty beads that come out of factories, I will be the first to admit. However, just because you string a handful of imported, factory-made beads, and add a toggle, that is, to me, a very weak example of a handmade item. If you make your toggle or clasp yourself, then the handmade stock goes up...maybe create some wire designs for the beads, and the homemade stock goes up even more. Then, use lampwork made by a local artist, and you truly have a piece that is handmade, body & soul.

This isn't to say that strung pieces cannot be beautiful and done exceptionally well by talented artisans. However, those artists often choose the best quality stones or beads that they can find, and let the beauty of the components do the talking. They do not simply buy cheap components, put them together, and then talk about handmade.

I hope I am communicating the difference here between those who exhibit the spirit of handmade, and those that have more of a "production" mentality. What I do know, is that this issue permeates more than just the bead & jewelry fields. With so many items made overseas, many artists in different arenas now have a choice between traditional materials and those made more cheaply. You can buy "handmade" paper in any craft store now, but is it really the same as using paper made and designed by an artisan? You can buy and number of wools or fibers with which to knit, but what about the joy that comes from using wools that an independent artist has prepared and dyed themselves? The more "handmade" an item is, the more value it has, at least to me.

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