Monday, April 28, 2008

DIY Stages a Comeback

I attended a baby shower this weekend and was interested to watch my friend open several handmade gifts from her guests.  Even more interesting to me was that the majority of handmade gifts were crafted not by retirees with lots of time and a fondness for the sentimentality (and frugality) of a homemade gift.  Rather, the crafters were young women my age, who, though still newly acquainted with their sewing machines, were clearly taking advantage of their creativity and skill.

It was no surprise to me, then, to stumble across a quick opinion piece in the Guardian this morning about the rising popularity of do-it-yourself crafting among younger people.  Apparently sales of sewing machines are up, and knitting groups are the new thing to do on a Friday night.  The article briefly suggests that this trend is tied to the declining economy, citing financial savings and "making do" as the motivation behind DIY.  And while I agree that saving money is a pleasant by-product of handmade efforts, I think there is more to it than that.

For starters, DIY projects are fun.  In this technological epoch, where everything is translated to gigabytes, it is nice to create something tangible.  Secondly, it fosters creativity, which is often in short supply in our hectic, modern lives.  Third, making, selling and buying handmade items can be an expression of idealist conviction, part of larger efforts to support local, micro business, practice eco-conservatism, and support economic alternatives to the giant box-store Goliath of modern consumerism.  

That said, one of the features that I enjoy about the Comment section of the Guardian is that you can read other people's responses to the article.  I found myself agreeing with the people who felt that this resurgence of DIY ingenuity was good for individuals and society at-large.  Certainly none of them professed that crafting is The solution to the maladies of this modern world, but hinted that it might very well be a solution to some of them.  

Many other writers, however, immediately connected the rise of sewing machine sales and knitting groups to feminism's decline; an indication that women were tired of trying to make it in the real world and were retreating back to the home.   And though I can certainly see how that assumption would be made, I wonder why we keep insisting that things always be so black and white.  You like to sew and knit?  Well, clearly you must favor a backward step for women.  This seems like quite a leap to me.  Since when is saving money, enjoying creativity, and supporting small business a step back for women?  True, maybe the stalwarts of the late 60's wouldn't be caught dead with a sewing machine in hand, but women have evolved (for that matter, so have sewing machines), just like economies have evolved, and commerce, and technology, etc.  

And so I was glad to see my friend get a handful of handmade gifts for her baby.  Now, if only I could figure out how to sew a killer dress for my upcoming reunion...

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