Thursday, June 14, 2007


Connection is the word that we would have inscribed above the door in Snapdragon's imaginary shop. It is the word at the core of what we aspire to do. Connect with the seasons, with the soil, connect with our customers, with the community. Only connect. This blog is a symptom of that quest.

Yesterday Carolyn wrote a very astute comment on my post about the demise of the Country Living Scottish Fair, questioning whether handmade was enough of an intrinsic value in itself.

It was a comment that made me think - because I am very vociferous about the fact that the similar catch all "organic" covers a multitude of sugary sins. I think that she is right - why do I get worked up about the need to preserve the hand made in Britain?

If I want to buy a salad bowl why do I go to the local craft gallery rather than Habitat? If I wanted to buy a doorstop why Primrose Hill rather than Cath Kidston?

And I think that it stems from this basic need for connection - connection at some level to a discernable human maker.

I do not feel comfortable buying from chain shops - I was in Edinburgh shopping yesterday and was very put off by the impersonal nature of the shops. The place where I did buy ( a party dress from East) was largely because of a wonderfully engaging member of staff. When I do part with my money it tends to be either in craft or antique shops.

I don't really know where this post is going - I think it is very hard to justify the allure of the handmade using pure logic. Yet it seems that, like lighting an open fire, growing your own vegetables or making jam, there is something more, something unmeasurable. All these things, if judged on a strict value for time and money basis, would probably fail, yet they are the parts of life that give me connection and are therefore, for me, beyond value.

That is how I feel about the hand made (though not all handmade) and the reason that I think it is worth fighting to promote.

I would be very interested to hear what items people value as hand-made and which they don't.

Thanks again for all your comments and e-mails.


PG said...

To be honest, there is an awful lot of hand made tat floating around in the real and virtual world. Etsy is a prime example of the wonderful mingling with the never-should-have-been-created. I buy handmade things if the standard of craft is higher than what I could do myself (so I would rather make my own lavender hearts, for instance, than pay someone else a fiver for one) or if it is something I wouldn't make at all - such as ceramics, jewellery, knitted goods. But surviving on a very limited budget I only buy what I really, really love. I don't care how long something took someone to create, if it is naff, it is naff, but if it is an example of high craft standards then it is worth every penny, (and more likely to have been made by a professional artist/creator than a hobbyist.
Oops. Bit of an essay there...

Raindrops said...

Part of me likes to buy handmade because if I am buying a gift for someone I don't want to buy something they are going to see in some chain store (I don't feel uncomfortable buying from them and I do on buy from them as well). I like to think I have put some effort into it rather than pop to Debenhams or Marks & Spence for it. I suppose I want something a bit 'Special'. But I agree that there is also a lot of handmade tat out there as well but a nice quality handmade item you can't beat IMO. There is a place and a need for the chain stores and the like. And there are imported goods I do buy (Indian handmade paper for one) but I am also starting to think we (as a country here) import far too much cheap tat as well. And manufacturing in Britain is going to the dogs. And I don't want us to be a nation of chain stores with imported good because it is cheaper to have it made overseas then it is here.

Being a soapmaker I would say that my favourite handmade item is soap (cold processed soap mind you) it is relatively cheap compare to other handmade good so you can treat yourself without it costing you too much . But I also like things like handmade bags, doorstops, tea cosies etc. And I suppose that is because I could not make them as good as those that sell as a business. I can knit, crochet, and sew but not at a standard I would sell (the odd except are things like lavender bags or hearts etc as I can do them at a good standard) but items that require better skills than I have I prefer to buy. I forgot to say I also like to buy items that have some recycled part to them. Making something lovely/useful out of something that would be otherwise thrown away reduces the land fill so anything no matter how small makes me look twice at it. The down side is the price. Recycled good are getting better price wise but still can be expensive. I also buy antique items as well but I have always had a love of antiques and have always bought them when I could.

What I don't really value I suppose is toys as toys. The ones where they really for display (vintage tin ones for example I love) but bog standard ones I guess I don't really value or buy handmade.

I am going to stop now as I could go on and on about his subject and I am going off track I think and it is getting VERY long and I am not sure this is giving any useful information. So basically goods for adults who will appreciate it is a yes goods for kids is a no on the handmade front for me.

Fresh Floral Art said...

I agree. It's all about Connections. Traditions. Supporting One Another.

Jane said...

PG - I know what you mean about etsy - some of the things on there are plain scarey.

Raindrops - I find your comment very interesting as I am the opposite - if it is for a small child (or even a big one if a girl) I would either make something or buy something handmade - Manda from Treefall designs sock dogs were my presents to my girls this eastertime. This evening I am busy embroidering baby shoes for a friend's new baby.

No doubt they would all prefer bratz dolls and tamagotchis. But then again I still have toys made by my mother and grandmother.

I love handmade soap.


Raindrops said...

ahhh now if I was buying for a baby I would buy handmade. Or if I was buying something for a bigger girl I would also look at handmade but I have 4 very boisterous boys and I would not buy them handmade. They would not appreciate it. So when I said I would not buy for kids my own where on my mind at the time. Sorry bit confusing there. Tricia

the flour loft said...

Ginny and I were at a local craft fair once and there was a woman selling lovely handmade quilts for around £50. Ginny asked her how she managed to make and sell them for such a low return and she replied with a now famous quote for us " they're not made in gold you know". That sums it up for us. We are now very careful about the type of craft shows that we attend because as commercial designers we just cannot compete with hobby crafters. The big disadvantage of the larger fairs is that you are competing with look-alikes that are actually produced in China etc. We find that we really have to explain our product and the ethos behind it. Then people get it. I cannot accept that mass produced is a better alternative to handmade though. If that's the case we should all give up right now! Alice

BeachysCapeCodCupboard said...

I always prefer handmade, in just about anything I can afford. We run a cookshop and tabletop shop, and we always try to have a nice balance of handmade items as well as the obvious "have to's" of mass-produced items (kitchen gadgets, pots, pans, etc). I almost always use handmade handbags (many I make myself), I buy handmade jewelry almost exclusively, handmade jams, etc; handmade cosmetics. My mother-in-law also runs a pottery shop, and although I love collecting pretty vintage/antique china, there's always a spot on our table for those lovely handthrown dishes.

alice c said...

I think that there is a line between artist and businessperson - at one end the artist does not care what the customer wants and at the other the businessperson sells whatever the customer wants to buy. You have to decide at which point you can comfortably sit between the two. Laura Ashley and Anita Roddick both started off making things by hand in their kitchens and so did Cath Kidston. I don't feel comfortable with the criticism of Cath Kidston - she is selling things that people want to buy - what's so bad about that? Without her my ironing board would be very dull.

carolyn said...

I like the high street for browsing around, love John Lewis but our real money gets spent in independant shops who really give value. I think that a lot of people don't understand the difference between price and value. Value is a lot to do with the whole ambience of the shopping experience, the surroundings, the knowledge of the sales person, a style. I'll happily do a 170 mile trip to one particular shop. The first time we shopped there I was a stressed mother with a twin buggy and a child on the loose within minutes the children were being entertained by one assistant, Stuart was buying and I was being served coffee on a leather Chesterfield, now that is value. Sorry to say, and at the risk of hate mail, some crafters just don't have the faintest idea about selling or value. I do understand that they have personally made this item but why? Because it is beautiful,because they are passionate about their art/craft? Um no, because they needed something to fill up the craft stall that didn't take long to make and the raw materials didn't cost much. Then they wonder why people pass them by or have the audacity to say to their Mother, sister, best mate "You could make that!" (I admit it is thoughtless to say such things). And why do some crafters insist on competing with the high street churning out boring eg. peg bags that you can buy for a couple of quid from Dunelm, or a bit more upmaket a fiver from Laura Ashley. Don't get me wrong I have nothing against handmade peg bags it's just an example of an item that some people don't seem to put any design or thought into, "Oh I have this piece of fabric, lets make a peg bag", of course not everyone is guilty of this there are some lovely handmade stylish peg bags being offered out there.
I do sometimes buy handmade, but it is because I love the item not because it is handmade versus mass produced. I'm happy to buy mass produced if I love that item. We've commissioned handmade and been very happy with the results. Your right it is about Connections, but it is about connecting with what you are buying and who/where you are buying it and to me it doesn't matter if it is handmade or not.
Back to the craft fair - have you ever been in a shop and felt uncomfortable because of the assistant either ignoring you entirely or driving you crazy by trying to assist you? Of couse you have, everyone has. Now look at the average craft fair, you get the same scenarios played out on some of those stalls. Having the ability to make something and having the ability to sell something don't necessarily go hand in hand. Is it any wonder that few crafters have successful businesses?

Jane said...

Yippee - nice long discussion comments!

Tricia - Yep, I wouldn't buy boys anything handmade either - though that is mean and I know many people do when they can. Not that many people cater for boys. Spiky Pebble - a high quality small business making things from denim and tweed make very lovely gym bags with dinosaurs on them that were a great hit when they attended a fair near here, simply because you could buy masses of things with flowers and hearts but nothing suitable for boys.

Alice - I think that it is very difficult for crafts people to value their work properly - I think that the fact that you and Ginny work together must help with that as at least one other person has seen and liked your product before it goes on sale. There are a lot of people as well who craft as paid hobbyists - in Scotland there are a lot of knitters - and don't mind that they get paid £10 for a jumper that took 40 hours to knit as it is £10 they wouldn't have otherwise. The introduction of the minimum wage brought in great problems for this sector.

Beachy - how wonderful to have a potter in the family - I love hand thrown pottery.

Alice - I think that you are right about artists and business people - the best artists I know are useless business people and art apt to give things away as they don't want to deal with money. The only reason they can make a living is that they have galleries representing them. I think that there has recently been a lot of criticism of Cath Kidston as she has obviously decided to reduce the quality of the materials she uses to make up products and has, I believe, moved the manufacture out of Britain. This allowed her to reduce prices by 40% on her most popular items. I also have an ironing board cover - I bought the original about 5 years ago and then another in the sale this year - the difference in quality was very marked. Not surprising as it cost £6 less.
I think Cath Kidston was an innovative designer - along with Laura Ashley one of the first to reproduce vintage designs for a modern market - I really like her books, particularly as they promote doing it yourself rather than buyiong in the shop.
Carolyn - well I'm glad I don't make peg bags! I think you are 100% correct, I don't really make many doorstops, bunting or straightforward tote bags now as they are now sold everywhere. They do however still sell, I think bacause my materials are a bit more definate and dirt disguising than the pastels of Laura Ashley.

It has though, I believe, been a case of the big brands copying the craft sellers - finding that there is money to be made in the prettying up of housework. But really once Laura Ashley produces peg bags and totes for under a fiver there is no hope of competeing and I agree we crafters should move onto something else - or design a better, more useful version.

All shops get the equivalent of "I could do that" - I worked in an antique shop right through my teens and the equivalent was "Oh I threw that out a few months ago", here with the flowers it is "fancy charging money for flowers that you can grow yourself"


Thank you all so much for doing all that typing!

linda may said...

I am also a crafts person.[potter] I don't sell much as my bread and butter is earned elsewhere.I always love to look at craft stalls but don't always buy.
I guess that there is a great sense of achievement in making an article for yourself which a buyer can not appreciate as well as the maker does.
It is also my belief that where craft and art work is concerned it is an extra in a buyers budget and it is the extra items that must come last if money is tight.
A lovely thing about fairs on a nice day is their social aspect,and not all lookers are buyers, maybe just people enjoying a pleasant outing with nice people who will talk to them when people in big shops can't be bothered.
I know this can be disappointing for the maker and I don't have a solution, but maybe my point of view could give you an idea of one.
I have enjoyed reading yor blog.

Gigibird said...

I've missed the conversation! Sorry
I'll try and be quicker of the mark next time:)

the flour loft said...

Hi Jane,
love this discussion..
From a personal point of view i love to buy handmade from other makers, something original and a little bit different. It is for me all about connections, particulary meeting crafts people at shows and now owning some of their items which i know have been created with love and care... they also remind me of that maker. I also like to buy something special and a little different as a gift (make things too and am encouraging the girls to do likewise..handmade with love especially designed for the person we are giving the gift to.. the quirkier and individual the better!).
I do not have a great disposable income but i now look for quality in what i buy,( buy less but things that will last). I think in this world of enviromental concerns that folk are finally questioning the ways we live, our wastefulness as a society and want connections with their food and are starting to question where their goods come from (fairtrade etc ).
Having now been in this crafty business for 6 years i have become so aware of how much things cost. I constantly question how certain things on the high street can be created so cheaply. Once you look into how much the shop puts on as mark up( min 100% in our experience ) you realise how little the product has been purchased for in the first place. I have no answers to this, but i do believe in distributing the world wealth to poorer countries but very much along fairtrade principles. I also fully support local and handmade services and goods.
It is very hard to price up our own products and alice and i agonise over this. We ask friends and families opinions as often we are too close to be objective. We do make peg bags and hope carolyn wasn't refering to us?! I do like her point that if you really like something you will save up for it. I do think most crafts people create because they love it and are not motivated by money. ( obviously) For us it's a lifestyle choice too to allow us to work around the family. Your point about minimum wage is one to consider. Whilst good for employees it's not surprising that many small businesses don't survive if they have staff. Sadly our world is obsessed with money and everything seems to cost so much. Love your posts and debates.
ginny x

Jane said...

Ginny - I very much doubt that Carolyn was talking about your peg bags - which have, after all, an innovative design.

We looked at doing wholesale a year or so ago but just couldn't get the costs down enough to allow an extra 100% go on and still make a profit that reflected the work that goes into our products.

I feel that if I wanted to work in a factory I would - I don't want to be stuck at a sewing machine basically doing piece work churning out dozens of doorstops or carrier bag holders or whatever to sell in someone else's shop. But that is just me. Perhaps.

I saw that the ex-head of product at Top Shop is now at People Tree the Fair Trade brand and asking people to consider whether their clothes can actually be made for the price paid without there being exploitation along the way. ?????

I find that spending more and keeping longer works well for clothes and householdy things but is useless when buying cheese - buy nice special, extra expansive cheese and it mysteriously gets eaten on the way home from the shops . . .