Dreaming of a Craftsman Economy

“I like your computer,” she said. “It looks like it was made by Indians or something.”

Chia looked down at her sandbenders. Turned off the red switch. “Coral,” she said. “These are turquoise. The ones that look like ivory are the inside of a kind of nut. Renewable.”

“The rest is silver?”

“Aluminum,” Chia said. “They melt old cans they dig up on the beach cast it in sand molds. These panels are micarta. That’s linen with this resin in it.”

One of the things I loved most about the novel Idoru by William Gibson was the idea of handmade computers.  Going beyond the limited customization offered by tower cases and laptop decals, he presented a vision of one of a kind units.  In a world of cheap T-shirts, fast food and Walmart, the idea of something so unique, so intentional, has instant appeal.

One of my greatest disappointments of the future is that we haven’t embraced a hand-crafted model like the one described in Idoru.  There are hints of handmade technology—phone cases here, apps, widgets and live wallpapers there—most notably in the Steampunk genre where a DIY aesthetic is applied to everything from fashion to machinery to vehicles.  The glimpses, though, serve more to highlight the predominance of mass produced items.

I think about that a lot, about how we have reached a point where we shouldn’t be relying so much on mass produced clothes and furniture and houses.  I wonder what it would look like, to live in a world where there were more crafters, making more beautiful things for people.

It’d require a higher standard of living than we have right now, that’s for sure.   Obamacare has been helpful in easing one of the main reasons people don’t strike out on their own.  But when you can’t be certain if you’ll make enough to survive, all the health care in the world isn’t going to convince you to leave your day job.

A guaranteed income would probably be necessary.  Or at least creating a living wage.  If we could ensure that people wouldn’t starve, that they would have a place to sleep, that they could have their basic needs met, what would they accomplish?  If someone could be certain that working forty hours at a fast food place paid enough to meet their needs, what could they do with all the extra time they didn’t have to spend at a second or third job?  How many cottage industries would crop up, providing beauty to replace the beige and plastic molded bits and bobs of our lives?

I don’t know. I’d love to find out, though.

Random Acts of Craftiness

Spiral Goddess ScarfIt started with a scarf. I had a dozen or so fleece scarves sitting in a plastic bin, remnants from when I had an embroidery machine.  Some I tore apart and turned into rugs.  I didn’t have it in my to destroy the others, though.  One in particular, soft green sporting an embroidered spiral goddess, deserved to be worn rather than trampled on.  On a whim, I mailed the scarf to a friend, a pagan who hated the winter cold as much as I do.  I didn’t tell her it was coming.  I didn’t even know if she had received it until she posted a picture to Facebook.  The sight of her smiling face struck a chord deep down inside of me.  This was right.

I have always liked giving gifts.  As an introvert dealing with anxiety issues, it’s a way of expressing love that is safe.  I especially enjoy making gifts: something beautiful, something soft, something that will last and raise a smile every time it is used.  Giving a handmade gift is giving a piece of myself to someone, a permanent way to say “I love you.”*

But when you are trying to make a living through your handiwork it can be hard to divorce your creative efforts from the dollar sign.  Every hour you aren’t making inventory, you aren’t making money.  Every day you aren’t working on a commission you are failing by capitalistic standards.  I love you’s don’t put food on the table, after all.

The push back, however, is that we aren’t just meat-robots.  Humans need to feed more than our bodies.  Especially those who deal wit depression and self-loathing.  Creating for the sake of it, gifting to others, is more than a rebellion against art as a commodity, it is an act of self-preservation.  It is a way to balance the current, often crushing expectation for every aspect of our lives to have a monetary value with the absolutely essential need to establish that people are priceless.  Human creativity doesn’t come with a price tag.

It was a couple of months after I mailed off the scarf that the idea of Random Acts of Craftiness gelled.  I posted a picture of the Eighteen Panel Skirt on Facebook and a couple of friends brought up the idea of a trade.  Their crafted goods for my own.  Then later, I posted the Majestic Fucking Unicorn cross stitch pattern and two more friends requested completed works.  I said yes in both cases.  Yes to engaging in a craft exchange.  Yes to sewing a message of support and love for people I care about with no expectation of anything in return.

Crocheted Turtle of LoveGranted, saying yes was easier than the follow-through, at least at first.  The balancing act between money and love has tipped more often than not in the favor of money.  I’ve had to steal time from myself to finish projects.  But with each one completed, I have felt how right it is to do so.  There are kinks in the system, of course.  Finishing works and getting them out the door has proven a stumbling blocks as well.  Getting out of the house to the post office can be extremely difficult.  Slowly, though, love is leaving this house in parcels.

And in return, love is coming into this house.  A crocheted turtle sits in my workshop now.  Every time I see it I smile, think of my friend, and feel that I am loved.   I will fill this house with books and family and reminders that there are those out there who believe their time is worth more than money, their creativity has no price tag.

 


*I am not the only one in my family who does this.  My sister sends semi-regular packages to me filled with cookies and other goodies she has baked.

Convention Report: Midwinter Gaming Convention

Last week we headed up to Milwaukee for the Midwinter Gaming Convention.  We had a booth there, and had plans to get some gaming in.  This is Midwinter’s fifteenth year, and our third, and it has grown larger and better every year we’ve been.  This was the first year both Stephan and I had wares to peddle, and the first year I had so many booth helpers.  It all added up to a lot of fun.

What made the biggest difference, I think, is that I had two booth helpers throughout the convention.  Our friends Denis and Chrissy came along, and with them on hand, we had four adults to cover the booth the entire weekend.  That meant Stephan wasn’t stuck on Ben patrol the entire time.  It meant we both got to go to lunch together one day.  It meant I got to spend time with my son outside of the vendor’s hall for the first time ever.  I can’t thank the two of them enough for their help the entire weekend.

SCA costuming at Midwinter.
SCA costuming at Midwinter.

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed gaming cons.  Midwinter’s focus is on LARP, but it has programming dedicated to board and video games, as well as a strong reenactment presence thanks to the SCA.  So while there is a costuming contingent, it isn’t a costume heavy convention.  And the convention has a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere.  I found myself joking and laughing, things I hadn’t done in a long time.  I managed to deal with the little anxiety that cropped up throughout the weekend, which means that medication and therapy is working for my mental health issues.

The Milwaukee Hilton is a beautiful hotel, with lots of ornate staircases and decor, as well as hallways and seating areas for hangouts.  I spent most of my time in the vendor hall, which was placed in a baroque fantasy of a ballroom with chandeliers and gold molding on the ceiling.  The hotel staff was super friendly and helpful, a big plus when you are attending a convention where there can be tension between fans and non-fans.

That same weekend there was a girl’s volleyball conference in the hotel.  This led to lots of interactions with non-gaming people.  I witnessed an abundance of stares and whispered comments, but I was never the target of them.  In fact I had several women approach me to ask about what was going on.  I think the pink hair establishes me as part of the “weird people” but that my size and gender makes me non-threatening enough to be approachable.  This isn’t the first time I’ve played ambassador for the geek community.  Back in 2002 at ConJose in San Jose, I fielded questions from people on the street who saw me wearing a badge, but not a costume (no pink hair back in those days).   And the fan side of things gave as good as they got on the passive aggressive front.  I overheard one LARPer bragging about having invented “Trolling: the LARP” where he and his friends paraded past groups of volleyball players and parents in their costumes and played their characters to an exaggerated degree.

Creeper
This was Ben’s favorite costume, by far. “Next year I want to be a creeper, too. And then we can creep together!”

I only ran into one instance of bad customer behavior: a woman incredulously demanding to know if “that ruffle thing” truly was $75.  When I confirmed that, yes, I do charge $75 for my bustles, she huffed off.  I know that prior to her asking she had snapped a shot of the bustle (the flash is a dead giveaway) and suspect she’ll show the picture to a sewing friend and ask if said friend will make one for her.  I wish her good luck with that.

I did overhear another customer ask the vendor next to me if they would get a discount on a $20 item if they carried it around the convention and told people where they would get it from.  There seems to be this belief among a certain set of attendees that vendors are starving for marketing and will give away their wares for word of mouth advertising.  I have never once met a vendor who has done such.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there is one or two who have, I just have never encountered them.

The only other annoyance was the number of times people congregated in front of my booth and blocked access to it.  That is easily dealt with.  I whip out my phone and ask the people if they could move because I want to get a shot of my set up.  Nine times out of ten the people realize they were blocking the way and move on apologetically.  The tenth time, the people move, but with resentment at having been asked to move.  Either way, it’s not skin off my nose, I got them to clear the way.

The final attendance count was just shy of 1100 members.  Not a bad showing.  I made just over 50 cents per attendee (which is about what I plan on making at any convention).  It was less than I had hoped, but I didn’t have any big items with me this time around.  There’s time before the next convention to get plenty of coats made up for off the rack purchases.

roach and the orc
I found an orc!

According to those we talked to, Midwinter has seen an average of 10 percent growth in attendance each year.  It’s clear that they do a lot of work not only in planning great programming, but also in advertising their presence.  They do a lot of social media work, have a strong Facebook page, and got the convention covered by local TV press.  It is a lot of work, but it is paying off for them.

I mention this because over the course of the weekend I was approached by two different conventions about vending.  Both are brand new, both are asking for $200 for booth space.  One mentioned on its website that they expect anywhere between 350 to 2,400 attendees at their first con.  Think about that for a moment.  Presuming that they reach their minimum number, and that I make 50 cents per attendee, I will lose money attending that convention.  The other is one  could see slightly better numbers, but it is still the first year, still untested, and still not worth paying that much for a space.  When conventions charge that much for a space, with such low numbers, it is clear they are looking to cover their costs on the backs of their vendors rather than through ticket sales.

We’ll be back to Midwinter next year for sure.

 

Embroidered Gift Tags

The thing with being crafty is that you are always looking for new things to try.  You find yourself with a bunch of chipboard from various projects and you found a couple of bin full of embroidery thread you stashed away years ago and you wonder “What the heck am I going to do with all this?”  These days, you can just head to the Internet and find someone, somewhere, who has done something cool with those materials.*  Which led me to the embroidered card tutorial over at Design Sponge.  After I had made a couple, I found myself with lots of leftover chipboard.  Too small for cards, but too large to just chuck.  With the holiday season coming up, I decided to try my hand at making embroidered gift tags.

Continue reading Embroidered Gift Tags

Toilet Paper Roll Garland Tutorial

If you’ve been saving your toilet paper rolls for seed starter pots and find yourself with still more rolls than you have use for, make a pretty holiday garland.  Little crafters can help with some of the construction, so they can feel part of the holiday decorations.  The idea of this garland was inspired by toilet paper roll flowers pictures here.  Coloring them green and red give them a festive feel. Continue reading Toilet Paper Roll Garland Tutorial

Heartfelt Wreath Craft Tutorial

One of the things you learn when you sell at conventions is that you will invariably have downtime.  You’ll find yourself sitting in your booth with no customers around.  You have one of two choices: either sit there, staring at everyone who wanders by with that hungry look of “Come buy from meeeee!” or you can find busy work that keeps the aura of desperation at bay.  I quickly took up playing with felt in between customers.  I started off just making little creatures for my daughter from the Aranzi Cute Stuff Book.  Soon I moved on to making less little kid friendly projects: Gothic Love Charms, Poisoned Posies and the like.

Which is where this tutorial comes in.  I found myself with some leftover green felt from the pumpkins project.  I already had some red on hand, and I needed a wreath for the holiday season.  Thus, the Heartfelt* Wreath was born.

Continue reading Heartfelt Wreath Craft Tutorial