Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World

Made by Hand by Mark Frauenfelder
Made by Hand by Mark Frauenfelder

Mark Frauenfelder, the founder of and the editor in chief of Make magazine has just launched a new book yesterday: Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World.

I had the chance to read an uncorrected proof before it was launched and it was quite an enjoyable experience. This is not the book if you’re looking for tutorials or DIY projects. It is rather a chronicle of Mark’s journey to find what DIY means to him.

Like many people, he had this romantic idea of living in remote island, and he even had the chance to fulfill it, although it didn’t work out. He also learned to raise chickens, keep a bee farm, and make cigar box guitar. The way he told his stories is so passionate that I got curious to find out whether he was finally able to make his own espresso, and I don’t even drink espresso.

It was not a journey filled with brilliant triumphs over another, but it was an honest and realistic chronicle scattered with unsolved problems, failures, struggles, and his acceptance to those failures.  In a way, his journey reflects every crafter’s journey.

I have had my own share of failures, one of them is the green dress from the last post. One of the kind commenter said that I need to look at it not as a failure, but as a learning experience. How true it is! That is what DIY is all about, a learning experience. A successful project will of course give satisfaction, but a failed one still gives knowledge and experience.

I often wonder about all these DIY things and what they mean to me. I didn’t grow up up in a crafty environment. My mother is actually quite crafty, she was a wonderful seamstress and an amazingly good cook. But there was a point when her life became too busy and she probably felt easier to just stop finding time for crafts. Too bad that it happened when I was growing up. She was also really handy with things, but there were too many ‘helpers’ in the house that my mother didn’t have the chance to show how handy she was. It was easier to throw away things than to fix them.

We had servants, gardeners, drivers, and guards in the house. They were the ones who did things. I didn’t have to wash and iron my clothes, wash dishes, or even make my own bed. When the doorbell rang, none of the kids would react because we knew that someone would come to the door. I never had to ride on any city public transportation because the driver would take me whereever I wanted to go. I learned how to take public transportation when I was in college (!!). No, we were not filthy rich, it is just how some people live in some countries.

Naturally, I could have all the time in the world to start getting crafty. But I did nothing. I was always bored as hell but still I didn’t do anything. The problem was, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to spend time. I have never had that failures/learning experience because I have never started making anything. I was just a whiny, spoiled kid, with too much extra time and nothing to do. Without all those ‘helpers’, I was helpless. There were many craft books in the house and I’ve read them all, but I still didn’t make a single thing. I wanted too, but it felt so intimidating at that time.

Between then and now, so many things have happened. At one point in my life, I started making things by myself and for myself, and I feel so lucky that I have that point in my life. I made my first wearable item by cutting up an old shirt and using it as a pattern. If I see the shirt now, I would probably cringe at the unsightly stitches. But I can still remember the feeling when I tried to find how the pieces connect to each other.  When the shirt was finished, I put it on and buttoned up (yes, it had buttons and buttonholes too!). It was awesome. I. can. make. things.

Reading Mark’s journey reminds me of my own journey. They are different of course, but the satisfaction of learning is similar. Then there’s also the feeling of control, that I’m able to decide what I can wear down to every details. I feel like I’m taking back the control of my own life. Even if it’s just an illusion of control, it still feels nice. I also began to appreciate things more, because then I realized that every single thing has a long, complicated process behind it.

I think a lot of crafters/DIY-ers share many similar things, we keep raising our own standards and becoming way too hard on ourselves. It can’t be helped, I guess. But then we also learn to accept the mistakes as part of the experience, and the learning cycle starts all over again.

I want to say thank you for all the consoling comments on my green dress. Maybe when I finished sulking about the dress, I can pretend that the mistake was a fashion statement! Or maybe I could unpick it.

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