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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  • Stefi

    This was such an inspiring and refreshing read. I’ve always considered myself a crafter even though I don’t do much of it as I too am intimidated and scared of doing something wrong. You’ve encouraged me though, I know that the worst thing that could happen is that it wouldn’t be perfect, and that’s okay, I’ll try again. Thank you! I love your blog 🙂

  • Hi, I enjoy your blog and have to chime in here… the dress is good. Don’t change it, and here is my reason: you were consistent. One sleeve and one part of the skirt is reversed. It works because it repeats. When I paint, if I have a mistake, I just repeat it somewhere else, then it looks like I meant to do that, right? It is called a happy accident. That’s why I went back to college to become an art teacher, I want to help children learn how to work with the unexpected things that happen in their lives.

  • clf

    Novita, always enjoy your wonderful blog!

    II hope you will wear the green dress as is. There are enough “mistakes” in it to look like an intentional design. (If not, then just add ONE more “mistake” and for sure it will be an intentional design.)

    The garment itself appears to be beautifully constructed. THere are so many garments sold today that have seams on the wrong side in one part and standard seams on the other, raw or frayed edges showing, use of exposed zippers, wrong side of fabric showing on purpose, etc. All things that were once considered “mistakes.”

    I think you should prove to us that the garment is really a “fail” by doing a giveaway of it. You know you’ll get a ton of people wanting that beautiful dress. (I’m not your size, or I would offer to buy it from you!)

  • agostina

    oh, dear novita. what a lovely post. inspiring, really. it’s so nice to look back and think “look where i’m now!!!”
    about the green dress: girl, it’s awesome. and you look so pretty in it!! I say you should unpick it. And then show us.
    pretty pretty dress!!!

  • Great post – looks like a good book and a book that leads to reflection and change is always good. Thanks for teh inspire…
    .-= Umatji´s last blog ..Friday’s Nature Table: fungi friday =-.

  • hi there! What a great post this is. I really enjoyed reading it, and I would love to read that book soon. With every crafter, there is a journey and a lesson learned. Handmade means alot to me (I have reflected on it and blogged it on and is a form of contemplation for me. I’m glad to have that privilege of time to do this!
    .-= Missus D´s last blog ..useful notes on improving your online business =-.

  • I loved reading this post. It gave me such a warm, fuzzy feeling as I imagined the triumph of your first shirt and relived my own creative firsts. I’m also grateful for your review of Made By Hand. If you’d said that it was all moonbeams and rainbows, I may have checked it out. But your portrayal of the author’s honest DIY travails means that I WILL read this book. It sounds much more real & inspiring that way!

  • Sounds like a fascinating book, I’ll have to track it down. I have fantasies of making everything in my house: furniture, plates, blankets, clothes, everything.

    Thanks for sharing your story of how you came to craft. Even though I was taught how to sew when I was eight, I still spent lots of time in my teens and twenties being bored. Now that I’m in my thirties, and I am a busy mom, I wish I could get all those wasted hours back! I’d sew some stuff!
    .-= Rose´s last blog ..Vintage Sewing =-.

  • Hi !

    I just wanted to say how much I’ve fallen in love with the awesome blog of yours. I made a new wallet for me one day using the tutorial by you and I really want to thank you for that. It became a really practical but still cute wallet I’ve always been looking for. You can see it in my blog !

    I would also like to send you a card to thank you for your extraordinary blog which has given so much inspiration ! You can see cards made by me in my blog too :). Just tell me if you liked to receive a handmade card from Finland. I use recycled materials


    • verypurpleperson

      Hi Jemina, your version of the wallet is just fabulous! And I love the colour tone of your pictures and your blog, it’s so warm and soothing 🙂
      You’re going to send me a postcard? How sweet is that? Of course I would love to have that handmade card!

  • I hope you do unpick and fix that green dress, because you did a fantastic job with it and it looks lovely on you. I know the feeling of frustration with oneself that comes from overlooking something so simple like that, and it’s hard to go back and do everything over…that is something I’m trying to make myself do right now with a different Burda pattern that I made a silly mistake on. ^^;
    Good luck! ♥

  • Dear Purple,
    I would love to read Mark Frauenfelder’s book, ‘Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World‘, it seems to be very interesting. As you say “in a way, his journey reflects every crafter’s journey” and I bet, as a crafter myself, it is a deep and beautiful jorney full of poetry.
    Have a nice weekend Mrs. Purple.
    Best wishes!

    Groovy Crochet: Bolsa Country Crochet Chanel Primavera 2010
    .-= Anita do Nascimento Pereira´s last blog ..Bolsa Country Crochet Chanel Primavera 2010 =-.

    • verypurpleperson

      You’re welcome, Anita!
      Have a nice weekend too there!