I Pledge Allegiance to the Handmade Nation – an interview and contest!

One of the proudest accomplishments in all my crafty life is being a part of Handmade Nation. The yet to be released film and stellar new book by Faythe Levine and Courtney Heimerl are in my opinion some of the most important aspects of the DIY Movement as we know it today. The book profiles over 20 crafters from around the country including Jill Bliss, Heidi Kenny, Sue Daly, Jenny Hart and more – including me! Not only is the book brimming with wonderful colorful photos of makers in their studios doing what they do best the text and interviews are endlessly entertaining and informative. There is a crafty time line, craftifesto, articles on the Church of Craft, amazing handiwork by Kate Bingaman-Burt – the list goes on. I suggest writing to Santa today to request Handmade Nation of just check out the end of this interview for your chance to win a copy!

I was lucky enough to chat with author Faythe Levine about the book, my favorite topic marketing, traveling to craft fairs and oodles more. Snuggle in with a cup of coffee or cold beer (depending on what time of day you are reading this) and prepare to be informed.

In the story of the chicken or the egg, the documentary came first. How did the idea for a companion book come about?

In April 2007 we uploaded an 8 minute teaser clip to Youtube.com, it received a great deal of attention from the craft community as well as the attention of three different publishers. Our publisher Princeton Architectural Press was my first choice out of the three. They asked for a formal proposal to pitch and at that point I contacted friend and fellow artist Cortney Heimerl who signed on as the co-author to the project. Together we put together a concept for the book and it unfolded quickly from there.

How did you choose which subjects from the film would be the few you profiled for the Handmade Nation Book? Was it like Sophie’s Choice trying to choose?

There were a few things I took into consideration when selecting who was featured in Handmade Nation the book. First, I went through the footage that I felt was the strongest interviews. Second, since we were dividing the book up regionally we took who was from where into consideration. Third, we looked at the type of work people produced because I wanted a wide variety of mediums represented.

I love how Handmade Nation has a crafty time line of sorts, if you had to break the time line down and pick 10 moments that most influenced the current handmade movement what would they be?

If I had to pick my 10 moments that have influenced the current handmade movement (off the top of my head in no particular order):
1. Renegade Craft Fair
2. The launch of Getcrafty.com, Craftster.org and the Glitter Boards
3. The launch of Craft Magazine
4. The Handmade 2.0 article in the NY Times Magazine written by Rob Walker
5. The first Craft Congress in 2006
6. Debbie Stoller’s influence: Bust Magazine and the Stitch & Bitch Books
7. The launch of Etsy
8. The redesign/relauch of American Craft Magazine
9. The start of shooting Handmade Nation (is that totally pompous?!, I don’t mean it to be)
10. The launch of www.cutxpaste.com

How did you guys decide on your contributing writers? Why the choice to have Susan Beal and Garth Johnson be contributors rather than profiles?

Similar to our decision making process with the featured makers I looked at who I had worked with and who had what to offer. Susan Beal and Garth Johnson both do a lot of writing surrounding the community and I wanted their voices to be strong when people were reading about different aspect of the community.

Writing a book is hard work, and you guys had to rush to get Handmade Nation done. What was the toughest part of getting the book together? Wrangling the interviews? Deciding who to interview? Dealing with a publisher?

We worked with a three-month turn-around for our final manuscript from the time we signed our contract. This was so we could get the book out by this fall and not late spring of 2009. Since we had most of the material gathered for the text the difficult part was getting the featured makers to submit photos that represented their work well.

You have traveled to craft fairs all over the country doing interviews and showing clips of Handmade Nation. We were thrilled to have you here in Austin for Stitch! Traveling to craft shows can be pricey, for a maker on a budget what craft shows would you recommend forking over the dough on a plane ticket for? Which ones do you think helped spread the gospel about Handmade Nation the most?

It’s tough to weigh out what shows are worth traveling to. Honestly, I would recommend indoor shows for makers who are worried about recouping their travel expenses- a rainy day can ruin sales entirely. The larger more established shows guarantee a large shopping audience, but can also be more competitive if there are a lot of vendors, so I recommend weighing out the originality of your work. If you think that what you make is the top notch of it’s type- then by all means fork out the money to travel to a show with 150+ vendors. If you are worried that you may not have something that is innovative enough, it may be a good bet to stay local or try a smaller show that accepts out of town vendors.

For us, going to the large shows is always the best bet for promotional purposes. I am basically there to be a talking advertisement- sometimes I am better at it then others. If you are not in the mood to talk with 100’s of people stopping to look at your table it can be really brutal. This past year I really enjoyed going to Renegade San Francisco and Felt Club in Los Angeles.

Dang girls Handmade Nation is already on its 3rd printing, that is amazing! You guys have garnered some awesome press Nylon, Etsy, New York Times. What are some pearls of wisdom for other authors and crafters about the importance of and how-to do a little guerilla marketing?

Networking and updating and my two priorities. Having a strong Internet presence is probably the most important thing I can recommend. This doesn’t mean placing ad’s for your 50% off on all 700 of your myspace.com friend’s pages every week either (I think that can be totally counter-productive). It means photographing what you are doing, blogging about it, sharing on flickr.com and participating in feedback with other community members. Most importantly just always working, moving forward and staying focused. I also recommend not procrastinating- always answer emails, send out press releases when you have a new line, newsletters often (but not too much) and just stay tuned to what is going on locally and nationally.

What next? You guys have invested so much time into Handmade Nation the documentary and the book, what are you plans for when things settle back down? Do you already have something else cooking on the back burner or are you looking forward to a little time off to bake cookies and stare at belly button lint?

The big what’s next, well, I’m putting together a proposal for another book and will continue to travel and promote Handmade Nation the documentary after it’s premier in 2009. I have a few international trips coming up in 2009 including a stint in Australia in March! There really isn’t ever any down time since every six weeks I have a gallery show to promote at my space Paper Boat Boutique & Gallery that I co-own with Kim Kisiolek in Milwaukee. We have a fantastic line up of artists for 2009 (Sarah Neuburger of the small object and Micaela O’Herlihy who was the director of photography for the documentary, she just also happens to be an incredible painter). I also have plans to work on some collaborative projects that will remain nameless in case I can fit them into my schedule this year, they may be for what’s next in 2010!

I have two copies of Handmade Nation to give away! All you have to do is leave me a comment letting me know your answer to the question I asked Faythe about the moments that you feel most influenced the current handmade movement. Feel free to name 1 or 20. Was there a particular crafter, website, event, article that you think really propelled the movement forward? What was the thing that brought you into the handmade movement? You have until December 18th and then I will pick 2 winners at random.

After you leave your comment and while you wait to see if you won, why don’t you check out a clip from Handmade Nation the movie.

30 Responses to “I Pledge Allegiance to the Handmade Nation – an interview and contest!”

  1. lindamade

    ooh, i’d love to win a copy.
    First off, I think http://www.getcrafty.com in its original form was a HUGE influence on the current craft movement, at least for me- I started reading/posting there in college and it changed my life. I still have lots of friends from the site and when I moved to NY we met, and got involved in crafty stuff.

    Also, Ladyfest (brooklyn- they hosted what was, for me

  2. ELLIE

    There are a couple of things I can think of that plunged the handmade revolution…
    2-handmade pledge (buyhandmade.org)
    3-cloth-paper-scissors magazine
    4-a bit of martha stewart thrown in for good measure
    well that is all I can come up with right now!!
    great interview and book!!

  3. Jennifer Perkins - Naughty Secretary Club

    Let’s see I agree with all of these.

    Fer sure on Adorn Linda. Dang I miss that magazine. Bust and Venus have also been extremely nurturing to the craft scene.

    DIY Network, I agree its just too bad they are getting rid of all their craft programming. That’s ok though because I think crafty TV is being replaced with things like Threadbanger.

    How could we forget Lady

  4. Anda

    What a wonderful and inspiring start to my day. Great interview!
    I already have a copy of Handmade Nation and I’m pretty biased… 😉 but I think that sites like Craftster really were a godsend for crafty people looking for a way to connect. Craftster was how I found out about Etsy back in 2005, actually! And for many of us, off-line craft events, fairs and meet-ups (like Ladyfest mentioned

  5. idyll hands

    I think the number one thing that launched this movement has been Blogs. Blogs gave people a chance to break out of their shell and show of their craft, their techniques, and communicate with other, like minded people doing the same thing. From that came communities of people doing fairs such as Renegade, Bizarre Bazaar and similar shows.

    I think the 2nd most important is also internet

  6. Gwendolyn's Gifts

    What a great book! My fingers are crossed!

    I have to agree that blogs, Etsy, and the craft schedule on DIY network were my top influences.

    Personally, the DIY network had a huge influence on my initial crafting. I am primarily a knitter, but I would watch all of the craft shows I possibly could.

    Etsy has really shown me that I can have a truly handmade lifestyle.

  7. R. Walker

    Jennifer — I know I'm not exactly part of the scene, just an observer, but from my research / conversations I've had, I would DEFINITELY count ACM & the craft mafias as a very significant influence.

    Just so you know!

  8. Antelope Baby Industries

    I am seriously SO excited for this film. There is going to be a screening here in Portland in the spring, I can’t wait! Anyway, to answer your question: discovering Craft magazine and their corresponding blog in 2006 definitely encouraged me to do the type of crafting I’m doing now and opened my eyes to all the websites, blogs and crafters that are out there with my same interests. I had been

  9. Kristen

    I’m definitely new to the DIY craft movement and I can attribute my initial knowledge of it to my discovery of Etsy. From my observations on Esty, in articles, and especially on blogs, I think that one of the things that makes today’s indie crafters and the craft movement so interesting and appealing is the strong sense of community between these artists as well as the personal connections forged

  10. Sommer

    2 moments that made me really get into the handmade nation is…
    When i went to FELT CLUB in LA a couple years ago…i had that “aha” moment and knew i could make stuff too.
    Then after moving to TX and attending Maker Faire 08, another “aha” moment…

    I have to say, i am enjoying every minute of it!

  11. luluvoodoo

    hi! i was a part of the original ladyfest in olympia and that along with buy olympia made me realize that it can be done! a living can even be made! these events and the community surrounding the diy culture opened my eyes to a whole brave new world!

  12. Sewfast

    I think the first thing that got me started when I was a young girl was a weekly craft contest in the local newspaper (the Everett Herald). I think it was called Cappy’s Corner, or something like that. I am almost 50 now, so it was a really long time ago! My Grandmother also was a great inspiration…teaching me to crochet before I started school. My second grade teacher also influenced me by

  13. retrosquare

    for my beginings Craftster was where I got sucked in to the craft world. what about budet living magazine? i wish it was still alive today… I still hound the local library to look through old issues of that mag. even tho she’s nit indie at all, martha stewart (i think) is like the queen of all things diy. am I going way out on the limb or what!?!

  14. Kathryn

    I think when HGTV did more of the craft shows, they had a huge impact. Followed closely by DIY. Then when things like Esty and other websites chimed it, I think it raised the awareness the handmade crafts are still a big hit with many people.

  15. annie

    thank you so much for this interview! what a great question you have posed. i think faythe really hit the nail on the head with her top ten. personally for me, the launch of http://www.cutxpaste.com is what initially exposed me to the world of crafters and made me aware that it IS possible to BE a crafter. along with that, i would add hearing andrew wagner speak about d.i.y., punk music, and alt

  16. chinamomxtwo

    How cool is this?! Can’t wait to read the book (even sooner if I win!) but I realllllllllly enjoyed the film. very cool. I feel such a sense of kindred spirit even tho I don’t craft as aften I’d like to.
    Thx so much for the chance to win!

  17. Jami

    I think first a few years back, I noticed crafster.org, and the following was big then, and now it is huge. Then I noticed all the shows on HGTV and DIY. Then Etsy, and all of the crafty blogs. Plus, in the last couple of years, there are alot of craft books coming out, and not about constructing all the same stuff, these books have alot of creativity behind them. I love all this stuff about

  18. kraken

    The thing that got me really into the whole craft community first was craftster.org. Going to the first felt clubs when they used to be once a month and actually getting to meet in person artists who’s stuff I loved got me more intersted in the idea of buying and selling handmade items then opening a store on etsy and having people from all over the world buy my stuff has been amazing.

  19. lo

    i have always been doing crafts but i definately think the increase in ‘hip’ craft fairs plus the emergence of more trendy boutiques that sell these kinds of crafts has contributed.

  20. Kendall

    Personally, Craftster.org, Stitch and Bitch, and Etsy got me really hooked, but also inspiring were things like Project Runway that featured the process of creating.

    My mother is a calligrapher and as a kid I did the craft show circuit with her in the 80s (when it wasn’t cool). I like to think that I have it in me–so much of it is about the fellow crafters who came before us and kept it

  21. kimi

    I would love one of these. I would have to say my influence more with crafting came from blogs. Seeing other people like me who were just as interested in making pretty things, scrapbooking which has led to many great products that are used outside of the field and etsy an outlet for people to find the great items people have made and to allow those people to keep making great crafts!

  22. Maria D

    Hi Jen !!!

    The following comment by any means is not meant to put me in your “favorites” or anything like that for extra “naughty secretary club” brownie points!! LOL

    However, it’s important for me to explain, that crafters like You, Vickie Howell, Kathy “The Crafty Chica” etc, etc, are REAL people that started crafting just like any other ordinary crafter. The day I met you

  23. Maira G.

    I had a list of websites I had thought up until I realized that what I really believe influenced the handmade movement is the internet itself.
    I mean, Ive been crafty since I was a kid signing up for as many craft classes at summer camp as I could. However, unless I knew someone who could teach me new things, my crafting was limited to sculpey figures and daisy chain necklaces. Once the

  24. colleen

    I’d kill to own this book…

    Honestly though, if it wasn’t for BUST magazine, I wouldn’t be the crafty person I am today. From the DIY projects published in each issue to the numerous ads for small business crafters and the news of what women (and men!) were crafting all over the world was enough to get me inspired enough to do something myself.


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