Elevate Difference

Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft, and Design

I don’t usually have high hopes for books based on films. Luckily, Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft, and Design, which is based on the documentary by the same name, rises above what one would typically expect from this genre. Chock full of large color photos and interviews with crafters from fifteen cities around the country, this book provides a window into the modern craft movement in America. The book itself is something of a work of art, as anyone familiar with Princeton Architectural Press should expect. 

As a crafty person myself (I hand-silkscreen garments and sell them on etsy.com), living in Portland, Oregon (a DIY craft epicenter), it was interesting to read profiles of fellow contemporary craft artisans, see some of the amazing work they are doing, and to hear their thoughts on craft. The embroideries of Jenny Hart are particularly breathtaking, as are the garments of Shannon Mulkey. The most fascinating profile of the collection describes Knitta, a knitting collective who “tag” using their knitting, wrapping it around street poles. When asked about their intentions with this project, members of Knitta said that by doing this they are “adding a human element so you are not so disconnected from your everyday environment” and “there is a lot of cement and steel that we are not very comfortable seeing on a daily basis.” 

Levine gives a brief introduction and makes some intriguing statements that piqued my curiosity about the history of this movement and the idea of thinking about craft as a politicized feminist phenomenon. From a feminist perspective it was interesting to read that ninety-five percent of the crafters Levine interviewed were women. As Levine says in the introduction, “Our handmade goods were influenced by traditional handiwork, modern aesthetics, politics, feminism, and art. We were redefining what craft was and making it our own.” Unfortunately Levine doesn’t go into greater depth or offer perspective other than the three page preface. She lets the crafters speak for themselves, which is great, but it would have been nice to have an overarching essay to tie together these sketches, particularly given the abbreviated length of most of the profiles. 

Handmade Nation reads like a good coffee book table and definitely inspires me to go to the screening of the documentary film when it makes its Northwest premier this month.

Written by: Liz Simmons, April 20th 2009