Monday, November 29, 2010

Crafting Community

I have been doing some research for places that develop community around crafting through shared learning environments, third places, and events. Blim, located in Chinatown of Vancouver, is just one of those places. From the outside, Blim looks like a 80s clothing explosion, but walk in and you realize the place is doing more than trying to sell you clothes.

Blim has a small retail storefront that sells a range of handmade items from clothing to buttons to silk screens. The retail space helps connect consumers to local artisans and craftsmen of Vancouver. Look beyond the store and you see large workbenches, organized tools and piles of materials. Blim offers daily classes (roughly CAN$70) including book binding, drawing, collages, fabric dyeing, and sticker making. They also host a variety of events including movie showings, musical guests, and art exhibits in their upstairs gallery.

I did some research prior to my arrival at the store and had a basic understanding of what they do at Blim. I thought, however, that if it was my first time there that the space seemed a little confusing. The outside windows made it seem like it was a vintage clothing store and it didn't indicate or hint at what the store really does. I would liked to have seen more of an invitation to take the classes or been provided better information about the complete offerings of the store.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Slow Foods Ideals and Cloth

Elaine Lipson has approached textiles through the same lens that I am approaching crafting: through the lens and principle of the Slow Food Movement. I came across this great article she has written that fully explore the connection between the two.
Image: Glennis Dolce from HandEye
To clarify, she first identifies the misconception is that "slow cloth" is attempting to make things slow. Instead the idea is to focus on the relationship with the product, quality, and to celebrate the process and culture.

She has identified ten principles of the the Sloth Cloth movement that I want to continue to share:
1. Joy in the process
2. It can be contemplative
3. Honors skill with possibility of mastery
4. Celebrates diversity and multicultural history
5. Honors its teachers and past
6. Encourages sustainable use of materials and resources
7. Celebrates quality
8. Appreciates beauty
9. Supports community and respects labor
10. Approach is expressive of individual and cultures

The process of making things for ourselves is far from being an efficient use of our time (from the standards we have set in current manufacturing). Making is not about quantity of production, but being able to put a story into what we do. A friend once commmented that making is " a manifestation of how we see the world." When we take times to make things ourselves we appreciate the materials that go into it, our history and culture are inherently a part of it, we work hard to create a piece of quality, and the time we spent gains a new value.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Harvey Project

I met with my friend, Katy Mirra, the other day who is working on a new side project for her master's research in sustainable textiles. She recently adopted an angora rabbit, Harvey, who will be living with her in her third story apartment alongside her dog and cat.
Katy will be collecting Harvey's fur during his natural shedding cycles over the course of the year. Once the fur is collected, she will learn to spin the fur and eventually use it in to knit a sweater. She informed me that over the course of the year, one angora rabbit should shed enough fur for one sweater.

I think this is a great example of a craftsman taking the time to understand sustainable material generation, the relationship we have with animal fibers, and respecting the full life of an article of clothing. Check out her blog, The Big Bunny Blog, to watch the project.

The Things We Make, Make Us

I never get to see many TV ads since I don't own a TV, which is more often a good thing. However, I did recently see a great new Jeep ad campaign that I couldn't help but be excited about. Jeep just launched their "The Things We Make, Make Us" line of ads. The ad I saw featured a boat builder working in his shop discussing what hand crafting boats means to him. I have searched everywhere looking for that specific ad, but have come up empty (at least for now).

In the meantime, here is another ad in this campaign that features the history of US manufacturing and the ingenuity of the industrial revolution.

Read More "Slow"

I came across this traveling craft exhibit, Taking Time: Crafting and the Slow Revolution, taking place in the UK. While non of the stops are in the US, the site provides some great resources on the movement, interviews, and great reads.

The idea of the slow movement can be applied to many different aspects of our lives, definitely not just crafting or food. discusses the movement: "Slow is not about doing everything at a snail's pace; it's about working, playing and living better by doing everything at the right speed."

Monday, November 1, 2010

Life Cycle Finds More Life in Handmade

What would be the benefit if we could replace one thing we buy that is mass produced with something we make? What if you had the ability to weave your own rug easily, throw or design or your own mug, make your own cutting board and eliminate the need to buy it at the store?

I thought it would be beneficial to compare a mass produced item to a handmade item through its life cycle. These observations, by no means, are backed by specific data, but should serve as a base point for conversation.

Material extraction: Basic materials may be extracted the same, depending on choice. However, a maker has the ability to choose local, better quality, recycled, or less toxic materials that something mass-produced may give you limited choices. For handmade products, materials will be the largest cost burden.

Processing: The material processing will depend on the choices above. Any purchased unfinished materials will give the maker the ability to control this process, such as the milling of wood. Both material extraction and processing are usually too high up on the supply chain to really know full transparency of environmental effects and labor conditions. For instance, sourcing fibers can be extremely difficult to track since they can be sourced from many different suppliers then combined during processing. A knitter interested in her fibers source, could purchase wool from local farms and know exactly how the sheep were raised, how the sheep were sheered, and if any dyeing or other processes took place.

Design: Handmade items allow for the greatest level of customization. Mass produced items have a predetermined design that can be minimally or not changed by the user. On the other hand, there are many products that benefit from having a design and engineering team that can focus on this process.

Manufacturing/Labor: One of the most controversial social aspects to product manufacturing is labor conditions. The majority of products that we purchase are manufactured in other countries whose standards vary greatly from what we have determined safe in the US. As consumers, we lack the access to information regarding labor conditions, how waste is being handled, what toxins are employees and the products exposed to, what type of energy is being consumed (etc) in the manufacturing of products. Buying handmade or making it oneself removes the guesswork.

Transportation: Transporting materials/products from overseas usually occurs by freighter or airfreight. Products are then distributed and sent by train or truck and further distributed till it reaches the retail destination (and ultimately the home.) Products travel a long way to reach us. Patagonia has even admitted this is their bold Footprint Chronicles which tracks where a few of their products are made.

Use: The use life will differ on the behavior of the user. However, if we contain the knowledge to make something, then we are more likely to know how to fix it as well. The use life can also be argued a few different ways. It is possible that something handmade doesn't hold the high quality that something manufactured does...or that statement could be said the exact other way.

Disposal: We all know it is all much harder to dispose of a gift that someone else has made us. The meaning behind the gift is far greater than any store bought item can produce. It is the reason that my Mom still has horrible ugly art pieces I made when I was little. Planned obsolescence, on the other hand, are products that are designed to have a limited use is what is leading us to trash the majority of things we buy. Booooo.

While we can't make everything ourselves, we can make small changes to bring more handmade items into our lives. Making one item ourselves can reduce the negative environmental and social affects of the mass produced version of it. Its worth a shot.