Digital Handcrafts?

I think I’m finally figuring out that it’s summer; I’ve spent days working on the house (cleaning, doing laundry, looking at paint chips for the great outdoor painting extravaganza of ought-7), and I’m back to my regular surfing habits. The latter had taken a serious blow during the last month. I’ve been a bad blogger, and a bad blog reader as well. Now that I’m in the midst of catching up, however, I’ve spent the morning marveling at what wanders across my screen.

My latest fascination is the online store Etsy. The store works as a kind of clearinghouse for all kinds of artists selling everything from photographs to jewelry to “geekery” (obviously, my favorite category). There’s a delightful handmade vibe to almost all of the products, and they’re incredibly reasonable. The most expensive piece I ran across was a $65 limited edition print. A bit more research on the Etsy blog reveals how late I am to this party; at about two years old, the site has a rather robust population of 250,000 members, buying and selling their work, rating and tagging each others wares, making suggestions about how the main site can better represent them and help consumers to find their products.

At first glance, there’s a kind of delightful irony present in Etsy: it’s a sophisticated hybrid online shop/social network—a kind of boutique meets MySpace cum Digg, yet its raison d’etre appears to be the charm of an economic community exchanging hand-made products. I have to admit that the juxtaposition works for me. I’ve been delighted browsing through the amateur digital photographs, the handbags, the screen printed tshirts. Even at its most refined and skilled, the work that I’ve seen on Etsy retains a one-off aesthetic. Everything feels individually produced, rather than run off the line by the thousand. [If I were careful, I’d do a visual rhetorical analysis of the site itself: is it actually the products themselves that maintain that aura, or is it their presentation?] Here is where Etsy’s apparent irony really starts to make sense: what better place than the internet to remind consumers of the mass-produced objects that surround them?

Some smart person somewhere must be talking about the relationship between the web and folk culture. Is it the case that our increasing involvement with digital technology is igniting a resurgence of interest in the DIY skills of yore? And what separates the people who are inspired to make the products and those of us (oh so guilty of this myself) who log on only to consume?

2 thoughts on “Digital Handcrafts?

  1. I’m actually really interested in your response to Etsy from an “outsider” perspective. I’m a compulsive Etsy buyer, but also seller–and I’m fascinated by the degree to which it seems to be a completely self-perpetuating phenomenon; you’re the first non-craft/design blogger I’ve seen who really even knows about etsy, although there was a big article about it in the Times a couple months ago.

    And yep, loads of people in the craft blog world are talking about the confluence of craft and the web–there’s even a couple of people out there dissertating about it. Blogs=the modern quilting/knitting/sewing bee. Which is nothing but good, in my book.

  2. I may have actually heard about Etsy from you, Ash. I felt a bit like a tourist there. I wonder what the ratio of “natives” to “tourists” there are? It’s probably notable that I came to it from your blog—another point for those who think the web is blog is the new quilting circle!

    That’s a bit different, however, than I’ve been hearing from people, who turn to crafts (specifically knitting) because it’s NOT digital. Same terms, but different relationship between them…

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