Crafts promote creativity, engender peace of mind, and provide a sense of accomplishment. All good things. But here's what they don't tell you in ReadyMade: Crafts will break your heart.
I'm not bagging on crafts. I love them. Right now, I'm reproducing a series of classic LP jackets in needlepoint; I started with Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. Two weeks ago, I knit a scarf that looked like 14 feet of uncooked ground beef, fat streaks and all. If something doesn't move fast enough in my home, chances are I'll glue googly eyes and a pompom nose on it.
But for every project that turns out as planned, another can go horribly awry. All seasoned crafters know this, but we rarely discuss it. It is our dirty little secret: Crafts can hurt. Recently, I devoted weeks to a complicated sweater, full of calculated runs and holes for that "distressed" look. But as I neared completion, I realized that the finished article would be far too big—for me and for anyone who isn't a pro wrestler. (And yes, I checked my gauge before starting.) So it sits in pieces, hidden behind the couch in a Hefty bag. Sometimes, as I watch television, I can hear it whispering: You failed, loser.
But even the most perfectly executed purse, skirt, or stuffed animal invites woe for the disciple of domestic arts: Brace yourself for rejection. Nothing is so devastating as discovering that your favorite sister-in-law has banished that stocking cap you made for her last Christmas, the one with all the detailed duplicate stitching, to the furthermost corner of some dark closet, never to be seen again.
Oh wait. There is something worse: Watching that same relation instead plop some piece of mass-produced crap from Urban Outfitters or the Gap on their head before going out into the cold.
Now, I could pontificate about how patronizing Seattle's independent clothing designers and artists is good for small business, cuts down on sweatshop labor, curtails global warming, improves digestion, and on and on. But I'm no economist; I'm just some guy with a crochet hook and a typewriter. My logic for supporting local craftspeople is much simpler: It reduces heartbreak.
First of all, you minimize your own hurt feelings and wasted time. Mastering any domestic art requires practice and tons of trial and error. Sure, you could spend weeks learning how to print your own T-shirt designs. Be my guest. But before you do, look around. This city is lousy with folks who have already suffered the indignities of a hundred off-center screens and ink spills (not to mention run up massive student loans for degrees in design) just to get to the point where they can manufacture something eye-catching that speaks to your sense of style. And you're a hell of a lot less likely to run into someone else wearing your new favorite top if you go made-in-Seattle rather than picking the latest off-the-rack number from Old Navy.
Secondly, local artists put themselves on the line when they ask you to open your wallet. When you snatch up that handcrafted belt buckle and demand of the vendor, "How much?" you atone for every Father's Day gift he or she slaved over in shop class, then subsequently watched vanish into the recesses of Dad's sock drawer, untouched until that fateful garage sale. You get a new accessory, they skip a month of psychotherapy. Everybody wins.
This is not to say that the mental and fiscal well-being of every so-called artist and designer in King County is your responsibility. If something is poorly made, don't buy it. If you do, you're only encouraging sloppy workmanship. Back in the early days of I Heart Rummage, I used to feel guilty if I left without purchasing something, anything, every time. Support your community! my conscience whined.
What do I have to show for my good intentions? Several whimsical but shoddy man-bags, now with busted straps and/or closures, taking up valuable shelf space in my cramped apartment. Ask questions about techniques and materials. Don't be intimidated; pretend you're Nina Garcia. We can't all sew in a zipper, but most of us can recognize when it hasn't been done well. Better to notice flaws now than when your adorable new felted change purse splits open as you're fishing out change on the bus.
Insurance premiums for artists don't run as high as for firefighters or police officers. Nor should they. Our injuries are mostly minor: pricked fingers, blackened thumbnails. But crafts-related broken hearts? Those require community awareness to keep numbers down. For everything else, there's hot glue.