Book Review:: Handmade Nation

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I’ve had Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft, and Design on my bookshelf for many years (it was originally published in October of 2008), but I still felt that it was a good choice for one of our first book reviews because of the very special movement that it documents, in craft and in feminism.

This book brings me back to myself, in a way. It represents my beginnings of creating craft for the purpose of protest for groups like ‘Food Not Bombs‘ and I am reminded of my first exposure to feminism from womxn within my own age group, and not just archival footage of suffragettes and second-wave feminists, like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan.

This book is an accompaniment for a film of the same name, which came out in 2009 following the success of the book the previous year. I have yet to have the pleasure of viewing the film after all of these years. It’s on my list of things to watch and once I’ve finally had a chance to get my hands on it, you can count on a review in our film/tv section, which will be linked to from this post.

The film and the book, by Faythe Levine and Cortney Heimerl, documents their 19,000 journey across America, checking in with some of the names in faces that have come to be regarded as pillars in the craft/DIY community.

Interviews in the book take place over a period spanning from 1994, and the inception of Venus Zine, all the way to the first Renegade Handmade Fair in Chicago, IL in 2007.

I can remember following the progression of so many of the shops mentioned in this book  in the back ad pages of magazines like Venus or Bust and then eventually within the certain online shops, like the Bust Boob-tique. Remember, this is a significant period of craft that pre-dated Etsy, so you had to really have a true love for craft and be actively seeking out these featured artists.

After the timeline of craft/DIY history in the book, you will find Handmade Nation’s “Craftifesto”. It reads in part,

The Power is in your hands!

Craft is Powerful We want to show depth & breadth of the crafting world. Anything you want you can probably get from a person in your community.

Craft is Personal To know that something is made by hand, by someone who cares that you like it, makes that object much more enjoyable.

Craft is Political We’re trying to change the world. We want everyone to rethink corporate culture & consumerism.

Craft is Possible Everybody can create something!!!

There are several versions of the craftivist manifesto, one of which is featured in another post here. The one above was authored by Amy Carlton & Cinnamon Cooper, who are also the brains behind the DIY Trunk show in Chicago, IL. You can read the full Craftifesto here. Very inspiring.

Throughout Handmade Nation, you are introduced to many crafters from across America and given a glimpse into their studios and a look at their process.

A highlight for me would definitely be the Anti-Factory feature, which is a clothing company that is unfortunately no longer around. She used to make reconstructed tops out of recycled/reclaimed goods that had added elements she would create on her knitting machine. So whimsical and fun!! I always yearned for an Anti-Factory top, but they were always priced out of my price range as a young punk rock kid.

Maybe one day, I could find one secondhand.

The book is full of fabulous, behind-the-scenes shots of the artists at work that I, for one, really value and enjoy as an artist. I love being able to an artist’s workshop.. there is so much history in the space.. scraps of completed projects that have gone on to their new homes, stains of paint that reflects a moment of true inspiration. It is so personal.

I recommend this book, a thousand times over, especially to those among you were part of this movement while it was underway, or if you are someone who is interested in the  history of the modern craft/DIY movement.

This book documents how we got to Etsy. It tells the tales of the pioneers who sparked our current creators to pick up the needles, the brush, the awl, and start making.

A total inspiration.

I am an avid collector of books so I have many book shelves throughout my home that are just overflowing with books that I have collected over the years and somehow managed to bring with me from Ontario to Vancouver, to Ontario, to Winnipeg, and back to Ontario again. My books are exceptionally important to me. I can say that Handmade Nation exists as one of my most treasured tomes. 


About Author

Allisonxo is a she/her identifying feminist from Toronto, Canada who is a lifelong crafter and lover of vegan food and thrifting.

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