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A suit for a decade and a table for life: handmade as a sustainable lifestyle

February 26, 2011

Mahogany and cherry nesting tables with maple inlay by Rende Zoutewelle

As an artist/craftswoman, I’ve been watching sadly as craft skills disappear from normal life. Hand written, hand formed, hand stitched objects are the exception to the machine made things we surround ourselves with.  We are geared to  buying inexpensive quick fix products or highly priced design objects to fit with the latest consumer trends. Then we throw them out when the next fashion wave hits.

Handmade things take time to design and make. But they also get better with age and last longer. In his article, ‘Let the artisans craft our future’, (Resurgence Issue 263) artist Grayson Perry says (partly paraphrased):

‘Craftsmanship is no longer central to our quick fix service economy. Craft used to be integral to many walks of life.
People were proud of what they made- it was valued. To be a craftsman in Britain was to be working-class nobility.

 ‘Handmade’ is often  a byword for ‘pricey’ and  ‘local’ means unadventurous or a lack of choice. But what about when the oil runs out and the forests are all cut down and we can’t drive to Furniture Barn and buy a table designed in Scandinavia, made in China with wood from South America for the price of a round of drinks in the pub?’ 

‘Maybe in the future the distinctiveness that consumerism promises will be concentrated not on choice but on customisation’. 

‘Maybe ethical concerns will force us to turn to local craftsmen/women  to give added value to our status-defining objects’.

‘Maybe it will be all right again for local labour to be the major cost factor instead of importers, distributors, fuel and marketing. Instead of being sucked along by instant gratification and fashions driven by manufacturers, maybe people will simply collaborate with a skilful designer/maker. Together they can work on producing the perfect artefact that fulfils their functional needs and reflects their values’.

Not just for the rich, the middle class could choose to spend their money on three quality objects per year rather than 30 throwaway fads. ‘Maybe we would think more about how things would look when they got old and worn and factor that into the design. Maybe we will buy a suit for a decade and a table for life’.

‘Ever since I had a set of motorcycle leathers made for me…, one of my greatest pleasures has been the commissioning of craftsmen and women to make me things…I have worked with dressmakers, printers, bicycle frame builders, kinky cobblers, rubber couturiers, carpenters and architects’. These artefacts don’t have the computerised sheen of mass produced goods. They have their faults; they bear the mark of the human hand; they are the evidence of a relationship; and I love them all’.

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