Thursday, May 15, 2008

No Spend Craft Month: The Results!

No Spend Craft Month
Apr - May 08

How long could you go without spending on your crafty pursuits?

Last year I read Judith Levine's “Not Buying It”, a journalist's account of spending a year not buying anything except 'essentials'. Whilst it didn't go as far as doing without toilet paper, it challenges the idea of doing without, not buying into trends and the role of consumerism and identity.

I considered all this in regard to crafting. I love making things and have always been a huge fan of all things second hand. Whether found, or bought from charity shops or occasionally online. The dilemma is how many things I have to buy to enable me to make my crafts. I prefer charity shops. But it's still spending money. I have a big stash of second hand jumpers, ill fitting clothing and odds and ends stored under my bed, as well as a box of books and comics, and a bookcase full of poorly folded curtains and sheets. When you like second hand goods, there's never really an end point, there's always another purchase to be made. In your head, there's a competing dialogue between what you have, what you could buy, what you are planning to make, and what you could make if you had this and this and this and this....

There’s also the whole commodafication of crafting. Why are crafts ascribed more kudos once they receive a monetary value? Some of you may have been involved in the “Buy Handmade” pledge and campaign from last Christmas which encouraged consumers to focus on handmade goodies, rather than mass retailers. The campaign was initiated by some of the bigger craft retailers and publications. I loved the idea of “Buy Handmade” as I know how handmade things are seen as something to be kept and treasured. But why are we buying instead of making? When did DIY become DIB(uy)?

Is DIY/B still a valiant attempt to have a social conscience? Is it better to buy handmade if it is made from fabric woven in third world conditions? And further to that matter, how many crafters are crafting in effectively third world conditions? Cutting out fabric on the living room floor, hunched over a desk or kitchen table (anyone heard of an ergonomic sewing machine?). And how much is that labour valued? Obviously you need a meaningful middle class job or frugal living to enable to send hours crafting or trawling charity shops for second hand goodies and still have a roof over your head. What about selling of hand knitted garments? Winter is coming, I need some fingerless gloves. I can go to a retailer near my house and get some handmade by a local crafter. They retail at $25 of which I assume the knitter gets perhaps $15. That wouldn't even cover the cost of wool and needles, let alone the cost of labour. Are [predominantly female] crafters worth so little that we are constantly underpriced by others and more importantly, ourselves?

As well as labour issues, there's also the big trend towards eco-logical crafting - using trends such as felting. To felt old jumpers a common technique involves the use of hot water and multiple hot wash cycles. You may even choose to use your clothes dryer. This translates to lots of water and electricity. I live in Australia in the middle of a massive drought. Big carbon footprint.


Where do my materials come from?
What carbon footprint does my crafting leave?
How much time do I spend shopping for materials?
How much money do I spend on materials?
Have I spent money to make money?
What are my materials worth?
What is my labour worth?

I decided to take ONE MONTH from Monday April 7th to see how I manage crafting without buying anything. No buying more fabric 'just in case' or tools instead of looking for those I own. No more spending money to make money. No more buying things I didn't really need at the expense of things I already have.

So what was it like? I had quite a lot of interest from fellow crafters. I felt like a priest as people kept admitting me that they too had a considerable stash of half finished products, fabric they were too scared to cut up in case they made a mistake and couldn’t walk past a charity shop without buying something. Others admitted they had never thought about the conditions under which their fabric was made. A couple admitted a kind of pressure to keep up with gathering more and more stuff-pillow cases, tea towels and retro linen seems to be a popular pack rat items!

Personally it was a challenge. I broke my last sewing machine needle and ran out of PVC. My partner bought me a pack of needles in exchange for mending his holey jeans. (Fair trade? I hope so). In some ways I realised how I had been preferencing the urge to shop over the urge to create. Consumerism seems so much safer than creativity. No risk or making a mistake or being judged for your efforts. I had in the past surrounded myself with vintage and recycled goods as a testament to my aesthetic. I even have books on retro and traditional crafting. But what was stopping me? I started wondering if all the crafters who say they love what they could do and could do it all day everyday were lying or I simply lacked discipline and had an embarrassing bout of terminal procrastination. It also made me wonder what it would be like to sit in a studio/spare room day after day and create. What would it be like to create from scratch without expectation or a nod to the past?

Was it productive? Well, I started a new project with all those second hand jumpers (still not finished). I had a go at photography and took photos of my life everyday for a week. (You can see the photos at ). I started a fabric mosaic of a woman cleaning the toilet. This took some courage. I don’t really know how to mosaic and I had to find photos of women cleaning the toilet! I cooked more than I would have ever thought possible. I made a skirt, decorated some t shirts and made some odds and ends. I’m also working on some illustrations which are somewhat thwarted by my lack of drawing skills.

Would I do it again? Yes!

Future challenges I am thinking about:

  • A month without craft websites
  • A month of starting no new products but instead completing all that are half finished
  • A month of hiring an empty space to craft without distraction


Judith Levine ‘A Year Without Shopping

Jean Raila “What Would Jesus Sell?”

Polka Dot Rabbit