thrift and craft

worksite accients

I’m a few pages into a book I picked up at a used bookshop in Rockville, MD–the book is called “In Cheap We Trust” (by Lauren Weber), about the idea of thrift, frugality, and cheapness. Pop sociology and good summer reading (I hope). In this into, though, she writes that “thrift advocacy has always carried a whiff and often a stench of preachiness.”

Let me state: I don’t agree.

This statement came after a bit of discussion of the need to patch and mend and darn when good were scarce, and got me thinking about the world of craft and its connection to thrift. It’s true that the two are not synonymous: there are big-box-craft-stores on the side of the highway with aisles Martha Stewart branded official scrapbooking supplies; there are very shmancy brands of yarn that are just another thing to covet or splurge on; even knitting a sweater out of reasonably priced yarn isn’t going to be cheaper than buying something new. But craft is thrift not in the sense of paying as little as possible for anything, but in the sense of being careful and conscientious about things and objects and materials. Advocacy of this sort of thrift is not preaching, it’s exploration of how things are made and what things can be used for. It’s full of wonder.

charming darning (explorations in darning techniques from karen barbe)

I also think of my rad friend Becky Johnson, who I had the immense pleasure to see speak at Etsy when she came through Brooklyn in June. She officially spoke on the subject of “Crafting a Well-Rounded Business” but really she spoke about what she does (tour America in the summers, selling her wares at craft shows and visiting boutiques and other sites-of-handmade), and how she makes it work. One of the points she made to the room full of lovely Brooklyn Etsy ladies seeking success, is that her version of “success” is a wildly different recasting of the idea that you can craft your way into a profitable business. Becky’s success is that she makes her life work on not very much income, in part because the principles of craft and thrift encourage sharing, reciprocity (she talked about being able to travel widely and have somewhere to stay because of the art-and-craft community she has cultivated), and a very different sense of what’s important and worth spending money on. Her successful craft business is not about winning at capitalism, it’s about existing on sort of the outside edge of capitalism.

(my friend becky)

I just read a book called “The Chairs are Where the People Go” by Misha Glouberman, and in a short section titled “Social Capital” he points out that artists and other creative folks may not have a lot of money, but they are certainly not “poor.”

I think this might be related the point that Weber is beginning to make. Thrift out of necessity is what it is, not particularly virtuous, just a way to live within your means. Weber’s feeling of “preachiness” is a similar sense of discomfort to Glouberman’s disapproval of artists considering themselves poor. In this understanding those claiming thrift or poverty are trying to set themselves off as different from what is expected of folks in their socioeconomic position, and receive some sort of credit for it.

Its true that the poverty of artists and musicians is different than the systemic poverty that really exists in our world. But the idea (and this is not the point that Glouberman makes, but is the point implied by Weber’s statement) that anyone who lives outside of the capitalist matrix is inherently smug about it feels really defeatist. Being able to take on a different mode of life is really valuable. Being able to make that work–through thrift, barter, art, travel, and careful darning of one’s handknit socks–is what is really exciting and inspiring about all of my friends amazing diverse lives and professions.


The image up at the top of this post is of the “Worksite Accidents” Gocco prints I received from Becky for pledging her Kickstarter campaign that she used to fund this summer’s craft tour. Here it is in its milieu on my kitchen wall: most of these things are thrifted.

worksite accident print

4 Responses to “thrift and craft”

  1. 1 becky

    wow, dory. i am so flattering to be a passenger in this train of thought. i think these are the kinds of thoughts that we need to spread around, too. that wealth is not money and all that.

    i, too, am currently reading misha’s book. and although i am pretty offended by some of the stupid things he says about improvised theatre, i think he has some interesting thoughts about group dynamics, culture and class. personally, i think his book is a lot more self-revelatory than insightful - and succeeds best when it exposes him most.

    there are so many nuances to these conversations. to me, i make a choice to explain that i do not make much money in the hopes that others starting out in the indie craft world will not want to hang their dreams and worth on dollar figures (which are generally inferred more than exposed, anyway). in this way, i see accepting your financial poverty as a healthy thing. and none of this is to deny cultural wealth, social wealth or the million kinds of privilege that one may or may not be born into.

    ugh, i could go on an on about these things. but i have a dress to mend!

    so glad to hear your thoughts on these matters - and glad to see them being put out into the world. this is a direction of thinking that interests me immensely. it’s also a conversation that really needs more circulation.

  2. 2 Kat

    1. I like your expanded understanding of “thrift.” Lately I’ve been thinking about making and designing your own clothes being a sort of “slow fashion”, where choices are made with thought and care.

    2. I also like this idea of alternate richness. I think I need to work on investing in this area.

  3. 3 Kat

    Okay, that was all pretty me-centered but I just wanted to say YES to all of the above.

  4. 4 Dory

    Thanks for your thoughts, friends. Kat, I felt sort of bad for not mentioning “thrifty fun in threadbare times” in this post, which is a great tagline/motto/ideology. And Becky, I am happy to go on having this conversation with you (and everyone else). I think it matters a lot.

Leave a Reply