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Make It Unique or Copy a Model?

Sometimes a consumer wants it unique, but other times....

by Judi Kauffman (August 30, 2010)

(Editor’s note: The Commentary in the 8/16 issue of CLN theorized that one reason why counted cross stitch and decorative painting have slipped, while scrapbooking, jewelry-making, and knitting/crochet have risen, is the younger crafter’s interest in making a unique project, rather than copying a model. To read the original, visit www.clnonline.com/archives/clnarchives/2010/cln20100816.html.)

Your article sparked some random thoughts on the topic of making things unique and why some crafts remain popular while others wane.

There have always been crafters who want to do things as instructed and those who want to invent or deviate. If there weren't people who liked to follow a pattern, no designer would have a job, so I hope there will always be those who like to duplicate what they see or need some sort of instructions as a starting point or for inspiration.

That said, I think the issue of whether to veer off in a personal direction or not has to do with confidence and attention span as well as the basic differences between people – how they learn and what they like. And with how people like to spend time and money. 

I'm endlessly patient when it comes to stitching, but not computers. I hit the "auto correct" button on many of my digital photos and call it a day, while my friend Jack has taken years to perfect his skills and has invested heavily in cameras and software. There is no right or wrong: we're both creative, and we're both having fun. 

Making something unique doesn't mean that no directions or patterns were involved. Tools require that the user understands how they works (sometimes it's a safety issue, sometimes it's just common sense – one end of the hammer works better than the other for pounding nails!).  A cross stitcher who substitutes metallic thread for cotton floss and adds a few beads can still feel like she's made something her own. Even if she never deviates for a single stitch, it was her hands that interpreted the chart. The slow rhythm and precision required are what makes a cross stitcher love the craft, and it is the pace and need for accuracy that would make someone else want to run from the room.

To me, it's not about what craft is popular and what isn't in fashion. I think it's about making sure people of any age feel creative and confident. It's about recognizing and celebrating differences in how people learn and what they like. That's what ultimately makes all craft projects unique and why two scarves made with the same yarn by different people won't be identical. 

I suppose that if I were put in charge, I would wish that the craft industry could use some of the sports world as our model. I like the idea of coaches who set high expectations, who believe in practice and peer support, and yet understand the differences in the players on their team. I love the image of a group of young knitters with a group of parents sitting on the sidelines, cheering them on!

No one expects a child to master soccer from the first time she touches the ball. Not that I want crafts to become competitive – that’s the opposite of what I believe should happen. Even without competition, the image of a coach is a good one. Like the coach who helps a runner achieve his or her personal best, or works with someone who has lost a leg but wants to climb a mountain, it's the process that counts. The idea is that something is worthwhile and that giving up isn't an option – that mistakes can be fixed and that everyone makes mistakes and takes a while to master a skill.

We somehow think that crafts should be so simple that no learning curve is required. And yet we all agree that sports take time to master. We nurture the natural athletes and yet we also mentor and reward the slower runners who hang in and practice, who do their best.

Let's do the same with crafts. If we want the next generation to love making things, we need to make sure they have the skills to do what they envision, whether it's a simple necklace or a complicated quilt, a handmade book or a bookmark – and that they have the tools and supplies they need, too. If only good scissors and high quality art supplies were valued the way running shoes and football helmets are! 

I love the words Quick and Easy and Unique; they hold an important place in our industry and in our vocabulary (who among us doesn't like to cook a quick dinner or make a card in a few minutes). But let's keep plenty of space for words like Patience and Practice, Mastery and Skilled.

(Editor’s note: Judi Kauffman is a lifelong crafter and a full-time freelance designer and writer in the craft industry for the last twenty years. She's the granddaughter of a tailor and she says that his rows of tiny stitches on the interfacing (invisible, but important) made the collar of a man's suit roll just right. She learned patience and the value of practice at his side – although she admits that she has a very short attention span when it comes to waiting in line at restaurants or for anything related to a computer.)



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