Defining Handmade, Part One-Point-Seven-Five…

OK, here’s another scenario: Ai-shi is a macrame and twine maker at a textile mill in Michigan that produces nylon braids, cordage for curtains, and macrame twine, which Ai-shi’s department creates. (The firm is like this one, with around 30 employees: She was hired (she was told) because of her excellent skills (most folks are trained on the job), but those skills were never used, and she rarely has a chance to exercise any initiative on the job: essentially, she sits or stands at a large table or at a wall unit all day every day and either works a complex, automated loom that creates and twists nylon cord, knotted twine, and macrame twine, or does “finishing” (hand-coats or dips the twine and cordage in a chemical finish to enhance the colors and make it more durable). Overall, it is a little dull, but it’s a living; the conditions are not awful, although there have been many layoffs, and the chemicals are noxious (but workers wear gloves and masks). Ai-shi belongs to the union at the mill, which makes sure that breaks and lunch half-hours are observed, that pay is decent, that seniority is observed, and that layoffs are not done in a biased way. At home, Ai-shi (who is actually a lacemaker by training) creates her own doilies and lace tablecloths as well as bibs for her kids’ dresses, and in addition to giving lace pieces away to friends and family she has sold her work online occasionally, but with a 40+ hour workweek at the mill, she does not have the energy to make a business out of this. She does however use the twine and macrame cord to “do arts and crafts,” and she occasionally makes macrame jewelry from salvaged mill cord.

And yet another scenario: Mari buys small charms and cheap but pretty gemstones, feathers, and charms from a local Vietnamese party store as well as from various flea markets around Omaha, and uses them, along with pre-made fishhook earring wires that she buys at Michael’s or from an online supplier, to create cute earrings. She is a stay-at-home Mom, and she sells her earrings on Etsy to help out with the home finances. She has never taken a jewelry-making course, and really isn’t interested in doing anything fancy, but her friends love her creations, and so do her Etsy customers; and she enjoys mixing and matching colors and charms, and finds the work relaxing. She has looked at a few online sites to figure out how to create necklaces and bracelets, and may branch out soon. Her business is so brisk that she’s actually considered hiring her daughter’s friend on a regular basis to help her with assembly and packaging.


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