Putting the D in DIY: Reflections on an interview with Handmade Detroit

Handmade Detroit

In the late 19th Century the world was changing rapidly. Machines were replacing a workforce once powered by men and women. As mass-produced items became more readily available the craft behind the arts of furniture making, home building, and textile design began to disappear from every day knowledge thanks to the convenience and prevalence of the machine. In response to this major shift toward automation was born the Arts and Crafts Movement (1880-1910). The artists behind the Arts and Crafts Movement hand-crafted work in rebellion against the soullessness of industrial age products and processes.

History has a tendency to repeat itself. The DIY movement can be traced to the punk movement of the late 1970’s, but the rise in popularity of the Internet propelled the DIY acronym into its status as a household term. As the 1990s saw unprecedented growth in new technology, computers became affordable to most of middle-class America, and the Internet became accessible from schools, businesses, and homes. Now, in ways reminiscent of the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th Century, the Do It Yourself (DIY) movement in part functions as a reminder of the importance and beauty of handcrafted items in a time when everything else is going digital.

DIY products are still predominately created by hand, but unlike the Arts and Crafts movement, in the digital age DIY artists often employ the Internet as marketing tool. Websites like Etsy and WordPress are excellent platforms for DIY artists to share their goods. Tools like Paypal make online purchasing an easy process, so the average seller is able, in true DIY fashion, to do it them selves.

The Internet is where Handmade Detroit, a local DIY collective, began in the form of a Myspace page. Stephanie Tardy, one of the founding members of Handmade Detroit explains, “Handmade Detroit was kind of a snowball. It was started as a MySpace profile to promote a few shows Carey, Lish and I were doing at the time. It had a simple ‘About me’ which reflected our feelings that other major cities were already way ahead in terms of getting hip to the handmade movement. One of our slogans at the beginning was ‘In the handmade revolution, Detroit will not be left behind.’” 

Tardy and the other members of Handmade Detroit (Carey Gustafson, Amy Cronkite, Bethany Nixon, and Lish Dorset) made certain Detroit was not left behind. As a group they soon began to plan and organize a large-scale DIY craft fair, the Detroit Urban Craft Fair (DUCF).  

Planning Michigan’s first DIY craft fair was no easy feat. “When planning the first DUCF, defining indie craft to an audience that had never seen it was a huge obstacle,” says Tardy. The hard work of the five organized members, who all had previous experience running their own businesses, is evident in Handmade Detroit’s continued growth and popularity. 

“The Detroit Urban Craft Fair was such a great confirmation that the city was hungry for all of what Michigan’s independent artists and crafters were doing,” Explained Nixon. The DUCF now happens every November. The 2008 fair at the Fillmore in Detroit featured over fifty vendors. In addition to the DUCF, Handmade Detroit also produces the Craft Revival each spring. 

The members of Handmade Detroit are busy planning physical events, but they have not left behind their origins on the web — in fact they have expanded their online presence. They recently launched a new website featuring “craftervidz,” video tutorials on featured craft projects. The website also features an event calendar for Handmade Detroit and other local DIY projects, and a Craft Map highlighting local craft stores, fabric and fiber stores, places to buy handmade items and “Other rad places to get your DIY on.” 

The DIY movement could not have found a better home than it has in Detroit. As Nixon explains, “Detroit has always been a DIY city in other ways – in building new concepts in the automotive industry, new ideas in music, and the drive for the residents to improve their homes and communities themselves.” Tardy similary expressed that  “Detroiters have a very personal connection to people who have made things with their hands for years — line workers use their hands, too. Being a maker in Detroit is tying yourself to this history. But at the same time, and especially for handmade artists, it’s also about defining your work against this history — and seeing a newly defined creative future for the city”. 

I encourage you to meet the wonderful and inspiring ladies behind Handmade Detroit in person this Saturday, April 18 at the Craft Revival fair at the Magic Stick.

Handmade Detroit Ladies

For more on Handmade Detroit please visit their website or follow them on twitter.

The members of Handmade Detroit are:

Stephanie Tardy
The Phantom Limb 

Bethany Nixon
Reware Vintage 

Carey Gustafson
DIY Craft Fair music director 

Amy Cronkite
Make-Out Goods
Loop Social Circle 

Lish Dorset
My Vintage Kitschen 

*This entry was originally posted on pixelgawker

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