Why Making Things Matters

We are living in uncertain times. The economy is troubling. Wall Street is being occupied (along with streets in 1423 cities.) The world that we have known suddenly feels unfamiliar and unstable.

But you know what? You and I are going to be just fine. How do I know that? Because we can make things. Things like food. And clothing. And maybe even shelter. We can cook and garden and knit and sew. We can read recipes and patterns and plans.

We can turn nothing into something and that is always going to be madly valuable. You and I will be heavily scouted and vied for when people are putting together their post-apocolyptic teams. We will be picked first. But more importantly, whatever happens, we will be warm and well fed.

There is also a subtle, some times even inadvertent, form of protest involved in making things. Filmmaker and artist Faith Gillespie said:

There is clearly another imperative at work now in our exercise of the old crafts. It has to do with reclamation, with reparation. The world seems not to need us any more to make ‘the things of life.’ Machines make more and cheap. The system needs us to do the maintenance jobs and to run the machines that produce the so-called ‘goods,’ to be machines in the consumer societies which consume and consume and are empty. Our turning to craftwork is a refusal. We may not all see ourselves this way, but we are working from a position of dissent. And that is a political position.

Isn’t that amazing? The first time I read it, it gave me goose bumps!

So you can imagine how excited I was when I heard about Craft Activism, the new book by Joan Tapper and Gail Zucker. [Full disclosure: Gail Zucker is a personal friend and has taught a photography class here at the farm. She’s also a kick-ass photographer.]

Here’s the blurb from the back:

Craft Activism is an inspiring celebration of this growing movement. Inside, dozens of superstars of this grassroots phenomenon share their experiences, tips, and advice on living, teaching, and promoting a more meaningful DIY lifestyle. Learn to craft for your cause, connect with other crafters, think green, organize a fair, host an online exchange, create yarn graffiti, and more. The book also includes 17 creative projects from designers who challenge you to reimagine how your craft skills can be used to make a difference. Whether you knit, sew, crochet, or collage—and even if you’re not sure where to begin—this book is your guide to the incredible power of handmade.
This book is wonderful, packed with beautiful photographs and amazing projects. Contributors include the Mason Dixon gals, Kirsten Kapur, Kat Coyle and Ann Weaver, just to name a few. There’s even a whole chapter on Ravelry!   There’s also a section on the Red Scarf Project, an effort near and dear to our hearts.
I particularly like the Slight of Hand Mittens by Mary Lou Egan, pictured on the cover. The pattern is written to be mix and match, which I love.
As you may have gathered, I highly recommend Craft Activism. And if you’re headed to Rhinebeck this weekend, you can pick up a copy and have it signed by the authors at the same time. (I am insanely jealous, BTW.) Gale and Joan will be signing books and showing off garments from the book on Saturday from  2:30-4 and Sunday from  11-12:30. Tell them “hey” for me!


  1. this is speaking to me-thank you for sharing it and the other quote-awesome stuff and right on!

  2. Definitely a new perspective that deserves further thought and discussion.

  3. My Mom has always said that our family would survive the Big Disaster. We have sewers, knitters, potters, people who can cook with fire, builders, engineers, nurses and gardeners. And lots of humor. I’ve got to look up this book.

  4. Yea for handmade, will definitely get a copy while we’re at Rhinebeck. We’ve added soaping making to our list of DIY projects. Homemade also allows you to use products that are only made of natural ingredients instead of a bunch of chemicals that are harmful to the environment. Thanks for the heads up.

  5. My husband and I always joke that if we had a trade based economy we would be set for life. I’m a knitter and gardener, and he’s a mechanic and general handyman. He loves to cook and I’m a pretty ace baker. We wouldn’t need to trade for much, but we’d be everyone’s best friend.

    I’m sharing this all over the place if for no other reason than because I love that quote.

  6. the intro gave me goosebumps too and I agree we will be fine :) When I was a young woman and very poor I used to make my own lip gloss with petroleum jelly and blackberry juice. It’s amazing what we can do with a little imagination :)

  7. Jane from Maryland

    October 13, 2011 at 9:55 am

    I began weaving in the 70’s as a political act. It was part of that hippie back to the land thing. Met some Bedouin who taught me how to make a tent from wool from their flock of sheep. (hint: Warp faced, leave in the lanolin.) Now yarn is a way to connect with our foremothers and to slow down and appreciate the moment, beyond a plastic bag full of stuff from the big box store. Unless there is yarn in that bag…

  8. long-time reader

    October 13, 2011 at 10:01 am

    You and I will be heavily scouted and vied for when people are putting together their post-apocolyptic teams. We will be picked first. But more importantly, whatever happens, we will be warm and well fed.
    This is reassuring, but it definitely isn’t true.

    We are all interconnected, and individually we aren’t worth as much as we’d like to believe. I’m a good cook — but if the apocalyptic worst happens, I won’t have access to crucial staples. Even if you raise your own chickens, even if you have a vegetable garden big enough to feed your family, even if you can enough to last you all winter, I’m willing to bet none of us make our own salt, flour, baking powder, rice, or a thousand other things we rely on every day. I’m a good knitter — but can I singlehandedly go from sheep to sweater? Quickly enough to prevent myself from freezing to death? If society collapses, does it really make sense to spend time combing, carding, spinning, dyeing, knitting, or is it smarter to wrap a raw fleece around myself and keep on looking for my next meal?

    Even “self-sufficient” people don’t singlehandedly create more than a fraction of what they need to survive. Knitting may be a great skill, having a farm certainly gets you a step ahead, but none of it is going to make us completely self-reliant. It doesn’t do us any favors to pretend that we’re each the best, most useful person on the planet. (By the way, probably the best skill you can learn if you really do think there’s an apocalypse coming? Shooting.)

    • Susan

      October 13, 2011 at 12:57 pm

      Long-time reader, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I think those of us who are competent and have skills would be much better off in a disaster, but I also said we’d be picked first for post-apocolyptic teams. We don’t need to be completely self-reliant. That’s what teams are for!

      And, although I wasn’t pretending that “that we’re each the best, most useful person on the planet,'” I do think it does some good for us to recognize that we have valuable skills and that we have some agency in what happens to us. For far too long, those skills have been discounted as “women’s work” when they are the very skills that keep us fed and warm.

      And even though we disagree on this, I’d still pick you for my team. :)

  9. To long time reader:

    A lot of what you say could be pretty much solved with the big P : PREPERATION. People who knit, weave, can veggies, etc have a good stock of stuff already. Just thinking of my own yarn stash or my mother’s pantry. It might not be exactly what’s needed right away but it will be a better starting place than people who have no skills.

  10. Jane from Maryland

    October 13, 2011 at 11:34 am

    To long time reader: I think you make the case for another skill we need now and always will: Sharing. Remember the story of stone soup? I have heard Native Americans tell that story of “borrowing” ingredients for soup from all the neighbors, and ending up with a meal. We will need the skill of sharing with each other in times of uncertainty more than ever. Wait, that’s now. To me sharing is the lacking value in our culture right now, one that many groups have had from early Christians to Shakers to hippies to farmers everywhere. To the members of the Juniper Moon Farm community who seem to be really good at helping each other in times of need. That’s what a CSA is essentially. A role model for our future!

  11. My favorite post in a long time and that says a lot coming from someone who lives for your sheep photos.

  12. YO! THAT’S what i’m talking about! Let’s go march – oh wait, I have to finish this sweater/pie/bread/chair/mulch/fence/ring/batch of jam…….. first……..

  13. I loved this post! I remember the first time that I impressed someone with cooking skills at the age of 15. I was embarking on a one month sailing adventure and the list of who was on which boat wasn’t up yet as they wanted eveyome to get to know each other in the big group before we were split up into our sailing crews. I had offered to help the trip leaders make dinner that night and I was given the job of getting some lettuce into a salad. There were 6 or so heads of iceburg lettuce to deal with so first thing I did was to get the stem end out of them by banging the bottoms on the table to dislodge the bit of stem so I could just tug it free of the bottom. This tiny little time saver so impressed two girls who had never so much as made a PB&J sandwich, they asked if I could be in their boat.

  14. i have this on my wish list already! lol, i have often thought that i may be “fought for to be on a team” sometime. Hopefully not something we will have to see in our lives though! :)

  15. Susie, thrilled that you like the book, it means a lot to Joan and me to read this. Makers are the people I want to be around, apocalypse or any old time. When we started researching the book we didn’t know how all these different crafters/artists/and DIYers we were talking to would gel into a book form. Then we realized it was all about the amazing power of handmade.

  16. Pick me for your team. Not only can I shoot, I have a friend who has an arsenal and is an expert marksman. Oh yeah, I do knit, spin, sew, cook, bust-my-ass-for-a-good-cause (like surviving!!)

  17. This post really hit a nerve with me. I’m that person who knits and sews during swim practices, car rides, those moments before the kids school concert starts, while waiting in the orthodontist office. Truth be told, I’ll do it almost anywhere. Some people admire, some people ask to be taught but some people just ask why bother when you could go down to (fill in the big box store) and get it faster and cheaper. You’ve summed it all up and pointed out things I hadn’t considered. It’s great to be part of the DIY community. It’s community, with its collective skills, that will take us through whatever comes our way.

  18. Patricia Rogers

    October 14, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    I really enjoyed this. I realized one day that, while I can operate a computer and do bookkeeping and other business things, I can also do what I think of as real things: ride a horse and care for it, raise dairy goats and milk them, cook, sew, knit, crochet, build a fence, and so on. I have survival skills! Kind of neat.

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