High Tech Prefabbed Crafts

My last post pointed out that if we work, we partake in the modern meaning of craft as it relates to our pride, satisfaction, success and maintenance of tradition in our jobs. However, there are high tech industries out there taking advantage of our nostalgia for earlier times and earlier handicrafts by churning out prefabbed handicrafts that, for now, are less expensive than the original, not too cheesy looking and are accessible to the average consumer. I bet these industries are even using artisan consultants to figure out how to make these prefabbed crafts. After all, there is money in this if you can sell more prefabbed crafts than homemade ones, even at lower prices until market demand rises.

Even I, a self-professed quilt snob, own several machine quilted, mass produced quilts. One is even patchworked and tied on the back, while the front is one piece of cloth printed in a quilted pattern. It folds down into a sewn in pocket, and even the printed top has some decent machine quilting on it. I didn’t pay much for the quilt. It is pretty and keeps me warm. So not a bad deal, considering the only way I’ll get a real handmade quilt again is to light a fire under my very busy quilting sister. Probably not gonna happen.

So do these prefabbed handicrafts force artisans to price their crafts even higher to compensate for the flood of “prefabbed” stuff on the market? I suspect so, especially if these prefabbed objects start commanding huge prices as consumers seek them out. Take, for example, the Penguin Threads Deluxe Classics project. Penguin Classics commissioned embroidered book covers for some of its classic books such as Black Beauty, Emma,  The Secret Garden from Etsy artist Jillian Tamaki.

Click on the link above to see pictures of the embroidery work — it is beautiful. It looks like crewelwork to my untrained eye. My mom used to do this type of embroidery; it is very ornate with french knots for flowers, stem, split and chain stitches for outlines, satin stitches to fill in the outlines, and couched and seeded stitches for climbing and shaded patterns. In other words, crewelwork is time consuming and expensive. You need a specific type of embroidery floss, material and needles to do it. So, I was marveling at the pictures of the covers, a real collector’s item, and the fact that Penguin Classics was committing to such an expensive product at a time when e-books are outselling hardcovers.  What an amazing, handcrafted gift for a special bibliophile or a keepsake for your little girl, right?

Wrong. Read the FAQs on Jillian Tamaki’s blog. Even though her prototypes will be hand crewelworked, the covers will be mass printed, embossed to resemble stitching, to look like it and feel like it, but be basically fake. Bummer. I bet Penguin will even charge a lot for these books, too. Will consumers accept a facsimile of the original? Most likely, as where else will they be able to get the original crewelwork covers unless Ms. Tamaki sells them? It sounds as if artists are pushing themselves out of their own careers, or at least from making a living off creating real art. And I am not liking this trend…


3 Responses

  1. Very good food for thought! And a wonderful reminder. I used to do crewel-work and loved it; s much more varied than cross-stitch or needlepoint. I need to go find some to do again.

  2. It is a beautiful handicraft. Unfortunately, my mom passed away before she could teach her daughters. Would love to see pic of yours if you get back into it…

  3. I will need some serious refresher, but you’ve inspired me.

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