The industry as seen by top designers.
Make It Unique or Copy a Model?
Sometimes a consumer wants it unique, but other
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
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
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.)