Saturday, January 12, 2013

Philosophy: DIY and Socioeconomic Privilege

This post is the beginning of the Philosophy posts, in which I talk about design philosophies and other things related to DIY.


I came across this article on XOJane, which discusses the rise of DIY as a white, female, upper-middle class thing to do. It's really worth the read to get the perspective. Let me pull out a few quotes that hit home for me:
Doing it yourself is framed as a revolutionary act -– we can all eschew consumerism and stick it to the Man by simply refinishing a coffee table or painting our rewired, upcycled lamps jaunty shades of teal. Never mind the fact that homemade items are still in large part made out of purchasable goods.
Not only is hardcore DIY yet another way for women to compare themselves and come up short... it’s also a luxury reserved for those with the means needed to sustain it –- plenty of funding (hot glue and organic yarn are not free), and plenty of free time. 
DIY is not about doing it yourself when you have no other choice -– it’s about choosing to do it yourself when you could just as easily afford not to. 
The writer assumes that the modern DIY movement arises out of a desire to 'eschew consumerism' and be frugal. She says it is 'framed as a revolutionary act.' Is that so?

Let's spell this out: DIY is an acronym for Doing It Yourself [when you normally wouldn't]. Doing what yourself? Anything!

I can't speak to the history of this social phenomenon (though Chris posits DIY goes back to the emergence of science magazines in the 20's), only to what I've seen recently. For me and my peers (admittedly white, female, upper-middle class -- but we'll get to that in a sec), DIY seems to stem from a desire to improve, customize, or create 'authentic' pieces from store-bought clones, or to simply immerse one's self in artwork and be proud of one's effort and results. DIY literally for the sake of just doing it yourself. For DIYers with kids, many of the DIY ideas serve as fun ways to keep kids entertained and creative, or to work on problem-solving issues. What's wrong with that?

For me personally, DIY is about not only the artistic fulfillment, but about creating stuff I can't purchase, because general merchandise doesn't fit my specific need or come in the right color, texture, etc. And, in many cases I actually can be more frugal, if I recreate something featured in an expensive store, such as Anthropologie.

But this leads into the true heart of what's bothering me: the privilege of DIY.

In some cases, DIY provides simple yet out-of-the-box fixes to common problems, that anyone could utilize. For example:

A shoebox and toilet paper rolls; a majority of families have these items, and could repurpose them to create this organizational tool for zero dollars.

Also these beautiful roses made out of leaves (free), or this space-saving idea one could utilize for the cost of a $5 tension rod.

But the writer of that article is correct, there are other projects that seem more inaccessible to the general population. For example, these pallet tables everyone's talking about, that seem like a frugal idea until you take into account the time and supplies required (saws, sanding paper, sanders, stain, nails, joints, etc.). Or the numerous sewing projects that require the user to have a) a sewing machine, b) the experience to use it, and c) the money for fabric, a cost which I know from personal experience adds up quickly.

Are some of these projects more expensive than a ready-made product? Yes. Are they time-consuming? Yes. Do they require skills and abilities not everyone has? Absolutely. But is it immoral to desire a certain level of authenticity, to create something unique, or to update what you have if you can afford it?

DIY is a hobby. Just like model airplanes, camping, horse-back riding, and other activities that aren't accessible to the general public. Calling out the 'privilege' of DIY seems similar to saying nasty things about people who only buy designer labels, or who drink a $5 Starbucks every morning, or who go to massages every month. Is the 'culture' of DIY inaccessible to everyone? Yes. But so is the 'culture' of almost everything. Not everyone can be a part of every movement or hobby.

So, do I feel uncomfortable having my privilege called out for having the time, money, and skill to make DIY stuff? You betcha. It's always uncomfortable to be reminded that you have something that others are denied access to. But does it mean I shouldn't participate in DIY projects because of it? No.

Furthermore, I find the writer's conclusions about DIY to be somewhat problematic.
Where are our lavishly designed infographic tutorials about how to take your crooked landlord to court? Why so many lovingly photographed step-by-step tutorials for the perfect hipster French braid, but so few showing us how to obtain free birth control, apply for Medicaid or build a modern black box
You can't take your crooked landlord to court without an attorney. Period. You can learn all about Medicaid through government websites. The ACLU passes out cards you can keep in  your wallet for what to do when you're arrested. There are talks on youtube on how to interact with the police (pro-tip: don't).

For all this 'subversive', 'stick it to the man' sort of thing the writer seems to desire, you can just Google for it. At the library if you need to.
While there’s nothing wrong with beautifully handcrafted centerpieces, hand-lettered gold leaf wedding invitations or homemade vodka infusions, it’s frustrating that so few DIY blogs and web sites pose any real threat to consumerism, or to society’s expectations of femininity.
DIY means Do It Yourself. Does doing it yourself have to threaten consumerism, or traditional femininity? It seems to me that the writer considers it our personal responsibility to thwart consumerism and defy gender norms. And while I think she has an interesting perspective, and it's good to consider other angles, I am unconvinced there's something wrong with the current DIY movement.

Well, that's 2 perspectives. Any others?

<3, Savannah

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Craft Project 1: Decorated Wooden Letter

Project: Decorated Wood Letter

Inspiration: Quilled Monogram with Fringe Flowers

Source: This Pin from This Blog.

Total Cost: $16.01

Total Time: Plus shopping and waiting for paint to dry, about 3 hours. Actual assembly about an hour and a half.

Story: I saw this pin and fell in love. I knew it was just the thing to go on the outside of my new office door. (We just finished updating our hallway, installing white baseboard and replacing the old, wooden doors with white ones).

Despite Chris's reluctance to let me make him a boy-themed one for his office door, he was still excited to go with me to Michael's and pick out the 'bits' for my letter. I'm not sure how the lady who originally created this made the flowers, but it sounded complicated. I elected to just purchase mine.

I started by picking out actual fake flowers (one sale 50% off whole stock), but when I sat down to figure out how they would look arranged together, I realized I'd have a hard time hiding the 'stems', even if I cut the blossoms off. Then Chris found an aisle in the scrapbooking section that had paper-ish flowers sorted by color, also for 50% off. Score!

We ended up with the following, for $16.01:

Supplies: 2 packets of big flowers, 1 packet of medium, and 1 packet of small. 1 acrylic paint in a dark purple, 1 letter S, 1 sheet of cream-colored paper, and 1 piece of 220-grit sandpaper (which I already had).

The S had a sleek finish over it, and Chris warned me we wouldn't be able to just paint directly on it. I used the sandpaper to hand-sand a small section on the back and painted over both sanded and non-sanded places to verify. Yup, he was right.

I then used a sander for expediency, but if I didn't have one I could have easily hand-sanded the whole thing. I decided not to sand the small sections between front and back, because I liked the flash of white.

Above you can see the S sanded, and then where I started painting. I gave this a coat, let it dry, and gave it a second coat, being careful to brush towards the outer edges so I wouldn't glop any on the sides.

After that I arranged my flowers how I wanted them, and took a picture to make sure I could recreate it once I started gluing.

I used a glue gun for these flowers. So thrilled with myself at this point, but then it was time to do the paper curlicues. After a lot of experimentation I ended up with the following:

I found that I had to start the curlicues by hand, as a pencil didn't get the curls tight enough. I had to glue some of the papers together to get them to stay close to each other, and very delicately bend out the paper so it would curve how I wanted.

I folded the end of each paper at an angle so that it would fit up snug against the S. Then I used Elmer's Glue to glue the paper to the S. Unlike the picture that I used for inspiration, I chose to only place paper under where the flowers poked out, to beter hide my handiwork.

Chris declined to let me put a nail in our new door, so I'll have to pick up some of those sticky-hooks from Walmart to finish mounting it. Until then, voila!

Next Up

Converting an old glass window I have hanging on my kitchen wall into something like this:

From this pin, from this source.

<3, Savannah

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The First Year of Recorded Crafting

A friend said to me that of all the people she follows on Pinterest, I'm one of the only ones who actually makes the crafts she pins.

I love crafting. Not as much as I love writing of course, but there's something about making physical art that is so creatively satisfying. As a young homeowner with not much design sense, I find it easier (and cheaper!) to make the art I need rather than try to find something in stores. A designer in a magazine once said that you should only bring items into your house that you love -- a nice philosophy, unless you are very, very particular, like me. But when I make my own decorative pieces I can't help but love them, so it's win-win all around.

I craft when I'm happy, when I'm juiced up on life. I plan in advance and try to make my holiday crafts months before the actual event. I'm so proud of what I create, and yet I don't want to mix my crafting life with my writing life, blog-wise. And so, I've decided to make a separate crafts blog and dedicate to 2 crafting projects per month for the year of 2013. It's a little more than I've done historically, but with my office finally set up to be a comfortable and welcoming place, I feel that it's a goal I can meet.

Can't wait to get started and share the results with you! First project coming up this weekend...