Passport to 'Handmade Nation'

The Austin premiere of 'Handmade Nation' left audiences inspired

Handmade Nation is a book, a movie, and a movement about the "rise of DIY, art, craft, and design." Whether knitting gloves, silkscreening a poster, or buying a handmade book on Etsy, the hallmarks of indiecraft are making art accessible and celebrating creative community.

Indiecraft – a popular blanket term inclusive of both crafty hobbyists and those who have made making and selling their work into sustainable businesses – is no stranger to Austin's popular culture. From humble beginnings in 2003, the Austin Craft Mafia have not only expanded their craft mafia network across the country and over the pond, but brought together creators and fans at their yearly fashion show/bazaar, Stitch. From these types of events and other online connections, like-minded souls have built a thriving community that inspired Faythe Levine, as both an active participant and observer, to document its vibrance in Handmade Nation.

In reclaiming craft from its stigma of being perceived as women's work, separate from fine art and part of an older generation's realm, and redefining it through their words, work, and actions, influenced by everything from Riot Grrrl and DIY sensibilities to environmental activism, the artists featured in Handmade Nation inspire audiences to try their own hands at creation.

Between screenings, Levine explained that the crafting movement, at its most basic, begins at the initial moment of contact between the consumer and the handmade item. The personal connection of knowing the creator, knowing where the materials were sourced, knowing how it was made, she said, leads to self-identification as part of a larger community, as the conversation and feedback makes clear shared philosophies. As the movement has spread and craft fairs grown in popularity, she has found indiecraft's cross-generational appeal has broadened as well.

Initially, she said, the older generation of crafters, the ones running long-established craft fairs, were defensive and wary. As indiecrafters explored new techniques, it soon became evident that this older generation held an untapped wealth of knowledge and experience. The 30- and 40-year-old craft fairs began to provide spaces for younger crafters; guilds have asked Levine to screen Handmade Nation for their members; and the American Craft Council's national conference in Minneapolis next month, "Building Bridges: Creating New Craft Culture," will examine how to strengthen intergenerational ties. Younger crafters, in their tweens and teens, have not yet made their mark, Levine said, but encouragement and support of creativity both at home and school at that age was a typical experience for many makers featured in the documentary. A well-funded high school art department or a Girls Rock Camp program can make all the difference.

Levine and her cinematographer, Micaela O'Herlihy, began shooting Handmade Nation in June 2006. After a short was released on the Internet, a book deal came the next year. The book was released in October 2008, prior to the film's premiere in February this year.

In Handmade Nation, Faythe Levine collects testimonials from artists at work, whether they're binding books, creating new jewelry from old, blowing intricate glass beads, or making shoes. Some are featured in only the movie or the book, due to space, and others, like Sabrina Gschwandtner of KnitKnit, an art journal documenting the new wave of handcraft, or Nikki McClure, a paper-cut artist famous for her limited-edition yearly calendar and illustrations for K Records and Riot Grrrl releases, are included in both. "The calendar is like my spore. It gets sent out in the world in a way I can't do myself," McClure says in the movie, capturing the spirit behind the craft community's creations.

The postscreening Q&A panel was composed of Faythe Levine, Jennifer Perkins of Naughty Secretary Club, Whitney Lee Made With Sweet Love, Magda Sayeg from Knitta, and Kathie Sever from Ramonster. They fielded audience questions ranging from how the film was funded (credit cards and an Etsy shop selling crafters' donated goods), whether it was OK to borrow the Knitta style of tagging, when craftmaking can replace a day job, and if the dearth of minority representation was a deliberate editorial choice.

Outside, a bazaar of local vendors and artists featured in the documentary provided a tactile corollary to the visual feast. A custom Knitta tag graced one of the standpipes nearby. Tents cooled tables for Sublime Stitching, Austin Craft Mafia co-founder Jenny Hart's nontraditional embroidery patterns; repurposed, bibliophilia-inspired wares by Pommes Frites; and children's quirky Western wear by Kathie Sever of Ramonster. Beth Hempton of Snuggle Herd provided tours of the WonderCraft Airstream trailer, where hands-on demos transformed T-shirts into new designs while others admired the ruffled, black-and-white window curtains that contrasted with cheerfully orange interior.

The Handmade Nation afterparty was held at Austin Handmade (2009 S. First, 383-9333). Occupying half of La Luz's former space (the other tenant is Once Over Coffee Bar) since mid-July, Austin Handmade offers myriad pieces from local artists such as Ian Shults, Ethan Azarian, and Melanie Schopper, designs by longtime crafty Austinites like Jennifer Nakatsu Arntson, and a wide range of toys, children's clothing, and women's accessories, all locally made. Though the store blurs the division between craft and fine art more than other purveyors in town, Sunday found it packed with crafters and fans. The Team Fabrication DJs provided a soundtrack for browsers to mingle with director Levine and like-minded souls while sipping on Treaty Oak mojitos and sampling Nada Moo vegan ice creams.

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Handmade Nation, Faythe Levine, indiecraft

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