Who is the modern crafter?

In the 21st century, crafting has become a popular mode of self-expression and a big small-time business industry.
In the 21st century, crafting has become a popular mode of self-expression and a big small-time business industry.
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Crafting goes back centuries, from the human-hair bracelets traded by Victorian women to the institution of quilting as a staple in Amish homes. Martha Stewart built an empire on it. Etsy built an online community dedicated to it. Giant chain stores are stocked for it.

The practice of crafting is multifaceted. It may be a form of utilitarian art; a practice in self-discovery; a way to pass the time; a business pursuit. Crafters create useful objects like quilts or knitted legwarmers or chairs made into clocks, and purely decorative pieces like batik tapestries or sculptures made from old plumbing.


Once seen mostly as the realm of artsy women at kitchen tables, crafting has burgeoned into a full-blown industry with a much broader make-up. Who, then, is the modern crafter?

Almost anybody, it turns out. The many crafters of the 21st century are a heterogeneous group. Still, all of them have at least one trait in common, and modern crafters, in this way, are a lot like crafters centuries ago.

They create, and for one simple reason ...

Crafting and DIY have a lot in common, but they can be distinguished in one basic way: Do-it-yourselfers typically create, first and foremost, for a tangible purpose, while crafters typically create, first and foremost, for the sake of creating.

The character of crafting became what it is today in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, when suddenly everything was mass produced and the necessity for individuals to build, sew and create their own décor, clothing and furniture fell away. Many of those who missed the act of personal creation turned to crafting.

In this way, crafters are artists: Creativity is the driving factor. Family chronicles or warm legs or a dresser that finally matches a home's look are happy outcomes -- if they come out at all. A "failed" project, in crafting, is viewed by most people as no failure at all if it facilitates self-expression or experimentation or simply satisfies the human urge to makesomething.

This, then, is the common thread between crafters of yesterday, today and around the world. Other traits, though, are less universal. And considerably more practical.

Crafting has something in common with DIY beyond the act of creating something that didn't exist before: It is, for some, a money-saver.

While few people take up crafting solely in the pursuit of thrift, this is often the practical force behind taking it up -- at least at the beginning. In many cases, making your own drapes is less expensive than buying them readymade, and painting an old dresser is pretty much always cheaper than purchasing one.

This quality has brought crafting even further into the mainstream in the 21st century, with a widespread recession making store-bought luxuries like embroidered throw pillows and brand-new window treatments an unwise use of money that could go toward groceries. The modern crafter, then, may be driven not only by an urge to create, but also by financial necessity -- or at least a really deep desire to replace an ugly valance.

Many of us, though, know crafters who are in fact spending money, sometimes a whole lot of money, on their creations. Some of them simply have the disposable income for a hobby that involves buying fabric for $40 a yard because it's irresistibly beautiful; but others, and in the last decade their numbers have grown exponentially, are in it at least partly for something else...

While crafting today is often a hobby, it has, fairly recently, become something else, too. In the 21st century, crafts have become profitable.

Like the craftsmen of old who practiced their art as a living, the modern crafter has found a real market for his or her creations that reaches far beyond the local artists' co-op. It may have begun in the '90s with eBay, but it's Etsy, launched in 2005, that really highlighted crafting's potential as an entrepreneurial pursuit. The online marketplace connects craft-makers with craft buyers all over the world, featuring 800,000 sellers and 14 million registered users in 2012. Sales, mostly of handmade items (some Etsy stores sell vintage goods), totaled more than half a billion dollars in 2011.

And there are other sites, with names like Artsefest, Art Fire and Crafters Buzz, dedicated to helping crafters sell their wares. Crafts have become such a big small-business genre that Etsy holds an annual Summit on Small Business and Sustainability, hosted in cities around the world, where crafters and artists can learn about the financial, marketing, sales and eco-friendly sides of their industry.

And, yes, they can even learn about selling their hair jewelry. The market is small, but enthusiastic.

For more information on crafting, including ideas and instructions for projects, check out the links on the next page.

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More Great Links


  • A brief history of crafting. Vintage Image Craft. (April 17, 2012)
  • The Debate on Art vs. Craft Continues. Divine Caroline. (April 17, 2012)
  • Decorating Ideas DIY: Thrifty Decorating. Today's Creative Blog. (April 17, 2012)
  • Etsy Press Kit. (April 20, 2012)
  • Greer, Betsy. "Craftivism." Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice. 2007. SAGE Publications. (April 17, 2012)
  • Hello Etsy: A Summit on Small Business and Sustainability. (April 17, 2012)
  • Hip, modern crafting books: the BEST books. List. (April 17, 2012)
  • Holdgrafer, Mary Sullivan. "Craft vs. Art." Textile Arts Resource Guide. Aug. 21, 2007. (April 17, 2012)
  • Modern Crafting. (April 17, 2012)
  • The Modern Crafting Movement and Feminism. BlogHer. June 8, 2010. (April 17, 2012)
  • Survey Says: The Results Are In. The Etsy Blog. March 6, 2008. (April 17, 2012)