As someone who prefers to thriftily mend things rather than buy new, I celebrate the fact that all my furniture is secondhand or gifted (although I do aspire to having my first ‘new’ sofa by the time I’m 50, 24 months and ticking…). Yet I spend my days making stuff. Buttons by the hundred, flat textiles that accumulate in layers like a hopeful trousseau.
This paradox is one which nags at me often. There is so much stuff in the world, what am I thinking of by adding to it? A quick half hour on Instagram shows that countless others are busy making stuff too.
We all know the adage that one needs to apply 10,000 hours to become really skilled. If you’re focusing on mastering tennis then this means you (mostly) smack a ball around and, apart from wearing out tennis balls, don’t really impact world resources. The same isn’t true for a potter or a jeweller, one needs to produce piece after piece to hone technique, and of course for all the accomplished pieces there are all the fragments, tests and failures along the way.
I love cooking. Making bread and cakes for my family, knocking up decent midweek dinners from beans, tinned tomatoes and veg. The great thing about food is you make it, you eat it, it’s gone. I’ve still got textiles lying around from over 20 years ago, which at least documents my progress, in a way that my Sticky Top Ginger Cake failure c.1997 will never do. Luckily for everyone.
So, how do I assuage this stuff-guilt? Firstly, back to my Instagram hour (you surely didn’t believe…) where I skimmed over scores of brilliant, inventive, subtle and creative examples of ceramics and textiles, wood-carving and illustration. Rather than feel overburdened I felt inspired by the ways in which people everywhere are applying effort and skill to making beautiful things. These things will hopefully add value to the lives of new owners and have a teensy beneficial impact on the economy along the way.
Although I want to make really large scale, impactful, textiles that line walls and transform spaces, working on a small scale for now means that I don’t overuse resources and I don’t really take up too much space. Seeking out and recycling domestic linens from my local secondhand shops means that the energy invested in making the original sheet or pillowcase is celebrated in a second life. And, although my button-factory is gaining pace (me and a piece of clay, very low tech) the fact is that my buttons are teensy, weighing less than a gram. Yes they do need to be fired twice in a kiln, but I fit them round the edges of other people’s work, in the places that otherwise would be wasted space.
I think I will alway feel a bit of guilt about being a producer, but perhaps this is just a healthy way of ensuring that I keep raising my expectations about the work I make and also lets me feel that my very slow production methods are actually a force for good.