Handmade: The hands on of the book "Making a Life"

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News

So many of us do it -- we lose ourselves in the art of making things by hand in one form or another -- from fiber art to metal work. It gives us a strong sense of self-expression, but it also raises the question: why do we feel so driven to create with our hands?

Melanie Falick, an author ("Knitting in America," "Kids Knitting," "Weekend Knitting," and several other titles), editor, creative director and life-long maker, does an excellent job of exploring the many possibilities with her recently published book, "Making a Life, Working by Hand and Discovering the Life You Are Meant to Live" (Artisan Books, hardcover $35).

In the book Falick features knitters, quilters, weavers, metalsmiths and more from across the country and the U.K., and the inspiration behind their work. 

Melanie Falick, left, embroiders on a pair of her jeans in the studio of another hand-sewer.

The day the book came across my desk, I was so fascinated by the topic that I knew I needed to share with you some of her insight, so I recently did a Q&A via telephone with Falick, who was in the midst of doing a bit of embroidery.  

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

A: Of the books I’ve done, they’ve been about how we do crafts, techniques and projects. What I’m most interested in, and what I felt ready to write about, is why we make things with our hands. I’ve spent so much of my life personally focusing on the technique – the how and what -- but what really fascinated me is the why.

Q: How did you go about finding the people featured in the book?

A: In the beginning I didn’t know how to approach it. All I could write about was my journey. There were people I knew, people recommended by others, and authors of books I admire. I wanted to have people who lived in different places, and worked in different media. (But) it was really something I haven’t been able to put my hand on -- why one person is in, and not another. Internally, I knew I needed to end up with something that felt well-rounded. Crafting and hobby are secondary to our life, even if you don’t make money at it -- it is important, like exercising.

Q: Why do you think some people feel the need to create?

A: I think it’s just our evolution birth right. I think everyone needs to be well and have a form of creative expression whether it’s singing, dancing, acting, playing a musical instrument, or embroidery. I feel creative expression allows us to sort of have ideas flow through us. I think that’s crucial for everyone. When you don’t have a creative expression that allows you to release, it’s like a clogged pipe.

Q: Would you say this is a book for non-artists/crafters, as well?

A: Yes. It’s obviously for makers, but I really see it for human beings. I see handwork as part of what makes up human. I hope it sparks thinking and conversation and that those conversations will radiate out, and making by hand will grow. It will become more common and appreciated. I do hope some people will become more curiious and try something. I want to try water coolors, but I'm not particulary good at it. We can enjoy doing a lot of handwork without being the best. We can benefit from those activities. 

Q: What affect do you feel the internet has had on the world of crafting?

A: It’s good and bad. I think it’s a connector. It can connect people and ideas, techniques and images, and that can be really wonderful, but it has to be balanced with the in-person interaction – the person helping you, the friend you can do it with, and all the other values. Being together in-person is the key to our humanity. We can disagree about a lot of things – politics, decorating (etc.) – but, if you sit down with someone, you can connect with each other.

Q: Overall, what would you say is the most popular craft today?

A: In my world, I would say knitting and sewing seem really big – and quilting is big, but I think people are receptive to more and more types of crafts today. In the early 2000, people said knitting was the new yoga. I don’t think it’s become less popular, but people are becoming excited about all of it. Rug hooking and macramé are coming back.

Q: What’s the one major thought you hope the book will leave your readers with?

A: I hope they recognize themselves in this book, and they feel their impulse to make things is valid and celebrated. And, if they’re not makers, they might feel curious enough to explore that side of their humanity. Making by hand has been undervalued in recent decades. I feel not only that it should be valued and celebrated, but it should be appreciated for its important role in our emotional health. 

Q: What crafts do you do?

A: I hand sew a lot of my clothes, and I knit. Recently I've been exploring crocheting, embroidery and pottery. 

Q: What did writing this book do for you as a maker?

A: It made me feel more grounded, (and) more clear about myself and my sense of purpose.  And, it made me feel even more excited about sharing what I know about making by hand with others. I want to change the world and have everyone become makers again. By inspiring more people to become makers, we will, as a population, develop more empathy for ourselves, our community and our planet.

Detroit News columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, jbrown@detroitnews.com or Facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.