Follow the Yellow

Archive of ‘books’ category

handmade nation

…along with the news of a very welcome election result, last week brought a message from America of a different sort to my door – an exciting parcel wrapped in brown paper.

Inside was a copy of a brand new book, Handmade Nation, sent to me all the way from Boston by lovely Meighan.

Meighan is the curator/author of the beautiful blog my love for you is a stampede of horses, where right now amongst many other things, you can find pictures from studio visits, images from artists’ sketchbooks, meercat brooches, a q&a with artist christian rex van minnen and temporary unicorn tattoos, plus new work from a huge range of emerging artists.


Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft and Design
investigates today’s new wave of craft – a vibrant movement of artists, crafters and designers working with both traditional and nontraditional media to create highly innovative work that’s a world away from the traditions of floral embroidery and cross-stitch samplers. Authors Faythe Levine and Cortney Heimerel have travelled 19,000 miles across the US to document this new craft revolution, which fuses traditional handcraft techniques with radical thinking, punk and anti-capitalist culture and the DIY ethos, and frequently crosses the boundary between craft and contemporary art. The book will also be accompanied by a documentary film of the same name due for release in 2009.

This beautifully-presented and inspiring book brings together profiles of 24 artists, designers and makers working with everything from embroidery to rug-hooking, shoe-making and paper-cutting, documenting their work, inspirations and methodologies as well as their work environments and processes. The profiles are accompanied by an interesting and thought-provoking selection of texts which explore the ‘handmade’ phenomenon in more detail, focussing on some of the related cultural and political issues. Essayists include Andrew Wagner of American Craft Magazine, Callie Janoff of the rather fabulously named Church of Craft, Betsy Greer of Craftivism.com and Susan Beal, author of Super Crafty. Particularly interesting is the essay by Garth Johnson of extremecraft.com, ‘Down the Tubes: In Search of Internet Craft,’ which highlights the role of the online crafting community, emphasising the importance of the web both as a tool to market and sell products via sites like Etsy.com and as a platform to share ideas, network and collaborate.

With lovely illustrations and lettering by Kate Bingaman-Burt (including a beautiful timeline mapping the rise of craft’s new wave that evokes Sara Fannelli’s artist timeline at Tate Modern) Handmade Nation is a fascinating snapshot of the contemporary craft phenomenon in the US. The book also provides a valuable context for the movement, touching on the political ideologies at its heart; however, I would have been interested to read more critical writing unpacking some of these ideas in greater depth, investigating the potentially revolutionary agendas of craft’s new wave, and positing what the possible futures of the handmade movement might be. Altogether though, there’s no doubt that Handmade Nation is a hugely enjoyable read, packed with ideas and inspirations. Here’s to the continued rise of DIY, art, craft and design!

For more information about Handmade Nation check out the blog and the official website. There’s also a q&a with Faythe Levine on my love for you is a stampede of horses, and an interview with both authors in NYLON here. There are lots of other people jumping on the ‘craft’ bandwagon at the moment, most recently India Knight in last week’s Sunday Times with this article on ‘credit crunch chic’.

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Whilst I was checking out the Princeton Architectural Press website, I also spotted this new book, A Year of Mornings. The book documents another interesting blog-based projects, 3191, which has a good story behind it. On the morning of December 7, 2006, Maria Alexandra Vettese and Stephanie Congdon Barnes each took a digital photo of everyday objects randomly arranged on their kitchen tables and, unbeknownst to one another, uploaded them to Flickr. Noticing a surprising similarity between their images, they decided to continue to document their respective mornings by posting one photo to a shared blog each weekday for a year – 3191, their site is named after the distance in miles between their homes in Portland, Maine, and Portland, Oregon. This new book brings together a range of images from the original Year of Mornings project, but Maria and Stephanie have already embarked on a new collaborative photographic project, entitled A Year of Evenings, which you can see here.

november

It’s November, and my autumn literature festival odyssey is now at an end. It’s been a good one. I have heard so many interesting and inspiring writers read over the last month or two that I have accumulated a huge list of new books to check out, starting with Claire Wigfall’s short stories, Sallie Day’s Palace of Strange Girls, Adam Marek’s Instruction Manual For Swallowing, and Anne Donovan’s Being Emily to name but a few. I have been to all kinds of great events, ranging from the Northern Poetry Slam to David Gaffney’s rather marvellous Destroy Powerpoint, to the very appropriately spooky Halloween launch for Comma Press’s New Uncanny anthology, and of course, the Manchester Blog Awards.

Since the blog awards, I have been enjoying reading the many and varied responses to the event, as well as to the shortlisted and award-winning blogs themselves. One or two have been less than complimentary, like this one from Manhattanchester, who dismissed the whole sorry affair as ‘whimsical’, ‘trite’ and ‘woefully middle-class’ and characterised the blog readings as ‘flat, ill-chosen and uninteresting’ mumbles ‘about coffee and home appliances’:

They chose the wrong winners… evidenced in part by the reaction of the crowd and the vox pops of the people I interrogated. The few that is who had actually heard of or read any of the blogs. Do your homework people!

…I have to admit, though, that actually I don’t mind much being considered whimsical or trite. In fact, dare I say it, I actually quite like it. I quite like domestic appliances too – they’re quite harmless really, sometimes quite useful for cooking and that kind of thing. I think it’s OK to write about domestic appliances if the mood takes you.

Anyway, other responses have been much more positive, emphasising the exciting possibilities of the critical mass of blogging activity in and around Manchester. I like this one from Adrian Slatcher on the Mancunian Way, which identifies the blog’s potential to act as a ‘genuine platform for new writing:’

What was noticeable last night is that there’s hardly a hair’s breadth anymore between the blog writer and the writer. Follow the Yellow Brick Road or Chicken and Pies could easily be the first chapter of an autobiographical novel…

I’m intrigued by the idea of a blog functioning like an autobiographical (or perhaps even not-so-autobiographical) novel. After all, I think even if you try to be quite honest, there’s something about the nature of this medium which necessitates you to assume a certain voice, a certain character, to tiptoe over into the territory of fiction. I think the ‘character’ or ‘voice’ of this blog is not dissimilar to me as I am ‘in real life’, but is quite a lot more perky. I feel quite jaunty and frivolous when I write this blog, as if I am a peripheral character in a Nancy Mitford novel. There’s a touch of the lashings-of-ginger-beers too I suspect – that’s the bit of me that grew up on Enid Blyton and likes words like ‘marvellous’ and ‘lovely’ and has probably read I Capture the Castle one too many times.

I have to admit, though, that for me, the whole blog awards experience has been quite odd. I was genuinely very surprised to be shortlisted, and especially surprised to win. It was quite a shock to the system to realise that there are actual ‘readers’ out there – I don’t think I had really thought about readers before, having always assumed that very few people would be interested in listening to me happily rambling about things like baked potatoes or tights and sparrows. But suddenly lots of my friends are reading my blog, and the link even got sent around my office. It’s made me feel rather self-conscious: I realise that this blog has been largely a place for me to indulge myself, to play and experiment, rather than a particularly thought-out project. I started it mainly just because, not having much time to dedicate to writing at the moment, I hoped it would keep me going, even if just by forcing me to write the occasional small something-or-other. There’s never been a clear plan in mind: it feels entirely different from a polished piece of finished ‘proper’ writing.

Thinking about it though, maybe that’s part of what makes this medium interesting. It’s inherently organic, and there’s always space to play or to move in unexpected directions – to write about stuff you see out of the window, or on the bus, or to post a picture of your shoes if you feel like it – in a way that you would never feel free do in a more formal context. It’s a good way to break down your own barriers, to banish the fear that every piece of writing has to be ‘perfect’ in some way. And in the end, in spite of all the strangeness, winning the blog award has been an enormous encouragement – just to keep on playing, if nothing else. Perhaps not everything we write has to be carefully considered. Perhaps all these unimportant, frivolous (even trite or whimsical!) words can come together and start to mean something more. Perhaps it’s in precisely these kinds of fluid, open spaces, where you feel you can just meander about anything, just like I’m doing now, where sometimes things can happen.

So with all this in mind, in spite of the oddness, I’m going to keep going and see where this takes me. Isn’t it the whole point about yellow brick roads that they can lead you to good places, after all?

my superego looks like this:

I am lying low at the moment. I am under a blanket. I feel distinctly blanket-ish.

I am doing a lot of reading. I have recently been reading William Morris’s very strange utopian novel News from Nowhere and H.G. Wells’ possibly even stranger Tono-Bungay. I am currently reading The Suburban Swindle a new book of short stories by an emerging US writer, Jackie Corley, which I am reviewing for Bookmunch. Next I will be reading The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist by Robert Tressell.

What I am not doing much of is writing. My blog has had a lot of extra traffic since being shortlisted for the Manchester Blog Awards, and whilst it’s great to have so many people stopping in for a visit it’s also strangely unnerving. It makes it harder to write things. I think I may be suffering from a case of “blogger’s remorse”. After all, it’s one thing to write a blog when you know that not many people (and certainly not many people you know in real life) are going to be reading it, but it’s quite another when lots of people (many of whom you know) are reading it, and having opinions about it, and you will also have to go out in public and acknowledge it as your own. My superego is going slightly crazy about all this (and ever since watching Slavoj Zizek’s “The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema” recently, I can’t help envisioning my superego as looking like Groucho Marx, which makes it extra weird). It is barking a lot of words at me in a very loud voice. Some of the words are things like “ridiculous” and “stupid” and “inane” and “twee” and “annoying”. It’s basically telling me that everyone is going to point and laugh at me, and then I’ll do something hugely embarrassing, and probably that all my clothes will also somehow fall off as well, in a general nightmare-type way.

However, I am not going to be defeated by my superego, even if it does closely resemble Groucho Marx. In fact I am going to dare its disapproval, so just watch this space…

it’s autumn

Autumn is really here now. I can smell it in the air. I like autumn. I like crispy early mornings, wearing boots and woolly tights, brisk walks, falling leaves, cosy jumpers and eating sustaining things like stew. I especially like that ‘back to school’ feeling of really getting down to business, a certain sense of purpose that comes along with the new stationery – fresh notebooks and really sharp pencils. It’s a good time of year.

I have to admit though that I’m not such a fan of the torrential rain we’ve been having of late. Or of the particularly unpleasant cold which has struck me down this week – I’m writing this from my sick bed. Still there’s worse things than lying around all day feeling slightly sorry for myself, eating soup, re-reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (the perfect book for chilly autumn afternoons), and looking forward to an evening of watching entertaining TV like ‘Dog Borstal’ in my pyjamas.

In other news I’ve got a review of Taking Pictures by Anne Enright up on the lovely Transmission blog at the moment where there are also lots of other good things. Check it out here.