Creating a handmade home

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About Katie Clemons

Katie Clemons is a storycatcher and journal crafter. She helps people celebrate their stories with her award-winning writing prompt journals at Gadanke. She also blogs at Making This Home about simple, handmade living from a vintage airplane hangar in Montana.

When we were young, our families often ate our food off of china. That’s what we called our very best dishes. Today, most of us are eating food on Made in China plates with Made in China forks.

This transformation in our culture makes everything cheap and abundant. It also means we’re spending more time trying to figure out how to simplify and declutter on a constant basis, more than anyone in history.

The best way we’ve started simplifying at our house is to just flip an item over and see where it was made. We start wondering:

1.What’s this item’s story?

Each dollar we spend is a vote YES to that company and the way they’re doing business.

For example, we have a local wheat farm that makes flour and bread. They’ll let you tour their farm and facilities. You can buy their products at any supermarket in the state. I know their story. I know many of their values. Their products don’t cost any more than all the other options. My dollar goes to them.

2. How about the stories of the people making it?

We can’t know how products are being produced in undeveloped countries. They lack a lot of the environmental and workers’ rights laws that developed countries have. Incredible bribes and masks are created to block the truth from consumers and even the companies employing these factories.

You and I often just don’t know the stories of people building these things. But with each dollar we vote, saying that we’re okay not knowing.

That’s why I love places like Etsy.com. We’re constantly getting peeks into peoples’ shops and methods. They tell their stories — their products are a piece of who they are, and we know that the profits are going to those makers.

3. Can we make it ourselves?

Making handmade brings your family together.


Photo by Katie Clemons

My husband and I built the kitchen shown above. We hauled sheets of wood up to our Berlin, Germany apartment together. He used the table saw while I balanced out the window, holding cut wood. We sanded together. We varnished together. We talked and dreamed together.

Choosing to make things yourself (from cookies to the kitchen itself) connects family. It also teaches future generations how to create and to cherish the gifts they receive.

4. Do we know someone or can we find someone who makes this item?

“China” at my grandma’s house was really the clay plates and bowls she’d thrown on her pottery wheel in the basement. The real paintings on her walls came from artists exhibiting in outdoor art shows. Her jewelry was all always handmade. She had little sculptures, furniture, containers, clothing, blankets, and even switch plates for her lights; they were all handmade by the craftsmen she met.

She used to tell me:

“Katie, artists carry these incredible, enriching stories. They put those stories into the work they create, and you just can’t find that flavor anywhere at the mall.”

She proved that handmade is very alive and very available.  With the Internet, it’s only gotten easier.

  • Go to art and craft shows
  • Stop by local galleries and fabric shops
  • Ask artists for recomendations for something you want to find
  • Check the newspaper and Chamber of Commerce
  • Visit Big Cartel or Etsy
  • Visit tourist shops and coffee shops
  • Contact the senior centers in your community (they often have guilds of knitters, embroiderers, and sewers)


Photo by Katie Clemons

But what about the extra costs?

It’s true — handmade is often going to cost a little more. Yet for us, we’re actively trying to make it a priority at our house.  It means:

  • we’re buying a little less at the store so we can save up,
  • we’re really, truly loving the things that we are bringing home,
  • items are (generally) lasting longer because the quality of workmanship is better, and
  • we’re hanging onto items longer because they carry stories and mean more.

Is there anything handmade in your home?  What’s the story it brings to your family?

Join the Conversation

Comments

  1. Great Article! I LOVE handmade. I finally even got my sisters on board for my daughter’s gifts for birthday and christmas. They used Etsy and Ten Thousand Villages and they are gifts we will treasure from a mom. I love knowing where/to whom my money is going. I even try to buy as much “local” as I can on Etsy. I also love seeing things I’ve made and sold on other peoples kids. They really were “made with love” :)

  2. My aunt has made us quilts, they are so special! I need to be more intentional about buying handmade. My friend recently made me a handbag and it is gorgeous and sturdy, and it made me think about shopping handmade sites more often!

  3. Our walls are covered with art made by our friends and family (a combination of gifts and purchases). And our house is cluttered with our own creations. This makes me want to get organized and make sure our house tells our own story.
    Thanks for the inspiring post. I feel like you wrote this from my own heart, but a part that’s been a little dormant since my baby was born. I look forward to checking out your blog and shop!

  4. i like to knit and crochet so i usually supply my family with their winter scarves and hats. i need to learn to make mittens and gloves :).

    my mother-in-law is an expert seamstress and she made me a gorgeous quilt for a wedding present. she also makes dresses for my daughter.

    we have a few picture frames that have been decorated by our kids as crafts.

  5. What a great post. I think our lifestyles don’t require us to think enough about where we are getting all our ‘things’ from. Once thought goes into that, it really does make you question your choices.

    Last year on maternity leave I learnt how to sew and have since been trying out lots of different things. My biggest success has been sewing my baby’s bibs. It gives me so much satisfaction! I’m still learning but trying really hard!

  6. We’re working towards this in our house as well. Armed with a much nicer sewing machine than what I had, I’ve been making things like cloth wipes for the baby {we bought cloth diapers}, dish rags, and other household items. As soon as time permits I’m hoping to make a lot of my own dresses and skirts.

    I think that becoming less dependent upon manufactured goods is great.

    & don’t even get me started on how much I LOVE etsy.

  7. I think handmade shows love – whoever makes it in your family. I sew and make many of the furnishings and window coverings in our home. Now, my 12 y.o. daughter is sewing and it just warms my heart. Her creations are so unique and creative. Children’s artwork displayed in an “art gallery” is another way to save lots of money on decorating as well as show off their paintings, etc. rather than put them away in a file. I find frames at garage/estate sales for this and have them displayed in our entryway.

  8. My Great Grandma and MIL painted the artwork on our walls, my Grandpa made the intarsia praying hands, our bookshelf, my cedar chest and our cradle. My husband crafted the stool our daughter uses to get on the toilet.

    Being surrounded by these things makes me feel connected to my family and rooted no matter how far away from them I live.

  9. This is a great post. Thanks for the insight… it’s good to see that our family is thinking along the lines of others.

  10. I so enjoyed reading your post this morning. Homemade in our home . . . what first comes to mind that I see on a daily basis are the napkins that I made out of my unused sling fabric . . . and the hankies I made my boys, also out of leftover baby sling fabric. My next goal is to learn to quilt . . . with you guessed it, all of my leftover sling fabric! I also want to paint scripture on the white walls and dry flowers from our summer garden. But that might be a bit adventurous for this summer . . . with a baby and 3 boys! Thanks for this refreshing post.

  11. Love this article. We stopped shopping at walmart a few years ago after getting a better understanding of it’s business practices, unfortunately I bet our alternative- Target isn’t much better. Thanks for more ideas about how to move away from the big box stores.

    Our favorite piece in our home is a water color my grandmother bought years ago, we rescued from storage, my husband cut the mat board and we framed. Knowing the history makes it mean so much more to us. It’s the focal point of our living room.

  12. Ah.. nice to see you here at Simple Mom. As I was reading (I didn’t pay attn to the first line) and came to the kitchen shot I thought “hey, that’s Katie in her Berlin kitchen”.

    I love handmade Katie. Food, clothing, household items, etc… This is the direction we are going but it takes time. Most of my favorite handmade pieces are my children’s pottery (which we use daily), my framed photography and children’s art (our wall decorations), the quilts and stitched pieces (hot pads, tablecloths and the like) my grandmothers have made, the chair my father -in-law made, oh… there are too many to mention.

  13. Thanks for mentioning Etsy. I have a shop on Etsy where I sell eco-goodies. The story behind every handmade item is not only fascinating but also eco-friendly. Handmade goods use less energy and has less carbon footprint as they usually don’t travel thousands miles or sent in a tanker across the ocean to warehouses. I love the camaraderie of handmade sellers so much so that I became a Captain of Team Eco Etsy last year.

    Handmade rule!!

    P.S. I read about your tire house and it is awesome!!

  14. What a great posts! I love the quote from your Grandma about artist’s and their creations being made up of their stories. So true!!!!! Very inspiring.

  15. Buy local! It is a good moto:-)

  16. I still have a beautiful quilt my great grandmother made when I was a baby. I hope to let my daughter use it when she is a little older.

  17. I like everything in my house that’s decorative to have some meaning to me, whether it’s a picture my mom painted or a vase inherited from my husband’s grandma or a mirror that we got as a wedding present.

    That’s one thing that drives me crazy about a lot of the home-makeover shows: they fill the rooms with generic, interchangeable accessories and pictures.

  18. Wow. This is good stuff. Something I have been thinking about a lot. I am a lover of stories and handmade stuff definitely has stories to tell. Thanks for writing this post!

  19. I normally do not post responses on here, but am reading most of the articles, this is a great article and one I was waiting for for a while. It is so important and good to try to live by these rules and is one of our family mantras! Most of the things in our house are made by us, including restored furniture that has been through various families before us. It took us more work to restore the pieces, but they have a history, are made of solid oak and in addition cost us very little.
    I really like decluttering articles, as you mentioned in your article because I feel we have too many things, the problem in our house is though that we have a real problem doing this as most of the things are made by us, artisans, or by our extended family. Things you really can not get rid of! Sigh. :-)

  20. Thanks for this post. Such good reminders in it. It reminds me that it is a priority in our home to have our children learn the skills to make things on their own. Thus we always include them in our DIY projects. I think it’s been great for them to see us start a project from square one, meaning we have little idea how to do it. So they see us reading books, watching YouTube videos, and consulting with experts in order to plan our project out. And of course it’s such a great feeling for all of us in the end to use something daily that we made.

    I was reading the statistics recently (I’m not sure I have this exactly right, but it’s the right idea) –every dollar you spend locally goes five times further in your own community than a dollar you’d spend at a “big box” store — something along those lines. Local items can be more expensive up front, but you get it back by the support it gives to your own community.

  21. I am so happy that I found this! It is our family’s goal to work towards eliminating/minimizing all mass produced items in our home and diet.
    Just the dose of inspiration I needed!

  22. avatar
    Rita Gleason says:

    I loved this post. We love having stuff with a story verses having more stuff. It truly makes me feel like our home (though simple and small) is just as beautiful, maybe more so that the big house with all the fancy things in it. Hoping to pass this on to our children. Though I have to admit the toy company barage make this difficult.
    So, hear is a question, at what age do you start asking your children to be aware of how and where products are made???

  23. avatar
    Adrienne says:

    I love handmade things. I love making them and I love buying them and supporting individual artisans. But I do feel that there is one perspective that is often left out of the conversation when we discuss buying items made in developing countries. These countries are undergoing a metamorphosis towards greater economic and technological growth and industrialization–the same path that our country and many other western nations have followed toward prosperity and better lives for their citizens. If everyone stopped buying products produced in developed countries than these people would no longer have viable ways to feed their families. Many would return to the streets and fields where before they had virtually nothing. The harsh reality is that something is better than nothing and we need to be patient and let their societies evolve just the they way ours has. It takes time. In the meantime, I will continue buying things both handmade and not handmade as it best suits our families needs knowing that no matter where I buy these items, I am putting bread on a worker’s table.

  24. I would absolutely love a post about how to best research companies and learn more about their business practices. This is something that’s important to me, but I often feel overwhelmed and just don’t know where to start. There is so much conflicting information out there!

  25. I love this article. My mother loves sewing and crafting, but I never fully appreciated until now. My little girl’s room has many things that my mother made for her as her decor. As I rock her at night I talk about all the wonderful things that my mother made for her in her room, and I hope she literally feels the love that those things were made with. I’m learning the art of homemade gifts through the wonderful world of blogging and it’s become a huge outlet for me as well. Thanks for writing this.

  26. I’ve always loved vintage – but I grew up in a home where modern was revered and vintage was just old garbage.

    Year later I have a home of my own. And, I have vintage china from Goodwill and garage sales. Fun atomic patterned silverware – thanks to ebay and Etsy.

    And, our remote controls and wii nunchuks sit in vintage cheese boxes as handy storage.

    I’m decluttering – using a Minus 365 technique – but more importantly, I’m changing my priorities. So, I’m selling some of my former treasures on Etsy – and it’s wonderful to pass them on to someone new who can love them.

    There’s only so much room in a house. And, there’s even less room for stuff in a home. You need room for the people – and heaping helpings of love.

  27. It always amazes me how many of our everyday products are made cheaply and without care. They break within a year or less and you actually end up spending more by replacing them! What happened to good quality supplies? I am going to make an effort to research more of what we buy, so I don’t end up throwing money at cardboard and plastic.

  28. I love this! As a fellow Etsian I love the idea of promoting handmade. I make children’s clothing and one day while hand ruffling a skirt I had a lightbulb go off. The time and cost of making these items is not small and my mind went to the person who has made the $4 shirts I have purchsed in the past from a big box store and it made me ill. I can’t imagine the pennies an hour they are working for to provide this shirt at such a low cost. Since that day I have started making more items and upcycling thrift store clothing. I love second hand clothes for my kids because they are mainly play clothes. Plus what is more gratifying than being able to say “why thank you I made it” and my children almost always have one of a kind items (unless a customer requests a duplicate)

  29. I love the idea of everything being handmade, eating locally, and buying things that have a story. It’s truly inspirational.

  30. This is such an important concept – that our dollars are not insignificant, but they are an extension of our voice and our intention in the world. I remember saying this years and years ago, to a guy I was dating when he razzed me about buying “that expensive organic food” – that my dollars were the most powerful way for me to influence the market. He looked at me like I had three heads. We didn’t make it as a couple. :) Thanks for a great article!

  31. Great post Katie! All fabulous points. I especially love the voting “yes” to the company. So many companies have less than fair practices. Good to know what you are supporting. Thank you!

  32. I actually haven’t bought anything “handmade” in a long time. But I do make some of my own art for the house (the kids do, too), and I usually don’t buy store-bought baked goods or salad dressing- I like to make those myself. Next, I’d like to try making my own mayonnaise!

  33. Great advice. My husband and I especially love searching for art and other handmade goods when we travel about the world. We like knowing that our dollars are doing directly to the person who made the item.

  34. I love handmade. I have beautiful quilts that were handed down to me, I make hats to sell at a local artsy shop (and for my kids), and I would love for our house to reflect that. Do you live near relatives who are constantly and generously giving hard to turn down gifts to you and your children like I do? I definitely do not buy/make as much handmade as I would like to, but when I factor in my and my husband’s whole families giving each of our 4 kids birthday and Christmas gifts, it becomes overwhelming. Too much stuff, most of it junk. Any tips? I guess learning to live simply is not always as simple as we’d hope.

  35. I love all of these tips. We’ve moved more and more in the same directions, and it’s so much nicer. What a lovely kitchen, too!

  36. Hi Katie, thanks for your insight. I love the idea of spending a bit more money on things that you actually love and that carry a story. That’s exactly the reason why I spend way too much money on Etsy :)

    Alison

  37. Feel outside the box is so right. For ideas, use search engines, Ebay, Etsy, Amazon and Yahoo for different shapes & sizes of decorating.

  38. Handmade is my favorite. I’ve made the cloth napkins that we use at every meal from vintage cloth my MIL had from her Aunt who passed away. My children sleep under quilts that my mom made for me as a child and ones my MIL made for them as babies. Most of our food is made scratch and my absolute, favorite, love it to pieces handmade item? The table my hubby made for me for Christmas….here are some pictures….http://thehayeszoo.blogspot.com/2011/02/finished-product.html

  39. This post hits home. Much of our home is lovingly recycled – from wood floors, to chairs recovered with recycled jean-quilts.

    We grow most of our food. And it’s amazing how much easier it is to get them to eat vegetables when they can pick themselves anytime and no how they helped. My kids take real pride in how much they know we do ourselves.

    Interesting note on the expense . . . we raise a few extra pigs each year for a neighbor-farmer who has a business selling local naturally-raised meat. While her business is built on selling meat, she actually creates a lot of educational materials about how to eat less meat. She does this so people can afford to purchase the higher quality meat we provide. And her customer base – even in these tough times – has grown as people appreciate quality food more over unnecessary quantities.

  40. Great article. The one good thing about this economy, making more of us think and seek the little things that last a life time.

  41. This is such a great conversation! I’m all about handmade living and think it’s so important for us all to be connected to the things in our home! I just posted yesterday about the table my husband made for our family!

  42. I am blessed that my mother is an artist. She has paintings hanging up not just in my grandparent’s house but also in the local hospitals, universities and libraries in my home town. And now she takes every class at the museums in Pittsburgh where she lives. When I was younger she would take me and my sisters to the local craft fairs to buy all of our family Christmas gifts. It really teaches you to appreciate handmade items. If I could use that inspiration daily, I would get rid of all my “Made in China” china and find things like saltware dishes or make them myself once I learned. It would be great and be a tangible reminder of childhood for my sons when they touched or saw similar things.

  43. Love this post! And I love Etsy!

  44. Hi,
    Great post. Fabs sent me in your direction. Like her I create dolls. Etsy is where I have them. The creative process is both enriching and challenging. As a grandmother I have come to enjoy the delight in a child’s eyes when they get a handmade doll.
    I love how the process takes on a life of its own as well.

  45. Great article. Since becoming a mom, it has become more important to me to pursue handmade products and help support moms that are part of that movement.

    I recently launched my website, Mom’s Workshop (http://www.momsworkshop.com) , to give moms a marketplace to feature their creations. Supporting moms sell their handmade items is my way of taking a stand.

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