Tuesday, May 12, 2009

i heart jenny hart

one of the highlights of the hello craft summit of awesome was the craftnote address by jenny hart. jenny is the driving force behind sublime stitching and a woman that i consider one of the mothers of the modern craft movement. her fresh take on the world of embroidery design caused crafters everywhere to pick up those long neglected sharp needles and get to stitching. she gave an inspirational talk about her business and how craft and the craft community got her through some tough times in her life. then she sat down with a few lucky ladies (this chickadee included) for a demo of basic embroidery techniques.

magic the unicorn was made in just one short sit-down with a sublime stitching starter kit. while we worked, we learned more than just how to execute a french knot. jenny also educated the group on a current conflict between her business and another embroidery company, urban threads. it raised a lot of questions about copyright and copying in craft, and i left the session vowing to write more about the dispute and issues surrounding it. but you know how those best intentions sometimes go...thankfully (and coincidentally) meaghan of oh ginger put up a well written post about the integrity of craft on her blog, queering domesticity.


Meaghan said...

Thanks Chickadee!

As I have explained to you, I'm still not quite ready to pin down a concrete opinion about any of this. I think that Jenny Hart has done what a lot of crafters aspire to do...get her work published, recognized, and incorporated into the mainstream. AND I think that comes with numerous sacrifices; insofar as she's now signed to a very large publishing house, she has forked over her "indie cred" and is operating according to the whims, at least as far as her published works are concerned, of the publishing industry (or The Man, as it were). She can talk about how she got there but that might not be where anyone wants their craft, or craft in general, to go.

I know that sounds really harsh and it isn't intended to be the slightest bit cruel. I make a living ordering books from publishers and middle-man distributers and I have not lost an ounce of respect for the quality and dedication of the authors producing the work. But I make my jewelry by hand, you sew/knit yours by hand, and neither of us will ever get to be as "big" as Jenny Hart/Sublime Stitching unless we fork over an unknown amount of creative freedom in order to be that big. In my mind it is what delineates bloggers like Dooce from bloggers like me.

On the other hand, aren't we all a little swept away by "rags to riches" stories? It's kind of the American dream, in a way; it's all meritocratic-bootstrappy. My personal hopes and dreams for myself are to never really cash into that machine. If the crafty stuff gets too complicated for me, if the involvement of money forces me to lose my edge or my soul, I'll stop. Other people don't necessarily want to do that, or their urge to be creative is so overwhelmingly intense that they cannot fathom making a living doing anything else. I fully respect that, but it is hard.

And this is just one example...the copyright/patent debate...of how hard that can truly be given the way that capitalism affects the consumption-machine. It is also a great example of the cavernous divide between Art and Craft; the former being something understood to be enduring and borne out of the compelling need to create, the latter being something ultimately designed to fulfill a want or need in the here and now.

Wow. I just blabbed a lot! :-)

Anonymous said...

very interesting....that is a lovely unicorn,perhaps did you embroider it? i love embroidery, it is calming, coloring with thread...what could be nicer. kd

Miranda Wilson said...

I really disagree with what Meaghan said here. Since when do we not want to see these independent designers become successful? No author gets complete control over what a publisher does and I'm sure Jenny's faced with making difficult compromises. Would any of us turn down similar opportunities? I read somewhere that she turned down having a huge company release a line of kits under her name because she didn't approve of the manufacturing practices. I don't think it's fair to assume we know what she's been offered and turned down. Selling out is when you do something you said you'd never do. This is a woman who built a company from scratch according to her personal vision, one that I've followed and witnessed grow over the last ten years and I cheer every time I see her reach the next level. So, Meaghan, with all due respect, I have to say your comments really just make you sound sour grapes.

Meaghan said...

I think that you've misunderstood what I was trying to convey, Miranda. And I also honor the fact that what I might be saying about Jenny Hart might just sound like sour grapes. It's not the first time someone who held opinions or said things that were counter to the mainstream was accused of being grumpy, jealous or just bitter. I am not any of the above, and I do respect Jenny Hart. I've got some of her books and her patterns on my wishlist. What the issue in my post and what I wrote here centered on was the "indie" aspect of things. There have been a lot of discussions about Jenny Hart, her indie appeal, the relationship of her designs to the recent copyright debacle...and the crux of the issue for me centered around the issues of patent and copyright for indie designers and crafters.

I've worked in various places that interact with the publishing industry, and I have some concept of what one must be willing to sacrifice or compromise in order to get published. I don't know what Jenny personally sacrificed or compromised. I also didn't call her a sell out. I absolutely support women owned and operated businesses. I have a different vision for my own which lends my very personal and unique (in the sense that it is different) perspective.

Finally, you really only focused on one aspect of my discussion. I did say that her experience certainly had its appeal...the bootstrappy, DIY, American dream kind of thing. I think if you had finished reading what I said here, you would have a different understanding of what I am trying to convey (which is more ambivalent than harshly judgmental), and you would in turn reconsider your sour grapes judgment. But I respect that having a personal connection to someone, or something, limits one's ability to be objective.