Handmade…What does that really mean?

Posted by on Jul 24, 2017


Follow me on Instagram (@lisaridout) and see posts like the one from July 7th featuring the above image.

For those of you who already follow me on Instagram (@lisaridout), you know that I don’t overwhelm you with many posts. I’m lucky if I actually post more than once a month. You also know that Instagram is really the only social media platform I participate in. If you’ve been looking for me on Facebook, sorry, you won’t find me there.  

I think that all the hype about how businesses HAVE to participate in some sort of “social media” is just that…HYPE. As with any new advertising or marketing tool, we are ALL trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. And quite frankly, who knows at this point what is right and wrong for your business. I believe that social marketing is still too new to really know just yet how effective it is.

The problem, from a small business point of view, is that the current “information age” demands that you “do” what the world at large believes you need to do to be successful in the 21st century. And for people like me, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to “do” it all on your own. You either have to find the resources to hire someone to manage that aspect of your business, or make the hard decisions about what you will, and will not, engage in. Each business needs to figure out what they believe will work for them. It’s not a “one size fits all” kind of philosophy – or solution.

So for a really small business, like mine, it means picking what to spend my time – and my advertising and marketing budget on – because like everything else in my business, I have to handle it myself. I guess it’s just another in the long line of things that makes me think about how “handmade” my business really is. Lots and lots of people use the word “handmade” to describe what they do, but is that the correct word to be using?

If you pose the question to Mr. Google, it depends on how you ask it…I recently, out of interest, did a search using the word “handmade” and oh my goodness, what a loaded question it turned out to be. Basically, most people agree that handmade is any item that is designed and made by someone who uses their hands, and touches it through every aspect of its creation.

Here is a shot of me working with my specially made wire drawing machine. It enables me to draw up to 60 feet of wire at a time. Drawing wire is something I do A LOT of and I have to be present to operate and help the machine to perform the work.

There is a huge debate about if using specialized equipment to help produce the work means that it is still handmade. I personally think it depends on the equipment used, and how much of your production is done by machines that can operate without actual human hands. For example, all of my special equipment, built with the help of Ian Bigham, requires a human (me) to monitor and use my hands as part of the actual machinery. In other words, the machinery wouldn’t work properly without the addition of my hands to “guide” or “work” the material. It is basically an extension of my “hands”.

Close up of me winding wire around an oval mandrel, using my specially altered lathe, fondly known as “Big Red”. Ian and I adjusted this piece of equipment to help me with the “manipulating of shape” process, in this case turning the round wire into oval shaped rings. Winding 2.0 mm thick wire is a tough job – the thicker you go, the harder it is to bend.

I’m weighing in on this “heated topic” because, during my working lifetime as a career craftsperson, the idea of “handmade” is changing and it is up to consumers to educate themselves about what is truly handmade and not. “Buyer Beware” is still the mantra!

But how can you really tell? If you have seen something at a craft show that “speaks to you” and you think you might purchase it in the future, take the time to talk to the craftsperson about their materials and learn about how they produce their work. If you are impressed with their craftsmanship, but need to think about it; or you need time to save to buy something, think about following them on Instagram. It’s a great place to see what they are producing in their studio. Over time, you will have a bit more insight into how they create their pieces, whether it be wood, ceramic, glass, metal or fibre. Instagram is a “visual” platform, with lots of images. For craftspeople, it’s all about the visuals. Pictures can say much more than words, and a visual accompanying some text can have more impact and get information across more easily. Following a craftsperson on Instagram will, over time, either get you really excited about buying something, or change your mind if it’s not “handmade enough” for your sensibilities.

Here I am working at my “kick-press”. Kick-presses are readily available and Ian and I have altered this one for some specific wire purposes. Currently, I use it for “flattening” wire and punching holes in the flattened wire.

I tell all my clients that my website is the “heartbeat” of my business, and my blog is the “pulse” of what I am up to or currently thinking about. For me, Instagram augments my website presence and more often than not, my posts are business related. You won’t find a single food image in there – even though I love to bake!

Managing my own website, lets me share EVERYTHING (and it’s all current information!) you need to know about my business: my jewellery training, my contact information, the retailers across Canada who carry my line, the shows I am participating in all year long, and what you’re reading right now; my blog, where I post monthly.

Along with the e-commerce capability to buy directly from me and have it SHIPPED FOR FREE right across Canada, my site is “one-stop” shopping and access to everything I am up to.  THIS…this blog…this website…my Instagram account…that’s it! I can’t handle another social media thing competing for my precious studio time, when what I should really be doing is….

HAND-MAKING my jewellery!  Speaking of which, I’ve enjoyed this lovely break, but I really must get back to it!

So, please visit my website often. I change the feature images on the homepage every month! And I invite you to follow me on Instagram and see my handmade journey. Then, when you come see me at my Toronto studio (by appointment), or at the One of a Kind Craft Show you will be able to put your hands on my fine jewellery, and really feel the handmade difference.