Whether you like it or not, you stand a good chance of receiving a handmade gift this holiday season. It may be from your kid or maybe your grandma. But if it has a pom-pom on it, you're in the club.
While crafting remains as popular as ever, craft culture has acquired a new and not unwelcome quality of late - a sense of humour.
In the earnest 1990s, Martha Stewart tapped a huge underserved market yearning for handmade comfort, but she did so with little to no irony, breaking out her glue gun to create pinecone centrepieces without so much as a wink at the audience. Over time, the increasingly super-rich doyenne of domesticity created several lines of mass-produced products (the opposite of handmade) and built a media empire on the illusion of DIY allure.
The backlash, launched by an online brigade of DIY crafters who didn't aspire to the same kind of cookie-cutter perfection, was swift and furious. Many of these devotees, of course, were just as humourless as Stewart, but without the style. Then - perhaps in response to the stridency of both camps - a new breed of crafter emerged from the knitting circles, one with edge and a sense of playfulness.
In 2003, Bust magazine founder Debbie Stoller launched her irreverent Stitch 'n' Bitch series of how-to-knit books, parlayed into a yarn line called Stitch Nation. All items are sold at a site called Knit Happens.
Then, Amy Sedaris, a cult comedy hero, built a cottage industry out of bizarre, crafting-inspired mayhem. Her 2005 book, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, traded in her affinity for the absurd. Her latest book, Simple Times: Crafts For Poor People, includes such projects as a tampon ghost, a wizard duck costume (just as it sounds) and hot dogs on a rake. It's a pure humour book masquerading as crafting how-to.
The latest, most explosive example of crafting humour, though, is a site called Regretsy, a take on Etsy, the popular vehicle for vendors of handmade wares. For Regretsy's founder, April Winchell, it all started, appropriately enough, with an inside joke: She and her friends began sending each other less than desirable Etsy items - crafts that missed the mark - with the purpose of making each other laugh. Their shenanigans sparked the idea of a blog highlighting the funniest of the worst Etsy listings. She launched Regretsy in October of last year.
"I thought, I'll just put up two weeks' worth and come out swinging and I'm sure Etsy will shut me down," Winchell recalls. "But that's not what happened." Instead, Regretsy received an astounding 95 million hits within four days. She has since also published a book, Regretsy: Where DIY Meets WTF.
Like the best satire, Winchell's site, which mocks handmade items in categories including Dolls, Dead Things, Fairies and Michael Jackson, can be both scathing and sympathetic. "Looking for bad stuff on Etsy is like looking through pearls and trying to find a shell," she says, emphasizing her affection for artistic expression that's "imperfect." (To offset what she calls her "asshole footprint," Winchell also sells ostensibly cooler merch on Regretsy, directing the proceeds - up to $30,000 to date - to charity.)
While her site's relationship to Etsy is obvious and symbiotic, it has remained one-sided, as they rarely interact, Winchell says. "We send millions of hits toward Etsy," she adds. "I just wish we were all a little bit more forthcoming about the fact that we're in business together."
Of course, not everyone finds humour in the same way and places. And even if the two sites did open up to each other, they will always be uncomfortable bedfellows, an odd couple. For crafters and their fans, though, that translates into plenty of laughs.