Hands-On: How and Why to Join the Maker Movement

As a freelance writer with two specialties ­– design and food – I find that the two topics can collide in interesting ways.

I recently attended a meeting that involved a few chefs and purveyors who sell their wares at Cincinnati's outstanding public market. Casual chitchat before the meeting revealed that the chefs all had previously worked in the design field before switching gears and pursuing their foodie dreams.

I asked one of them why, and he told me that he'd tired of working on web design projects, that he longed to actually, you know, make something tangible with his hands.

Those of us in the creative profession love to make stuff. It's our livelihood: producing a printed catalog or a brand identity or a website that solves a business problem.

But let's face it: This kind of work doesn't exactly scratch the maker itch. We're often creating something at the direction of a client or manager. It's not entirely our own ­­– and it's not hands-on. We often make something intangible, like a website or a PDF or some copy that goes on a blog.

That's why I think creative pros are leading the Maker Movement ­– this trend toward hand-stitched clothing, home-produced jams, artisanal breads, bespoke jewelry, fine-art prints and all manner of highly designed crafts. Heck, we spotted this a good 10 years ago when I was editor at HOW magazine, and we began seeing a rise in designers who were making and selling their own products, like stationery and screen-printed posters. Then, cue Etsy, which has enabled makers to sell their goods, even small-batch or one-off pieces, for a fair price.

I've just finished Michael Pollan's latest book, Cooked ­– which takes his food writing away from farm and factory and into the kitchen, where he explores the four fundamental methods by which raw ingredients are transformed into something delicious and nutritious.

At the end of the book, Pollan writes of this urge for people to make things with their hands ­– and the role that cooking plays in that Maker Movement, whether you ditch your job to open a bakery, or you simply enjoy preparing bread at home. He suggests ­– and I agree – that we're all getting weary of using our hands to type and scroll instead of shaping, stitching, kneading or making. He writes:

Especially when what we produce for a living is something as abstract as words and ideas and "services," the opportunity to produce something material and useful, something that contributes directly to the support of your own body (and that of your family and friends) is a gratifying way to spend a little time ­– or a lot. I doubt it's a coincidence that interest in all kinds of DIY pursuits has intensified at the precise historical moment when we find ourselves spending most of our waking hours in front of screens – senseless, or nearly so. At a time when four of our five senses and the whole right side of our brains must be feeling sorely underemployed, these kinds of projects offer the best kind of respite. ... To join the makers of the world is always to feel at least a little more self-reliant, a little more omnicompetent.

Feeling a pull to join the Maker Movement? What are you itching to make? Can you take steps today to start a hands-on project?

Tags: Creativity