Sunday, 10 June 2007

The 'cupcaking' of Craft

I had good intentions on Friday afternoon of attempting a blog-a-thon this weekend. Of course that isn't what has happened.
Yesterday was spend drinking too many cups of tea, gossiping, baking a tea-cake, soaking gloves in prep for dyeing, reading the newspaper, running errands and eating way too many Clementines (is it the drought? they have been wonderful this year).
So now its half way through Sunday, one batch of gloves are in the washing machine, another in the dye-pot, the white bean soup is on the stove and the newspapers have been read (congrats go out to the Super Shula and a big raspberry to the Pathetic Paris).

Its been a slightly disappointing week with the news that I (and quite a few other people I know) didn't get into the Melbourne Design Market. Disapppointing as I've been in the last 2 and its a fantastic opportunity to actually make retail where normally it is only wholesale. One door closes another must open. I just hope that the stalls this year are not filled by commercial producers at the expense of smaller more handmade design businesses.

This in a way leads me into what I wan to say about the 'cupcaking' of craft. I don't know if this analogy will work but I'll give it a try.

Over the last few years cupcakes have been the epitomy of domestic goddess fashion, although not the making of the actual cupcake but rather the buy of it at a quaint market or boutique-de-edible, or perhaps purchasing a cookbook about making cupcakes (this of course is never actually used as a cookbook but as a coffee-table book, am I the only one who sees the hilarity in this....?). Quaint is also a catch phrase in this, we are talking a touch of pink gingham in all this.
Now the thing about these purchased cupcakes is that they are all about the topping never really about the cake, and these cupcakes are always topped in the most eye shatteringly bright icings, cachous, fake flowers, etc, etc, and the sad thing is the only buzz you will get from eating these things is going to be from the sugar rush.
Now those people who have opened their cupcake cookbook and given it a try, soaked up the appreciation of their friends and family, suddenly decide that their cupcakes are so good they should be taken out into the world and.... sold to other people. The fashion of 'selling' has started. The domestic goddesses can earn a living!
OK I may have lathered all this on a bit to thick (like some of those icings) but I think you get my drift. What should be for some people an enjoyable afternoon in the kitchen, hands working in front of the tv, a bit of quiet time making something, suddenly becomes justified by consumerism, by selling the outcome you are negating the 'selfish' time and enjoyment you have had from 'making'. Making and selling becomes the means and end of a craft hobby. And this is where I shall climb on my high (hobby)horse........

I grew up in the deepest darkest craft saturated triangle of Templestowe/Eltham/Warrandyte in the days of spinning wheels and pottery, of the smell of carded greasy wool but more than this I grew up in a world where my mother made our clothes when we were children, where the linen closet was full of fabric (its genetic) and were you didn't just go out and buy new things when you felt like it. The old school domestic crafts that are so popular today were just a part of our everyday, everyone in my family 'made', one sister was a crocheter, another a knitter, embroiderer, everyone made clothes and toys and homewares, Mum made the curtains, spun yarn, we had family recipes for biscuits and slices.

So the point of this? Obviously too many people are divorced from the joy of creating, anything, something. The cupcake is the peak of joyous simplicity when it is good, it is pure in its chemistry of butter, suger, eggs, flour and love. There is nothing more enjoyable than the devouring or the use of something made by hand. Something defined by its practicality.

I am a professional designer and craftsperson. I grew up making, I did my BA in Textile Design, rather than cafe-slutting I worked my way through college as a designer, I worked with a friend after we got our degrees in his store making and designing homewares and freelancing for some of the best fashion designer/retailers in Australia. I dabbled with being a chef for a while and returned to consult to Country Road on their textile based homewares. I have my own label and manufacture for other businesses.
But more than anything I am a craftsperson at heart, a word that defines me, in the true millenia old sense of the word- I make products mostly by hand for the use of hand. Useful products to make your day beautiful. I make them as well as I can, as practical as I can and I sell them at a price I find fair for the quality and craftsmanship I put into them. I am not prepared to sell poor quality or useless products, a crafted product should be a quality product.
With the 'cupcaking' of craft we have seen the rise of the professional hobbist, people who in past would have enjoyed their crafting simply. Made things for themselves and their loved ones, played and made and found joy in this. So now we come to the selling of the averagely hand-made, the selling of craftwork that really is only up to the standard of your average home crafter, instead of buying the finished product the consumer should be giving it a go- hey then they can say 'I made it myself'!
What am I getting at? Something that is going to get me hung-drawn-and-quartered!
Could all those hobby professionals out there please looked to the quality, originality and -and I hate to say it- the pricing of their work? Take pride in what you make, take pride in the how it is made and take pride in being part of a long and important tradition. Make to the best of your ability and creativity and please remember there are those of us out here in the hard real world who make our living from Craft. We struggle and work to exhaustion to design and make products of the hand, we strive to imbue our work with integrity and soul and in this consumerist world we ask for some respect for what we do. Please don't rip us off and sell poor quality copies for less or indeed just sell for the sake of the fashion of selling.The market can not handle it. Please enjoy your craft but please remember we are not all equal.

The true cupcake is made perfect by balance- eggs=butter=sugar=flour (once you have the formula you can make these in any quantity)
125gm butter
125gm caster sugar
the best quality vanilla you can afford (I sell Spot the Cat for medical research (joke!)once a year to buy Bourbon Vanilla from Simon Johnson- worth every cent)
cream together until light and fluffy
2 eggs (large ones 65s)
beat in one at a time, if the mix curdles stir in a tablespoon or 2 of flour
125gm self raising flour
fold in gently, add a good slurp of milk to loosen up the mix
line cupcake tray with paper patty cases, you should get about 12 cakes out of the mix
bake in 180C oven until golden and firm to the touch
I won't say for how long because everyone has a different oven
you'll be sitting reading the newspaper waiting for them to cook so its easy to get up every now and then and check
The batter is very yummy to lick from the bowl and beaters (like the shank off a lamb roast somethings are just sweeter and couldn't be more home-y)
These are best eaten the day they are made but they are great for breakfast the next day to.

And the perfect icing for these?
A crisp thin white vanilla scented icing with hundreds-and-thousands or a fresh passionfruit icing. Keep it simple- the cake and the icing should be in harmony. Like your handcrafted life.


  1. brave well articulated excellent analogy and definately needing to be said. stand up and take a bow miss pen pen. craft salutes you!

  2. further to this I think that this is a very timely subject that deserves serious attention and a much more considered response. I feel a longer letter coming on. stay tuned.

  3. Hello. I found this post via Handmade Life and I applaud everything you have written. I am also a bit torn, because I don't know if I fall into the category of Cupcake Crafter or not. I'd like to think I don't. This has certainly set my mind racing on things that have troubled me about the "Craft Movement" (particularly internet based) for a while now.

  4. Funnily enough it's been the craft blog sites that in many ways started me thinking along these lines. It's that feeling that everyone is getting a certificate for participating but not many people are actually trying to progress or develop.

  5. Miss Penn,

    I do believe I love you. I understand EXACTLY what you mean.

    And Templestowe/Eltham/Warrandyte - the Bermuda Triangle of Craft. we know each other? Or did our Mums? It was a pretty small town back then.

    And did I just see my name on your blog, Or do you know another Shula?

  6. And I never eat store bought cupcakes. They look wild, but they taste like shit.

    And it should be the other way round.


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