I just spoke with a wonderful woman – a customer! – and set a time and place to deliver a custom picnic basket for her son’s upcoming wedding. Chris and I have worked over the course of months to choose a trove of unique items, combined with toile, ticking and other special fabrics, to create a beautifully meaningful gift for two people who have decided to spend their lives together. Those of us married for a while (ok, decades) know that couples need lots of romantic get-aways to stay couples, so mom is wise to get them started off right!
Between sourcing, designing and sewing, it’s been a crazy lot of work. I don’t dare calculate my hourly wage because it has been such a satisfying project. That said, I do want to move Vintage Picnic from a hobby onto a sustainable footing, otherwise… uh…no Vintage Picnic. So I think about business-y things like scaling up, out-sourcing different basket components, process improvement and wholesale discounts, I really do. And maybe someday I’ll be able to pay myself more than I could earn at Walmart.
But in becoming commercially viable, there is something I don’t want to lose: the connections with the integrated whole of my product and the people who buy them. A friend sent me a link to a 2006 essay entitled, “Shop Class as Soulcraft,” by Matthew Crawford http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/shop-class-as-soulcraft. In it, the former cubicle-sitter/think-tanker muses on his glad departure from the knowledge field to open a shop to repair motorcycles.
As this is my story-line (substitute baskets for bikes), I instantly “got” why I so enjoy making things for people: the psychic value of manual work. As Crawford explains, “hobbyists will tell you that making one’s own furniture is hard to justify economically. And yet they persist. Shared memories attach to the material souvenirs of our lives, and producing them is a kind of communion, with others and with the future.”
Communion with the “material souvenirs of our lives.” Love that! By finding old things and giving them new life, I get to put a little of my humanity (me!) into the material world, which is the palette for living, is it not? Quoting Alexandre Kojève (don’t worry, I didn’t know that name either), Crawford comforts the manually laboring (and likely underpaid) soul with this:
“The woman who works recognizes her own product in the World that has actually been transformed by her work: she recognizes herself in it, she sees in it her own human reality, in it she discovers and reveals to others the objective reality of her humanity, of the originally abstract and purely subjective idea she has of herself.”
Enjoy the basket, young lovers! In some mysterious way, I go with thee.