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Craft With Conscience: The Crafter's Box

Craft With Conscience

'Craft With Conscience' began in early 2016 as a weekly Instagram series dedicated to sharing the work of other creatives and as a platform to openly discuss certain aspects of ethical art-making and consuming in the age of the internet and social media.  

This series arose out of my own frustrations related to seeing my work constantly copied stitch-for-stitch, sold without permission, and credited to other people.  Rather than wallowing in unproductive negative emotions, I wanted to find a way to bring this common issue to light in a positive way.  My solution was to share the work of artists, crafters, designers, and makers who I greatly admire for their originality and dedication. Initially, I shared work similar in materials or subject matter to my own, having heard the argument, "There are only so many ways to stitch plants, I'm not copying you..." one too many times.  The truth is, no matter what the medium or subject, every artist from hobby crafter to professional painter has their own perspective and voice. It takes effort to develop one's visual vocabulary and it can be disheartening when your's is taken and misused by other individuals and sometimes larger companies.

All that being said, now is an incredible time for working artists because of the vast resources of the internet including sources of inspiration, the ability to reach a large and global audience, and as a community building tool. As you may know, I love sharing my work on Instagram and following other makers. It's a wonderful way to connect with other artists, be inspired, and feel supported, but we all need to be aware of how we use these resources and what effect it may have on others.

Since the start of 2016, 'Craft With Conscience' has grown and evolved just like any other creative pursuit and has recently expanded to include short interviews with featured artists. I've asked participating artists a series of questions about their studio process, sources of inspiration, and how image-sharing sites like Instagram and Pinterest influence and affect them. I hope you read on to see what they have to say!

Craft With Conscience: The Crafter's Box

Sarah Benning

Morgan Spenla // founder of The Crafter's Box, San diego, California

The Crafter’s Box delivers hands-on workshops in collaboration with experienced artists to makers all over the world. The Crafter's Box pairs monthly online workshops with a thoughtfully sourced box of tools & materials shipped to makers so they can learn more about and dive right into crafting techniques such as block printing, embroidery, weaving, leather working and ceramics. 

In April, The Crafter's Box is exploring the chemistry of blueprints and the power of the sun with artist Emily Jeffords. Emily shares the process of cyanotype with a step-by-step guide on how she creates beautiful pieces of art using foliage and found objects. Utilizing a mixture of chemicals, the action of light and a mastery of techniques, she explores the process of creating inspiring silhouettes! (Enrolment for this project closes March 20th!)

Learn more about the current workshop at thecraftersbox.com and follow along on Instagram for daily inspirations.

Morgan Spenla, Founder of The Crafter's Box

Morgan Spenla, Founder of The Crafter's Box

1.  What is The Crafter’s Box and who is it designed for? 

The Crafter's Box was designed to support the art & process of making - because so many of us thrive off of building, shaping, and creating with our hands, but struggle to carve out the time to find the right tools, materials and classes to get started. The Crafter's Box combines carefully sourced tools & materials, a step-by-step digital workshop from an artisan maker, and a supportive online community so that you can create a finished project for yourself or your home. The goal is to build creative skills and a curated toolbox to create again and again.

It is designed for busy people that recognize how valuable and wonderful making is for the soul, but struggles to make it happen for so many different reasons. The Crafter's Box is perfect for those that love to learn and to creatively challenge themselves with something new on a regular basis. It's also a wonderful opportunity to pull friends together, once a month, to turn the enjoyment of making into a night set aside for good company. We are a maker community built for the creative soul.

April 2017, Emily Jeffords Cyanotype Workshop

April 2017, Emily Jeffords Cyanotype Workshop

2.  How do you find your expert makers and what are you looking for in a collaboration with your artists/designers/crafters/makers? 

We try to search out artists & makers that have dedicated their time and their career to their craft, as well as those that have the ability to carefully and thoughtfully teach that craft to others. Instagram is a powerful tool for finding these artists because it gives us an idea of how artists engage with their audience, what their teaching style might be like, and of course it offers a view at their amazing portfolio of work.

April 2017, Emily Jeffords Cyanotype Workshop

April 2017, Emily Jeffords Cyanotype Workshop

April 2017, Emily Jeffords Cyanotype Workshop

April 2017, Emily Jeffords Cyanotype Workshop

3.  What are some of the concerns that your participating artists may have about creating tutorials and intentionally ‘giving away’ some of their making secrets?

I honestly thought that this would be much more of a challenge than it has ended up being. Artists that we have reached out to really seem to embrace the concept and belief that passing on a creative technique or skill helps that technique to flourish and to be well-respected and loved. Most artists recognize that they do what they do best, and that by teaching their magic to others they're not necessarily giving away their secrets but instead offering a little insight into what makes what they do so special (and challenging and admirable). It's really pretty wonderful. I also think it's important that we always recognize that what a particular artist has shared with us offers a platform on which to grow from in our own style, even if we start by learning with a custom design/inspiration piece that the artist extends through the workshop. Growing one's own personal style is a huge part of the creative process.

March 2017, Jessica Carey Crocheted Baskets Workshop

March 2017, Jessica Carey Crocheted Baskets Workshop

4.  Why should someone participate in your craft subscription service rather than browsing Instagram or Pinterest for crafty inspiration and figuring out new techniques independently? 

 What makes The Crafter's Box different is our emphasis on the process of making that we so love and embrace rather than the "I can make that" mentality (even though you end up with a pretty lovely project at the end of each workshop as well). Our goal is to introduce members to something new and hands-on that will keep them making in their own way well into the future. An ancillary and equally important goal is to introduce hard-to-source (and often handmade) materials and tools as part of our kits to continue the support of #slowcrafting and the many wonderful makers that support the industry of crafting. Examples of those materials might be unusual or exotic roots for dying, hand spun wool for knitting, hand sewn bags for block printing on, or handmade wooden looms for weaving with. The materials that make up a finished project reflect the hard work and beauty that went into making it. It's a beautiful cycle!

March 2016, Elise Blaha Cripe  Chunky Arm Knitting Workshop

March 2016, Elise Blaha Cripe  Chunky Arm Knitting Workshop

January 2017, Rebekka Seale & Lisa Garcia Natural Dying 

January 2017, Rebekka Seale & Lisa Garcia Natural Dying 

5.  Are you concerned that non-members will recreate The Crafter’s Box exclusive projects? 

Our goal is to encourage more people to take time to be creative and to take time to focus on handmade. It would be difficult to duplicate the amazing workshop techniques taught or the unique materials sourced but I do agree it wouldn't be impossible. It's our job to make sure the value of our community is ever present.  Part of why we fill our niche so well is because we work hard to pull all aspects of making together (tools, materials, education, support) for our members so that they can experience the adventure as effortlessly as possible each month.

January 2017, Rebekka Seale & Lisa Garcia Naturally Dyed Wall Hanging Workshop 

January 2017, Rebekka Seale & Lisa Garcia Naturally Dyed Wall Hanging Workshop 

6.  What inspired you to create The Crafter’s Box and do you have any advice for aspiring creative business owners? 

I am a maker at heart and I see the incredible value of nourishing that part of my soul. If I could spend every Saturday morning entranced in a project I would be in heaven! When I was working in the corporate world and spending all extra hours raising my three little ones (now 6, 3.5 and 2), one of the first *extras* for me to back burner was my time spent making. It wasn't always that I couldn't find the spare 3 hours on that Saturday morning - it was the challenge of hunting down the right tools and materials to create what I had envisioned, materials that often times a neighborhood hobby store simply wouldn't carry... let alone the decision paralysis that would happen if I did dare visit the craft store/bead store/leather store with kids in tow! Which of A works with B and which do I need to make C? There weren't always the right workshops offered in my hometown and I didn't know which online blog tutorial to rely on... in the end, rather than reach outside of my creative boundaries to experiment it felt easier to live within them and to keep on making in the same ways I had been for years. I lost the desire to creatively explore because it was just too much work. I began to imagine up a business that helped solve these problems by bringing it all together. I knew that it would be answering a need in the marketplace for both the crafter (like me) and the expert artists who would have the opportunity to extend their workshop offerings to all four corners of the earth (and ultimately to their entire audience). It made my dreams come true when I reached out to artists and learned that my suspicions were correct - and it was the start of a business.

To all the other entrepreneurs out there - take risks, push yourself, set high goals. It's so worth it. But also, evaluate those risks, recognize (with a 360 degree view) what you're embarking on, and make sure you have set yourself up to realistically accomplish those goals. It's not easy. That means numbers forecasting and well-built business plans and seeking out the right folks to surround yourself with to help answer questions or fill the gaps when you need it. My biggest tip is to be as clear-eyed as possible about what you're aspiring to build because then you'll be that much more ready to take it on.

May 2016, Miranda Anderson Leather Clutch Workshop

May 2016, Miranda Anderson Leather Clutch Workshop

May 2016, Miranda Anderson Leather Clutch Workshop

May 2016, Miranda Anderson Leather Clutch Workshop

7.  Do you have any blogs, artists, or Instagram accounts you’d like to share? 

 Oh my goodness! I feel so SO lucky to be inspired by so many amazing folks through The Crafter's Box - you can learn about all of our makers and projects (and their social media handles) here or by scrolling through our Instagram feed. Each of these artists inspires in a unique way and I've learned so much by following along on their journey. For an even deeper look into their processes and backgrounds, I encourage you to listen in on past podcast episodes of their interviews with The Crafter's Box.

I used to be an avid blog reader but these days every spare moment is spent working on building The Crafter's Box :), but my guilty pleasures are absolutely Cup of Jo and Style by Emily Henderson.

Selected Projects and Featured Makers from The Crafter's Box

Selected Projects and Featured Makers from The Crafter's Box

All images courtesy of The Crafter's Box.