Updated: Jul 19, 2019
When a word has a place in the dictionary, it’s surprising to find such a debate about its meaning. Yet, when I surveyed my fellow creators as well as my customers everyone seemed to have something different to say. There was more disagreement than consensus. Everyone agreed that that the “maker” has to have some hand in production. But everyone had different ideas as to what level of involvement makes an item “handmade.” To add to the debate, each selling platform has their own definitions of what they allow in their handmade categories and each maker/seller must adhere to those guidelines.
Hand making involves using one’s hands to create or produce an item. The slippery slope begins when we start to ask just how much work has to go into an item to be considered handmade. Most often people start with raw materials and combine those materials to create an object greater than its parts. How “raw” those materials have to be and the means with which those materials are combined are the crux of the debate.
If a crocheted scarf is made with store bought yarn is it handmade? How about if someone paints a mug? Or if someone designs a T-shirt, then prints the design onto a pre-made shirt? If vintage items are upcycled or recycled into other things, do they fall into the handmade category? Does assembling a group of items into another item make it handmade?
Some people argued that there should be different terms for different amounts of involvement in the making process. Suggestions like “hand designed” or “hand assembled” came up. Others suggested just charging more for more labor. There was a difference of opinion over quality. Some said handmade is better quality, others thought the opposite. Some equate the term handmade with one of a kind.
Whatever your definition is, keep in mind it may not be the same as the person you’re buying from or selling to. It is up to individual seller to educate their buyers on their process as much as it is up to buyers to ask for that information and educate themselves.