Technology Changing the Face of Handmade

As I have aged I have had the privilege to see many advances in technology. Astronautics from the orbit of Sputnik, the landing on the moon to space stations and shuttles and recently the Mar’s rover. At the same time, slide rules giving way to calculators to personal computers. Data input changes, punch cards to interactive. Even the computer word processing software that I am writing this “blog” with.  Many, many, many changes (advances) in easing the work load of the human to produce products. CNC machining automates the operation of machine tools using programmed computer commands. It facilitates the accurate production of many different kinds of parts ranging from simple drop off screw machine parts to highly complex components.  CNC milling is a cost effective solution for machining parts with complex shapes and/or tight tolerances, especially for low volume projects. CNC precision milling can produce virtually any shape where the material is accessible by the rotating cutting tools.  Also, if you have components that are not round or square and have a unique or complex shape, we can help.  With inhouse custom fixturing capabilities, we specialize in the precision milling and machining of hard-to-hold, difficult-to-manufacture castings, forgings and other metal components. If you are looking for the cnc precision machining company for the different machinery  then visit us.

My field is the production of gemstones and jewelry.  On several different venues, I have watched debate about “What is Handmade?”  Technology has changed the face of jewelry design and production.  Less than 100 years ago, diamonds were cut by cleaving them with mallet and chisel, now computer driven faceting machines are available.  This technology produces faceted gemstones that have the best optical characteristics.  Laser welding machines are used instead of cold connections or soldering.  CAD/CAM software associated with CNC milling machines allow the computer generation of many different methods for jewelry manufacture.

Sewing / quilting has progressed from needles and thimbles giving way to sewing machines, some of which are now available with computer control.  Likewise, the manufacture of cloth has changed from the spinning wheel to highly computerized looms.

 

This is the rub.  At what point in the use of technology do we consider that the product is no longer handmade, but machine made.  If an artist uses a drawing program on a computer to produce an image, is this not handmade?  Or must the artist use a graphite pencil to render the same image?  Again, in my field, I could (if I had the money) use a CAD/CAM program to design my jewelry, then a milling machine to produce it, or I could use hand graving, planishing, casting, etc.  For that matter, if a photo artist uses a computer editing program is it still “handmade?”  In my youth, I learned to compose and take photos on black and white film, develop it myself in a darkroom, then use a print maker to expose the photo paper and then develop it.  Now I take the picture with a digital camera, then use a computer program to crop, enhance, and perform many tasks to my picture.

I offer this as a possible way to differentiate handmade from machine made.  If a human being, using technology, designs and produces an original one of a kind product, Then it is “handmade.”  If that design using technology is used to produce multiple copies of the same product, then it is machine made.  Technology can produce high quality pieces, it can also be used to mass produce cheap garbage.

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11 Responses to “Technology Changing the Face of Handmade”

  • Interesting article; I have often wondered where the “line” is too and I guess it’s a matter of perspective.
    I like to think that handmade items are made in small numbers with care and love, generally by one person or a small group perhaps. I feel that “handmade” items that are produced by people sitting in a factory location are not handmade at all, but mass produced for a cheaper market place. I like to buy from the maker and have a connection with a piece, hear a story or two and feel like I bought something special.
    I feel using modern machines/gadgets is fine, times change, if they did not then we would all still be rubbing sticks get fire and living in caves……..so yes I agree with you, I think you have the definition of handmade pretty much down.

  • It is a very fine line, and one which is so hard to draw. Craftsmen/artists use tools to bring their ideas to life, and the tools have certainly come a long way! Thanks for this thought-provoking article!

  • I admit I have not thought about this matter before and find this most interesting. But let’s face it…some of the ‘tools’ most of us do use require learning how to use them, spending quite a bit of $ to get them (depending on tool), applying our creative thinking to the tool to enable us to use them successfully in making our finished product as imagined and never really thinking of this as anything other than an ‘original/handmade’ product of our own creation. We adapt to the modern age… just as we went from a kite string with a key attached to flipping a switch and electricity happens! Thanks so much for this thought provoking article.

  • I would love to know who the author of this outstanding post is! I stand and applaud. Well written, informative, comparative and poignant. As a jewelry designer I must admit that manufactured or fabricated “cheap crap” is everywhere, and it is very hard for the handmade artisan to stand out, not only in with his or her items, but with the price as well. Competition in the market and other industries is difficult, handmade items being one of the most difficult at which to excel. At what point odes the handmade artisan decide to possible integrate machinery to technology into the pieces they produce. Even here, on this site, we all must come up with our banners, logos and items, list them and tag them cleverly. Is that not handmade as well? Very interesting post topic, and food for thought. Kudos to the author!

  • chainmaille says:

    Great article John, I’m scared to even comment. LOL Taking my particular art in consideration though I feel pretty comfortable with the amount of handmade that goes into it. I do however use a drill to make my coils, I do not hand wind, and I use a electric saw to cut the rings I do not hand cut.
    Saying that I’ve used technology to produce more jumprings in a faster amount of time. The weaving however is still one ring at a time.

  • this is a great post! I always considered handmade when it is the same person from start to finish. Now, don’t get me started, I’m not talking about raising sheep, shearing, carding, weaving, and knitting all by one person to be neccessary…but that one person used yarn and needles, or paint and brush, or plyers and wire, to complete one project at a time.
    Debbi
    -yankeeburrowcreations

  • bsilver04 says:

    Gemlover: I think I know someone who is closing his operation which includes CAD/CAM stuff. You mentioned not having that at present – are you interested? It will NOT (according to your own blog) make your beautiful work machine made at all. Let me know – I won’t bother to expolore this till I get a responsefrom you.

  • Sewdifferent says:

    WOW this one got me interested. Handmade vs technology, ART vs CRAFT. The second clause is probably a whole other topic. My favorite sewing machine has 9 stitches ( 18 if I use a double needle). It is sort of like limiting yourself to just 9 brushes for painting . And sometimes I do hand-sew.
    I like to think I am more artistic if I do not let the machine do too much in guiding my ideas.
    ODDLY, I am coming out in favor of technology WELL USED as a means to artistic expression.
    In the Quilt world it has managed to lift Quilting off of the beds and into the galleries.
    If it took me a full year to machine sew one particular quilt ( since sold for a mere thousand bucks), I doubt I would ” make the rent” here if I hand spun, hand sewn.

  • A very fine line indeed, John , thank you for sharing this wisdom…;o)


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