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Last Updated: Monday, 21 January 2008, 14:00 GMT
Why the web is getting crafty
By Mark Ward
Technology Correspondent, BBC News website

Generic jeans, BBC
Many see crafts as reaction against generic high-street goods

There was a time when DIY was a dirty word. It used to mean poorly constructed furniture, bodged home improvements and places in your house where guests would not be encouraged to linger.

But the net is changing that reputation as more and more people turn to crafts and produce amateur, home and hand-made art and objects.

This is perhaps no surprise. Anyone who has spent a few years using the web has become a tinkerer almost by accident.

If they put together their own website, maintained a blog, uploaded pictures to a photo-sharing site or played an online game then chances are that they spent hours meddling with settings, fiddling with options or tweaking their avatar so it looked just right.

See what web users who are turning to crafts are producing.

For Matthew Stinchcomb, a spokesman for Etsy where many crafters show and sell their wares, this is one of the factors that has encouraged huge numbers of people to plunge in and have a go themselves.

"It's easier for people to be artists nowadays, you do not need to be able to draw. You can use Photoshop or software like that," he said. "You do not need to spend six years as an apprentice."

There could also be something deeper at work here that is helping to drive interest, he said. The open source ethic of online life is all about sharing, finding out and contributing.

With crafts that approach helps to strip away the mystique around many artistic endeavours so folk can get an idea of how things are done. And how easy they are to do.

It also gives them many sources to consult as they try for themselves.

"We do see a lot of people who are registered buyers on Etsy becoming sellers over time," he said, suggesting that people really are starting to do-it-themselves.

Screengrab from Net Granny, Net Granny
You can even choose which granny will knit your socks
This is art, he said, in the democratic sense not the old-fashioned elitist meaning.

"We're creating a tool that really helps these people," he said, "they can get to the point where they can make a really good living that's not driven by the gallery they are showing at."

Many people on Etsy were now making a living making things, said Mr Stinchcomb.

Personal best

But, said Debbie Procter, founder of Wrappers which makes custom cloth sleeves for iPods, iPhones or laptops, there are other forces driving this desire for the home and handmade.

"Everyone is fed up with having the same things," she said, "A lot of people have had enough of mass production." Globalisation may mean lower prices but in its wake comes a loss of individuality.

Alice Taylor, founder of the Wonderland blog which regularly showcases crafts, agrees.

I think there's generally a resurgence in hand-made, home-made stuff in response to globalised, generic goods," she said. "The Primark Effect, if you like: the equal and opposite reaction to that physical law would be The Etsy Effect."

The lack of choice on the high street is driving people to look online and many crafters are answering that need.

"There are more interesting things on the net than there are things in shops," said Ms Taylor. "Netheads are far more exposed to such interesting variety than the undigital folk on the street schlepping from generic sweatshop-store to generic sweatshop-store."

Screenshot from World of Warcraft, Blizzard
Many gamers use crafts to celebrate their obsession
For Ms Procter from Wrappers shopping online for the amateur accessories helps people stand out from the homogenised masses.

Typically, she said, this manifests itself in a couple of ways. It could be that people are looking for handmade gear, be this jewellery, soft furnishings or toys, that no-one else has.

Or, she said, it could be add-ons and extras for the items that many people have - such as iPods or laptops. "It's about buying accessories for the latest things that people have bought."

That's perhaps no surprise, she said, given that the technology we use is very much a mirror of ourselves.

And it is perhaps this that really underpins why people want to do-it-themselves or buy such things as cuddly murlocs - humanoid frog-type creatures from World of Warcraft.

If the net has done anything it has made it far easier for those who share an interest to find others of a like-mind. Craft is one of the ways that people express their obsession, their devotion.

"I doubt netheads are intrinsically drawn to crafts per se, so much as they are intrinsically drawn to their passions," she said.

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