Site mocks craft monstrosities

Last updated 12:19 11/01/2012
Regretsy
DIY MEETS WTF: A CondomCuties pin, as seen on Regretsy.com.

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April Winchell, the founder of the website regretsy.com, doesn't know you but she wants to give you the biggest gift you're likely to receive all year: a suggestion for what you could say to those loved ones who insist on giving you hideous handmade goods every year.

A hint? It isn't ''Thank you''.

Her suggestion: ''Handmade? It looks like you made it with your feet.''

Harsh, you say?

Quite the contrary, says Winchell, whose website and book, Regretsy: Where DIY Meets WTF, mock horrible crafts that were originally advertised on the global craft site etsy.com, such as a felt Christmas stocking in the shape of a Hasidic Jew, a clock made from a ''mostly clean'' cheese grater and a knitted doll giving birth.

''I think we've all had the aunt who makes us the horrible sweater and we have to say how much we love it. And when she leaves we laugh our asses off.'' That is harsh, she says.

Instead, brutal honesty about dodgy craft - such as, say, when Winchell wrote, ''Tetanus shots not included,'' next to a picture of a seller's earrings made from recycled Coca-Cola cans - is, ironically, the gift that keeps on giving.

''You know, I think there's great value in acknowledging the idea that some things aren't good,'' Winchell says. ''Without things that aren't good, nothing would be exceptional. If every piece of crap that you ever turned out was as good as the first thing you made, what's the point in learning?''

Also, she adds, there is an almost pathological need among craft makers to be supportive, ''no matter how shitty the crafts are'', which can lead to dire consequences. Namely, a Bernie Madoff-esque pyramid scheme of the pipe-cleaner set, as everyone's lies lead untalented people to spend hard-earned money on supplies and etsy.com fees in the futile hopes of turning a profit.

As Winchell writes in her book, ''I could feature a vest made of panty liners and I guarantee you someone would feel compelled to say, 'Boy, that sure looks absorbent!'''

Winchell, whose website is ranked in the top 3000 sites in the US, says: ''People say to me, 'Don't you think there's going to be a backlash against all of this fail culture ... and laughing at people's mistakes?' I say this is the backlash to constantly having to be positive. It's not human to be positive about everything.''

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Lately, more and more people agree, with a growing number of anti-crappy craft advocates now popping up on websites such as craftfail.com and kraftomatic.com, in Facebook groups including Crappy ''Crafty'' Stuff (''This group is for stuff that is quite obviously crap but the 'designer' thinks is crafty!'') and in books such as Amy Sedaris's Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People.

Even those not usually associated with craft - that is, men - have jumped into the ring, with Andy Borowitz, a New York Times best-selling author who usually writes about politics, tweeting on December 23: ''Giving home-made Christmas presents is a great idea for everyone on your list that you really hate.''

Sarah Thornton, co-founder of The Finders Keepers, one of Sydney's largest design and craft markets, sees the good side of the backlash.

''I think if we didn't have people out there making fun of bad craft, it would really be anything goes,'' she says. ''And if we don't have a standard and a benchmark of good design, then it's just going to become oversaturated and horrible and go back to what it was: dodgy nanna craft.''

The trend, she says, helps balance a dark side of the crafting world that has gone unchecked: the presence of arrogant, overly earnest crafters who think their goods are superior purely because they are not mass-produced.

Rejecting their ''knitted penises'' and ''felted scarves that look like vomit'', though, has been about as pretty as their submitted works.

''We do get a bit of nasty backlash from people we don't accept,'' Thornton says. ''They take it really personally and send an email about how it's their life dream. We don't give out our phone number for that reason.''

Even more shocking is the number of crafters who get a kick out of being selected for regretsy.com. As Sharon Coleman, whose graphic crocheted childbirth education doll features a ''detachable placenta and umbilical cord'', wrote to Winchell about the comments her item attracted: ''The German insults are particularly creative.''

And Teena Schorr, the creator of ''corn poo soap'' (exactly as it sounds) said: ''I have loved being on Regretsy! I finally found a place where I belong!''

Bec Davies, the founder of madeit.com.au, the Australian version of etsy.com, who has sold everything from ''melting penis candles'' to placentas made of felt, wonders whether this out-and-proud bad crafting subculture might create its own problem: an influx of even more objectionable handmade items into our lives.

Winchell concedes she has encountered what she calls ''Regretsy bait'' on etsy.com.

''I can tell, for the most part,'' she says, ''because everything in their store is really good except for one really bad thing, like a Cheerio on a chain for $5000.''

So would she consider shutting down her website, then?

Not a chance, Winchell says - and not just because she makes money from it through paid advertisements. For one thing, she has long used regretsy.com as a way to benefit disadvantaged crafters; for instance, she launched an online fund-raiser for a woman who needed money to get her car fixed so she could ferry her own mother to chemotherapy appointments.

And, she says, it has turned out to be a launching pad for people who have ''beautiful craftsmanship'' but use it to create what can only be described as ultra-niche goods.

''A woman made a pornographic tapestry, with beautiful, gorgeous sewing,'' she says. ''I featured it and she got a contract with an erotic museum to make items for the gift shop for almost a half a million dollars ... if you make pornographic needlepoint, it's very unlikely that someone's going to find you on etsy.com doing a keyword search.''

Have you ever received - or given - a handmade gift worthy of Regretsy?

-Sydney Morning Herald

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