Handcrafts and handmade goods are beautiful additions to daily life and to one’s home. Handmade items have been created since the beginning of time, when people began developing culture, making art, and recording history. The very first handmade items were created as ways to tell stories and keep records of kings, queens, and their citizens. Often, they are textiles, sculptable materials, and metalwork.
Professional handcrafts are also referred to as crafting, artisanry, handcrafting, and handcraftsmanship. Hobbyists also like to use the term arts and crafts to speak about their work. In today’s world, handcrafts items are either made of natural material like fibers or upcycled material like tires and used metal. They can be purchased in gift shops, markets, in artisanal fairs, and online. Sites like Etsy have made access to handmade and handcrafted goods much easier, connecting citizens of one country to the rich cultural production of crafts in another all the way across the globe. If you like to travel, you can often see handmade creations being sold during markets or art fairs. This is an excellent way to expose yourself to different cultures and art.
Increased global connectivity through sites like Instagram and Facebook have allowed talented creators many opportunities to share their work. Beadwork, polymer clay artists, and designers often create pages or websites dedicated to their art, allowing potential customers to browse previous projects and possibly even commission a custom work of art.
That being said, there’s one debate that has been hashed over time and again when discussing handcrafts. What is the difference between “handmade” and “handcrafts”? This discussion has ignited arts and crafts communities around the globe, but there is still no clear answer. Let’s take a look at the facts.
First, let’s examine the dictionary definitions. Merriam-Webster defines handcraft as “handicraft: the articles fashioned by those engaged in handicraft.” This isn’t very helpful. An alternate definition is “an occupation requiring skill with the hands.”
In contrast, handmade is defined as “made by hand or by a hand process”. Essentially, it describes an item that has been shaped, molded, or created with the hands. Unfortunately, this definition still offers no clues as to what the difference is between handmade and handcrafted items. If you bought a 1000-piece from the puzzle and put it all together, wouldn’t it be different from painting a large photo, making it into a puzzle by yourself, and then assembling it? Are “handcrafts” and “handmade” actually synonyms?
Let’s dig a little deeper. Here is a definition from the Federal Trade Commission:
23.3Misuse of the terms “hand-made,” “hand-polished,” etc.
(a) It is unfair or deceptive to represent, directly or by implication, that any industry product is hand-made or hand-wrought unless the entire shaping and forming of such product from raw materials and its finishing and decoration were accomplished by hand labor and manually-controlled methods which permit the maker to control and vary the construction, shape, design, and finish of each part of each individual product.
The key phrase here is “the entire shaping and forming…. were accomplished by hand labor.” Let’s say you create metal jewelry. If you engrave and shape the metal by yourself without using any tools, it could be called handmade. This is because the jewelry was made entirely by hand and formed using just the raw materials. On the contrary, any craft production that involved hand labor can be considered “handcrafts”. That means if you take pre-made or pre-cut beads and string them together on a pre-cut wire bracelet, then you could call it handcrafts. You wouldn’t be able to call it handmade because you didn’t make the beads yourself.
It is easier to assemble pieces of a whole than it is to make the pieces from scratch and then put everything together. Handmade arts and crafts will have more variation than handcrafted ones because humans simply aren’t machines! They can’t design and produce everything they make with flawless precision. Machines use mathematical guidelines and are capable of measuring their output, so any products or parts assembled by machines have minimal variation. That is why prices for authentically handmade goods are often higher. They have been designed with careful attention to detail and no work is the same as another, so they are incredibly personal.
It is important to understand the difference between buying handcrafts and handmade art. Sometimes, products are marketed as handmade goods despite the fact that they have not been made by hand. Remember, assembling art does take time and effort, but that can’t always compare to the amount of invested work taken to create a handmade item from scratch. Because sellers know that handmade items demand high premiums, it’s best to educate yourself against this practice by actually understanding the difference.
Now that you know the difference, here’s the next question. How can you tell if an item you see on eBay or Etsy is handcrafted or manufactured? Try to look for other photos of it, or do a reverse image search on Google. If you see many items with the same or a very similar design, similar stones or materials, or even the same photos, it is probably not authentically handmade. Another step to take is to read the item description thoroughly. If the seller offers too many color options or quick turnaround, that is a sign that the item is not handmade but instead handcrafts. Some sellers might even try to pass manufactured goods as handmade items.
Just remember: there is a reason that artisanal work demands high prices. Someone must create and assemble the product by hand. The focus is not on profit but on delivering a beautiful product. There are countless steps involved in seeing a handmade item through to completion. When creating a sofa, for example, the focus will be on choosing a good, strong stitch, a beautiful color, a sturdy material, and more. If you want something that is unique and well made, it’s better to invest in a handmade item that can become an heirloom for generations to come.