Martha Stewart Be Damned: Don't Do It Yourself

This article is more than 8 years old.

Within the course of a week, two events confirmed for me what my cool-conscious, trend-watching friends and colleagues have been saying for a while: the do it yourself (DIY) movement is back — wildly and more furiously popular than ever before.

Meandering through Anthropologie for my regular dose of bohemian hippie chic the other night, I stumbled upon the magazine Sweet Paul.

A spinoff of the popular blog of the same name, Sweet Paul (the motto of which is “chasing the sweet things in life”) celebrates all things craft worthy — from felt mushrooms to wire whisk lighting pendants. The magazine, with its seductive layouts and well curated photography, gave me pause and for a few minutes I began to seriously consider taking up embroidery.

As much as I love being on the cutting edge, I cannot embrace this most-recent resurgence of DIY.


As if Sweet Paul wasn’t enough to get my craft wannabe pulse racing, the very next morning, on the front page of the New York Times there was an article touting Martha Stewart’s newly acknowledged hero status among 20 and 30-something hipsters. Her jail stint only adding to her street cred, it seems Ms. Stewart’s attention to detail and quest for handmade perfection, has created a new fan base that appreciates tatting (lace) as much as tattoos.

But as much as I love being on the cutting edge, I cannot embrace this most-recent resurgence of DIY. Sure, I can whip up a decent batch of cookies, even stack the sweets in pretty paper cups and arrange them in a decorative tin, but that’s about the extent of it. Anyway, this latest iteration of the craze is more intense. This time it's about Mason jars of elderberry jam made from berries just picked from backyard container gardens, indigo-dyed table linens, hand woven scarves with fringed edges, dip-painted twigs, and embossed note cards — all flawless and impeccably presented.

Over the years, as the movement has ebbed and flowed, I’ve suffered from bouts of DIY anxiety. My first foray into the world of the handcrafted was an attempt at an appliquéd suede belt meant to secure low riding bell-bottom jeans to my hips. Fueled by too much caffeine and not enough of a desire to study, I embarked on the ambitious project during exam period in my third year of college. Fashioning a luxuriously large piece of suede into a three inch wide, 26 inch long strip, I embellished the would–be belt with up to the minute symbols of love and peace: a star, a moon, a heart, and the sun.

I won’t be seduced. I'll resist the urge. Instead, I’ll find a charming shop or neighborhood craft fair and be content with buying what other people make.

The outcome was disastrous. The cutouts were unrecognizable, the glue stuck to everything but the suede, the sewing needle was dull, and the thread flimsy. By the time I finished, the small apartment living room I shared with three other roommates resembled a factory floor.

I didn’t touch fabric, scissors, sewing needles, or a glue gun for a long time after that.

But then, in the early 1990’s, long after the wounds from my earlier attempt at DIY had healed, I dabbled again.

As the star of the aforementioned doyenne of craft began to rise, Martha Stewart’s monthly missives encouraging her followers to whip stitch, embellish, bake, can, and stencil began turning up everywhere.

In one particularly glorious and completely inaccessible article, Stewart and her team of editorial elves instructed devoted readers on how to make an embossed velvet toss cushion. After purchasing a yard of velvet — silk, no less — two yards of decorative trim, interface material, a zipper, the pillow fill, a rubber form on which to create the pattern (along with the necessary tools), and a new iron to avoid destroying the velvet, it became evident that flying to Venice, water taxiing to Fortuny, and buying the real thing would consume almost the same amount of time at nearly the same cost.

I also realized that, beside patience and perseverance, I lacked another DIY pre-requisite — large, uncommitted chunks of time.

I’ve come to terms with all of this and yet, especially at this time of year, I sometimes find myself wishing I could do “it” myself. Who doesn’t want to forego the box of Russell Stover and give a beloved teacher or a special aunt an orange pomander ball fashioned with whole cloves arranged in an artful, intricate pattern? Or an embroidered linen sachet filled with lavender and lime leaves — preferably one for each day of the week — all wrapped up in holiday paper (recycled, of course)?

Still, I won’t be seduced. I'll resist the urge. Instead, I’ll find a charming shop or neighborhood craft fair and be content with buying what other people make. And on my way out the door, I’ll encourage others with limited time, patience, and/or dexterity to adopt my craft contrarian mantra: Don’t Do It Yourself.


This program aired on December 13, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.