From his unique vantage point as editor in chief of Make magazine, Mark Frauenfelder takes readers on an inspiring and surprising tour of the vibrant world of do-it-yourself.
He spent a year trying a variety of offbeat projects such as keeping chickens and bees, tricking out his espresso machine, whittling wooden spoons, making guitars out of cigar boxes, and doing citizen science with his daughters in the garage. His whole family found that DIY helped them take control of their lives, offering deeply satisfying ways to spend time together.
Frauenfelder also reveals how DIY is changing our culture for the better. He profiles fascinating ‘alpha makers’ leading various DIY movements and grills them for their best tips and insights.
So goes the blurb … having read the book, I’m not sure it’s the best summary of what’s inside – I feel it is somewhat misleading in so far as it suggests he trialled some sort of experiment for a single year, and that was an end of it. In fact, his various adventures in DIY arose out of a conscious decision to change the way he lived and consumed, and how that in turn changed the way he lived.
What I enjoyed about this book most of all was how accessible it was – not only in the writing, but in terms of the ideas as well.
Recognising that there needs to be a change in the way you live in and relate to your environment can feel more than a little daunting, and I liked that this was recognised. And at a time when there is a ‘green’ pressure to take an ‘all-or-nothing’ approach to ethical consumption and sustainable living, it was refreshing to hear from someone who agrees with that, but also accepts that it’s not easy, and takes the position that it’s OK to do what you can, that small changes can make a big difference, and that we need to live in the world, not apart from it.
The mindfulness of making came across so clearly – how involvement in a project, or work that “engages hand, head, and heart” (to badly quote Bernard Leach) – allows us to be both fully present in the moment, allowing our minds to switch off from daily stresses and activities, and lets us engage – if only for a while – more fully with the living world around us. His approach is very much ‘you only learn by doing’, and that we stifle our creativity and ability to express ourselves by a fear of failure learnt at an early age and reinforced continually as we grow older – so we need to learn to let go, to try things, to make mistakes – and learn from them – and he is up front about the mistakes he has made, leading from the front.
The connections he makes with ‘alpha makers’ along the journey are fascinating and inspiring. I suspect most of them would flinch away from being called leaders – from what I’ve read I’d say pioneers, or perhaps, visionaries, might be more appropriate. Their shared experiences demonstrate that with a little determination, creativity, and courage, amazing things can be achieved by people who could otherwise be termed ‘ordinary’.
For me, it reinforced and affirmed my own feelings that we need to step away from the careless, disposable consumerist environment we live in towards something more grounded, where everything from the objects we surround ourself with to the food we eat has both meaning, utility and value – a more mindful way of living, if you like. It makes me feel as though I am on the right path with my own making – giving new life and meaning to textiles that would otherwise be unused or thrown away.
It’s a fabulous book – I think everyone should read it.