If you’re a crafter of any kind – knitting, sewing, quilting, pottery, woodworking, underwater basket weaving – you have probably received some awkward compliments. Maybe someone has even said, “That's so pretty, I can't even tell it's handmade!”
Hmmm...compliment? When hearing that, it’s easy to get offended, or defensive, or downright annoyed. I turned to Instagram with a recent post asking this very question:
Honest question: Is it a compliment when someone says, “This is so good I can’t even tell it’s handmade! It looks like something bought in a store!!”
I want to say yes. Compliment FOR SURE, but for some reason, it doesn’t feel like a complete compliment. If we spend ALL that time making something, don’t we want people to know it’s handmade? BUT isn’t it a testimony to our skills if they don’t??
These #maypolequilt pillows by @peggyjeanpatches are so classy and well put together, if I saw them in a store I would immediately want to take them home. So what compliment would you use here?
The responses I got have made me think a lot. So before you launch into a lecture about the beautiful authenticity of handmade goods, I think it’s our responsibility as makers to ask a few questions about the person giving us feedback… and it might just boost our mental health.
5 Questions to Ask Yourself After an Awkward Compliment
#1: What experience has this person had with handmade goods?
Some people have received some really great handmade gifts in their lives… but honestly, some have not. For those who don’t know that handmade can be more beautiful and higher quality than anything in the stores, compliments like this are complicated!
@alissalovestoquilt said, “My dad always says he takes it as an insult if something he’s done looks “store bought” or “professionally done” because hand/homemade is always preferable.”
I mean, WE know it’s preferable, right? But not everyone does!
@annuin knows: “If people aren’t makers themselves they generally don’t get it, They also never understand the amount of time or work that goes into something. And I think many people in general also equate store items as “quality” especially if it’s being sold at what is considered a nicer retail place, and they’ve totally fallen for the marketing. Once you are a maker I think you also recognize more easily when store-bought is a racket (inferior quality that’s been marketed as awesome with a marked-up price point to match).”
@theroofisonfire says, “I think people mean it as a huge compliment because they think of handmade as homemade and ugly.”
Truth. So if your friend who has a closet full of wonky T-shirt quilts that she hates, tells you that it doesn’t look handmade… that’s a GOOD thing!
#2: What do they know about you?
Are you talking to some rando on the street, or your best friend from childhood? Chances are, their knowledge of you and your maker skills is going to make a big difference. Whether it’s well made or a terribly finished knock-off, many non-makers just don’t have that discerning eye. That’s why they’re asking you!
Then again, if you’re fielding a compliment from your local barista about your knitted mittens, and he looks at you in disbelief when you say that you made them yourself… it’s probably because he just doesn’t know you, and the unbelievable knitting you’re capable of.
#3: Are they… good with words?
Let’s be real. Some people just don’t know what to say in the face of crafty genius.
When someone tells @diane_raspi that her work looks handmade, she has “Mixed feeling for sure... but I do get giddy when someone says, ‘wow you do beautiful work’...”
@judyjarvi says, “Maybe when someone says that [something is handmade], they just can’t find the right words, like, Suzy, your workmanship is beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Thank you for allowing me to gaze at your pillow. I’m forever grateful.”
Ok, ok Judy. That’s enough. I’m going to blush myself into a puddle. But I think she’s on to something… sometimes compliments are hard! People are just doing the best they can!
#4: What do they value?
I once had a kid tell me that I smelled like “a dog park.” I immediately went home, showered, and burned my clothing… only to find out later that kid’s favorite place on earth was the dog park, and last time she was there they were giving out amazing-smelling free donuts. WHO KNEW?!
All this goes to say, compliments really depend on the values of the complimenter.
@sarasewsstuff takes all the “homemade” comments as compliments “because I think that is the intent.”
I mean, people don’t usually try to insult and offend their artisan friends, right?
@sewelanor says, “It always makes me a little sad when someone places more value on something that is mass-produced over something handmade. It’s less about the overall quality and more about appreciating the work of someone’s hands.”
So true. When “store-bought” becomes the best compliment someone can give, it means that they don’t always appreciate the blood, sweat and tears (ok, at least tears) that go into most handmade gifts.
So if your neighbor values high-quality, thoughtfully crafted goods, and she shops at some beautiful boutiques, and she tells you that your handmade good looks store-bought… then yeah. You get to take that as a compliment.
#5 What was your goal?
Were you going for a professional, polished look? Or were you purposefully wonky or less formal in your design? I mean, you can’t blame someone for seeing your intentions correctly, right?
@wifemade says, "Do you think that compliment speaks more about the chosen colour palette and design than the skill in putting something together, necessarily? I think when something looks bought it means it looks like it’s been designed by someone who has studied colour and form and who knows what technically works? Particularly at the moment when bought pieces are made to look handmade...? (Eg. chunky stitching, recycled fabrics etc) I aim for this compliment when I’m designing, so I like it when someone says that to me I’m aiming for my creations to look professionally designed i guess this speaks to how different everyone is and what our reason is for creating! "
Good points for sure. I think we can all take it as a compliment that retail stores are going for the imperfect, unique, hand-stitched look that we all achieve naturally when making things ourselves, right?
“I think they mean to imply it looks “professional” rather than “crafty” but it comes across wrong. Plus, no fair that “crafty” has a negative connotation regardless. Crafts are awesome!” Preach it, friend.
“I see it as whatever the person saying it intended. If they meant it in a nice way, it was a compliment. Tone is everything. It’s not what you say it’s how you say it in my book.”
Yep, that’s what we’re going to stick with.
As makers, we must forgive our awkward fellow humans with questionable craft education and forge on, bringing more and more beauty into the world! But when in doubt, even if it’s hard, take it as a compliment!