Domesticity has for a long time been for sale. In Desire and Domestic Fiction, Nancy Armstrong describes (western) 18th century conduct books selling female readers a middle class home-life when one had yet to exist. Needlecraft magazines at the start of the 20th century persuaded downtrodden widows to hole up in their dens and darn socks for local college girls in order to earn extra money and secure an independent living that did not require them to venture outside the home. Today, these micro-narratives are woven together by the prolific nature of digital authorship, all of our online and mass media contributions coming together to form a sturdy fabric selling home economics, revised edition.
Whereas home economics — and the originating conduct literature of earlier centuries — taught women to manage a household provided for by the male public-figure, the narratives today hold up the possibility that, in fact, women can escape the Man altogether. Women can claim not only an independence of gender roles within marriage, not just an independence of womanhood without marriage, but also the idea that the velvet handcuffs can be refashioned into a becoming sash, headband or iPod case.
Etsy is a pioneering example of this discourse and its generation. Etsy is an online marketplace for handmade goods with $180M in sales in 2009 and 250,000 shop owners (and millions of buyers). As of a March 2010 survey of its membership, 97% of the online community is women. Etsy's blog publishes a weekly series that profiles shop owners who have quit their day jobs and are either supplementing their income or are working toward goals of supporting themselves financially by selling their crafts on the site. A December 2009 article in the NY Times confirms that a micro-narrative is gaining credence among many women engaged in an online craft community: specifically, that it is possible to “quit your day job,” and for some, to be quite successful. In spite of the critics and nay-sayers, this story has been writ large for the close-knit community of online crafters looking to make enough money to support their work full time or to use their craft to sustain their lifestyle.
In online craft culture, frequently the character of "handmade" and the setting of "local" is part of the sale. The seller’s persona matters. More often than not, the most successful online craft-sellers self-fashion their projected lifestyles as much as they fashion fabric or metal. Self-presentation is part of the package, and story surrounds items and shops and artists. Part of Etsy’s mission in fact is to reconnect buyers and sellers. Artists and crafters in the online marketplace therefore need storyspace, and the blog is serving this (new? old? refashioned?) need. The micro-narrative of an independent living is traveling then by way of the marketplace system itself.
Buyers and sellers alike are the reading public of the design and lifestyle blogs that point to shops selling the very items that sellers are living among and with. Desire is constructed through a crafter’s blog that showcases the home or studio, and the blogger satisfies that desire through an online shop. (Sometimes it happens in that order, sometimes not.) Desire is being constructed locally, socially and by individuals, in an online space that is predominantly generated by women. This new online domestic space — a private space made public — is part of a long history of an economics that is gendered female and situated firmly in the tradition of showcased domesticity. What makes it new (upcycled) is the sheer multitude of loose threads that ultimately comprise the fabric of this online community, its economics and its discourse.