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Dear friends, 

We’re so happy to share today an excerpt from Making a Life: Working by Hand and Discovering the Life You Are Meant to Live, by our editor and friend, Melanie Falick. We’ve been spending time with this book since its release at the end of October. The more we read and explore its thought-provoking and beautiful pages, the surer we are that Making a Life will have enduring relevance and importance for knitters, and for all makers. Through close observation and listening, Melanie has distilled the essence of why making by hand is important to our lives. This excerpt is from the conclusion of the book’s Introduction. Our thanks to Melanie and her publisher, Artisan Books, for granting permission to publish this excerpt. —Ann and Kay

Making by hand, it helps to remember, goes back to the beginning of human history and has developed in its own unique way in every culture. It is, in fact, our hands, especially our opposable thumbs (which allow us to make and use tools)—as well as our abilities to stand upright and make fire—that differentiate us most profoundly from our ape forebears. For hundreds of thousands of years, every object in the world that didn’t occur in nature was made by hand—vessels like the ones the Mateo family still make, tools, cloth, shelters, wagons, ships, musical instruments, and on and on. Hands and human ingenuity assured survival. The purpose of each day was to do what was necessary to stay alive, which meant many hours of handwork.

It wasn’t until the eighteenth century, when the industrial revolution began in parts of Europe and North America, that water and steam power and then electricity began to mechanize, and thus speed up, production, in turn reducing the necessity for human touch and increasing the ease of acquisition (and subsequent dispensability) of material possessions. And then the twentieth century saw the emergence of the digital revolution. Over the course of just a couple of hundred years in the so-called developed world, we have become passive consumers of products, services, and information rather than active makers, fixers, and even thinkers. Most of the time, what we buy is made somewhere else, by a machine or by people we’ll never meet, sometimes working in conditions we would not accept for ourselves.

Given these circumstances, it’s not surprising that some of us are discomfited and feel a need for a grounding counterforce. Just as the mechanization and mass production of the industrial revolution led to the Arts and Crafts movement (a late 1800s revival of interest in skilled handwork, craftsmanship, and refined design), the speed and anonymity of the digital revolution and the profit-driven globalization it fast-forwarded have led to what I call a DIY renaissance: a renewal of attention paid to the value of handwork as well as a concern about how what we consume is affecting our health and the environment. No longer required to make with our hands in order to assure our survival or make a living, more and more of us now do so by choice. What was once a necessity has become, for many, a joy, a privilege, and a call to action. The DIY renaissance is part of the same impulse that continues to drive the slow fashion, slow design, and slow food movements.

I believe that impulse to use our hands to make things and, in the process, to make them beautiful, is our evolutionary birthright. It is this concept that scholar Ellen Dissanayake has spent her life studying, and it is with a conversation with Ellen on the following pages that I invite you to join me on this journey. From there, I hope that you will enjoy reading about the lives of the many makers I met and spent time with during this extraordinary adventure. I’ve loosely organized their stories into five chapters—Remembering, Slowing Down, Joining Hands, Making a Home, and Finding a Voice—each one an answer to the question of what it is we stand to gain when we make things by hand.

All the people featured on these pages are, without a doubt, very talented; however, I chose them not because they are “the best” but because the way they are leading their lives is both relatable and inspiring. For some, making by hand is a way of earning a living—but more important for each of them, it is a way of taking agency over their own lives. They have shown me what their version of a good life looks like. I, in turn, am sharing their stories—and my own—with you.

We all make many choices in our lives, more than we sometimes recognize. I hope that reading this book motivates you to carve out some space in your routine to listen to what your inner voice, your soul, is telling you about what matters to you most; to tune in to the small decisions you make each day that determine how you spend your time and ultimately, shape the life you lead.

And, of course, I hope you will keep looking at your hands. They may hold more answers than you realize.

Excerpted from Making a Life by Melanie Falick (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2019. Photographs by Rinne Allen.

About The Author

Melanie Falick has given the world of craft some of its most beloved books. We are proud and delighted to be working with her as editor and creative director of the MDK Field Guides. Her book, Making a Life: Working by Hand and Discovering the Life You Are Meant to Live, was named one of the 100 Best Books of 2019 by Publishers Weekly.


  • I picked up this book from the library this week. I can’t wait to delve into it.

  • Thank you! I’m going to check it out. Making is an integral part of who I am.

  • This is my favorite book lately. I have it on my ipad so I can keep rereading!

  • I first learned of this book through an MDK post. I borrowed it from my local library and have been reading it for several weeks. It is great because it is easy to read a section, put it down, and reflect on that writing before delving in again. I have been in tears more than once as I have read. Making is essential in my life. It is who I am. (Friends have commented that I would have been a great pioneer!) In reading of the passions of the artists profiled, I come to see myself more clearly. I have also had some great conversations with other makers on the undeniable force to produce things using our own hands. We have pondered why the urge is so strong in some individuals to craft with our hands. I think each human possesses this desire, but some have not yet found the way there. My apologies for this long post, but I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this book! My library copy is going back soon and I will be purchasing my own copy. Thanks, Ann and Kay, for sharing this book and the excerpt with readers…and makers!

  • Melanie does such a good job inspiring people in the handcraft world. Her first book led me toward finally getting serious about knitting. What resonates most with me about Craft and handiwork is the decision-making when you are designing even the simplest piece. Which can lead to more confidence and self-realization. Probably everyone should learn a handcraft skill for that reason alone, anything from knitting to whittling, for that matter. Chloe

  • I am. Of course, looking forward to reading this book. Thank you for reminding me that it is already out there.

  • I have the book, but I am waiting to have some time to spend with it. Thanks to MDK for the heads-up, as always!

  • I purchased this book the day that it came out because I was feeling sorry for myself. Holidays are always very difficult and I mentally pre-prepare for the sadness.
    This book was the perfect chance and I encourage everyone to read it as there is profound beauty in the writing.
    You will never look at your hands the same way again.

    • Not really a reply, but a comment. I am having trouble with my vision and cannot read right now. I need some to read to me, I guess, for the time being!

      • Hello Kate,
        I have empathy for your vision problem & three possible ideas for it:
        Ask your local library if they have volunteer readers you could meet with to read the book aloud to you, chapter by chapter;
        Contact your local chapter of the Lions Club for local readers-aloud;
        Contact a local senior citizen community center & ask if they have volunteers for this.
        If neither place has volunteers for this, suggest that they organize a volunteer program for it. Your suggestion just might turn into a wonderful community service!
        Best of luck & all good wishes,


    • Should be CHOICE

  • Thank you! I am so looking forward to this book, and you have definitely whetted my appetite even more with this excerpt.

  • I’ve got time coming up over the holidays to sit with this book, and cannot WAIT. Giving us this excerpt has built that anticipation most painfully – thanks as always, Anne and Kay! 😉

  • Melanie’s new book is just as life altering as her ‘Knitting in America’ was for me. She was born to write these books.

  • I added Making a Life to my wishlist immediately upon reading this post. I was so pleasantly surprised to unwrap it yesterday. I began reading almost immediately, not in the speed reading way of a fun fiction, but a slow considered read and have found it to be wonderfully inspiring. I stopped reading when I felt ‘full’ and will pick it up again today, and tomorrow, and the next day. Thank you, for such an inspiring book Ms Falick!

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