Handmade Tales

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(Natalia D./Big Stock)

As a materials scientist, Anna Ploszajski was trained to analyze materials on a number of levels — their atomic structure, their chemical properties, their ability to conduct or resist electricity, their magnetism, hardness, ductility, and more.

But Ploszajski quickly realized there was a hole in her knowledge — in terms of what it feels like to work with materials hands-on. She set out to understand things differently, learning by doing. Along the way, she met craftspeople who built their own body of knowledge about everything from glass and steel, to sugar and wool, using only their eyes, their instincts, and their hands. Her new book is called “Handmade: A Scientist’s Search for Meaning Through Making.”

On this episode, we follow Ploszajski and others on their journeys to understand everyday materials through the process of creating. We also hear why making things can feel so empowering and soothing, and learn about a movement that wants all of us to learn how to fix our belongings.

Also heard on this week’s episode:

  • Appliances like toasters and dishwashers have become so advanced in recent years, that most people can’t repair them without expert help. But now, the “right to repair” movement is trying to change that. Alan Yu reports.
  • Physicist Clifford Johnson talks about his hobby: baking, and why he loves the feeling of creating order from chaos (while making pie crusts).
  • Making something by hand allows a creator to be uniquely in touch with the way a material feels, its balance and even how it smells. Producer Diana Opong got a chance to see a Washington-based master bowyer in action. He describes the materials he uses to make English longbows, and the strength and effort it takes for him to get the wood to bend into that perfect arc.
  • In Portland, Oregon, Julie Wilson is known as “the cast iron lady.” You can find her at street fairs and pop-up events all around the city with shelves full of cast iron cookware that she restored by hand. Producer Joel Shupack caught up with her at her home, as she describes how to bring neglected pots and pans back to life.

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