The first blog I ever read religiously was called “Mod Podge Rocks.” It was 2011 and I was a devoted decoupager. In fact, I was so devoted that my birthday wish list resembled the Pinterest board of a shabby chic bride; all I wanted was mason jars, tissue paper, burlap, and buttons. I looked forward to the Sunday morning newspaper delivery purely because of the craft store coupons and the animated color explosion from the pages of the Michael’s and JoAnn’s advertisements. I still remember the home economic lesson from my mother: Never go to a craft store without a coupon.
“Mod Podge Rocks” was founded by the Northwestern mom turned craft blogger, Amy Anderson, and I read her daily posts like gospel. When Anderson posted “How to Paint a Colorful Clock Face” I ran straight up to my room and unhooked my Target clock from my bedroom wall, eager to follow her step-by-step instructions. After some mechanical twiddling, I decoupaged the clock face with patterned scrapbook paper. Admittedly, after waiting the 24-hour drying period, the clock never ticked again.
As Anderson gained notoriety in the blogosphere, I became an even more enthusiastic fan of Mod Podge. When she published a book with directions of how to Mod Podge everything from a bike helmet to acorns, I of course bought the book and completed all the projects.
Certainly, as a 12-year-old blog reader, I was a rare breed. I didn’t grow up with the rise of Myspace and LiveJournal that ushered in the era of the blogger. And Instagram had not yet become mainstream when I was reading blogs in middle school. The year 2011 was a rare in-between time in the social media landscape where the next big technology platform had not been determined by the masses yet.
Yet, by the time I reached eighth grade, the list of blogs bookmarked under “Shannon’s Blogs” on the family computer had grown. Added to my daily diet of “Mod Podge Rocks” was the trendier “A Beautiful Mess” craft blog. Founded by two sisters, the blog widened my purview of crafting beyond the water base sealer, glue and finish of Mod Podge.
That summer, I spent countless crafternoons inspired by a slate of bloggers to attempt the most ridiculous do-it-yourself projects. I made a mesh ribbon wreath. Concocted a clay formula for Christmas ornaments. Ordered beeswax from Etsy to make candles. Pressed flowers. Scrapbooked. Dyed fabric. Beaded chunky necklaces. Sewed a skirt.
I even stuffed dozens of cucumber spears into mason jars in an attempt to make a batch of pickles. After eagerly waiting a week for them to ferment, I learned only certain types of cucumbers are appropriate specimens for pickling. Most picklers agree Kirby Cukes are the best. I unfortunately did not use Kirby Cukes. Instead of crisp pickles, I was left with soggy cucumbers. But it didn’t matter. I loved the hokey, do-it-yourself world of crafting.
The craft bloggers on my bookmarked list did not wear the crisp white button-down like Martha Stewart. Their sites did not feature the polished typography of “Real Simple.” Their posts were often bogged with junky code and poorly lit photos. No one was trying to create a brand or win sponsors. There was absolutely no consistency with the content — part of the reason why it was so fun to read.
But when I entered high school, Instagram took an axe to the doorway of the blogosphere subsequently transforming the world and its creators into valuable social capital. The authenticity of Mod-Podging mothers and crafty sisters dissipated into the observable pressure of these new platforms to maintain a brand aesthetic.
Soon the dusty craft blogging corner of the internet shifted from candid posts to much more poised articulations of the same projects I had attempted in the past. Granted, I probably would have not missed the memo that you have to use Kirby Cukes for pickling with this much more tactile shift of craft bloggers. But there is something to be said for what was lost due to the formalization of blogging and the shift to full blown professional influencers.
It is often glossed over how these platforms have caused more humans than ever before to become a brand. Prior to social media, branding was reserved for celebrities or professional athletes with a public presence. But now, even craft bloggers are expected to maintain a precise curation of their digital selves in order to survive the algorithms of the search engines.
This became clear as I saw the candidness and complexity of the craft blogger personality become diluted for the sake of easy-to-understand content and “reliability.” I don’t think humans are necessarily built to become a brand. The packaging of a human identity in a brand requires the filtration of all the paradoxes, complexities, and things that “don’t quite make sense” about a person. A brand has to be streamlined, succinct and intentional — characteristics that do not always align with the spontaneity of human character. Laundry detergent is supposed to have a brand, but people? I am not so sure.
A few days ago I logged onto “Mod Podge Rocks” and “A Beautiful Mess” and saw a completely different interface than the websites I remembered visiting every day in middle school. New logos, a full staff of contributors, sponsored content, and product lines crammed the masthead. The last remnants of the coded blogs I remembered were gone. Only the URL remained — the tombstone of the hokey craft blog.