Much like catching a dropped stitch in my knitting, collecting animal-shaped ceramic pots and admiring my overflowing bookshelves: I love this book. Handmade A Scientist’s Search for Meaning through Making by Anna Ploszajski is a methodical-yet-quirky look at the places where art and science overlap.
After an unfortunate scuffle with a fabric bunny, Ploszajski turned her back on crafting and embraced material science. Also known as the discovery and creation of new materials. So far, so sciency. Yet it’s clear from the very first chapter (which finds the author performing science standup) that Ploszajski isn’t the kind of person to fence herself in. Throughout the Handmade she embraces the unusual and unfamiliar, throwing herself into blacksmithing, papermaking, stone carving, plastic sculpting, knitting and a host of other crafts.
As Ploszajski progresses through her ten chosen materials—stopping off to swim the Channel on a sugar high, learn to knit in a campervan called Alan Car and nearly have a crisis of confidence over a wooden spoon—she introduces her readers to a world that most of us take for granted. Why do we use glass for phone screens when plastic is stronger? Why don’t we talk about the way plastic saves lives and reduces food waste? Why do we have such affection for wood and how do the emotions we attached to materials alter the way we use them?
Back to my love of wool, clay and paper; not only is Ploszajski incredibly funny (think Mary Roach, but chatting about brass instead of bottoms), she’s also a hobbyist. Apparently willing to give most things a go, Ploszajski is the kind of writer who passes on her own enthusiasm to her readers. Am I going to learn how to play the trumpet? Probs not. But I could! And maybe after finishing this review I’ll give candle-making another try. Even if you don’t know anything about science, you’ll finish Handmade with a yearning to try something new. To make a bit of a mess. And, during a pandemic year where our hobbies are the only thing keeping many of us sane, that feels like a gift.
Handmade: A Scientist’s Search for Meaning through Making is published by Bloomsbury Publishing on 13th May 2021. Preorder here from bookshop.org.