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The Real Deal 

by Kris Dinnison

Americans are notorious for wanting to be self-sufficient. They want to keep up with the Joneses, remodel the kitchen and make homemade cookies for the grade school class Halloween party while they stay in shape, in fashion and in the loop. A big part of this search for image nirvana in recent years has been dominated by cutesy, country crafts and Martha Stewart wannabes.

But none of the current literature has fit the needs of the many groovy-but-crafty-do-it-yourselfers who have been waiting for a 'zine to call their own. They needn't wait any longer: ReadyMade magazine is on the stands and waiting to inspire you.

When you first see ReadyMade, you know right away that you have stumbled onto something different. The colorful cover of Issue Two features two young hipsters in the process of assembling one of the projects featured in the magazine, a "4x4 flower power vase." But these aren't mere models. One is a designer who built a bed in ReadyMade's first issue, and the other is a woman who makes clothing out of pillowcases.

The cover text promises "30 easy make-it-yourself projects for girls and boys," and how to "become a Rock Star without leaving the house." Issue Four proclaims "Make Stuff: Flying Candles, Duct Tape Wallets, Spooky Costumes, Advent Calendars, a Harem," (yes, there is actually an article on how to assemble a Harem). Further in, we find handy coded project cards that give indications of the time, cost and skill level required for each project (the monkey indicates all you'll need are opposable thumbs, whereas a Cro-Magnon project is for those who have "tools and fire, but may be clumsy with both").

The projects are mostly easy and ingenious. One issue features a section on making a variety of picture frames that includes using things like cigarette tins, chopsticks, jelly jars, old books and Pez dispensers. Another offers an array of do-it-yourself lamps made from everything from Tupperware to Styrofoam cups. They even supply a primer so you know how the whole lamp and electricity thing goes together without blowing yourself up or setting your house on fire. The first issue offers instructions on how to make a meat cart bed. It was so popular that the online ReadyMade store actually sells a meat cart bed kit do-it-yourselfers can buy.

Once you've used all the great ReadyMade projects to decorate your home, you can search the magazine for hints on entertaining and recipes for all those do-it-yourselfer pals who helped you put your pad together. Past issues have offered articles on chocolate, cocktails and Japanese Soba. Issue four guides readers through "Thanksgiving for dummies." (Step one is "Get 'em drinking.") Martha would not approve.

Yet ReadyMade pays homage even to the acknowledged guru of do-it-yourself. In fact, there is a section in each issue called "Post Martha," which takes a Martha-esque craft and gives it a pop culture twist. One Post Martha featured "glassware for drunks," which instructed readers on how to etch glassware for cocktail parties. Another took an ubiquitous Martha Stewart "Good Thing" (covering a bulletin board to match the decor) and gave it a decidedly un-Martha spin (cleverly using an acupuncture chart as bulletin board cover).

In addition to really clear and usable instructions for all the projects and recipes, ReadyMade also does reviews and articles about great products (e.g., a Jelly Donut Kit and Tree in a Tube), books, films and any other random thing the editors can tie to ReadyMade's central theme. In one feature, an IKEA employee examined the rise of that furniture giant and asks whether his workplace is "Monoculture Hell or Do-It-Yourself Heaven?" Another article urges readers to "Save your Soul and the Church of Craft." This interview with the real-life founder of the Church of Craft points out that any creative endeavor tends to bring human beings closer to their spiritual side. There may seem to be a disconnect between the magazine and these stories, but they make sense in the context of ReadyMade's subtitle: "Instructions for Everyday Life."

In fact, that subtitle seems to free the magazine up to include articles and insights that are a far reach from modern decor. For example, the most recent issue examined two important social issues: global warming and rural poverty. One article took a look at the threatened lifestyle of the inhabitants of Shishmaref, a small island off the coast of Alaska. The people there are trying to decide whether to leave their island home, which is literally being swept away by global warming. Another article celebrated the work of architect and teacher Samuel Mockbee. Mockbee, who died almost a year ago, founded an architecture program in Alabama called the Rural Studio, which promote the idea of an "architecture of decency." It is a place where architecture students come face to face with the rural poor of Alabama and help those families create homes for themselves. These are heady topics, which ReadyMade examines and places in thoughtful context for its readers.

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