When Kristl Bridge opened Portland Homestead Supply Co. in Sellwood in June, a visitor asked her why anyone would take tasks such as canning, pickling, and soap-making into their own hands when it’s often easier to pay someone else to do the work.
“It was our first day open, so my first response to it ... was to sort of panic,” Bridge recalls. “I thought, ‘Wow maybe nobody will [do this], and we’ll be out of business in a few weeks.’”
But the shop has drawn customers of all ages who want to make their own cheese, kombucha, sourdough, flour, ground meat, and cleaning products. They’re also stopping by for classes and for goods to help with care of their gardens and urban farm animals.
“We have a lot of people in their 40s or 50s who were back-to-the-landers in the 1970s,” Bridge says. They remember growing up with this when they were kids.

Self-Sufficiency and Community

Bulk grains for home grinding at Portland Homestead Supply
Bulk grains for home grinding at Portland Homestead Supply

While many Portlanders are enthusiastic about the do-it-yourself movement—either as creators or as consumers—the “why” is worth asking in an urban DIY movement. Homesteaders of the past lived in rural areas where luxury and even sundry items were hard to come by. But many of today’s DIY-ers have ready access to necessities and more, and often at lower prices.

Many of Bridge’s customers value quality and principle over convenience. 

“When you make your own cleaning supplies, you know what’s in it ...You know that you’re not poisoning yourself,” Bridge says. “When you can your own own food, you know that it’s fresh.” 

Bridge makes cheese and enjoys tending to her urban garden, goats and chickens. She learned the approach from her German-born mother.

“She sewed all my clothes for many years and canned and had a beautiful garden all the time. We ate a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, so that idea was very common growing up, that we just did things for ourselves,” Bridge says.

While much of DIY is about self-sufficiency, Bridge has found that it’s most effective as a group effort. She recommends planning DIY projects in groups that can share the cost as well as the labor.

“Learning from other people’s mistakes, and other people's successes and experiences is far and away the best way to do it,” Bridger adds. “That’s how things used to be done.”

Passion and Practicality

Julie Sabatier produces and hosts the public radio show
Julie Sabatier produces and hosts the public radio show

Julie Sabatier, who produces and hosts the public radio show “Destination DIY,” has found Portland to be an ideal home base for her interviews and research. 

“Though we like to include stories from around the country, it's hard to imagine basing the show anywhere besides Portland,” she says. “One thing I really appreciate is that, in addition to being really creative and innovative, people are really quick to collaborate.” 

The show has chronicled plenty of DIY successes, but those don’t always come easily. In fact, an episode in the works is called “DIY Disasters.”

“The theme that shows up in a lot of the stories is people taking on something on a grand scale when they've never tried doing it on a smaller scale, with less risk,” Sabatier says. “Instead of starting with building a whole house, maybe start by building a table or a door frame.”

Such projects can be dangerous if they’re not executed with care and background knowledge, she says. 

“I think anytime you're working on something that could get you killed or do severe damage to your house or your car, you should probably stand back and think about it long and hard before you just launch right in,” Sabatier says. “But if you do your homework, the sky is the limit.”

DIY in Love

Cheesemaking supplies at Portland Homestead Supply Company.
Cheesemaking supplies at Portland Homestead Supply Company.

In large and small ways, Traci Goodrich and Nate Orton have woven a DIY thread through their married life in Portland. 

The couple met at Last Thursday on Alberta Street and got to know each other while bicycling and developing art projects using Orton’s handmade frames, charcoal and ink.

“My generation can buy anything it wants,” Orton says. “So it makes sense that some of us would want to question this convenience and maybe tip our hats to our grandparents’ generation by toiling on a sweater or on changing the oil in a car.”

When they married, Goodrich and Orton designed zines to tell their story and serve as invitations. They crafted decor, grew floral and herbal arrangements, and made formalwear with help from friends.

In their home, Orton has used recycled materials to make garden boxes, a coat rack, shelving, notebooks and toys for their infant daughter. They mend their own clothing, dabble in brewing, and make condiments, chutney and—these days—baby formula.

When their first child arrived a month early, the couple did their research and opted for hands-on care.

“[We] had to act quickly and decided that we would have our daughter in our home instead of at the birth center we had originally intended to use,” Goodrich says.

They used a holistic home incubation method requiring the baby to have skin-to-skin contact around the clock.

“My daughter slept on my chest at night to regulate her breathing and her heartbeat and to encourage her to nurse,” Goodrich said. “Even though those first months were really hard, I am really proud of [us] for caring for her in a way that felt right.”

Orton has continued making and selling art while Goodrich is developing her businesses as a nutritional therapy consultant and tarot reader. They promote their work online but also with business cards, brochures and posters that are—you guessed it—made by hand.

DIY Quick Talk

A portion of the Portland Homesteading Supply book selection.
A portion of the Portland Homesteading Supply book selection.

For many Portland residents, DIY can open doors for income, outlets for stress, gift-giving, and exploration.  

Kate McMillen of Lauretta Jean's

DIY Occupation: Pie baker
Day job: Entrepreneur
Website: www.laurettajean.com

NN: Why do you DIY?
KM: I don't want to have a boss. I want to execute my ideas with out having them watered down by other peoples’ constraints. And I'm a really good pie baker.

NN: When is DIY not worth it?
KM: I don't make any money doing it, and I work all the fucking time!

NN: When is DIY totally worth it?
KM: When someone says, “That's the best piece of pie I've ever had,” or “I've been craving a chocolate mini pie all day.”

Matt McCoy

DIY Occupation: Homebrewer
Day Job: Online Strategy Manager
Website: www.twitter.com/mathmccoy

NN: Why do you DIY?
MM: Making beer feels kind of like alchemy. You get a bunch of strange ingredients and new equipment with lots of tubes, funnels, and measuring devices, and, in the end, you get beer. It's a lot of fun, and fresh, home-brewed beer tastes amazing compared to some of the beers you can buy. Homebrewing is easier than you think, and you can make exactly the kind of beer you want. I've made a pilsner with clover honey in it (it tasted like springtime), American ales with extra hops, and sparkling cider made from apple juice I bought on the Hood River fruit loop.

NN: When is DIY not worth it?
MM: Some people try to imitate or clone store-bought beers, but I don't think that's worth it. I like Lagunitas Hop Stoopid IPA, so why try to make my own version when they've perfected it? I also don't see myself becoming a total expert at brewing beer. As long as I'm having fun and the beer turns out okay, I'm good.

NN: When is DIY totally worth it?
MM: For homebrewing, it's getting to try new beers for the first time and share them with friends. There's nothing better than drinking that first beer out of a new batch, except maybe drinking the second beer out of a new batch.

Denee Longan

DIY Occupation: Seamstress of useful items for children and mothers
Day Job: Mother, Montessori teacher
Website: www.snuffytree.etsy.com

NN: Why do you DIY?
DL: I DIY when an item is expensive, and I know I could make it cheaper. I do it when I want to stick it to the man, so to speak, in proving that I don't have to spend lots of money to have nice things. I also DIY when I think I could make improvements on the design of an item. And I like giving handmade gifts. They seem more meaningful.

NN: When is DIY not worth it?
DL: When it would not be a rejuvenating experience, or when it would cost more, in purchasing necessary equipment, than buying it outright. I make things as an outlet. I don't need another source of stress! It’s also not worth it to me when I don't have time or energy to learn a new medium.

NN: When is DIY most worthwhile?
DL: When it's meaningful. Gift-giving is my favorite reason to DIY, especially when it's an item that will be used a lot and enjoyed. Useful crafting is my favorite.

Nora Robertson

DIY Occupation: Journalist, media maker
Day Job: English as a second language specialist
Website: www.norarobertson.org

NN: Why do you DIY?
NR: Writing and interviewing is what I most love to do. I don't get paid for what I do. I used to do some freelancing, but what I'm doing now, mapping Oregon's cultural terrain, is generally done through self-invented outlets like my radio show for KZME in Gresham, the New Oregon Interview Series live version and now the print version on Plazm online. It's DIY media, not for profit, just to make a cool thing that I think needs to exist.

NN: When is DIY not worth it?
NR: When I am up against a deadline for an art thing, and my day job is getting in the way. Then I start to question which or how many projects I'm committed to.

NN: When is DIY totally worth it?
NR: When I'm interviewing cattle ranchers in Eastern Oregon about how they are making small family farms work through a co-op model, and, a week later, a small press publisher says almost exactly the same thing. Some people are project people. It brings our lives meaning. I do think people in Portland tend to do this more than elsewhere because we have the time and because there's a lack of industry here creatively, so we are more free just to do what we find authentic.

Tara Garrett

DIY Occupation: Knitter, yarn spinner, quilter
Day Job: What day job?
Website: TarainthePNW on www.ravelry.com

NN: Why do you DIY?
TG: It gives me a lot of personal satisfaction. When I first started DIYing, I found that, when I was finished, I could hold up my shawl, or my hat, or my quilt, and I could tell the world, “I made this. My skills made this. All the valuable time that I spent resulted in this.” The contrast between the end product of something like reading and crafting (which I can often do simultaneously, happily enough) is what makes me so content.

NN: When is DIY not worth it?
TG: It's rarely ever not worth it. If a pattern is too hard, then it's a challenge to overcome—something to conquer that makes me proud. But I've gotten to the point in my skill set that it's usually not worth it to use really cheap materials, depending on who I'm knitting for. Also, it doesn't feel like it's worth it if I'm giving it as a gift to someone who wouldn't appreciate the difference between the product and an iTunes gift card.

NN: When is DIY totally worth it?
TG: It's most worthwhile when I'm making something for myself, because I do that really rarely.

When do you DIY? When is DIY not worth it? When is DIY totally worth it? Sound off in the comments below.