PmsProxy, a partnered Twitch streamer who has 147,000 followers, was tired. Tired of streaming Grand Theft Auto roleplay, and of streaming herself playing games more generally — something she’d been doing nearly every day for around six years. “I didn’t just want to sit and play games all day, I realized,” she says when I reach her by Discord. “I want to either tell a story through roleplay or just do something that made it feel fulfilling, and roleplay wasn’t that.” So she decided to make a change: instead of streaming herself playing games, she’d stream herself making things for her business.
That business was leatherworking. Proxy made the jump from full-time game streamer to full-time crafting streamer at the beginning of this year; it was a nerve-wracking but ultimately necessary step. “It’s been unbelievably different in the best way possible,” she says. “My viewers have gone up, my subs have gone up. And I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that my community members are seeing me be happy, right? They’re seeing me do something that I love.” The people who stayed, she says, want to buy her work and learn how she makes it.
Twitch is usually thought of as a place for streaming video games. And while that reputation is deserved — yes, a lot of people stream their gaming on Twitch — the site also has a surprising breadth of channels. Makers & Crafting is one of them; the category was created in 2018, after Twitch renamed “Hobbies & Crafts” to better represent the many pros who streamed in it (in their words). According to Twitch Tracker, a website that logs Twitch statistics, the category averaged 520 viewers in September 2018, the month it was created. As of January 2021, Makers & Crafting was averaging 1,520 viewers, or about three times more.
The people who stream in the category do everything from embroidery to woodworking; it’s mesmerizing to bounce among them. Makers & Crafting is a warm, welcoming category that feels a little intimate. The streams can run long — I mean, they’re making physical goods — but every streamer I’ve seen seems to vibrate at a slightly different frequency than the people who stream on the rest of the site. They’re calmer. Less frenetic. The vibe is aggressively wholesome. In other words: it’s about as close to an oasis as you can get online.
Streaming anything is difficult. In every broadcast you have to be a host, producer, audio engineer, and video technician — all at the same time. Streaming your crafts, however, is harder: making things for an audience is a special kind of difficult, especially if the products you’re making are eventually going to be sold. What’s perhaps more interesting is how learning crafts has changed with the accessibility of the internet. Proxy and another streamer and woodworker I spoke to, WorkedLettuce3 — whose handle was chosen by the Xbox gamertag gods — both learned their crafts from the internet.
“I watched a lot of YouTube videos,” he says. “I just never thought it would be something I would take up. Because, you know, a lot of woodworking YouTubers in particular, they like to flex their shop, they like to flex all the hundreds of thousands of dollars they spent on their tools, right? And, yeah, I mean, that was never gonna be me.” Even so, he found a channel that he says motivated him to be a woodworker — one that emphasized that you didn’t need tons of gear to pick it up as a hobby. “I’m very, very glad I found it because I’ve been loving just messing around woodworking, hanging out with people in the garage like we’ve been doing now,” he says.
Proxy also learned some of the tools of her leatherworking trade from the internet. Her foray into the Makers & Crafting section coincided with the first time she tried her hand at leatherworking. “I started leather crafting January of this year. Like my first time really getting my hands on my own stuff was in January,” she says. “But I spent the last year researching. So starting in 2019 and all through 2020, I did nothing but watch YouTube videos and Instagram videos. I did tons of research.” Proxy says she’s always been gifted in working with her hands. Leatherworking is just the most recent outlet. (She also went to art school.)
Lettuce is in a similar position; before six months ago, he’d never sawn a board in half.
He’d never streamed before, either. His first streaming setup was just streaming directly to Twitch from his phone; these days, he’s got a dedicated PC in his garage, a couple webcams, and the TV from his living room to read chat on. And his chat is important: among his viewers are veteran woodworkers and other crafters, along with people who’ve just stopped by to watch. The woodworkers help him when he’s stuck; he says there are people there who have coached him through his entire woodworking career. That kind of interaction is unique to Twitch, and to the Makers & Crafting section in particular.
Even so, he says he finds woodworking on stream scary sometimes. “Like, before the first time I turned my table saw on, I was terrified. Before I turned my router on for the first time, I was terrified. Before I ran a circular saw for the first time, I was terrified,” he says. And he did fall into some bad habits — like reading chat from his phone while working on things. “My chat would see me reading the chat from my phone. And a couple people in there just like stepped in and they were like, ‘Yo, like, for real. You can’t be doing that.’” He credits chat with keeping him honest.
“No one is coming in to backseat you,” says Proxy. “They’re not like, ‘Oh, you should go here and you should do this. And oh, you didn’t kill my favorite boss.’” Viewers are there to watch someone make something, and maybe learn a little in the process.
Proxy also makes just about everything in her store live on stream. Which she says is intimidating but also rewarding — because viewers (who are also buyers) can see exactly how much labor goes into making what they’ve bought. “They get to see what work is actually being put into this,” she says. “It’s not just, you know, a quick two hours, and it’s done. It’s a grueling two hours. Like everything is hand cut, and hand stitched and glued and stamped.”
Not everyone sells what they make on stream. Another crafter I spoke to, LaserGeekCreations, says that he doesn’t usually create the things that show up in his shop on stream. “Mainly because a lot of the stuff that’s on my Etsy shop is like, quick and easy to make,” he says. “It’s kind of boring to make a lot of the time.” (He assuages this boredom by creating things like a giant wooden dinosaur, which he also destroyed on stream.) LaserGeekCreations also happens to be the streamer who raided Lettuce when he was just starting out — which gave Lettuce his first real start on Twitch.
It’s not all fun and games on Twitch. The larger viewer community can sometimes be brutally toxic to people who don’t fit its notions of who can and can’t be a streamer; recently, Twitch partner Negaoryx lamented, at Twitch’s 2020 Participation Ceremony event, that the chat was targeting presenters with tons of hate speech.
There's more than 42,000+ viewers watching the Twitch Participation Ceremony on the offical @Twitch channel now. Users in chat are spewing hate speech & harassing the guest streamers. 3 mod names in the chat list but since I've been watching, have seen ZERO messages get deleted.— negaoryx (@negaoryx) January 23, 2021
Makers & Crafting feels different, though. It’s smaller, for one thing. But all the people I’ve spoken to who’ve been involved with the category think it’s a uniquely welcoming space nestled within the larger Twitch community. “It was almost like — it’s gonna sound fucking hilarious — but it was almost like walking into a warm hug,” says Proxy. “It was just like everyone was so welcome.” During her first week in the section, Proxy says she went from getting around 100 viewers to getting more than 500. They were leatherworkers and other crafters; they dropped tips and ideas and support.
Lettuce had a similarly warm experience. “The Makers & Crafting community is — I’m gonna say in my opinion, but I’m pretty sure it’s a fact — that they’re the most welcoming and loving community-minded community I’ve ever seen in my entire life.” Once the pandemic is over, Lettuce says, he’s considering driving from Las Vegas, where he lives, to New Jersey, where his parents are, and visiting his friends from Twitch on the way.
“I don’t think I’ll ever leave Twitch. I mean, live-streaming and the community in general,” he says. “The stream will still be a thing, but I think interpersonal communication and hanging out and, you know, giving someone a firm handshake is my end goal.”
LaserGeekCreations has been streaming crafting for longer than Lettuce and Proxy, and he confirms their assessments of the community. “The makers community is such an amazing community. I think you’ve probably heard that from other people already,” he says. “Because it doesn’t matter what you’re making. We’re all makers, we all like seeing what other people are doing. Everyone’s so supportive of each other.”
That kind of supportive community feeling can be invaluable if you’re trying to finish something. As anyone who’s tried to make anything knows, creating things is hard because going from idea to reality requires a number of steps, which sometimes aren’t particularly obvious. On Twitch, the Makers & Crafting community makes it just a little easier.