If the words "handmade" and "craft fair" bring to mind moldering macramé hangings and vendors in dimly lit church basements selling faux flower wreaths, it's time to think again...
Most days find Amy Dalrymple Murphy, a married mother of three, engaged in a sewing project of some sort at her Lewis Center home. It might be a dress, perhaps a lightweight jacket, or, most often, an apron. It's a scene of traditional domesticity … from afar.
Peer closer, however, and you start to see clues that this is not crafting of the old-school variety. That dress? It's a patterned circle skirt topped with a reworked T-shirt. The jacket? A man's shirt, revamped into a woman's cape. And the apron? If housework drives you to drink, you're in luck: It has a reinforced pocket just for beer, with a bottle opener attached alongside, ensuring you're never too far from a cold one.
If the words "handmade" and "craft fair" bring to mind moldering macramé hangings and vendors in dimly lit church basements selling faux flower wreaths, it's time to think again. The last decade has seen an explosion of twenty-, thirty-, and fortysomethings-many steeped in the DIY ethos and aesthetic of punk rock-embracing craft as an outlet for self-expression and a way to make a living. And while Murphy's Made by AmyD line of clothing and accessories is certainly unique, she is not alone in Central Ohio. Here's just a sampling of local crafters and what they're producing:
Esther Hall: Hall's Torn Angel line of clothing and accessories includes fingerless gloves and pincushion rings. As a result of her involvement in the craft community, she has served as brand ambassador for Brother sewing machines. One of her patterns was published in the book Knit & Wrap.
Megan Green: Green's Stinkybomb Soaps company, which she started in 2008 with husband Rob Green, makes high-quality suds in unexpected packages by using molds in the shape of World War II hand grenades, baby-doll heads and cassette tapes. A portion of Stinkybomb proceeds goes to the Wounded Warrior Project, which aids in the transition of injured veterans to civilian life. Project Zero Ohio, which supports those with HIV, also is a Stinkybomb beneficiary.
Jamie Hevener: In 2006, Hevener began sewing home décor items to help make ends meet as a stay-at-home mother. That work evolved into her HevVin Designs, which features meticulously crafted clutches, handbags and messenger bags, most made from vintage or reclaimed fabrics.
Mary Martineau: Martineau was ahead of the crafting trend with her Short North store Transformations, which she purchased in 1996. At the store, which closed its doors in 2000, Martineau took furniture cast-offs and used paint and decoupage to reimagine them. She's since sized down: Transformations' primary line now includes decoupaged coasters and mirrors, which she sells at fairs and events such as ComFest.
Nicholas and Alison Nocera: The Noceras' Alison Rose line of screen-printed and handsewn T-shirts, wallets, bags and other goods includes those depicting bicycles, books and, perhaps the company's best-known and bestselling design, the Ohio mixtape tee.
Clinton Reno: Around 2003, the illustrator and designer started making fliers for bands; in 2005, he moved to silk-screening such works. Reno's style-which makes use of anthropomorphized animals and caricatures of famous figures-has won over clients such as the North Market and the band My Morning Jacket.
Karla Ross: While living in Orlando, Ross went with a friend to a bead store to make bracelets to wear during their regular Bunco-playing get-togethers. With that, she was hooked, first on jewelry-making, which she still pursues, and later on the creation of mosaics and other items.
Amy Turn Sharp and Joe Sharp: Sharp is a master carpenter; Turn Sharp has had a lifelong affinity for crafty wares. Their Little Alouette line has sold their handmade, eco-friendly rattles, teethers and toys since their eldest child, now 8, was a toddler. Their work has ended up in the hands of a variety of customers, including actress Tiffani Thiessen.
These and other indie crafters in Columbus have found that "do-it-yourself" isn't another way of saying "go-it-alone"-witness the rise of Etsy Team Columbus and the Columbus Crafty Cotillion, both local groups for people of a crafty persuasion. The end result has been the creation of a vibrant community with an impact in greater Columbus and beyond.Creating a movement
The year 2005 would prove to be a significant one for crafters. It's the year online marketplace Etsy was launched. The website soon became theplace for those looking to buy or sell craft or vintage goods from around the world. Last year, Etsy sellers raked in $400 million-plus in revenue, with sales up 74.4 percent in 2010, according to Quarterly Retail Review. (Nearly all the crafters and shop owners in this story have a presence on Etsy.) At Christmastime, "you can't beat Etsy," says Alison Nocera. "Its customers are just waiting for you to put stuff up."
In October 2005, Olivera Bratich opened Wholly Craft, which has become the heart of Columbus' indie crafts scene. Says Bratich, "It started essentially because I knew people were making stuff, and at the time there was really no place to sell it in town. … Within a week of us opening was the very first Craftin' Outlaws [craft fair]. Even before that, when we first put together our consignment information [earlier in the year], AmyD hosted that very first craft fair at Studio 35, and there'd never been anything like that in Columbus before."
Murphy says the fair at Studio 35 came about as a lark with friends: "We had no idea that there were so many people thinking the same thing. … It was just really fun."
If anyone is to wear the title of "grande dame of handmade" in Columbus, it's Bratich. Murphy, who sells at more than 20 stores including Whole Foods, says Bratich is "so educated on pricing and trends, and she gives really good advice to people who are selling."
Last year, Bratich was one of the organizers of the two-day Midwest Craft Caucus, which brought in crafters from throughout the region to talk shop about the business of craft. "Craft panels have popped up along both coasts, but nothing really served the Midwest market," says Stinkybomb's Green.
Bratich, who attended similar craft caucuses elsewhere, says to be in business, crafters "need basic accounting skills, things like that. I learned so much from these and I really wanted to do something like that here for local and Midwestern crafters." Turn Sharp, one of the speakers, says the caucus provided a look at "the underbelly" of crafts as a business. "At the end of the day, it is a real business, and you have to keep that in your brain at all times," she says.
Wholly Craft, 3169 N. High St. in Clintonville, sells work from about 200 crafters, roughly a third of whom are from Ohio. Stock includes bath goods, housewares, toys, zines, books, fine art prints, baby gifts, greeting cards and Ohio-themed items. In addition to the retail space, Wholly Craft offers beginner-level craft classes. This summer it will add the Supply Closet, a pay-as-you-wish resource for craft materials donated by fellow crafters looking to purge themselves of materials.
Wholly Craft is the only Columbus store dedicated to selling indie crafts, but it's not the only place where locally produced handmade goods can be found. Among those with a sizeable portion of crafts for sale is What the Rock?!, a Short North store that bills itself as a "hip and unique rock and roll boutique." Founded by Heather Ziegler and husband Mike Renner as an online shop in 2005, the two opened the brick-and-mortar counterpart the following year. At its 1194 N. High St. location, What the Rock?! sells everything from T-shirts to housewares to jewelry, most with a rock 'n' roll or kitschy sensibility. It has a whole section of locally produced comic books.
Handmade goods have been part of the store's stock-in-trade from the start, says Ziegler. She's been crafting since high school-more than 20 years-and thought the store provided a great opportunity to showcase her creations, such as a line of guitar pick jewelry. Shortly after What the Rock?! opened, crafters came calling about consignment sales, which have come to represent about 20 percent of the store's business. Says Ziegler, "I think folks in Columbus really love handmade goods. They want to buy something well-made and unique, something not made in China, and something that isn't mass-produced."
Celebrate Local, a nonprofit collaboration between the Economic and Community Development Institute, Global Gallery and the Easton Community Foundation, opened late last year at Easton Town Center and is dedicated to selling Ohio-made items. Originally intended to be open last winter, the pop-up shop's tenure has been extended until at least Dec. 31 of this year.
It has, so far, attracted a different customer than one who might attend a craft show. "I think the Celebrate Local shop is interesting, because it's people shopping at Easton. They've probably never heard of our stuff or never seen it," says Nicholas Nocera. "I've actually had people I work with come in wearing one of my shirts. … They had no idea that I did this on the side at all. That store has opened up an audience."A crafty future
Given its explosive growth over a relatively small period, the indie crafts movement may seem to be experiencing a bubble of sorts. Could this be a here-today-gone-tomorrow trend? No way, says April Rhodes, who runs Sew to Speak Shoppe, a modern fabric store in Beechwold, with her mother, Anita Bowman, its owner. "I think there's always going to be a need for people to create and be supplied with what they need to make," she says. "As much as I love sewing, I could never do without it, and I think there are enough people like me who just couldn't go without it."
Hevener says a growing global awareness of the environmental benefits of buying local and purchasing quality products has supported the craft community's growth. Along that vein, "consumers want to know what they are putting on and in their bodies, as well, which is why you see more purses, soaps, homemade foods and healthier good-for-you products at craft shows, online shops and consignment stores," she notes.
Corporations have started to mimic these DIY trends, says Hevener, "but we artists and crafters did it first, and we are keeping it local, right here in Columbus, where the market is booming with new crafters and arts collectives. I love seeing all this going on and know there's more to come."
Wholly Craft got a boost in March when Columbus Alivereaders named it Best Gift Shop. "People see it and say, 'Oh, I'm going to check out that place,' " says Bratich. Her friend, who runs a craft fair in Toronto, offered one perspective, telling Bratich, "If you go to the mall on a Friday night, it is packed. If 10 percent of those people get into crafts, we all have sustainable businesses."
Could that happen? Bratich thinks so. "I would have never guessed that the marketplace would look like this seven years ago," she says, "so I absolutely believe it's sustainable."
Jennifer Wray is a freelance writer.