- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 27, 2009

This is not your grandmother’s sewing circle. Grandma never embroidered monkeys on T-shirts or brought her crochet hook to happy hour or sold sea-glass earrings through her online store.

This is crafting in the new millennium. Commonly known as the indie craft movement, it has nonconformist tendencies similar to independent filmmaking and music. It’s part creative outlet, part social networking and part a back-to-basics rejection of mass consumerism. Crafters are discovering their creative side - and they’re telling everyone.

“A lot of it has to do with young people taking aspects of traditional crafting and turning it on its head,” says Kimberly Dorn, founder of Hello Craft (www.hellocraft.com), a local crafting resource. “The craft community has grown exponentially in the last five or seven years. The new wave of indie crafts always pays homage to those who used to do crafts. It’s just a little edgy now - a lot of craft nights happen in bars. We enjoy the kitsch factor.”

Hello Craft was the main organizer of the Summit of Awesome earlier this month, a meeting for crafters who are serious about turning their wares into money-making businesses. Hello Craft also organizes local craft fairs, such as the Handmade Mart this weekend in downtown Silver Spring (Ellsworth Drive between Fenton and Georgia avenues). The biggest Hello Craft event is Crafty Bastards, to be held Oct. 3 in Adams Morgan. About 400 crafters will apply for 150 coveted sellers’ spots. Last year, 20,000 attended the event, Ms. Dorn says.

“You can take $10 and go to the store and buy something a lot of people have,” she says when asked about the appeal of all things homemade. “Or you can go to a craft fair and buy something that has a story behind it. You can get something no one else will have.”

Technology also is fueling the indie craft movement, says Jose Dominguez, director of Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center in Silver Spring. Pyramid Atlantic is a nonprofit studio dedicated to papermaking and printmaking by hand. The studio is a popular spot for letterpress happy hours and papermaking workshops.

“I think, deep down, people want to do something with their hands,” Mr. Dominguez says.

Crafters have embraced using their hands for creating rather than keystroking, but at the same time, they also have learned to connect online to sell their finished products. Web sites such as Etsy (www.etsy.com), an online marketplace to buy and sell crafts - including housewares, pottery, jewelry and clothing - have created virtual craft fairs.

Etsy began in 2005 and has grown to 2.3 million members with 3.6 million items for sale. Gross sales on the site were close to $90 million last year.

“It doesn’t cost anything to open an Etsy store,” says Erica Burns, who sells handmade jewelry, clothing and accessories through her Etsy store, Erica Burns Designs.

By day, Ms. Burns, who lives in Frederick, Md., is a social worker with Frederick County Foster Care and Adoption Services. Nights and weekends, she is a crafter and one of the forces behind the D.C. Craft Mafia (www.dccraft mafia.blogspot.com), the local outpost of a nationwide network of Craft Mafia groups.

“Our goal is to bring craftiness to the capital masses through workshops, craft shows and community outreach,” its mission statement says.

“I basically got into crafting because my full-time job is so demanding and grueling,” Ms. Burns says. “There is not a lot of completion in social work. There are ongoing problems. I wanted a finished product, so I started making jewelry a few years ago.”

More crafting led to meeting more crafters. Now Ms. Burns is a regular at D.C. Craft Mafia meet-ups, including Craft and Cocktails.

“It is a hoot to be at a bar with your knitting needles,” she says. “We have a common thread. I also know a lot of people from the fairs and shows. We have a lot of people exchanging materials.”

The indie craft movement recently was the subject of a book and film, “Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY Art, Craft and Design.” Filmmaker Faythe Levine followed 24 crafters in 15 American cities to look at the reasons for the “marriage between historical technique, punk culture and the DIY ethos.”

A screening and book signing for “Handmade Nation” will take place July 16 at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery. The movie will be released on DVD this summer.

“I am a crafter,” Ms. Levine says. “I am really interested in the DIY community using creativity to express themselves and other people embracing the DIY ethic.”

While Ms. Levine found that each crafter has his or her own story, a few themes run through every tote bag made of recycled T-shirts, every hand-stitched belt and every Marimekko-inspired screen print. In addition to the anti-mass-produced ethos and the social aspect, crafting has an economic and environmental message that touches a nerve.

“Conscious consumers are staying away from mass-market items,” Ms. Levine says. “DIY is a political act; you are making a decision to not be a part of consumerist society. Since many crafters use recycled materials, it is an environmental issue, too.”

Other crafters are geared toward a political agenda, Ms. Levine says, citing the book “Knitting for Good: A Guide to Creating Personal, Social and Political Change Stitch by Stitch” by Betsy Greer. The book, published in 2004, outlines how to use knitting and creativity to improve your life, the lives of others in your community and the world at large.

It is also the touchstone of the DIY movement. They aren’t just socks - they’re the start of a personal and a social revolution. One can make things to adorn themselves, teach others a skill or clothe those in need.

“There are endless examples of people who are not satisfied with their lives and who followed their creative path,” Ms. Levine says. “Sometimes they are successful; sometimes they go back to their day job.”

Either way, they have learned something from beaded bracelets.

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