Group Crafting

Crafting a better tomorrow doesn’t have to be a solo endeavor. You can enlist a crafting buddy like Poptart did with me. You can also find a group you can craft with. In Alameda, California, for example, there is an adorable little shop called Modern Mouse that sells a large variety of local, handcrafted items including art, clothing, accessories, lotions, craft kits, and stationary. They also host a “Crafternoon” once a month that anyone can sign up for. The cost is $10, and the workshop is fun for all skill levels, though beginners will get the most out of the session in terms of learning techniques. Modern Mouse also holds a “Crafternoon for a Cause” every now and then where the items people make during the workshop are donated to a charity or organization.

Poptart and I participated in this month’s Crafternoon for a Cause, and we made felt plush animals for foster children. Modern Mouse will then donate these animals via Sew Mama Sew and the National Foster Parent Association. Modern Mouse purchased the patterns for the animals from Little Hibou Shop, and the fabulous Niki Baker of Foreignspell provided instruction. Crafters could choose to sew an elephant, a lion, or a giraffe.

Some of the benefits of joining a group crafting session are that the supplies are collected and ready for you, the cleanup is minimal, and someone else goes through the sometimes arduous task of arranging and completing the donation. Some of the disadvantages can be the cost (though Modern Mouse’s sessions are extremely affordable), the limited choices of what craft can be made, and table mates who occasionally try one’s patience (as I certainly did for Poptart). Make sure you are comfortable with the craft choice beforehand.

I must admit, sewing is not my thing. In fact, I find it extremely tedious and dull so this craft session was not exactly pleasant. I also made the mistake of choosing the giraffe, not realizing that I would have to cut out and sew on each spot and the perimeter I would have to sew was also  the longest.

Poptart, on the other hand, is an experienced sewer and enjoys it. The difference in our experiences with our plush could be heard in the noises we made while sewing. I sighed frequently and loudly, mumbled often in annoyance, and occasionally slammed something onto the table a little too hard. Poptart hummed happily in between comments like, “Don’t you find this so calming?” After sewing for nearly two and a half hours and losing more than a few hairs, I could safely say, “Not in the slightest.” Poptart even had to help me by sewing the spots on one side of my giraffe and finishing my perimeter.

While Poptart’s lion turned out well, I was not happy with my giraffe. I did my blanket stich to long on the neck so the stuffing showed a little. This is, perhaps, my least favorite part of a group sewing effort for a donation. If I had been making the craft at home, I could start over if it didn’t turn out, but I had to hand my less-than-perfect giraffe over as it was, hoping that the recipient would forgive my lack of sewing skills.

However, if you want to do something good for someone with your crafting itch, and you want some company while you do, a group crafting session might be just the thing. So find a place like Modern Mouse that helps people craft a better tomorrow, and spread the word and love to others.

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Powering the Craft Movement

Poptart and I wrote about volunteering one’s crafting skills last year when we helped build a community garden, but other skills are also vital to keep the craft movement strong. Craft fairs often need people who can help with set up, take down, customer service, vendor support, planning and much more so even when you’re not crafting, you can help fellow crafters succeed. Rather than seeing other craftspeople as competition, Poptart and I see them as partners in a craft revolution that is showing Americans just how valuable and heartwarming handmade and local can be. We are a community, and communities rely on the active participation of their members. That’s why Poptart and I believe so strongly in volunteering.

This past weekend we volunteered for the SF Etsy Indie Holiday Emporium held at Pier 35 in San Francisco. I have to admit that Poptart had to do a bit of convincing before I agreed to help with this event because it took place on Black Friday weekend in one of the most popular tourist areas of the city, and Poptart wanted to volunteer for the 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. shift on Small Business Saturday. However, her adventurous spirit and promise to provide plenty of coffee finally won me over, and we signed up.

Poptart found out about the event on Facebook from the SF Etsy page; the show would take place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and about 168 Etsy Sellers would have booths. Poptart and I decided we wanted to help with set up and vendor support so we chose the early shift. This allowed us to avoid the holiday crowds on the commute into the city. We also chose public transportation to avoid parking drama. Finally, we didn’t take any purses or bags and wore light jackets in case there was nowhere to leave our things (there wasn’t). These are just some planning things to keep in mind to keep your volunteer experience as stress free as possible.

The best advice we can give you is don’t be shy. If you have a talent for a particular task let organizers know. They are often grateful for your enthusiasm and feedback. They also don’t have time to babysit or micro manage, so being confident in your abilities and with your task is important.

After getting a feel for the scene, Poptart and I quickly found a place we could be useful. We helped mark vendor spots at the pier, answered vendor questions and directed them to their spot, helped vendors set up their booths, and helped vendors haul their equipment and merchandise to their spot. There was very little parking in front of the pier for unloading, so many vendors were stressed and scrambling. It felt good to help relieve some of their stress by watching their merchandise while they parked, helping them get all their things where they needed to be, and troubleshooting any obstacles that popped up.

Poptart and I greatly enjoyed the experience. It was hard, fulfilling work that was appreciated by event organizers and vendors. Many event organizers came to us to thank us for our help, and vendors even stopped us after our shift ended to express their thanks. SF Etsy even dedicated a post to us on Instagram and Facebook:

Besides receiving warm thanks, each volunteer also received a gift certificate to use at the event as well as an adorable helper pin made by Rebecca Saylor of OodleBaDoodle that we got to keep. It felt great to check out the booths after our shift and know that we helped put everything together. The shopping after was, of course, a big bonus. Poptart and I found a truffula tree as well as new prints by two of our favorite local artists, Amy Rose Moore and Nidhi Chanani.

Another incentive to volunteer for craft fairs is the opportunity to meet and interact with your favorite crafters and artists. We were delighted to receive our marching orders from Rebecca of OodleBaDoodle, one of our favorite Etsy sellers (check out her adorable pillows!). We also got to speak with Amy Rose Moore for the first time.

But of course, the greatest incentive to volunteer for craft fairs is the knowledge that by doing so, you are crafting a better tomorrow, a tomorrow where goods are made and sold locally, artists and crafters are treasured for their skills and imaginations, and shoppers are not beholden to big box retailers. Long live handmade!

Volunteering those Crafting Skills

So far, Poptart and I have written posts about creating things and donating them, but time is one of the most valuable donations anyone can make. And crafters make valuable volunteers. Many organizations need craftspeople and their skilled hands to help with projects. That’s why Poptart and I signed up to help with Alameda’s construction of a community garden at the Jean Sweeney Open Space Park as part of the Alameda Community Garden Day of Service .

Organizers began the event by thanking us, explaining the day’s agenda, and reminding us of the history of the open space we stood upon. Jean Sweeney became a community hero and legend when she uncovered documents that allowed the city of Alameda to purchase old railroad land owned by the Belt Line for less than $1 million. The city named the property after her and has dedicated it to the residents, both human and animal, by earmarking the space for a park and nature preserve. The community garden, built by volunteers and sponsored by local businesses and figures such as Supervisor Wilma Chan, is the first of many projects planned for the site.

Volunteers could work half or full shifts on January 18, 2014, and could choose from a variety of projects: painting, arts and crafts with children, planter box construction, weeding, mulching, and tilling.

Poptart and I chose painting, and our task was to whitewash the border wall for the garden in preparation of the mural being painted by another group. The painting was more fun than work, and we fully enjoyed the opportunity to get dirty. By the wall’s completion, Poptart and I had paint on our clothes and shoes, in our hair, and on every exposed piece of skin. And we handled the appearance of insects escaping the activity with grace. Poptart even saved a spider from committing suicide in the paint pan, and I rescued a snail caught in foot traffic and sun.

Once our part of the wall was complete, Poptart and I helped remove some very thorny and overgrown blackberry bushes by carrying their branches away for disposal after brave souls had cut them down. We also joined a group trying to haul away a giant rock. Physics were discussed, leverage was agreed upon, and hypotheses were tested. Finally, the rock was maneuvered into a wheelbarrow and carted away, leaving us to wonder how many Alamedans does it take to… 🙂

Although we volunteered our time to help create this wonderful addition to Alameda, I think we were and will become the beneficiaries. Working outside in the warm weather and blessed sunshine and watching all the volunteers working hard and having fun made us both feel like kids again, and that’s priceless. It also warmed our hearts to know that we were helping to build something that will be a cherished and useful part of the community, providing fresh fruit and vegetables for the food bank as well as educational opportunities for residents.

The organizers for the event (ARPD, Project LEAF, and more) thanked the volunteers by providing a generous breakfast and pizza for lunch, but I’m sure I speak for many other volunteers in offering a big thank you in return for the opportunity to come together and build such a wonderful thing. By allowing us to help make a community garden, they became our partners in crafting a better tomorrow for the city of Alameda.

If you want to learn more about Jean Sweeney or the open space named after her, visit You can also learn more about Project LEAF by visiting

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