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!


A Low Cost, Big Heart, Handmade Christmas

As big box retailers push Black Friday madness deeper into Thanksgiving day, as stores stock shelves with holiday merchandise earlier and earlier until the whole year feels like one big holiday shopping spree, and as retailers continue to pay workers less than a livable wage to protect large profits for the few at the top, it becomes ever more important for people to shop small, shop local, and shop smart. We are given titles like “shoppers” and “consumers.” We are told our worth, our identity, is tied to what we own: the latest device, the luxury car, the designer labels. We are told our economy’s survival depends on our hard work and loyal spending even as credit card debt increases, quality jobs are outsourced, and quality of life tanks. When did we lose our humanity? Why do we insist on conforming to the labels pasted on us?

Poptart and I made a pact this year to reject the mindless consumerism that cheapens the human spirit and have a small, handmade Christmas, and you can too. For decorations and gifts, we made as much as we could by hand with materials in the craft closet and from local stores. Gifts we couldn’t make we bought at craft fairs or local shops.

I’ll walk you through the types of decorations we made and the materials we used to give you ideas for what you can do in your own home with your own supplies, but I won’t be showing how each item is made. Many items you should be able to figure out on your own. For the rest, we plan on doing tutorials in the future. We simply want to show here that you don’t have to buy the pre-packaged Christmas on sale at big box retailers and advertised in holiday magazines. This is YOUR holiday season, and you can do it any way you choose.

Poptart and I love to put a nice, holiday wreath on our door. Poptart makes the wreaths out of all kinds of materials. She uses the plastic rings left over from industrial packing rolls, although you can use Styrofoam loops, wooden hoops, or even bend branches into loops for the frame. She uses organza, tying it in strips around the frame or twisting it around the loop. She also uses left-over wrapping paper.

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For the tree, Poptart bought an artificial one she reuses each year so she doesn’t have to buy a new one, but she also makes trees from various materials. She makes one tree from a cone of thick paper, a Styrofoam cone, or old vegetable frames (especially tomatoes) scavenged from materials stores like Scrap. She covers them with either looped, left-over wrapping paper, or if they’re wire, she wraps garland and ribbon around the frame.  She decorates the tree with homemade ornaments.

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For ornaments, you can really get creative. Let yourself return to your preschool days. Think popsicle sticks, glitter, paper snowflakes, and macaroni. Because we live near wine country, Poptart loves to use wine corks for ornaments. She makes Santas, reindeer, and carolers from wine corks. She also uses a small knitting loom to make miniature knitted wreaths. Chenille sticks (otherwise known as pipe cleaners) can be shaped into Santas, Grinches, and reindeer. You can use wooden beads and felt to make little elves to decorate shelves and table runners and paper towel rolls and foam to create adorable carolers.

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Gifts take quite a bit of work, but your attention and care will not be lost on the recipient. Making handmade gifts for loved ones requires you to pay attention, to know their interests so you can make something to surprise and delight them. And if you just don’t have the time, local crafters and artisans will have amazing, unique items for anyone on your list. If you live in the Bay Area, festivals and craft fairs are plentiful. I suggest the Patchwork Show, Renegade Craft Fair, Alameda’s Art and Wine Festival, Half Moon Bay’s Art and Pumpkin Festival, and Sundays on Telegraph. See the links below to find out more about these venues. If you want to shop online, I suggest buying from Etsy.

The important thing to remember this holiday season is that YOU have the power, and change starts with you. If you hate rude, pushy shoppers, don’t be a rude, pushy shopper. Be polite to employees, many of whom sacrifice their own holiday celebrations to help you prepare for yours. Be patient, wait your turn, and be courteous. If you make a mess while shopping, clean it up. Don’t buy something simply because you’re told to do so. This way, you won’t feel awful for weeks after getting your credit card bill. And let family and friends know that you want a wholesome, heart-felt Christmas, and that’s the type of Christmas you’ll be giving. Remember, if you support crafters and local artists, you support diversity of products and help business stay in the hands of the many instead of the pockets of the few.