02 December 13

Mixed Emotions

It’s been more than week since the day when the DIY Trunk Show usually happened. I’ve had more than a week to think about how I feel not planning it this year. And my emotions? Well, not surprisingly, they aren’t cohesive. They’re still all jumbled and a bit conflicted and messy. And I shouldn’t be surprised, because this is how I felt a year ago when I realized that I just couldn’t bring myself to do it again. It was almost exactly a year ago when I admitted to myself first, and then with a queasy and nervous stomach admitted to Andrew, that I just was done. Not bitter angry finished, done. But just done. But sad, oh my. I was so sad. It took weeks before I could tell the other people who had helped me to organize the show, some of them for many years, that I couldn’t do it again. But in almost every case, when I told someone I was backing away they all said “That makes sense. It’s been a good run, eh?” No one tried to make me feel bad. Sure, some people expressed regret and sadness that I was backing away.

And so a year after I made the realization, I can’t even call it a decision, more like an admission, that I was done with show organizing, I still have all the same messy feelings. I’m so very, very, very happy for all of the amazing people I had the chance to meet. All the people I saw go from “having this super-cool idea” to running a full-time business based on hard work, creativity, ingenuity, and fulfillment have made me thrilled to have helped them. For 10 years, Amy, myself, and the many and lovely people who have been in the Chicago Craft Mafia created a place where crafters and artists could see customers look at something they made with their own hands, have their faces light up, and then exchange money for that item. And I say a place, not a show, because the DIY Trunk Show wasn’t just a one-day event. It was a storehouse of awesomeness that was collaborative and inclusionary that lived all year long, just spread out further and mostly accessible via the internet. The reasons we decided to do a second show revolved around the realization that the “market” (made up of people we knew and people we wanted to know) needed this yearly get-together to keep people doing what they loved to do.

I know from talking to many vendors that our show made it possible for them to build their business from a small infant of an idea, into many varied and larger companies that run their lives. I see the popularity that many of these people have enjoyed and I’m thrilled. For them, not for me. I don’t look at them and think “I made it possible for them to do that. Without me, without our show, they wouldn’t be where they are today.” Nope, I look at them and think “I’m so happy that I got to see them start and build and grow. I’m so happy that they used DIY as a springboard to get to awesomeness. I’m so happy they stuck with it. I’m so happy they’re still around fighting and making and just being awesome.”

So, I look back on the history and I’m happy and I continue to be awed by the awesomeness that exists all around this city, and I still want people to get together all year long and support each other and grow together and see how much stronger we are in unison, than as individuals. And I’m also sad that I won’t be able to see the new baby crafters come up the way I saw a generation of crafters develop. I’m sad that I won’t have email addresses memorized and linked to amazing items. I still remember the email address of a woman who I bought a necklace from at the very first DIY Trunk Show. She left the state many years ago and her email address began bouncing shortly thereafter, but I still have the necklace and wear it and think of the smile on her face when I picked up the necklace and said “This is such an amazing necklace. I have to own it!”

I’m also sad that I won’t get to see the season’s coolest creations months and months before anyone else does. The jurying process was stressful and I blame it for more than a few grey hairs and sour stomach aches. (Turning down people was never easy and I hated it intensely.) But I’m glad that I’ll never be in a position to have to find a way to tell someone, “I like your work, but we decided to choose someone else for the show.” I’m so much better at accepting rejection now than I ever would have been if I hadn’t been a show organizer.

But, I’m happy that there are still many people organizing shows. The DIY Trunk Show that I helped create and helped to run 10 times was fantastic, but it wasn’t The Best Show Ever. There was always something I wanted to do differently, or wished we could have added on, or had made changes faster. There was always one bit of information that didn’t make it to one person who was then upset, or hurt, or stressed out. I was human and I made many mistakes. I have many regrets and things I wish I’d done differently. But they’re few when compared to the things I’m proud we were able to accomplish.

I travelled to Ohio and participated in Crafty Supermarket instead of staying in town. It felt weird to not have a big dinner with a group of crafters and friends after the show. It felt weird to end the day tired, but not muscle-shatteringly sore and exhausted to my soul. It felt weird to be surrounded by crafters who were mostly strangers. It felt weird to see my friends, back home in Chicago, doing shows with each other and not be there. But it also felt good.

It felt good, it feels good, because I know that these people aren’t dependent on me. There are new shows being organized this year for the first time and they’re doing it without me. And the first show of some of these organizers was The DIY Trunk Show. So I’m happy to pass on the baton of craft show organizing to others, to see them run with it far ahead of me. I’m not needed anymore. I’m wanted and loved and appreciated and respected by many. And honestly, in the end, that feels so much better than being needed.

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13 November 13

My Biggest Project Ever

A few months ago, my dear friend and stylist Reverend Billy took over management at Big Hair in Roscoe Village here in Chicago. The space was looking great, but there was a huge teal sofa at the front of the shop. While it was the perfect size and shape for the studio, the dark, dirty teal was not the perfect look for his revamp. So he asked me if I thought I could recover it.

This is a man who has done a lot for me and I hated the idea of telling him no. But when I looked at the sofa, my heart skipped a beat. The size! The shape! No easy corners! But I agreed something needed to be done with it and despite my fear of all the math that would be involved, I decided I needed to take it on and make it happen. So, I agreed to give it a whirl.

We picked out a python fabric made by a company in Mississippi that I adore and who I’ve purchased fabric for bag-making for years. I was expecting a brown and white, so when it arrived in brown and linen I was a little worried until I realized that it looked even better than I had originally expected.

I took my tape measure and notebook to the shop. I measured all of the things, twice. And then I came home, cut out a few things before I took it back and made some adjustments and took even more measurements and then I did some more sewing and took some more measurements. And then, I arrived with a couple of bags stuffed full of very large pieces of constructed fabric and we put them on the sofa.

And then I felt a bit weepy because it looked SO MUCH better. The linen matched the table and contrasted nicely with the floor. The punk rock vibe of the store was just a little reflected in the tamed and muted python pattern of the sofa. The sofa even looked bigger, which makes the space look bigger.

I was also a little weepy because this was a HUGE undertaking. And I did it. I didn’t make any unfixable mistakes. I got the math mostly right the first time and just tweaked things after that. And I did it when I didn’t think I could. That’s the best part, for me.

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24 April 13

DIY Trunk Show: 10 Years Strong

10 years ago, Amy Carlton and I met up at Kopi Cafe and we drank pots of tea and ate some delightful cookies and we talked about how great it would be if there was an independent craft show that happened at the beginning of the holiday season where all of the crafty people we knew, and maybe some people who would be new to us, could get together and sell great handmade things to people they didn’t know. At the time, Amy was running a jewelry making business named “Stet” (she’s an editor geek) and I had just started Poise.cc. I don’t even think I’d registered the domain yet. So I guess I was just making bags and giving them away to people for silent auctions and raffles.

We were young and energetic and naive and we laughed and said “How hard could it be to run a craft show?” Oh, little did we know. Except, we were mostly right. It is easy to run a craft show. It wasn’t hard to figure out where to have it and thanks to all of our personal contacts, it wasn’t hard to find people who were interested in having a table. It wasn’t even hard dealing with the city to rent a HUGE room at Pulaski Park (although now that room seems so small). We gave them a money order, they gave us a handwritten receipt. We pulled in favors from friends and had a website designed. We answered emails. We went on WLUW and talked about the show and about handmaking items. We joked about awful it would be if no one showed up to shop.

And 2 weeks before the show, when we were doing all the last minute bits, we snapped. We were tired. At the same time, we turned to each other and said “Do you really think we need to do this again?” We didn’t answer each other, but we nodded knowingly. The night before the show we taped off the spaces on the floor (along with our ever-present and helpful guys Andrew and Jim) and then we went and slept the sleep of the dead before arising way too early and making it back to the space where we set up our own booths and then opened the doors and ushered in 32 crafters.

32! It’s a small number now. A tiny show. But it seemed so HUGE then. After everyone’s tables were display-ready and the crafters were fortifying themselves with coffee and had taking last minute show jitter pee breaks, we opened the doors and shoppers came through them. People we didn’t know came in the doors and bought things and high-fived us. College journalists interviewed us and tried to get us to say “Well, it’s not your grandma’s craft show.” (but we didn’t, or maybe we did, but we wouldn’t say it now) And we were high on endorphins. Literally high. I was dizzy with glee. And then, at the end of the show, as I was rushing people out the door so we could vacate the space on time, a complete stranger of a man came up and asked if he could give me a hug. I was shocked and confused and agreed. And he hugged me. Amy saw my fearful eyes and walked over to us slowly. When he was done hugging me, he grabbed my by both arms and said “Thank you. Thank you soo much. This was my sister’s first show and she’s had a horrible awful year and getting ready for this show brought her so much joy. I went from being afraid for her sanity a few months ago to seeing her soar with pride and confidence today. Thank you for her, but thank you from me, too. I loved seeing that side of my sister and I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for you guys and this show.” And then he ran away. (That woman he was talking about? Still selling stuff and she’s awesome!)

And we looked at each other and said “So? next year?” And we nodded while grinning from ear to ear.

And then the next year we wrote the Craftifesto. And there were 3 rooms of crafters. Almost 90 crafters in 3 rooms with several food vendors set up and people started making cute and awesome kids clothing.

And then the next year we did it again.
And then Amy started grad school and I did it mostly (and mostly half-assedly) by myself.
And then the Chicago Craft Mafia generously stepped in to help me make it better. (And I will forever be indebted and grateful to the original CCM crew for doing that. And if you have attended the show in the last 6 years, you should, too. Because if they hadn’t stepped in and carried the burden, it would have died.)
And then we got some new members who also helped.
And then we got bigger.
And then we moved to Broadway Armory.
And then I recognized that the DIY Trunk Show was a business. A business that takes at least 500 hours a year to run. And I was tired and burnt out and knew that I wasn’t up to doing it again. I just couldn’t. The thought of having to send out applications and accept fees and sign contracts and make sure tasks were completed kept me from sleeping.

And then I thought “There doesn’t have to be a next year. This doesn’t have to go on. There are other craft shows now. Maybe I should do what I wanted the second-wave feminists to do and hand over leadership to a younger group of folks.”

And that thought felt GREAT! And I timidly mentioned to a few of the mafia members who had been with me from the very beginning that I was thinking I was done. And they all agreed that it was time to move on. That the show could only be awesome if the folks organizing it were behind it 100%, and I wasn’t. We weren’t. And it would be better to have no show, than an awful show. And then I mentioned it to Rebeca Mojica and she said “Well, I am going to hire a new position soon and I wanted to find a way to make my shop more of an integral part of the community. And then we talked seriously. And we what-iffed. And we created lists and did math and looked at numbers and translated that to dollars and realized that this was the right move for both of us. I could get June back (hello backyard and glasses of iced tea). Rebeca could cement her biz as an integral part of community development.

And today she announced it officially. I’ve signed over the reins. What legal stuff exists is now in her name. I’m still helping with details as needed. I’m not walking away completely. I’m filling in gaps and providing history and working on answering really hard questions like “If you could start over, what would you have done differently?” (And I honestly can’t answer that. I keep trying, and I can’t.)

But I have no doubt that Rebeca and Blue Buddha Boutique are the right ones to run this now. Nor do I have a doubt that my stepping back was the right answer for me right now. I’m excited to see this show from the outside for once. I’m excited to see the magic that so many other people have talked about. I’m excited to look at the whole picture instead of worrying about details. It’s going to be great. I have not a doubt in the world. I feel lighter and excited. Just like I did 10 years ago when we got this crazy idea in the first place.

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26 March 13

American Craftways Alliance

So after spending a little bit of time catching up on the Southern Foodways Alliance blog I had a flash of insight.

Somebody oughta do for craft what these folks have done for food.

Heaven help me if that person is me, but seriously. What the folks at the Southern Foodways Alliance has done for small makers of specialty, regional, dying food items is amazing. Because of them, I was able to eat “Cherokee mint” as part of a dessert at Big Jones on my birthday and cry because the flavor took me back to being a kid and sitting in a field near a cow pasture reading a book and sucking the juice out of blades of “weeds” that were growing around me. And I credit SFA, because I have no doubt that Paul F. (the chef of Big Jones) has gotten to source many specialty ingredients with his contacts at the organization.

Seriously, just read their Mission and Values and tell me that this wouldn’t carry over equally well to crafters as it does to food makers, tenders, growers, nurturers, and eaters? I mean, the fact that I’m considering getting a membership in the organization just because I love that they specifically call out fighting injustice in the food world makes me happy.

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20 February 13

Japanese 12-in-2, 6 years later

UPDATE Blue Buddha is generously giving away one free kit to make a Flowers Bracelet. To register to win, just leave a comment on this post and the winner will be notified. This is a great way for people who don’t live in Chicago and can’t participate in the free class offered in-house by BBB to receive something to inspire learning and creativity. Thanks, Blue Buddha Boutique.

Japanese Lace Bracelet 12-in-2

Six years ago, my friend Alison went on a massive cross-country road-trip and stopped in Chicago. Because she’s one of the most creative folks I know, and because I thought she’d find it interesting, I signed us up for a chain maille class at a shop in Evanston with Rebeca Mojica of Blue Buddha Boutique.

At the time, BBB was a company of 1. Rebeca sold supplies, but mostly to the people who attended her classes. And she didn’t have her own studio so she travelled to bead shows around the area to use their classroom space. There were only 5 students at the class I attended. And we sat around a very tiny table tucked in the corner of a basement. But Rebeca made the most of the situation and almost every single one of her students left that day with a finished bracelet.

Japanese Lace Bracelet 12-in-2

I was one of the ones who didn’t leave with a finished bracelet. I knew I was about 20 minutes away from finishing my bracelet, but the time in our classroom was up and I had to take my almost-finished project home with me. I’m quite a bit embarrassed to say that I left the project sitting on the top of a stand beside my sewing table where I knew that if I had to see it on a regular basis, I would finish it. After all, it really was going to take less than half an hour to finish, so why would I put that off for long?

But, alas, my procrastination skills are wickedly unstoppable. And so, despite my best of intentions, the project say unfinished and quite literally in my way every time I needed to get out a new pack of sewing needles or a new blade for my rolling cutter, or a variety of other items that I use quite frequently. I would think to myself “One of these days, I’m just going to finish this.” right before I would put it back in place, in my way.

When I found out that Blue Buddha Boutique (which has since grown to having a soon-to-open retail space and a cast of almost 2 dozen employees) was doing a blog bomb, I thought this was the final reason to quit procrastinating and actually finish this bracelet. I’m wearing it now, as I type this. And I’m thrilled with it. And it took me exactly 22 minutes to finish. Which isn’t bad, considering that I had to read the steps to figure out how to do the clasp (which I did slightly different to make it fit snugly). But I’m thrilled. I now have an empty spot sitting on top of my cabinet. I may never take this bracelet off to remind myself that procrastination just keeps me from having nice things.

Japanese Lace Bracelet 12-in-2

And to encourage learning and making new things, I can’t suggest highly enough that you enter this giveaway at Blue Buddha Boutique. I’m participating in a small blog-bomb to encourage people who may not otherwise know about the great classes they will be hosting in their new retail space on Granville right near the Red Line very, very soon. Even though I procrastinated for years, I thoroughly enjoyed taking the class and I wish I’d finished my project sooner. And I’ve had several ideas for small bags that incorporate chaine maille details kicking around in my head and plan on creating some of them very soon since I’ll be able to go into her new shop in person and pick out the ring sizes I want to use, try it out, and then buy what I need before I head home. Buying chain maille supplies online has just been very intimidating. And if you’re fortunate enough to be in Chicago and are interested in a class, you’ll do great to sign up for one of Blue Buddha Boutique’s classes.

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08 June 11

Midwest Craft Caucus Thoughts: #1

I was lucky enough to attend the Midwest Craft Caucus this past weekend in Columbus, Ohio. It was refreshing, invigorating, creative, and gave me quite a bit to think about. I don’t know that I came away with answers, but I came away with new questions.

I want to take some time to flesh out what I’m thinking. But it won’t be a wrap-up or even a description of what I did or learned. Just some thoughts rolling around and in no particular order of importance.

****

In 2003 we were so revolutionary in Chicago, Boston, Austin for doing indie craft shows because the only other things that existed were the Kountry Krafts and the high-end art craft shows. Then the slightly smaller shows popped up. Now craft shows in more rural settings, small towns, and more adventurous locations that don’t rely on a young, hip, urban shopping audience are popping up. This means that craft is mainstream. We’re no longer the weirdos that no one gets. We’re just the “slightly off the norm” folks that seem more committed than necessary. This means that not only do we need to thank our grandmas for a) crafting with care in the first place b) supporting the make-do and mend philosophy that the Baby Boomer generation has ignored but that we’re now finding wickedly necessary and cool to boot c) teaching us how to craft in many cases d) crafting enough that there are cool books from the 70s and and before that we can still check out of the library so that even folks in hipster-starved parts of America can still get their craft on. This also means we owe a huge apology to Kountry Krafters as well. Because all y’all were crafting quietly from the late 70s through the 90s, buying kits, and focusing on easier assembly goods, it means that there are still some stores that sell crafting goods in person. Which may go against our anti-sweatshop, anti-indie ethos, however (not all craftstores are chains and) it also means that there are still people manufacturing craft supplies, even If they’re not sweatshop free and located in the US. The fact that they exist means that we were capable of finding the supplies we needed to help us find our voice.

When the craft movement first went indie, we differentiated ourselves from the “snowman poop” sellers by focusing on our young indie design sensibilities. “Comic sans is totally ironic, dude!” “Owls and octopuses rule the world!” “Tea cozy? Forget that! How’bout a dildo cozy instead?” When we started we explained how we were different by describing the design sense of our work. We focused on how we didn’t use kits to make our goods, but we used what we had around and found cool ways to get it to become something new, something exciting.

However times have changed. Urban crafters don’t have a lock on cute owls, putting a bird on it, or even reusing materials. What started out as a city crafter vs. kountry krafter ethos difference has since become more nuanced. Much more nuanced. Now it is okay to use pre-made embroidery patterns (as long as they’re created by crafty doyenne Jenny Hart and not a mass-marketed [and posing as an indie] brand with questionable ethics). It is okay to buy pre-made pieces to assemble into a final product that is far cooler than its original parts. But, is it? Is our movement really all about avoiding slave labor, sweatshops, child labor? Or are we starting to rationalize buying cool Japanese fabric that was printed in China because it is too cute to be ignored? As we focus on how we want people to buy locally, are we being hypocrites by going online and buying all of our craft supplies for the lowest price possible? Is it even possible to get all of our raw materials in the US any more? And if it isn’t, is that where we should be focusing our energy?

So what really differentiates the indie craft movement from the craft movement? Where is the line drawn?

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14 February 11

Male Pattern Boldness: Negroni Sew-along

It is officially February 14th, and I just finished Day 3 of the Negroni Sew-Along. To say I’m behind is a bit of an understatement. And I feared I would a bit behind, but I didn’t realize we’d get hit with a blizzard, AND I’d get hit with another 2-week bout of illness. (Aside from a few weeks in January, I’ve either been getting sick, sick, or getting over a cold since the middle of November.)

But instead of making excuses, I’d thought I’d show my progress and document where I am right now in the sew-along to make a shirt for Andrew.*

Pockets for the shirt

The pattern, and Peter, start with the pockets for the shirt. These are not perfect, but I honestly wasn’t trying very hard to make them perfect either when I was cutting or sewing or pressing.

The pattern says that the pocket flap should be sewn on a 1/4” seam and the pocket should be sewn on a 3/8” seam. Well, if you look closely you’ll see that the flaps are larger than the pocket when they should be the exact same size. So, I think this means I need to pay more attention when I sew the pocket flap next time (hopefully out of the real fabric) to make it the same size as the pocket itself.

One great tip I read in the comments was how to make the two pockets so they were the same shape and size. Peter suggested creating a template to use for pressing. I have used this idea before, but it is a bit fiddly.

A commenter suggested sewing them right sides together, turning right-sides-out, and pressing the beeejeeezus out of it. Then turn them back inside-out and remove the stitching. This gives you two pockets with essentially the exact same size, shape, curve, etc.

I loved the idea so much that I tried it, and it was the perfect solution. I can see myself using this method when I place patch pockets on the insides of bags, as well.

Aside from needing to make sure that my pocket flap is the same size as my pocket, I’m pretty happy with my success on this so far. The only other change I’ll make on the real shirt is to change the top-stitching. Peter suggested top-stitiching 1/4” from the flap edge, which is what I’ve done here. I think it is too far from the edge and makes the pocket look more homemade. So before I go to bed, I’m going to look at Andrew’s existing pockets and see how they’re handled. But I suspect that a 1/8” top-stitching seam is what I’ll use in the future. I may do a double-row of stitching in thread coordinated to match the fabric. But that’s only if I’m feeling daring.

The real fabric I’ll be using for Andrew looks like this:
Men's wool shirting

It is 100% wool (I’m going to test-wash it soon, even though I’m nervous). It’s a bit retro, but the striped pattern will help with the grain-finding in the real shirt, but the pattern isn’t so crazy that I think I’ll have a hard time matching it up.

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23 January 11

Sewing something other than bags

Not yet, but soon. Very soon.

While trying to muster the concentration for blog-reading a few nights ago, I came across this sew-along and thought, “hey! I’ve got that fabric I purchased to make Andrew dress shirts a while ago. Maybe I should try this.” Then I remembered how intimidating the matching up of all the stripes seemed on all the little pieces and the fitting, and the yokes, and the facings and the, oh my. So the fabric sits and stares at me and says “Really? Am I not even worth a few hours of your time?”

So when I saw that this fantastic gentleman was going to do a sew-along and break it down into small steps, I decided to splurge and purchase the Negroni pattern from Colette. And I’m glad I did. It arrived last night. The packaging is amazing, the booklet with lots of perfectly clear instructions seems so much easier to deal with than the men’s shirting patterns I currently have.

So wish me luck. If nothing else, I’m really looking forward to making something that will be very different from what I’ve been doing. Even though I’ve not talked about it at all, I’ve been making many bags. Most of them are very, very custom. And I’ve loved them all, eventually. (There were a few what gave me wicked fits for a bit.) But just haven’t had the time or the desire to talk about them once they were made.

So, I’m thinking that learning something new will not only inspire something in me to find this sewing thing as a hobby again, but will also inspire me to write again. I miss it. I just need to make time for it again.

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