Rebel crafters

  • Article by: CHRISTY DESMITH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 3, 2008 - 5:44 PM

A creative indie tribe has been needling the craft establishment with sassy, affordable wares on sale at two fun fairs this weekend.

Handbags made from recycled billboard graphics. Felted infant hats fashioned after a mohawk. And not a crocheted tissue-box cover in sight -- unless it's ironic. These are just some of the unusual objects a shopper will find at a pair of punk-flavored craft fairs this weekend.

The first, and largest, is No Coast Craft-o-rama. Now in its fourth year, the event has booked 115 local craft vendors stretched across the Midtown Global Market and expects to attract 8,000 shoppers. A disparate assortment of handmade merchandise promises to traverse the range between poster art, fashionable accessories by local luminaries at Foat Design and baby hats that resemble cheeseburgers.

The two-year-old Handmaiden Mpls. Craftmas is a smaller, more swinging affair held at, of all places, a VFW hall in south Minneapolis. But the unexpected venue is more appropriate than first thought: "We were looking around and I said, 'Wherever we do it, I want them to have booze,'" said event co-organizer Angela Scandin. Even better, the VFW has two spacious floors over which to spread the works of 50 local vendors. So, elbow-bending veterans will rub elbows with charmingly brassy babes who craft cloth diapers and tat lace, if only for one day.

These trash-talking rebel girls shucked the patriarchy long ago, then embraced women's work and twisted it to suit their tastes.

A domestic diva sporting a shaved head and pierced brow won't take an earnest approach to, say, D.I.Y. embroidery. Rather than "Home is where the heart is," her framed cross-stitch proudly proclaims "feminist."

Despite the prominence of this so-called New Domestics or "indie crafts" movement, organizers of No Coast and Craftmas still struggled to define the body of work.

"It's kind of like the indie or punk music movement," said Trish Hoskins, who helps organize and curate No Coast (and owns Crafty Planet, an indie craft supplier in northeast Minneapolis). "There's no requirement that you went to music school, or even know how to play. You just do it, and over time, the work matures."

She added this helpful nugget: "The average age of our crafters has got to be under 35."

Scandin, who also co-owns I Like You, a cool local handmade-gift store, simply says, "It's not your grandma's craft fair." She categorized an array of fashionable neck-scarves, art deco necklaces and cheeky T-shirts as "clever treasures."

The merchandise isn't always less girly than that found at a traditional craft fair, like those enormous biannual sales at Canterbury Park. But the products at No Coast and Craftmas have an underlying edge. They tend to be more stylish than your average painted Santa. At the same time, a pair of warm, fuzzy mittens embroidered with the words "Minnesota Nice" packs a wallop of irony.

Holiday hip

As we sorted through preview samples from both events, a few trends emerged: Shoppers can expect to find oodles of repurposed recyclables, especially re-used T-shirts and sweaters. In fact, No Coast has adopted a "green" theme for this year.

What's more, we spotted earrings, belt buckles and sketch pads constructed with cutouts from mid-century picture books. Several jewelry makers used vintage buttons and Lucite beads.

The most essential trend this season: Much of the merch is dirt-cheap! "There's going to be plenty in the under-$20 range," assured Hoskins. While sorting through the No Coast trove, we were positively shocked to see a $25 sticker on Rove Around's Baby Eggroll, a well constructed, wrap-around elephant-print infant's suit that's vaguely reminiscent of a kurta.

Expect plenty of options for the young folks on your shopping lists, such as a vinyl messenger bag with a skull motif (No Coast, $90) or a recycled cap-sleeved polo screen-printed with the image of Frida Kahlo (No Coast, $30). Similarly hip presents for pint-sized progeny include Skwee's Japanese anime monster hats (Craftmas, $35) and All My Own's Leisure Suit Lapdogs (No Coast, $20-$25).

Guy-friendly gifts include men's box-cut briefs from recycled T-shirts by Cricket Syndicate, a local design house. Scandin is partial to Caleb Barton's screen-printed posters and T-shirts, one of which bore a slogan that sums up the spirit of these two craft fairs: "I have tattoos and a good job."

Christy DeSmith is a Minneapolis writer.

  • NO COAST CRAFT-O-RAMA

    When: 3-8 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday.

    Where: Midtown Global Market, Lake St. and 10th Av. S., Mpls.

    Web: www.nocoastcraft.com.

    HANDMAIDEN MPLS. CRAFTMAS

    When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.

    Where: James Ballantine VFW, 2916 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls.

    Web: www.the-handmaidens. blogspot.com.

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