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She's crafty

Indie music and the internet have fueled an arts-and-crafts renaissance that would puzzle your grandmother
By GEORGIANA COHEN  |  December 10, 2007

THE NAME SAYS IT ALL: Somerville’s Magpie stocks everything Grandma never imagined.

The framed items look familiar enough — the quaint curlicues of cross-stitch evoke memories of your grandmother’s living-room wall, charming phrases wreathed in chains of flowers. Upon closer examination, though, these picturesque patterns bear unexpected messages: “Home Crap Home,” “Bitch Is the New Black,” “What Would Leonard Nimoy Do?”

Heck, what would Grandma say?

Amberly Stewart — a/k/a “Spamberly” — has been doing counted cross-stitch for years but now creates and sells samplers that depart, somewhat radically, from the traditional country-kitchen designs.

“This is my kind of cute,” says the 28-year-old Somerville resident. Stewart is not flying her freak flag alone: a new generation of twenty- and thirtysomethings are picking up the needles and the glue guns where their grandparents left off. As increasingly socially conscious consumers flock to handmade goods, crafters are finding a glut of outlets for selling their products. And Greater Boston — with stores such as Somerville’s Magpie and prominent events such as the annual Bazaar Bizarre craft fair — is emerging as a crafting hub.

Crafting’s nothing new, of course. And most of its current practitioners have been at it for a long time. But it wasn’t until recently that a full-fledged crafting movement congealed, perhaps most publicly embodied by the “Stitch ’N Bitch” book series and subsequent knitting craze. Some believe “post-9/11 nesting” and the need for community-building was a contributing factor. Others cite a powerful counter-consumerist trend, with young adults rebelling against the alienation of big-box culture.

This past year, Milwaukee-area crafter Faythe Levine decided to hit the road and document this movement. Fifteen cities (including Boston) later, her documentary film, Handmade Nation, is slated for release in 2009, and a book of the same title is coming out next year.

“This is not just a trend. This is a lifestyle for a lot of people,” Levine says. “I don’t think it’s going away any time soon.”

Humble beginnings
The handmade movement represents a convergence of progressive ideals — eco-friendliness, buying local, arts patronage — combined with a funky aesthetic. Various shakers in the national crafting scene have even banded together to form, a Web site where people can take a pledge to buy and request handmade gifts this holiday season. “DIY or die!” pledges one. Yes, they are that serious.

Modern crafters frequently point to the Internet as spurring the crafting surge. Leah Kramer believes it. In 2003, the Magpie partner and Bazaar Bizarre co-organizer launched an online crafting community “for people not into Grandma’s crafting” called Craftster (“No tea cozies without irony!”).

To her shock, the cheeky site became hugely popular, with more than 115,000 users sharing their crafts and ideas.

Kramer, who in 2006 published a book titled The Craftster Guide to Nifty, Thrifty, and Kitschy Crafts, says her “kick in the pants to get back into crafting” came from the Bazaar Bizarre. That event, held every December, has humble beginnings: in 2001, a couple dozen vendors and 150 people crammed into Davis Square’s Dilboy VFW. Now, thousands of people line up outside the 20,000-square-foot Cyclorama in the South End to peruse more than 100 vendors’ wares. The Bazaar has also spread beyond Massachusetts and is now held in Cleveland and Los Angeles as well. It has even spawned a book by co-founder and rock musician Greg Der Ananian (Bazaar Bizarre: Not Your Granny’s Crafts! Penguin, 249 pages, $11.53).

Organizer Emily Arkin says the Bazaar evolved from her simple desire to show off her weird handmade crafts. She and her friends enjoyed the notion that crafts didn’t have to be perfect and pretty, but could be disturbing or just downright ugly (like the macaroni-art record-album covers featured at the inaugural Bazaar). The Bazaar’s launch is timed to the beginning of the indie craft movement, a connection Arkin says she didn’t realize at the time. But when she and the other organizers saw how people waited hours to get in, “We were like, wow, I guess people really need this. This is missing.”

While the Bazaar Bizarre reigns as the long-running king of local craft fairs, many newer events have cropped up in recent years. These include the South End Open Market, a four-year-old craft, antique, and farmers market held Sundays from May through October, and the Union Square Craft Market in Somerville, held biweekly in the summer in conjunction with the weekly Union Square Farmers Market. There’s also special events such as the Magpie-organized Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Recraft eco-friendly craft fair, also staged in Union Square.

The Mass Market craft fair and flea market, heir apparent to the Punk Rock Flea Market that’s been held at MassArt for the past several years, had its inaugural run this October at the art school’s Pozen Center. The place buzzed with activity, and between the vegan bake sale, the local-music table, and the retro tunes spun by Mark Pearson of Neptune, it resembled a music festival. But nestled between the book vendors and record sellers was a host of regional crafters, selling goods ranging from bottle-cap magnets to silk-screened T-shirts — plus Spamberly’s cross-stitch.

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  Topics: Lifestyle Features , magpie , Culture and Lifestyle , Hobbies and Pastimes ,  More more >
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