Three young women in jeans and thrift store T-shirts are hovering over a kitchen table in a cozy Ferndale bungalow. Spread out before them are hundreds of colorful little felt pins, all shaped like the state of Michigan. Each bears a tiny heart over the spot that marks Detroit.
"If I never see another piece of felt in my life, it'll be too soon," groans Alicia Dorset.
She, along with Stephanie Tardy, Carey Gustafson and the other core organizers of the Detroit Urban Craft Fair, has been cutting and gluing mini-Michigans for weeks now in preparation for the event, a 50-artist-strong hipster craft fair that unites DIY ("Do It Yourself," for the uninitiated) ethics with unusual, handmade objects. The free fair, which happens this week at the Majestic Theatre, is an ambitious undertaking, the first of its kind in the area. And, while assembling the ubiquitous mascot "mitten" pins (they're starting to appear on folks in bars, stores and galleries around town) has made them all somewhat felt-phobic, the crafter chicks, along with the odd crafter guy or two, are still crafting away.
This is more than a hobby. It's a lifestyle.
"I think it goes back to when you were a kid," explains Gustafson, 34, as several other crafters toil over an enormous felt DUCF banner. "There's soul behind making something by hand the look and the feel of it give it validity. Mom and Dad saved the macaroni cards; they didn't save the ones that came from the store."
It's fitting that Gustafson's Ferndale pad serves as ground zero for tonight's DUCF meeting. A longtime crafter, dealing mainly in self-styled stained glass items (current creations include David Bowie night-lights), she exemplifies the qualities that the burgeoning organization values most: dedication, hipster idealism (she plays keyboards and dances in modernista rock act Johnny Headband) and, more importantly, an uncontrollable compulsion to make stuff. When friend and fellow crafter Tardy, 28, of Pleasant Ridge first conceived of the DUCF, it seemed like a logical next step. The two women, along with Dorset, first talked about the idea at a home craft show held at Tardy's house.
"Carey and I had a lot of experience with home shows for our crafts and we thought, 'Hey, we could make this a lot bigger,'" says Tardy. Recruiting friend Amy Cronkite (whose husband, Ethan Cronkite, started the Detroit Craft Mafia detroitcraftmafia.com), the trio soon had the makings of a devoted craft army.
"There were all these people in my life who were making stuff sewing and knitting and screen printing hipper craft stuff," Tardy says, "but I don't think they had an awareness that there were other crafters out there. The fair was based on the desire to get ourselves out there and also to link up with other crafty girls and boys."
Tardy, who makes handmade clothing and stationery, put out the call, and in a matter of weeks submissions for the DUCF started rolling in. Inspired by such organizations as Seattle's Urban Craft Uprising and the Boston-born Bazaar Bizarre, the DUCF members used MySpace as a networking tool to unite them with other renegade crafters.
"We tried to give a little more favor to things that might not be picked for a traditional art fair," says Dorset, 26, of Plymouth, adding that painted wooden shoes and silk-screen ties will be among the DUCF's fare.
Big on affordable homemade clothing and accessories (everything from handbags to rubber corsets are featured) the DUCF presents an interesting, affordable alternative to boutique shopping.
For her part, Dorset makes jewelry by combining vintage beads and charms with new ones. "I think we all have the feeling like we're looking for something from the past," she says, "a time when people took pride in making things by hand."
Of course, there's no shortage of modern-day people who like to "make stuff" out there. But the orgy of Styrofoam and cross-stitching that accompanies most traditional craft fairs is verboten in these realms. Is there such a thing as craft snobbery?
Tardy considers the question carefully. "There's totally a place for those crafts," she says. "They sell, and people love them. But these artists don't really fit in there and they don't really fit in the galleries around here yet. They're younger, for the most part, and the majority are girls. But I think there's a sense of humor that's missing from other craft fairs."
Gustafson isn't as diplomatic. "It's the difference between buying a Dave Matthews record and a Fugazi record," she yells from the other room. "We've migrated more toward the word 'makers' [as opposed to crafters]. With 'artist' you get an image of an oil painter or a sculptor and we're not that either. This is a group of people who make things because they have to, not unlike musicians or poets. It's kind of forced out of you."
And they are not, by any means, alone. The DUCF's MySpace page (myspace.com/detroiturbancraftfair) lists scads of organizations dedicated to promoting handmade art, clothing and other odds and ends. And its Web site (detroiturbancraftfair.com) reveals an impressive roster of sponsors including progressive women's magazines like Bust, Venus and Tint that support the DIY movement. These people are organized, impassioned and ready to craft your ass off.
"I want vendors to walk away with contacts and I want the people who come to the fair to understand that they can do it too," Tardy says.
What drives her to "make stuff"?
"You get an idea and whether or not it works is entirely up to the sewing machine gods," she says. "There have been many times when I've thrown things across the room in frustration. But the satisfaction of making something for yourself, or something for others, is unlike anything else."
DUCF is Saturday, Aug. 5, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Majestic Theatre (4140 Woodward Ave, Detroit; 313-833-9700).Wendy Case is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]