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Detroit Gets Crafty

Don't let the words "craft fair" frighten you.

If your summer travels have taken you to creative cities like Chicago, New York, San Francisco or even Cleveland in the past few years, you probably already know about the DIY-driven, indie fests currently sweeping the summer festival circuit. Often outdoors and in hipster neighborhoods, these alternative craft fairs attract a young, industrious ilk, who sew, knit, silk-screen and reconstruct their pants off.

If it still sounds dubious, be assured that the upcoming Detroit Urban Craft Fair (DUCF), with its no-nonsense name, will be nothing like your grandmother's church bazaar. No pipe cleaner statues, kitten cross-stitchery or cotton-ball art.

Debuting at the Majestic on Saturday, Aug. 5 (11 a.m.-8 p.m.), the DUCF is shaping up to be just as cool as its well-known peers, like Chicago's Renegade Craft Fair (after which it was modeled). And why the heck not? Detroit is, after all, the veritable mothership of all things indie. Which is exactly why DUCF founder and voracious crafter Stephanie Tardy was sitting around one day—probably sprawled out on the floor, surrounded by odds and ends and crafting away—lamenting with two fellow crafter buddies about the lack of existing outlets for their handmade stuff. In typical do-it-yourself style, the stitch-in-bitch session turned into something resembling the very first planning meeting for Handmade Detroit.

"I just thought, 'We have the power to unite some people so let's do it,' " says Tardy, a self-described Internet junkie. "I put out a call on message boards. I started Handmade Detroit on myspace.com. And it took off like crazy."

Tardy, who makes clothes, paper goods and little wooden moustaches under the name Phantom Limb (look for her booth at the fair), says there's an army of hipster crafters in Detroit, but that they weren't banding together to create much of an organized scene. "Detroit is a lot more disconnected than other cities. People have a tendency to be very competitive."

But Tardy wanted to change that. She knew there were other like-minded crafters out there, traveling to far-flung fairs to shop and sell, and she wanted to unite everyone under this creative common interest and localize the energy. The best part? It totally worked. "Everyone in the group has the attitude that we have so much more power when we work together," she says. "It's about connecting people and commiserating. It's connecting and sharing and realizing that you're not alone."

And now, six months, who knows how much hot glue gun time and gads of meetings later, they've garnered 50 vendors through a semi-juried process of more than 120 applicants (which are still coming in every week). And they've gotten an impressive roster of sponsors like Ready Made Magazine, Bust and Redcard Design. Tardy says she puts in about 30 hours a week, but there's also a team of about 12 people, many of whom invest just as much time and energy. "It's great to be drinking your own Kool-Aid. I haven't heard one negative thing about the craft fair yet, and that's an amazing thing in Detroit," Tardy says.

Tardy hopes the DUCF gives the organization, Handmade Detroit, the kind of recognition that could eventually lead to something more consistent and self-sustaining, like sewing classes or a craft store.

Whatever happens, ultimately, it's not about making a bunch of money. You get the feeling Tardy's genuine when she starts talking about the emotional rewards: "There's just something so special about making something—and being proud of it—and having someone else like it and take it home."

To help you get an idea of all the rad goods you could be taking home, here's a who's-who of sorts—an introductory guide to the first Detroit Urban Craft Fair.  Now keep in mind, it's just a snapshot. To get the big picture, you'll have to show up.

frizzelSTITCH
Two Detroit sisters get props for square corduroy bags and oblong denim totes with sweet fabric lining and darn-cute embroidered animals: diving beavers, hedgehogs, and foxes wearing snails like rollerskates. Not even PETA could turn a frown.

Jenny Harada
Irreverent stuffed creatures, kin to the Ugly Dolls, with a variety of curiously unrelated features like furry troll hair, neckties, antlers, tumors and shark teeth. A favorite, the "Blood Ghost," looks like a giant, hairy white molar. Legend has it that he's "very good at telling wholesome jokes."

Jill Killjoy
This Chicago crafting outfit is headed by a gal named Liz, who fashions one-of-a-kind goods—skirts, note cards, pillows and pins, to name a few—from discarded materials like old clothing, children's books and even ratty mac-n-cheese boxes. Also the inventor of the "catzip"—pouches in the shape of a cat.

make-out goods
One part Chicago, the other part Detroit, this artsy-fartsy duo does it all—clutches, note cards, brooches, earrings. And they do it well. But it's their little round mirrors made with the loveliest of vintage fabrics that has our vanity going goo-goo.

snapcrafty
Cheeky plastic jewelry is no craft fair oddity. But we forgive this one-woman Michigan-based crafter on behalf of her tongue-in-cheek selection: plastic Scottie dog earrings made from vintage game chips, fabulously tacky collage pendants, and a sinister black apple Lucite charm necklace with a gold leaf. Also known for handspun yarn, made on a traditional spinning wheel.

Daisy Sewing
Sure, they make cute bags and skirts, but it's the pirate sock monkeys with peg legs and eye-patches that steal the show.

And, if you still need another reason to go: the first 50 people to show up get free swag bags, stuffed with goodies from all kinds of independent companies, merchants, record labels, etc. There's even someone making a little novel to go inside.



Wanna help support Handmade Detroit and the DUCF? Buy an adorable Handmade Detroit fundraising mitten pin for a mere $3.50. Go to
www.detroiturbancraftfair.com.



Photos:

Neck Collars and Bags from Stephanie Tardy

The Majestic Cafe

Stephanie Tardy

Frizzlestitch Sisters

Bags from Amy Cronkite



All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger



Clarification: The version of this story published in the July 25 newsletter incorrectly identified the funding source for the fair. It has been paid for through vendor fees, sponsorships and sales of the mitten pins and other items.
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