Handmade Arcade: Crafts from the underground

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Time is running out to say you went to Point Breeze's indie craft fair, the Handmade Arcade, before it made it big.

Attendance at the one-day fair doubled last year, along with the number of vendors. The vendor tables will double again Saturday at the third annual Arcade, and God only knows how many people will shop for cool Christmas gifts at the eight-hour event this year.

Larry Rippel
Crafter Jenny Harada's work was on display at last year's Handmade Arcade.

The Handmade Arcade is from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday at Construction Junction, 214 North Lexington St. in Point Breeze. More information is available at www.handmadearcade.com.

The Arcade's theme -- "Unusual Crafts for Unusual Times" -- is dead on: craft-making, led in large part by young feminists, is coming out of the American underground to become a cultural force.

"It's a vibrant and fast-growing subculture," said Lawrenceville political consultant Gloria Forouzan, the event's founder.

Comprising mostly women in their 20s and 30s, the new crafters are usually "highly educated, going to grad school or working in tech industries, libraries, et cetera," Forouzan said. Making crafts "just seemed to be something that they wanted -- to make something with their hands."

There will be almost 140 vendors from 11 states and Montreal, Quebec, packed into the first floor of Construction Junction in Point Breeze Saturday, selling items such as T-shirts, bags, posters and comics, furniture, jewelry, toys, baby clothes, postcards and stationery.

There will be also be food from Hot Dogma/Franktuary, Coca Cafe and Emmacakes; haircuts; and DJs. The first 100 visitors to the 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. event will get swag bags with national crafting magazines and other goods. Admission to the Arcade is free, as is parking.

As part of the alternative-crafting ethic, the products at such fairs are usable things, with a dash of wit or art alongside, sometimes made from recycled or reclaimed materials -- lamps made from cocktail umbrellas and kites promoting peace.

They are not the kind of things sold at more traditional arts festivals.

"There are no doilies to cover the toilet paper roll and that sort of thing," said Forouzan. "We're not arts, we're crafts."

Part of that ethic comes from crafting's feminist roots.

"Its genesis was in alternative culture, and wanting to produce something just for the act of producing it, and to bring an artistic sensibility to that act of producing it," said another Arcade organizer, Elizabeth Prince, 31.

"Feminism played a big part of it -- you had these young feminists looking back at retro-imagery and traditional women's crafts, and they're taking those things and putting a different twist on them. They're saying we don't want to go back to those traditional roles, but not everything about them was bad and shouldn't be treated it as though they were."

Crafting is part of a greater Do It Yourself (D.I.Y.) movement: it emphasizes hands-on work in an era when many everyday products, especially technological ones, are increasingly difficult to repair or understand. The movement is getting scads of media attention, supports several magazines (such as Craft and Make) and even the DIY cable channel.

Corporate America has noticed too: Urban Outfitters and other retailers have started selling their DIY-type products. While that annoys Handmade Arcade supporters, it is also an opportunity to introduce crafting -- and Pittsburgh -- to a new audience.

"It's exciting. The bigger the network [of crafters] grows, the bigger the potential to make a living from it," said Forouzan. "This is a demographic we need in Pittsburgh. These are people who can pick up and move anywhere to do this craft."

Tim McNulty can be reached at tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.


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