Renegade Craft Fair: Thanks, but No Thanks

The Renegade Craft Fair is coming to Detroit. And it’s only right that the local craft community should ask: what is gained by this visit, and what is lost? The answers to this question will have important repercussions, not only for our community, but for others like it. As for Small Craft, we believe that the Renegade Craft Fair will take far more than it gives. We have a deep love for indie craft fairs, and a long track record of supporting them. But we’ll be staying far from this event, which does not seem to represent either the best interests of our community, or the values of indie craft as a whole.

In 2017, the Renegade Craft Fair is a global chain. It has 12 locations in the U.S. and U.K., if we include unproven markets such as Detroit. And like any global chain, its stated goals include growth. “We look forward to expanding our reach to more cities,” reads a statement on the Renegade Craft Fair’s website.

It also gives indications of aspiring to expand its offerings within each city. When asked on Facebook whether there would be an additional Renegade Craft Fair in Detroit during the holidays, the reply was: “Not this year, unfortunately, since it’s our first time there, but possibly down the road!”

The logical conclusion to all this growth is that more fairs in more cities will be Renegade Craft Fairs, with the same name, the same logo, and the same ownership. The variety and opportunity of the indie craft scene will be exchanged for a single well-known and consistent global brand. This is a familiar model to all of us, easily seen in the repetitive strip malls that line the streets of America’s cities and suburbs. But it’s an awkward fit for the indie craft fair, which is intended to offer an alternative to all of that.

The Renegade Craft Fair wasn’t always like this. In the introduction to her 2008 book Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft, and Design, author Faythe Levine looks back at Renegade’s 2003 debut, with obvious affection and enthusiasm:

“I remember some people laid out blankets and hawked their wares as if it were an impromptu yard sale. Others didn’t even have change for the shoppers. A lot of us had no clue what we were doing, but there was this exhilarating energy throughout Wicker Park. Around me were my peers, people who were taking their lives into their own hands and creating what they couldn’t find in their everyday lives at school, home, and work.”

For Levine, this first encounter with indie craft was the starting point for much of her own work, as an author, filmmaker, crafter, business owner, and fair organizer. And it’s not hard to see why! All these years later, that scrappy little fair still sounds fresh and exciting. The raw energy emanating from Renegade’s early years has been inspiring to many over the years, ourselves very much included. It’s the energy that’s generated when people are encouraged to make for themselves: to make their own crafts, their own fairs, their own communities. “Without really being conscious of it,” writes Levine, “we were creating an independent economy free from corporate ties.”

It’s a thrill, to be part of such a moment. And that thrill remains a key part of the Renegade Craft Fair’s appeal. There’s a hint of it in the “Renegade” name. And in their website’s assurance that the fair is “continuously championing the global indie craft movement.” But today, Renegade is a large chain, expanding into communities that already have their own indie craft fairs. Does this encourage people to make for themselves? To create an independent economy? Does this champion a meaningful movement?

In 2003, Renegade began with a few blankets on the ground, but was able to generate “exhilarating energy,” by offering something new. In 2017, it’s “the farthest reaching craft showcase in the world,” but does it still have that energy? Is it still an experience that people will look back on years later, with gratitude and wonder? We ask, because in Detroit, the Renegade Craft Fair doesn’t appear to be offering anything new. Instead, it seems to be reaching for a piece of what’s already been built.

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Detroit has indie craft fairs. Lots of indie craft fairs. And it has, for quite some time. The largest and longest running is the Detroit Urban Craft Fair, which will be celebrating its twelfth year this December. Over the years, it’s been joined by numerous others, each with its own particular focus and flavor. Local shop Detroit Mercantile hosts a Merry Market each holiday season. Ponyride is home to a Summer Series and a Holiday Market. Floral designers pot & box host a HLDYMRKT and a VLNTNSDYMRKT in the winter. And these are just a few examples.

There are also indie craft fairs in the suburbs that surround Detroit, such as Ferndale’s DIY Street Fair. And in neighboring cities, such as Ypsilanti’s DIYPSI, Flint Handmade’s Craft Markets, or the Toledo Maker’s Mart. Each of these is its own unique and independent event. And each serves its own time and place. But loose connections have been made through the years, and a robust regional community has emerged.

Local fair organizers are often crafters themselves, and they sell at one another’s events. One fair will use its social media to promote another. The calendar is shared, to avoid conflicts. Is there a sense of competition? Sure. But it’s balanced by a sense of community. Crafters have watched each other’s children grow up at these fairs. They’ve danced at each other’s weddings. They’ve mourned each other’s losses. And whether or not visitors to these fairs know all that backstory, they can still feel the warm glow of an authentic craft community. A global chain can’t replicate that, and it can’t offer anything better.

Detroit also has many homegrown events that predate the arrival of indie craft, but similarly combine the bohemian, the handmade, and the festive. To choose one high-profile example: Cass Corridor street fair Dally in the Alley has welcomed artists and craft vendors throughout its 40-year history. When we participate in these events, we make ourselves part of a larger tradition.

This is a famously resourceful and innovative region, home to a variety of thriving cultures. So there are many kinds of beautiful handicrafts to be found here. We love indie craft, but it’s important to remember: it’s just one tiny drop in a great river of creativity. And it’s impact is not entirely beneficial. If we step away from the indie craft fair, and walk around with open eyes, there’s no end to the incredible handmade work we’ll see.

All of which leads to the question: what does the Renegade Craft Fair have to offer, that we do not already have in abundance? There is already a flourishing craft culture, in and around Detroit, and it includes a sizable network of indie craft fairs. So Renegade really is bringing us nothing new, in that regard.

What it can offer, of course, is a nationally known brand. And it may be that this brand will draw more vendors from across the country. That’s not a bad thing. It’s always great to meet new crafters, and see new work. But it must be asked: If you’re on the road sharing your original vision, shouldn’t it be more of an adventure? Do you really want to find the same fair in every town? New experiences fuel the creative process, so it’s to everyone’s good if touring vendors continue to travel through a network of unique, local fairs.

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Indie culture far predates its association with the craft fair, and it has worked out a set of values in the smudged pages of countless zines, and the sweaty basements of countless shows. Craft, of course, is vastly older, and has had centuries to patch together its own set of values. Indie craft inherits the values of both parents, and makes them its own.

In indie craft, we value the local gathering over the big box store. The imperfect original over the exact replica. Independent adventure over managed safety. The ultimate goal is a form of self-sufficiency, often summed up in three letters: DIY. Do it yourself, at every step, and on every level. At a good indie craft fair, those values resonate through every aspect of the event. And when an object, a vendor, a fair, and a community are all expressions of the same DIY ethos, it makes a powerful statement about the world where we want to live.

By acting in accord with these values, indie craft roots itself in two strong legacies. And it assures itself a healthy future. For it’s these values that give indie craft a depth worthy of sustained exploration. With them, it offers a community where a good life can be lived. Without them, little more than a passing style. It would be painfully shortsighted, then, to cut ourselves off from those values, in support of a monolithic brand.

In Handmade Nation, co-founder Sue Daly states that the Renegade Craft Fair began because she and a friend “thought it would be fun to throw an event that embodied the DIY spirit.” That was a beautiful goal then: one that inspired us all. It would be a beautiful goal now: one we’d be happy to support. But when a global chain disrupts a local community, where is the DIY spirit?

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Full disclosure: Small Craft’s Amy and Ethan Cronkite were organizers of the first Detroit Urban Craft Fair. Amy was a member of Handmade Detroit, the fair’s founding organization, and was an organizer for the first ten years of the event. She took a leave of absence in 2016, and announced a final but friendly departure from Handmade Detroit this year. This is a proud and important part of our history, but we’re no longer affiliated with Handmade Detroit or the Detroit Urban Craft Fair.

There are two conclusions to be drawn from this.

First: We don’t pretend to be neutral observers. We’re longtime participants in the local craft community, and we love our local fairs. We want the community and its events to stay strong, healthy, and beautiful. And all our thinking is very much informed by that.

Second: We aren’t speaking for any fair or its organizers. These are purely the views of our little family business. And while Small Craft hosts a variety of fun events, there’s one kind we don’t ever host: a craft fair. Because we know that niche has already been filled.

We also think it’s important to acknowledge the Renegade Craft Fair’s past accomplishments. While history does not show Renegade to be the very first indie craft fair, as is often believed, it was certainly among the earliest. And we have a lot of respect and appreciation for that pioneering work.

With one of her earlier craft ventures, Amy was a vendor at Renegade’s 2007 holiday fair in Chicago. And our family shopped at their summer fair in Chicago that same year. In those days, we felt a sense of shared purpose with the Renegade Craft Fair. That’s what makes its current approach so disappointing.

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Craft-A-Way Camp 2017: Sunshine in the Shadows

Craft-A-Way Camp is so silly. We’re adults, playing a children’s game in the forest. We wear matching caps, and toss them in the air. We sing half-remembered songs around a campfire. We laugh, loud and long, at jokes too raunchy and absurd for civilization. It looks like fun, and it is. Some say it’s the most fun they have all summer. But if you look a little closer, you’ll see that Craft-A-Way Camp has a serious side as well.

For example, Camp gives us an opportunity to take a serious dive into the depths of the creative process. In everyday life, there are so many distractions and interruptions that keep us from reaching those depths. But at Camp, they all seem very far away. We’re free to sink into our work, and savor the experience of making by hand.

This summer, our campers got so caught up in the experience that they couldn’t stop crafting! The sun went down, the workshops paused, but campers stayed at their tables, feverishly unrolling yarn from an overflowing basket. Light fell from rustic chandeliers, handmade from sticks and hung inside our canopies. Music came from the nearby fire, where fellow campers strummed a guitar, played a violin, and shook a tambourine. The crafting continued, far into the night, and when the sun came up, the tents were hung with a lush bounty of pom-poms and tassels.

Camp also allows us to make some serious emotional connections. We all remember summer camp as a place that fosters close friendships. And each year at Craft-A-Way, we see it having the same effect on adults!

This year’s campers were a strong example. Some were returning to Craft-A-Way for the fourth time. Others, venturing there for the first. Some were reuniting with a circle of old friends, and other brave souls arrived knowing no one at all. But from the open-hearted introductions at the start of Camp, to the spontaneous group hug at the end, it was clear that all were united as one.

On the second morning of Camp, we gathered for a yoga class, taught by Jen Husted-Goss. By this time, we had all grown to know and trust our fellow campers, so we did not hesitate to line up our mats and try some yoga together. It felt so good to play in the grass, moving freely without judgement or concern. As our practice came to an end, Jen led us into Savasana, a welcome moment of rest. We lay on our backs, sunlit and silent, as the birds sang through the sky, and the wind sang through the trees. All around we felt the presence of our friends, quietly sharing a perfect little moment. Then we slowly sat up, smiled, and returned to our crafts.

We enjoyed a lot of fun crafts this year, thanks to our wonderful instructors.

Marcy Davy had us capturing leaves, flowers, and other natural materials as sun prints. The prints were then applied to glass pillar candles. She also helped campers screen print her beautiful Craft-A-Way logo onto shirts tie-dyed by Small Craft’s Ethan Cronkite.

Katie Whitehouse brought her boundless energy to a beaded Morse code jewelry workshop. And she had felt merit badges for us to make!

Amanda Schott taught us Sashiko stitching, with her accustomed enthusiasm and attention to detail.

Val Willer teaches a popular workshop at every Craft-A-Way Camp, and this time she showed us several techniques for making beautiful faux feathers.

Katie Bramlage brought a lovely aesthetic and inspiring attitude to her workshop, along with countless handmade ceramic pieces that could be strung onto hanging talismans.

Small Craft’s Amy Cronkite taught a pom-pom and tassel workshop, causing at least one camper to shed real tears of joy.

We’re grateful to our instructors, and to everyone who plays a part in shaping Camp. Craft-A-Way is made by many hands, and that supportive community is the source of its magic.

For the hosts, this year’s Camp came with an awareness of the condition that makes life serious: mortality. We’d had to cancel the previous year, after losing a mother and a brother. And as we were planning this year’s Camp, we said goodbye to a father. There was a moment when we questioned whether we could really continue. But in the end, we’re sure we made the right decision. It was soothing, to be back under clear country stars, singing and crafting with our friends.

We shared this at Camp, and some seemed to find it helpful. So we’ll share it here as well. In mourning our loved ones, we’ve acquired an acute sense of life’s swift passage. As we see and hear the world around us, we feel it rushing off into the void. We don’t say this feeling is pleasant, or worth the cost. But it does help us to appreciate each fleeting moment.

Camp was here. It was beautiful. Then all too quickly, it was gone. There will be other Camps to come, but never quite the same as this one. There’s something unique in every moment, that disappears and never returns. So we make the most of these moments while we have them, and we urge you all to do the same. Share your visions, embrace your friends, explore the world. Leave without regret.

At Craft-A-Way, we don’t draw much distinction between the serious and the silly. At a certain point, they’re one and the same. Shadows move through the sunshine, sunshine moves through the shadows, and together they give us a glimpse of the passing scene.

Consider, for instance, our Camp handshake. This greeting emerged organically from this summer’s camp, and was well practiced by all who were there. We won’t reveal its secrets, but we will describe it as elaborate and hilarious. On the one hand, it’s a joke: a caricature of a camp tradition. But on the other hand, it’s on its way to becoming a real tradition: one that will take on new meaning each year. And more to the point, it’s a real expression of love. Camp friends love each other. We may have some silly ways of showing it, but we’re completely serious about that.

Silly fun is growing scarce these days. Loving friendship, even more so. And Craft-A-Way Camp has both in abundance. If that’s something you’d like to be a part of, we hope you’ll consider joining us next summer.

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Craft-A-Way Camp 2017: Applications Are Now Online

Crafting with friends, in the beauty of the Michigan outdoors. If that sings to you, you’ll want to join us for a weekend at Craft-A-Way Camp. (And if that song’s not in your key, you still might want to join us! We have regulars who claim they aren’t crafty, or that they don’t like camping. But once they’ve visited, they keep coming back for more.) Our summer camp for grownups is back, June 24 and 25. It will feature a round of fun, new workshops. And a return to our old, familiar ways. Applications are due May 25, so be sure and get yours in soon!
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We’ve been gathering at the Lower Peninsula’s largest state park since 2013. And that’s given Craft-A-Way time and space to build up its own traditions, jokes, and culture. That all forms the ground beneath an experience that’s often described as “magical.” It’s that giddy moment when the outside world drops away, and the only priorities are making by hand, connecting with friends, and relaxing in nature.
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In this year’s workshops, we’ll try everything from screen printed t- shirts to ceramic talismans. We’ll explore Sashiko embroidery, and learn to make faux feathers. Between workshops, we’ll enjoy beloved camp crafts such as painted sticks and woven lanyards. Far from our cares and free from distractions, we’ll take a deep dive into the creative process.
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When the sun goes down, we’ll gather around the campfire, to play music and roast marshmallows. And at the end of the night, we’ll sleep in a pair of rustic bunkhouses. It’s the camp experience you remember, and it still has the same power to build a warm and supportive community.
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Last year was a dark time for our family, and we were forced to take a hiatus from Craft-A-Way Camp. This year has been a dark time for the nation as a whole, and there’s an especially urgent need for nourishing traditions. Now more than ever, we all must affirm our commitment to wilderness, creativity, and community. We’re glad we can return at this challenging juncture, and welcome you to Camp.
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Craft-A-Way Camp
$195 – Application required.
Saturday, June 24 – Sunday, June 25
Waterloo Recreation Area
16345 McClure Road
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Craft-A-Way Camp: Canceled

We are sorry to say that we will not be hosting a fourth Craft-A-Way Camp this year. It’s been a difficult decision, and it’s one that pains us to share. We know our grownup summer camp has become a cherished annual tradition for many. We know it would have been a refreshing new adventure for others. And we had been excited about joining all those campers in the woods, for another weekend of crafting, laughing, and singing. But in a year that began with overwhelming family tragedy, we’ve had to revise our summer plans. We apologize for any disappointment this may cause, and we thank you for your understanding.

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At last summer’s camp, we spoke of having had a bad year. We shed a few tears over a flood, that had caused major damage to our home and belongings.

But looking back: we really had no idea how bad a year could be.

In January, Amy’s mother Annette passed away, following a rapid descent into Alzheimer’s disease. Amy had been responsible for her care, so Annette had played a major role in our daily life. Her absence is felt acutely.

Just three weeks later, Amy’s brother died, after suffering a stroke. Michael was strong, active, and only 48 years old.  His sudden passing came as a shock, not only to us, but to the entire city of Rockford, Michigan, where he was a beloved and dynamic community leader.

Each of these tragedies was devastating. To experience both, in such rapid succession, has completely upended our world. All of our old certainties suddenly seem very fragile. When we concluded, in last year’s recap, that “nothing will stop Craft-A-Way Camp from returning next summer,” we surely were not anticipating anything like this.

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Beyond the crafts and other camp activities, Craft-A-Way has always been about sharing an emotional bond. There’s something about stepping away from our routines, and gathering in the woods, that allows us all to let down our guard, and connect on a deeper level. Right now, that kind of connection is challenging for us. And it can be daunting for others. (Even the most casual conversation with Amy tends to end in tears these days.) It’s not fair to ask campers to spend a weekend dealing with our raw and difficult emotions.

Camp is also about relaxing and having fun. But that carefree weekend is built on a foundation of hard work. This year, we aren’t able to give Craft-A-Way the effort it deserves. We’re finding that we need to devote all our time and energy to our family’s grieving process.

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Craft-A-Way Camp will not be back this year. But the green’s returning to the trees, and summer’s warmth is on its way. There are friends to hug, crafts to make, and sweet old songs to be sung. And over the past three years, we’ve seen that real magic can happen, when you bring those elements together. So go outside, pass the bottle, and wrap a few sticks in yarn. You just might find a trace of that familiar Craft-A-Way spirit.

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Bead Necklace Make and Take at Detroit Urban Craft Fair

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We remember when Detroit had no indie craft fairs. And we remember the excitement when the first one opened its doors. For us, as for many others, that moment set our life on a new course. So we’re proud to be a part of the Detroit Urban Craft Fair’s 10th Anniversary Party and Preview! On Friday, December 4, from 6 to 9 pm, you’ll find us at the Masonic Temple, offering a free make and take project. Michigan’s largest and longest-running indie craft fair will be in full swing, with more than 100 vendors, plus all sorts of opening night festivities. And we’ll have all the tools, materials, and instruction needed to make a necklace inspired by Craft-A-Way Camp! Enjoy an early look at the craft fair, learn about next summer’s camp, and take home your own handmade creation.

Having experienced DUCF’s rise from strange new idea to beloved annual tradition, we know how much can be accomplished through constant effort and careful planning. So when we found ourselves dreaming of a summer craft camp for adults, we started working to make it a reality. We’re now looking back at three seasons of Craft-A-Way Camp, and preparing for a fourth. And it’s every bit as fun as we’d imagined! Every summer, crafters from around the Midwest gather in the Michigan woods for a weekend of campfire singalongs, nature hikes, and outdoor crafting. If that sounds like something you’d like to be a part of, you’ll want to stop by our table at the Detroit Urban Craft Fair for more information!

This year’s DUCF is a three-day extravaganza, starting Friday, December 4; and continuing Saturday, December 5; and Sunday, December 6. Friday night is a special party, offering early access to the handmade goods, and raising funds for local nonprofit Living Arts. The party will feature hands-on activities, including a make and take with floral designers pot & box. (Creators of the amazing Flower House, and hosts of our February 2013 get-together!) At our Craft-A-Way table, campers will be sharing memories and answering questions. Save-the-date postcards will be available. (Our fourth annual camp will take place June 25 – 26.) And you’ll have the opportunity to try your hand at a jewelry-making project from a past summer.

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The bead necklace workshop was a highlight of our first Craft-A-Way Camp, in 2013. Led by jeweler Courtney Fischer, it had all the hallmarks of a classic Craft-A-Way project. It was simple enough to be easily completed while laughing with friends and enjoying a cold beer. Yet it resulted in beautiful jewelry, that our campers continue to wear proudly. And in the contrast between vivid paint and natural wood, the necklaces reflect the experience of crafting in the outdoors. There’s no better way to understand Craft-A-Way Camp than to pause and make something by hand. So we hope you’ll take a moment to visit with us and paint some beads.

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Detroit had a storied tradition of creative innovation and DIY community, long before the first DUCF. But it was not yet plugged into the network of indie craft fairs that had begun spreading through the nation’s cities. Small Craft’s Amy Cronkite was one of a small group of women who planned and implemented the first Detroit Urban Craft Fair. And as a partner in Handmade Detroit, she’s worked to keep it growing and thriving through the years.

If there’s one visionary who brought that group together, it’s Stephanie Tardy Duimstra. We had just recently moved to the area, and knew few people here, when Stephanie reached out and invited Amy to participate in planning the first DUCF. That warm, welcoming gesture brought us into the community. It made all the projects we’ve done here possible. And it’s a great example of indie craft culture at its best. Stephanie still sells at DUCF, under the name Type Shy. We’ll be stopping by her table to shop for beautiful handmade paper goods, and to thank Stephanie for all she’s done. We encourage you to do the same!

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Our daughter has never known a time without the Detroit Urban Craft Fair. We attended the fair’s first planning meeting just five days before she was born. At the inaugural DUCF, she was a seven month-old baby in our arms. At the most recent fair, she was a vendor, selling her own line of handmade goods. She’s growing up in a world where a market’s been built for her wildest notions. Where a community rallies to support her goals. Where honest work can bring her dreams into the daylight. In these and other ways, it’s a better world than the one we inherited. We can’t wait to see what she makes of it.

Detroit Urban Craft Fair 10th Anniversary Party and Preview
Friday, December 4
6 pm – 9 pm
Admission: $10
Make and take: free
Masonic Temple
500 Temple Street
Detroit

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Indigo Workshop at Handmade Toledo

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We started dyeing with indigo, and we couldn’t get enough! The rich history, the magical chemistry, the meditative process: everything about it is endlessly fascinating. So on Saturday, September 19, Small Craft’s Ethan Cronkite will bring his popular indigo dye workshop to Handmade Toledo! We’ll add brilliant blue patterns to cotton scarves, using resist-dye techniques inspired by traditional Japanese shibori. We’ll watch the dye change color before our eyes. And we’ll discuss the ancient relationship between our human cultures and this natural compound. If you remember Ethan’s indigo workshop at this summer’s Craft-A-Way Camp, you already know how fun this will be! And if you haven’t dyed with indigo before, this will be a great opportunity to begin.

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We’ll provide all the tools and materials needed, including a lovely scarf for each participant. But we also encourage you to bring along your own cotton items, and add them to the dye vat. You’ll find that it’s very pleasant, massaging the warm dye into the fabric. And almost hypnotic, watching the dye change from bright green to deep blue. With all the resist-dye techniques to explore, and crafty friends to meet, you definitely won’t want to stop after completing your scarf!

While we’re working, we’ll share a few stories from indigo’s many centuries as a dye. (Ethan is a librarian, so he’s always happy to share some good stories!) We’ll focus on Japan, where cotton fabric and indigo dye were once the basis for a vibrant network of cottage industries. And where the elaborate set of techniques known as shibori brought resist-dyeing to new heights. While authentic shibori is far beyond the scope of this workshop, it is the source of the easy techniques we’ll be practicing.

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Two summers ago, we were enjoying our annual Craft-A-Way nature walk, when camper Betty Floored gave us some exciting news. Her organization, Handmade Toledo, was moving into a brick-and-mortar space! Not only would they be selling crafts there, but also offering classes and hosting events. We’re pleased to have watched Handmade Toledo’s Maker Shoppe become a reality. And we’re proud that our indigo workshop will be among the first round of classes offered in this inspiring space.

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It’s no surprise that we keep returning to the indigo vat. Just as it’s no surprise that we keep gathering to craft with friends. After all, people have been working with indigo for thousands of years. And for even longer, they’ve been sharing the joy of making by hand. It feels so right when we come back to these ways, like singers to the chorus of an old folk song. If you crave that feeling like we do, you’ll want to be sure and join us for our next afternoon of crafting and community.

Indigo Workshop
Saturday, September 19
2:00 – 4:00 pm
$58
Handmade Toledo
1717 Adams Street
Toledo, OH

For more info, and to register for the class, please visit Handmade Toledo’s site.

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Craft-A-Way Camp 2015: Happy When It Rains

It had to happen eventually. After two years of sunshine, a rainy day came to our third annual summer camp for grownups. But we soon found that at Craft-A-Way Camp, a rainy day is just another opportunity to bond with our friends and explore our creativity. The clouds soon passed, but the camaraderie and inspiration are still going strong.

As we do each year, we gathered at Waterloo Recreation Area, on the fourth Saturday in June. Finding gray skies over our accustomed clearing in the woods, we transformed one of our bunkhouses into a cozy little craft cabin. With snacks and coolers close at hand, and the warm hum of laughter all around, we settled in for a day of uninterrupted crafting. The gentle drumming of rain on roof was our only distraction, so we were free to focus on painting earrings, weaving lanyards, and getting to know our fellow campers.


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Just in time for our campfire, the skies cleared, revealing a beautiful sunset behind the trees. Campers emerged from the cabin, lanyards and yarn-wrapped sticks in hand, and gathered joyfully round the rising flames. Weathering the storm had brought us closer together. And because the fire had once seemed certain not to happen, its songs, s’mores, and sparklers were all the sweeter.

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Sunday was clear and bright, with bugs and humidity cleared from the air. It was the perfect day for a hike in the woods. And to sprawl on the lawn, sinking scarves into buckets of warm indigo. As the day reached its end, nobody wanted to leave. Campers lingered at the outdoor tables, only pausing from their handiwork to hug departing friends. As we said goodbye to Waterloo, the rain that once seemed so threatening was just another cherished memory of camp.

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We are grateful to all the wonderful instructors who helped make this year’s camp so special. Courtney Fischer led us in crafting many lovely pairs of earrings. Val Willer taught us the classic craft of knotting macrame plant hangers. Marcy Davy helped us screen print inspiring felt banners, and showed us how to make lavender-scented sachet pillows. We’d also like to thank crafter, camper, and music teacher Stephanie Thompson, who brought her collection of rhythm instruments to the campfire singalong. Courtney, Val, Marcy, and Stephanie are all strong pillars of our Midwest craft community, and we appreciate their generosity in sharing their time and talents.

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We don’t accept sponsors at Craft-A-Way Camp. (The woods are refreshingly free from advertising, and we strive to keep them that way.) But we always enjoy collaborating with our friends, and sharing gifts with our campers. This year, Liz Drabik of Aromaholic provided us all with custom-made vegan lip balm, that tastes like a crisp IPA on a hot afternoon. Jenny Rostkowski of JKM Soy Candles made us Craft-A-Way candles, with the scent of marshmallows roasting over a campfire. Many thanks to our talented friends! These are the flavors that will carry our minds back to camp throughout the year.

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Last summer, just a few short weeks after camp, a flood swept through our family’s home, destroying all our handmade work, along with countless mementos from years in the craft community. It was a discouraging moment, and it caused us to pause and reconsider how much time we really wanted to spend on planning these kinds of crafty events. It also left us with a lingering terror of rainstorms. Where we once opened the windows to enjoy the soothing rumble of thunder, we now found ourselves nervously checking for signs of rising water.

So when we arrived to set up for this year’s camp, and found the rain pouring down, we were scared. We feared that we were about to see the water destroy another of our most treasured creations.  And when the jokes and crafts began to fill the cabin, and that familiar Craft-A-Way magic was crackling in the air, it was an important turning point. We were able to relax, and enjoy the comfort of a rainy afternoon indoors. And we were able to look forward to more crafty get-togethers in the future.

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People often tell us that Craft-A-Way Camp has made a real difference in their lives. That it has rejuvenated their creativity, or helped them through a difficult time. This summer, it had that effect on us. And we will forever be grateful to the campers whose good humor and resourceful attitudes made that happen. This supportive community is the real heart of Craft-A-Way Camp, and it means more to us every year.

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Nothing will stop Craft-A-Way Camp from returning next summer, or from bringing all its silly fun and serious magic. And when it’s back, you’ll want to be a part of it!

You can see all the photos here!

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