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How Crafty: Making gifts instead of just buying 'em

November 13, 2008 |  6:14 pm

Avoid_the_mall Far be it for me to refuse a Target gift card or a pound of coffee, but I always prefer getting a present that is handmade.

I’m not alone. Americans are waking up to the fact that "handmade" doesn’t mean what it used to. Back in the day it suggested crocheted toilet paper holders and carved wooden pen holders, but today that label refers to finely crafted jewelry and pottery, sophisticated letterpress stationery and chic clothing -- items that are well designed and beautifully crafted.

Handmade goods are the focus of two upcoming Los Angeles shows. First up is Felt Club, which bills itself as a juried indie craft fair featuring artists, crafters and designers who turn out hand-spun wool, one-of-a-kind collages and all manner of other works. Past shows have drawn hundreds of people.

This year’s holiday show is Sunday, Nov. 16, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Shrine Auditorium Expo Center downtown. It will feature an eclectic group of vendors such as Berkley Illustration, the Modern Pet and Tori Higa Stationery.

The show, run by Jenny Ryan of SewDarnCute, will also offer workshops and food, and something called Swap-O-Rama-Rama, a combination clothing swap and program of DIY workshops. Bring a bag of unwanted clothes, and for a $5 donation you can swap your heart out and create some chic new outfits (or pay $10 without the clothes). Recycling has never been more fun.

Sponsors of the show include Etsy, the Urban Craft Center, ReForm School and Handmade Galleries. And in the interest of full disclosure, one of the sponsors is my publisher, Quarry Books.

Then, Unique Los Angeles kicks off its first show Dec. 13-14 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the downtown California Market Center. Founder Sonja Rasula says the show is the culmination of a dream she's had for years to bring together local artists and craftspeople and introduce them to an appreciative audience already familiar with the genre, as well as people who may not be aware of how the craft movement has evolved.

"Our job is to educate the consumer on consumerism that counts," she says -- in other words, actively choosing to buy something handmade over mass-produced items.

Among the 150 or more vendors are independent crafters who have set up shop in their garages as well as established artists and designers who have fully established businesses. On the list are jewelry designers, potters, clothing and housewares designers and photographers; they include Ex Libris Anonymous, Baby-Hatch, Hush Beauty, and Chocolate and Steel.

Sellers will be grouped into various categories such as gallery row, rising stars, eco products, a Rockin’ Baby Bazaar and general vendors.

Buyers can kick back in the lounge, and the show will also feature DJs and a free DIY lab.

"It’s not all buy-buy-buy," says Rasula, a graphic designer. "You can come and take part in the creative community."

Rasula hopes to do another Unique Los Angeles show in May. Half of the proceeds from the $5 admission price will go to Create Now!; the L.A.-based nonprofit serves at-risk children and young adults, offering creative arts mentoring, education, resources and opportunities.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo: Unique Los Angeles