kjoo bio: I am a graphic Designer with a passion for illustration and crafts. I discovered the better material in the world, the hand made felt, and since that happened I just can’t stop to try different combinations.
Remember when going to a craft fair meant wandering through a dusty church basement with your grandmother? Recall the mountains of Easter egg-hued pom-pom’ed hats, the macrame plant holders, the toilet paper and Kleenex box cozies? Yeah, you remember. So do I, but times have changed, and mercifully, so have craft fairs.
One of the best known and loved is the Renegade Craft Fair, launched in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois in 2003. It’s now going strong in four additional cities across the U.S.: Austin, Texas; Brooklyn, New York; San Francisco, California; and Los Angeles, California. Its massive success eventually led to the opening of Renegade Handmade, a permanent, brick and mortar extension of the Fair, affording a location for artisans to sell their goods year-round. The shop is sunny and vibrant, with something interesting to look at everywhere you turn.
I caught up with Sue Daly, the owner and one of the founders to ask if she was at all surprised at how these two enterprises have taken off. “I was definitely surprised when we started Renegade, just because there hadn’t been a way to measure the interest in the real world at that point. I knew the DIY craft community had momentum online, but was really happy to see people react so enthusiastically to the Fair and the artists and their work.
“It makes sense in retrospect — everything is so unique compared to what was available at other arts and crafts fairs, and especially what’s available in mainstream stores, and the like. I think bringing the DIY craft scene out, in more of a public marketplace kind of way, introduced people to well-designed items you can use and wear.”
But Sue is more than just an astute business woman with an eye on future trends, she comes from a family where crafting was always going on, and is a talented jewelry maker as well. “My mom was crafty. She was always working on some hobby project. Needlepoint, crochet and knitting mostly. She always wore folksy clothing and jewelry too, and I think I just grew up around interesting little accessories and everything. I’d tag along to the little boutiques and craft stores with her, and I think that inspired me most. When I was about 10 or so, I starting dabbling in jewelry-making and beading.
“So that’s how it all started. But then I grew up and starting making jewelry again in about 2001. I had some success selling pieces to co-workers and online, so I started doing arts and crafts fairs just for fun a couple years later. I couldn’t find an event where I really felt like my work fit in and wished there was a DIY craft fair to participate in. Then it occurred to me that it would be fun to start one. So, along with a friend, we started the ‘Renegade’ Craft Fair that year.”
As the old saying goes, location is everything and Sue possibly couldn’t have picked a better part of town to open her doors. On the day I visited, the shop was bustling with customers and curious passers-by, apparently oblivious to the recession that is plaguing so many retailers. Renegade seems to be fitting right in with the long-standing art and design vibe of the Wicker Park neighborhood. “The neighborhood loves our shop. We’re helping keep the arts alive in Wicker Park, and offer a completely unique shop in Chicago-at-large, too. Since we have a national presence with the fairs, we also get a lot of tourists and destination shoppers too.”
And, as if providing the community with a sunny storefront and shelves, racks, boxes and bowls filled with well-designed, unique handmade crafts isn’t enough, Renegade Handmade also plays host to several events and workshops. The roster of in-store events is as unique and varied as the merchandise. There’s something new to experience every time. “We began having in-store events and teeny gallery shows last September. It’s different all the time, so we don’t have regular workshops we offer or anything like that. We had two artists make things in our front display window one week, and they sold the items that were made at the fair at the end of the week.
“We had Jill Bliss paint us a custom mural in-store, and she had a show of her original drawings and accessories. We had a needle-work showcase featuring over a dozen artists for our last show. Jenny Hart came and gave an embroidery workshop, which was great. It’s been a lot of fun being able to showcase the artists and the work in this kind of way. The art shows fall under our Spotlight Series gallery shows that last about six weeks each time, while the in-stores and workshops are kind of pop-up events.”
And for those who are not local to Chicago, fret not. Since December 2009, Renegade Handmade has been selling online. “It just seemed like the next logical step in growing the store’s presence and success. With our national notoriety, we want give people who aren’t in Chicago the opportunity to buy the handmade goods we have available here.” So, Chicago has its hot dogs, its stuffed pizza, and now there’s Renegade Handmade bringing some of the city’s best handmade crafts to the world. The website is the place to go to learn about upcoming events in the store and at the Fairs, and to shop online. “On February 19th, we’re kicking off a new Spotlight Series event with Mummysam. She makes incredible soft sculptures with all natural materials. I’m a big fan of her work.”
You know what, Renegade Handmade? We’re big fans of you, too.
Renegade Handmade, 1924 W. Division St., Chicago, IL, 60622, USA.
On the web: http://www.renegadehandmade.com
Alexandra Ferguson lives in New York with her little cat named Jasper, who is covered mostly in downy, soft under-fur and has long handsome legs. She includes her upstairs friend, Catrina, and her 1-year-old daughter, Hannah, as her family and they eat dinner together more than they don’t. Alexandra describes herself as a workaholic who loves to drive with the top down on the west side in the summer, go on dinner dates with her boyfriend, and have a strong cup of coffee in the morning and a good cup of wine in the evening. She no longer sews in her pajamas and has graduated to a nice pair of sweatpants, which she likes to pair with a cashmere sweater so she can feel and look smart. And depending on her mood, she’ll be listening to either cheesy pop or melancholy folk music while she works.
Do you work at home?
I live in a loft apartment that used to be a department store. It has soaring 16 foot ceilings, which makes such a huge difference. I’ll go to someone else’s apartment that is the same square footage with regular height ceilings and I can’t believe how much smaller it feels. I have the original hard wood floors from the department store days and exposed concrete beam ceilings which gives it a gritty look, but then a modern kitchen and a marble bath which makes it comfortable. It’s a great backdrop inspiration for my work.
My place is a 1/2 mile away from my mom’s where I grew up in lower Westchester. When I was 6, we lived in France for a year, but beyond that I have always lived in NY. I even went to college in the city. Sometimes I wish I could be a bit more nomadic, but if you have spent your life moving within a 30 mile radius, you start to give up on the fantasy of picking up and moving to LA. This is where I belong.
How long have you been creating pillows? How did you get started?
I started making pillows as a gift for Catrina’s birthday this past November. Since Christmas was around the corner, I kept going and everyone got pillows for the holidays. Then I was done with my annual crafting. For about a week. Then Catrina’s sister, Kim, came round and saw the original pillows I made for her and told me about Etsy. The shop went live in the middle of January. And it has been a whirlwind since.
Do you sew other items?
I am game to sew anything so long as it is for the home. I am looking to expand the line into tote bags and pouches too. My project for just this morning actually is to make wall art, which will be the same thing as making a pillow but then we will staple it around a canvas frame instead of set a zipper. I’m really excited. I will not sew clothes.
Tell us about your daytime job.
My career has been in the fashion industry as a technical designer and as a studio manager. I worked for Rebecca Taylor and Zac Posen, and now I am freelancing a couple of days a week for a Kohl’s licensee company. It’s great because I have now worked on lines from the Wal-mart level right up to designer couture. A lot of my experiences working for these houses has been really useful as I start my own line. If you can develop and manufacture a dress, you can certainly do it for a pillow. Fashion is a really intense industry. This past February was the first season in a long long time that I wasn’t putting on a runway show. It was such an amazing feeling to be able to walk past the tents and Bryant Park and not be overcome with dread and exhaustion. But now I work 7 days a week until 2 am for my own line, so I am back on runway schedule again. But it doesn’t hurt nearly as much when you are working for yourself.
Where do you get your materials?
I get everything online. It is so much cheaper, and it saves trips around town.
How much of your materials are recycled? Why do you use them?
The felt that I use is 100% recycled from post-consumer water bottles. There is a neat show about it from the history channel. You can
It is such a great material to work with. The quality of the felt is really good and surprisingly soft. It is a great added bonus that it happens to be totally eco-friendly to boot.
I am doing research now to find an eco-friendly pillow insert too. For now I want to make my work accessible and affordable to most people so I use a polyfill insert, but I would like to offer the option of an eco insert too.
Where do you get your ideas?
Everywhere! I have to keep long lists because I can’t sew fast enough. I have some beautiful photography books of flowers that I like to reference sometimes, and always keep an ear out for song lyrics that might be funny on a pillow. Friends help out too. Its a good lunch time game with your colleagues–what would you put on a pillow?
Do you do other kinds of crafts? How long have you been making jewelry?
I made jewelry a couple of years ago and if Etsy had been around then who knows what path my life would have taken! I had no selling outlet at the time, so I made as much as I could until I was broke and then I got a job. I feel like the jewelry market right now is pretty saturated though, so once I sell through my current inventory I think I will call it a day.
One hobby that I have had since I was a tot was painting. Right now I am into acrylics. I have been working on a 15 foot mural in my kitchen for about 2 years. It’s a rolling kaleidescope landscape populated with little fantasy creatures. It’s great because it will never be done, I can always move someone else in. I have also done portraits of Jasper and my fish George, and my mom’s dog Hugo. I’m really into Egrets as well, there are a couple of those around the house. I am running out of wall space. Good thing I took a break to make pillows. But now that I am going to hang the pillow designs on the wall? Back to square one.
What do you see yourself doing in 5 years?
Running my company! Maybe when the company grows and I can afford employees, I can work less than 90 hours a week. But I am starting to doubt that I will be able to stop.
Raw sterling silver cries out to me, begs me to convert it into bold jewelry with subtle finishes. Of course, I must obey.
Sarah Mann: Sarah Mann is fascinated by the creative and technical challenges of transforming her medium into objects of provocative adornment. Geometric shapes flow into organic elements, producing clean, straightforward designs that often incorporate kinetics. She is proud to carry on a family tradition in the crafts and pleased that this enables her to exercise her talent wherever her peripatetic nature may have her living.
Mann realizes fully the broad potential of sterling silver. She crafts her jewelry with torch and tools–saws, files, pliers, nippers, drills, hammers, and the more arcane rolling mill, dapping blocks, and mizzy wheels–then endows it with a range of hues through delicately controlled oxidation. The combined effect of patina on texture is a signature characteristic of all Sarah Mann jewelry.
Anna lives in Gloucestershire, England where she is a student and loves art, music, crafts, animations and video games. She’s an animation student so most of the time she’s working on her films and projects. She makes charms to fill in bits of idle time along with playing some video games. Check out her store!
How long have you been making these tiny charms?
Not very long to be honest! I’ve always made random bits of sculpture from various types of clay over the years but I didn’t take it too seriously until I discovered how to make cold porcelain clay. It’s only been…about a year!