Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Local Girls Make Good (Stuff) !!

I'm so proud of my sisters in the Sacramento Craft Mafia!

Here's the Sacramento Bee article.

Handmade, with attitude

The Sacramento Craft Mafia has a social edge ... and a lot of fun

By Alison apRoberts -

Published 12:00 am PDT Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Story appeared in SCENE section, Page E1

Melody Claussen-Furry, left, Katie Reeves and Amy Cluck are members of the Sacramento Craft Mafia, a group devoted to making things by hand. Michael Allen Jones / mjones@sacbee.com

Members of the Sacramento Craft Mafia are armed and dangerously intent on making one-of-a-kind merchandise you'll find hard to refuse.

Wielding the weapons of their crafts, from knitting needles to glue guns, members recently met under cover of darkness on the back patio of the Coffee Garden in Curtis Park to share techniques and cupcakes, and plan some upcoming sales events.

Amy Cluck, founding crafter of the group, called the meeting to order by pounding a gavel, ingeniously created by another member using mini-flower pots and empty thread spools.

"We decided at the last meeting we're going to use parliamentary procedure," Cluck explained as she called the group to order.

The group, which has about 20 active members – all women – and just celebrated its first anniversary, is part of a much larger do-it-yourself movement that brings an indie-alternative vibe to crafting.

Some of the techniques and implements being used here would be familiar to your grandmother, but there are no blue-hairs tatting antimacassars in this group. Instead, there are a few tattoos and some hot-fuchsia and goth-black coifs among the group of crafters, mostly in their 20s and 30s. Some have day jobs and some are stay-at-home moms; they all have crafting in common.

The crafts they create are edgy variations on tradition, including earrings made from guitar picks; coasters adorned with the image of Lizzie Borden on one side, her trusty ax on the other; necklaces made from buttons; baby clothes adorned with whimsical appliqués; and handmade coffee-cup cuffs.

"We're big on googly eyes and glitter," says Cluck, 29, who lives in Carmichael.

From virtual to reality

The Sacramento Craft Mafia arose in an utterly modern way – an Internet-enabled cultural phenomenon that transformed a virtual community into a group that meets face-to-face and hosts events in the real world.

Cluck had seen the Web site of the original Craft Mafia, started in 2003 by nine women in Austin, Texas. Since its founding, the Texas group has spawned more than 40 other Craft Mafias – from Anchorage to New York City and even abroad to Glasgow, Scotland.

Cluck decided to start a Sacramento Craft Mafia group and began with a MySpace community page. Now, the group has a Web site, including a logo with a double-barreled sassy attitude: a silhouette of a '40s-style moll holding a glue gun with the Capitol dome behind her. (Cluck, who is a Web designer professionally, created the logo.)

The growing crafting scene, including the local Craft Mafia, relies on the Internet marketplace, particularly a site called Etsy (www.etsy.com) where even the smallest-scale crafter can easily sell handmade items. Unlike eBay, it's not an auction site; prices are set, and it feels and looks like an online crafts fair. Etsy charges 20 cents to list an item for four months, and it takes a 3.5 percent commission on sales.

Etsy, which started in June 2005 and is based in Brooklyn, claims that more than 100,000 sellers have opened "Etsy shops." These micro-entrepreneurs are part of a global and ultimately revolutionary enterprise, according to the Web site, which says, "Our vision is to build a new economy and present a better choice: Buy, sell and live handmade."

Dream globally, act locally

Such global dreams are part of the crafting phenomenon's social-movement dimension, complete with a countercultural, political tone that appeals to those interested in living more simply and greenly (many popular crafts use recycled material). Its earnestness shows up in terms like "craftivism" and the online circulation of "buy handmade" pledges.

Not sure if handmade is really hip and artsy here in Sacramento? You'll be certain if you take the time to check out the crafts for sale during Second Saturday art events.

The Sacramento Craft Mafia has grown large enough that only those referred by current members are eligible to join. It costs $20 for six months to be a member.

The group's craft-sales events represent a chance to get some collective publicity and provides an opportunity for those members who have sold only online and never experienced the thrills and chills of person-to-person transactions.

"As a group, it's easier to bring attention to ourselves," Cluck said.

None of the Craft Mafia members has struck it rich, but they seem to be happy if they can feed their craft-hobby habit.

"To break even is awesome," says Katie Reeves, 25, who lives in Oak Park and embellishes baby clothes with hand-designed and stitched appliqués.

Have glue gun, will craft

The meeting feels like a mix of support group, tea party and summer camp craft table. The get-togethers are clearly relished gatherings.

"These girls are great; they're a community," said Briana Monroe, 26, who works as a project coordinator for a construction company. In her crafting life, she paints chairs and upholsters them into works of art.

Besides a night out with gal pals, the gatherings keep the members crafting.

"This feeds the desire to be creative," says Stacey Ball, 32, who makes crafts using vintage buttons, including knitted hats.

Just being around this group is enough to make a noncrafter consider making something by hand.

"My sister joined first, and I became an honorary member," said Angel Walsh, 30, who lives in Citrus Heights. The Craft Mafia embroidered its way into Walsh's heart, leading her to take up paper crafting, creating cards and flowers. "I finally decided to get off my butt and craft."

Melody Claussen-Furry, a founding member of the Sacramento Craft Mafia, made these necklaces. Michael Allen Jones / mjones@sacbee.com