Handmade Gifts for the Holidays

There’s been a resurgence of crafting in the Pittsburgh region, so if you want to make someone happy this holiday, consider gifts made by hand.



Set of 12 adorable magnets packaged in a tin, $7, at WildCard.

Photos by Becky Thurner Braddock

(page 1 of 2)

Crafting comes from the basic, almost-primal desire to make something with your own hands. It’s a love affair that starts early and keeps on growing. Ask a member of Pittsburgh’s crafting community how he or she began creating handmade goods, and you’ll probably hear about a childhood passion for glitter, safety scissors and colorful scraps of felt.

Many local crafters learned to sew or knit from their parents and grandparents. As adults, they’ve continued making things by hand because it brings as much joy now as it did back then. Turning a profit is probably not their top priority.

And, yet, a funny thing has happened during the past half-dozen years: Crafting is booming in western Pennsylvania—not just as a hobby, but as a business, too. With a growing roster of local stores and craft fairs of all sizes showcasing their wares year-round, local crafters are finding a hungry audience eager to pay for their creations.

For some, crafting has become a full-time job. For others, it’s a healthy side business. A cohesive community has blossomed, spearheaded mainly by the Pittsburgh Craft Collective and organizers of the Handmade Arcade fairs. Beyond opportunities to sell, there are skill workshops, which are small-group gatherings (some dubbed “crafternoons”) that mix creativity with socializing and plenty of opportunities for networking.

Veteran crafters or total newbies are all welcome. And holiday shoppers in search of distinctive gifts may be the luckiest ones of all. Pittsburghers have access to a huge array of gorgeous and inventive creations to give or to keep as their own personal treats. One example among many: the dreamy wind chimes made by Stacey Magda, of Pittsburgh’s River Rats Designs, from objects found while keeping the three rivers clean.

What’s out there, where can you find it, and how did this whole thing come about?
 

Planting Seeds

The recent explosion of crafting in this region doesn’t surprise the artists who set up tables at Construction Junction for Pittsburgh’s first Handmade Arcade in 2004. But it certainly delights them.

A group of 32 crafters sold goods at that inaugural sale. One crafter was Jennifer Baron, a native Pittsburgher who creates T-shirts, fashion accessories and greeting cards under the label Fresh Popcorn Productions. She remembers how happy she was when an estimated 1,000 shoppers turned out to browse and buy during the one-day event.

Baron had just returned to Pittsburgh after living in Brooklyn for several years, where she had helped launch an online crafting collective called Polka Dot Life. Things were beginning to bubble around the country: Craftster.com launched the year before and was becoming a popular virtual gathering spot. The annual Bazaar Bizarre, which began in Boston in 2001, spread to Los Angeles and Cleveland, and was getting national attention. Ditto for Renegade Craft Fair, which began in Chicago in 2003 before spreading to New York and elsewhere.

Like many others, Baron sought a flesh-and-blood community of crafters. She was delighted to find the seeds of such a community growing in her hometown.

“I was moving back here, but it was like moving to a new city,” says Baron, who eventually became a co-organizer of Handmade Arcade. “I felt this energy and this new community forming. People were blurring the lines between production and consumerism. … It goes hand in hand with the indie rock scene, with bands putting out their own music online. People were [thinking]: Why can’t it be the same way with housewares or clothing?”

Crafting has always been part of the Pittsburgh landscape through events like the Three Rivers Arts Festival. The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, originally named the Arts and Crafts Center of Pittsburgh, dates back to 1945. And the Society for Contemporary Craft, which began as the wonderfully titled Store for Arts and Crafts and People-Made Things, has been in existence since 1971.

But the interest in crafting in Pittsburgh—from the perspective of creators and buyers—has grown tremendously during the past decade: Five years after the first Handmade Arcade event, the group’s 2009 event boasted 90 vendors (still mostly local), culled from more than 350 applicants from around the world. In a single day, this sale at the Hunt Armory in Shadyside drew an estimated 9,000 shoppers who snapped up everything from jewelry and clothing to glassware and ceramics.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Two years after Chuck Noll’s death, University of Pittsburgh Press prepares to publish the first definitive biography of the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers coach. Pittsburgh Magazine is proud to share an interview with author Michael MacCambridge and an exclusive excerpt of “Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work,” scheduled for release in October.
The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

Renovation is under way at nearly all of our area colleges and universities. For students heading back to school this fall — and their parents — we offer this crash course on the highlights of these projects and their projected benefits.
Fall Fashion: In the Black

Fall Fashion: In the Black

The little black dress, and shirt, and pants, never go out of style. Add mystery to your wardrobe with these easy-to-accent autumn staples.
Apteka: A Taste of Home

Apteka: A Taste of Home

Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski bring top-notch vegan, eastern European cuisine to Bloomfield.
Talk of The Tahn: City of Beer

Talk of The Tahn: City of Beer

There are plans afoot for a international museum of beer to be built and staffed right here in Pittsburgh.
Pitt vs Penn State: Resumption of Hostilities

Pitt vs Penn State: Resumption of Hostilities

After an extended hiatus, the storied rivalry between the Pitt Panthers and Penn State Nittany Lions returns in September to Heinz Field.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Turning on the Tap: You Now Can Buy Beer at Pitt Home Games

Turning on the Tap: You Now Can Buy Beer at Pitt Home Games

It’s the first time beer will be sold stadium-wide at University of Pittsburgh games at Heinz Field.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Where to Go at the Three Day Blow

Where to Go at the Three Day Blow

Our dining critic (and Three Day Blow organizing committee member) has a roundup of some open to the public events.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 5 Best Comic Shops in Pittsburgh

The 5 Best Comic Shops in Pittsburgh

These comic book shops offer more than just your casual Batman or Spider-Man choices.

Comments


New Industry Public House Location Up to Par

New Industry Public House Location Up to Par

If you’re in need of a dining option that’s not a national chain while visiting the Robinson area, this is one to keep in mind.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Le'Veon Bell Talks The Talk But Can’t Walk The Walk

Le'Veon Bell Talks The Talk But Can’t Walk The Walk

The Steelers running back emphasized his latest suspension resulted from missed random drug tests, and not a relapse into the marijuana-induced haze that got him jammed up last season. But if you lack the maturity to grasp the consequences of your actions (or, in this case, inactions), does it really matter?

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Custom Made: The Surmesur Suit

Custom Made: The Surmesur Suit

Straight out of Canada, the custom menswear store opens its first U.S. location in Pittsburgh.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
'Hands of Stone' Keeps the Boxing Movie Genre Strong

'Hands of Stone' Keeps the Boxing Movie Genre Strong

Reviews of "Hands of Stone" and "Don't Breathe," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
The Lucky Ones: Katie Doré and John Potter

The Lucky Ones: Katie Doré and John Potter

Want even more Real Pittsburgh Weddings? We'll be bringing them to you throughout the fall, beginning with this lovely and lucky couple.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Put a Lid On It! The Container Store Coming to Pittsburgh

Put a Lid On It! The Container Store Coming to Pittsburgh

The store famous for carrying storage and organizational products is set to open at the revamped Block Northway in Ross Township.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Two Events Planned for Prospective Waynesburg Students

Two Events Planned for Prospective Waynesburg Students

A fall visitation day and a Saturday information session aim to allow interested students a look into life at the university.

Comments