Making is having a moment.
You can see it in the handpainted murals in your favorite restaurant, the macramé plant holders in your hair salon, the handmade soaps in your best friend’s bathroom and the snarky embroidery hoops on your Instagram feed.
And on this summer’s unexpected TV hit, you could see it on “Making It,” a friendly crafting competition on NBC hosted by actors Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman, himself a woodworker. The series, which has been renewed for a second season, celebrates creativity and the maker movement that has spurred the popularity of Pinterest and Etsy as well as crafting classes in shops and breweries.
It might seem counterintuitive. Why pay hundreds of dollars for a quilt that’s handmade when you can buy one for less than $50 on Amazon? Why spend months knitting a sweater when you can pick one up during your next Target run?
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Because it matters, makers will tell you. And the buyers who flock to local events where handmade goods are sold seem to agree.
“I think it’s kind of a generational thing,” says Jill Rossi, owner of craft class studio The Devilish Egg in Raleigh. “In the ’50s, the DIY movement went like crazy because you’d had the Industrial Revolution and everything’s being made by machines and people thought that was the coolest. It’s the same kind of thing now, where we’re like, ‘I’m not in touch with anything, I don’t touch anything anymore, I don’t know how that’s made.’ … I think the pendulum is swinging back again.”
Plus, it’s just fun to create something on your own. You have full control over how your project looks — color, size, personal touches — and you have the satisfaction of seeing your work turn into something beautiful (or at least unique). And with encouragement at your fingertips from YouTube tutorials, Facebook groups and Pinterest, it has never been easier to pick up a new hobby.
That’s why, in the Triangle and beyond, businesses and events have popped up like mushrooms (so trendy right now!) to cater to both the maker and the shopper who value handmade things.
Craft Habit, which started life as a pop-up store in downtown Raleigh in 2016, opened this summer as a permanent store and maker space in Gateway Plaza, near Raleigh’s Greyhound station. The front of the store is filled with carefully curated beads, threads, fabric and kits for a variety of crafts, but “half our square footage is places to do the work,” says co-owner Sarah Ferguson.
“Places to meet and talk, and that’s a big part of it,” Ferguson said. “It’s not just about being inspired by the materials. It’s about being inspired by the other creative people around you.”
In addition to selling supplies, many of them from North Carolina makers, Craft Habit offers classes like “Get to Know Your Sewing Machine” and “Enameling 101” that encourage people to dive into that craft they’ve always wanted to learn. Classes also offer “an excuse to be social,” adds Taylor Lee, the co-owner of Craft Habit.
A group setting allows people to learn from others, whether they’re asking for specific advice or just watching their neighbor from the corner of their eye.
“Sometimes when you’re doing crafting on your own, it can be very intimidating,” says Lee, “because you’re like, ‘I don’t want to admit that I don’t know exactly what I’m doing.’”
The social aspect extends outside the walls of Craft Habit and into local bars, where the store hosts Handcrafted Night Out events. Participants who sign up for the classes in advance gather at a bar, order up their drinks, and use provided supplies to learn about and make a craft like string art (nails hammered along the outline of North Carolina, for example, with colorful strings threaded between them to fill in the shape), wreaths or etched glass.
The merriment of craft-making, aided by the safety in numbers and perhaps some liquid courage, is also a key part of the business at the Devilish Egg, which opened recently in Raleigh’s City Market and is named for a whimsical set of illustrated characters Rossi created in grad school.
At the Devilish Egg, people can sign up for one-time classes, or come in groups for parties or corporate team-building events. The idea, according to Rossi, is for participants to have a good time, learn something new and go home with something handmade they can be proud of. And they may even create some new friendships along the way, Rossi says.
“One of the really cool things that I didn’t realize would happen is that when people are at a table, whether they know each other or not, if someone’s having an issue … people will jump in and help,” she says. “So you’ve got this really communal kind of vibe.”
Classes have a way of putting people in touch with a creative side they may not have tapped into for a very long time, Rossi says.
“Really their last experience with anything creative was probably elementary school,” “Rossi said. “And at some point they were like, ‘Oh, I can’t do that, I’m not good enough, or that person’s way better than me,’ and you get this self-talk in your head.”
Rossi gets around that by breaking down projects into steps and offering help when students need it.
There’s also plenty of time for socializing amid the making, and that’s the most important takeaway, Rossi says.
“People can take home something, they’ve all made something similar, and then when they have it, they think of this time they had together with their friends.”
But not everyone who appreciates handmade items has the time or patience to create them themselves. Or sometimes it’s two days before your best friend’s birthday and you find yourself emptyhanded. That’s where craft-centered markets come in.
One of the longest-running has been the Handmade Market, which will mark its 25th iteration in November. Local vendors must apply for a spot at the market and are chosen by The Handmaidens, a collective of North Carolina artists that formed in 2004 out of a group of friends holding weekly craft nights to “hang out and be creative together,” says Kiona Elliott, founding Handmaiden and jewelry maker. Back then, she says, there weren’t a lot of events that brought crafters and buyers together, so starting the Handmade Market was simply a way to fill a need.
More than a decade later, things have changed. There are multiple craft-focused events in the Triangle every month, especially around big gift-giving holidays like Christmas and Mother’s Day. Elliott says the next Handmade Market on Nov. 10 will be the last, as the Handmaidens shift their focus to their Urban Vintage markets.
“We started because there was a need, and now there are so many venues for people to sell their wares,” Elliott says.
There are also plenty of eager customers to go around.
“One thing that I’ve always been really impressed with is the Raleigh customer as a whole is just a really educated customer as far as appreciating handmade,” says Elliott, who has participated in markets and shows up and down the East Coast for her business, Lucky Accessories.
“It made me realize, traveling to all these different cities, that the customers here, they just appreciate it, they show up for it, they really value what they’re buying,” Elliott said. “They understand handmade, they understand the value, they don’t nickel and dime, they don’t act like they’re at the flea market.”
The artists in the Triangle craft community are supportive too, Elliott says.
“It used to be much more individual,” she says, but in recent years she has noticed signs of cooperation and collaboration. Vendors next to each other at a Handmade Market started finding ways to mingle their displays, and the events became an opportunity for artists to be social with each other as well as with customers. And soon that sharing spirit leaked outside the events and carried over into artists’ daily work.
“It happens so much … just kind of helping each other out and being inspired by each other and helping each other get to the next level,” Elliott says. “Instead of being competitive, just working together. I don’t know if that’s the case in other cities, or if that’s just a phenomenon that’s happening here, but it’s happening here, and it’s happening strong, and it’s really phenomenal — it’s really, really cool to see.”
Elliott traces this new handmade heyday to more exposure via websites like Pinterest and Etsy, but also to the recession in 2008.
“The economy collapsing put the spotlight on big businesses and corruption,” she says. “I think a lot of people put some faith in these big businesses that then kind of fell apart. I feel like I’ve seen that same exact change in the way people think about food and the way people think about sustainability and stuff like that. … People are starting to understand more and more that cheaper doesn’t mean better, and putting money into your own community is so much more important than ease and accessibility a lot of the time.”
Here is a sampling of local options for learning, creating and buying handmade. The parks, recreation and cultural resources departments of many local cities and towns offer classes and workshops on a variety of crafts, and Triangle ArtWorks — triangleartworks.org — lists upcoming events and classes in the area.
Learning and Doing
▪ Craft Habit, Raleigh – crafthabitraleigh.com
▪ Scrap Exchange, Durham – scrapexchange.org
▪ Freeman’s Creative, Durham – freemanscreative.com
▪ Admit Ewe Knit, Raleigh – admiteweknit.com
▪ Bull City Craft, Durham – bullcitycraft.com
▪ Handcrafted Night Out, Triangle – handcraftednightout.com
▪ The Devilish Egg, Raleigh – thedevilishegg.com
▪ Gather, Raleigh – shop.gathergoodsco.com
▪ SkillPop, Triangle – skillpop.com
▪ Rebus Works, Raleigh – rebusworks.us
▪ ArtSpace, Raleigh – artspacenc.org
▪ Sew Crafty, Durham – besewcrafty.com
▪ Pop-Up Raleigh, 3rd Saturday of every month, Raleigh – popupraleigh.com
▪ The Durham Craft Market, Saturday mornings – durhamcraftmarket.com
▪ The Raleigh Night Market, Oct. 18, Raleigh – raleighnightmarket.com
▪ Festifall Arts Festival, Oct. 7, Chapel Hill – chapelhillfestifall.com
▪ Carolina Artisan Craft Market, Nov. 2-4, Raleigh – carolinadesignercraftsmen.com
▪ The Handmade Market, Nov. 10, Raleigh (this will be the final installment of the formerly twice-a-year event) — thehandmademarket.com
▪ Boylan Heights ArtWalk, December, Raleigh – boylanheights.org
▪ Spring Daze (April 27) and Lazy Daze (Aug. 25-26) Arts and Crafts Festivals, Cary – townofcary.org/recreation-enjoyment/events/festivals
▪ Artsplosure, May 18-19, Raleigh – Artsplosure.org