Craft socials turn do-it-yourselfing into a party

Wednesday, July 14, 2010 | 5:05 p.m. CDT

EVANSTON, Ill. — Gathered around dozens of tables, more than 115 women are working on craft projects on a Friday night, stamping buttons, turning old T-shirts into totes and using crayons to create cross-stitch patterns.

The attendees — mostly in their 20s and 30s — have paid $25 each to spend a night at the Chicago Craft Social, which organizers believe is the nation's biggest craft party. It's held four times a year in suburban Chicago.

The draw: offering crafters a chance to try new techniques, find inspiration and sample new materials.

More than that, Craft Social is a chance to build community for a new generation of do-it-yourselfers who follow popular crafting blogs, search YouTube videos and post their own tutorials online.

"Crafting is kind of a solitary thing — you do it in your basement or on your dining room table, and your husband is like, 'What are you doing?'" said Amanda Edwards, 32, who took over the year-old Chicago Craft Social full time after being laid off from her job in commercial real estate. "People are craving community, so we say make stuff, make friends and meet with other people."

So far, there have been four Chicago Craft Socials, and attendance has grown at each, organizers said. They credit Twitter, word of mouth and publicity from a handful of craft bloggers. They hope the socials could become as popular as the Stitch 'n Bitch movement that introduced knitting to a new generation about a decade ago.

Edwards has had inquiries from other communities about holding similar parties, and some similar efforts are already under way elsewhere.

The DIY mega-site organizes craft nights in New York and San Francisco, and Swap-O-Rama-Rama offers clothing-swapping parties, where participants exchange clothes and then learn how to alter them into something new. Many independent arts, yarn and fabric stores host single-night events, where customers can get help on projects or just work in the company of others.

Caitlin Kurnit, 26, of Chicago folded paper into intricate flowers at the Craft Social in June. She has watched the Social grow over the past year from a collection of friends using each other's remnants to this event with 21 organized projects and a slew of official sponsors from area bead, yarn, fabric and stamp shops.

The Social, she said, is a chance to mingle with like-minded dabblers.

"It's really nice to come together with people who are as obsessed as I am," said Kurnit, who lists card-making, knitting, sewing, jewelry-making, paper crafts, embroidery, quilting and felt projects among her interests.

Susie Ziegler, a 42-year-old quilter from Grayslake, Ill., who taught a group at the Craft Social how to embroider, said the gathering is a time-honored way for today's crafters to build community, beyond the virtual ones they've created in the blogosphere.

"For our grandmothers, there were sewing circles, and there were craft guilds at church," she said. "People have always gotten together to craft. And we can connect that way in the modern day."

Edwards also produces smaller crafting parties, charging between $25 and $50 per person, depending on the projects.

Here are her tips for throwing a smaller craft social for friends:

  • Choose projects wisely. Try to select ones engaging enough that everyone wants to try, but unfamiliar enough that everyone is a novice.
  • Materials are key. Bring your own, or make a clear list of what supplies guests need to bring.
  • Have a sample of the finished project on hand so guests can see what it will look like. Projects can get complicated, and many people learn better by seeing rather than hearing.
  • Make sure there's plenty of work space available for everyone.
  • Bring snacks and beverages — but nothing alcoholic if the craft involves tools or materials that could be dangerous.

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