Sunday, December 14, 2008

Get the personal touch -

Sarah McInerney
December 11, 2008

What do you do if your meat-eating, duck-shooting uncle turns vegetarian in the lead-up to Christmas?

You go online and find someone to make him a felt animal head mounted on wood, of course.

Handmade craft has had an extreme makeover since the days of crocheted coathangers and bags filled with lavender.

While "feltadermy" and clocks made from Tupperware would be some of the more "out-there" examples available, much of the craft you can buy online is original, contemporary and well made.

One of the biggest sites is the US-based, an online marketplace for "all things handmade". It launched in 2005 and now has about 1.3 million members, 200,000 of whom are sellers.

Its offerings range from the ever-popular bags, jewellery, clothes and art to the more specialised interests of dolls, paper goods and needlepoint.

Despite its innocuous nature, the arts and crafts business is proving to be a lucrative venture for Etsy. Sales made through the site have jumped from $US166,000 ($255,500) in 2005 to an estimated $US87 million by the end of this year.

Etsy spokesman Adam Brown says avoiding mass-produced goods yields many benefits. "You know where it's coming from," he says. "You can have a direct conversation with the person who made your item and you can find out about the methods of production.

"You have the ability to source things that are near to you so you can reduce your carbon footprint.

"I find there's a personal satisfaction in there being a story behind every purchase."

Adelaide-based artist Karena Colquhoun sells coasters, greeting cards and pocket mirrors under the brand Magic Jelly on Etsy as well as Australian site

She says it has changed the direction of her business and created another revenue stream that she wouldn't receive from exhibiting in galleries.

Being on Etsy also gives her international exposure, she says.

"For emerging artists who want to sell affordable artworks, it is a great medium," she says. "You get great feedback as well. "There are financial benefits of not having it in a gallery and having a cut taken.

"That direct link with the buyer is really good. They're normally really generous with their time, they want to talk to you about your work and you find out what connection they have with it. It helps with inspiration for future work."

Bec Davies started up in July 2007. She was selling T-shirts at the Glebe Markets and decided to create an Australian designers' directory.

"We got such a great response to the directory and there was a move into the high-end handmade," she says.

"People were making really impressive handmade stuff that didn't have that 'few stitches missing' aesthetic. We saw an opportunity to grow the website."

She now has more than 500 Australian designers selling through her site.

Some are full-time artists, such as Colquhoun, turning their artworks into consumer items. Others are mums at home, students and hobby craftspeople wanting to earn a few extra dollars.

"Everyone is creative and I guess by selling it, it's an extra sweetener," Davies says. "You get a buzz out of something you've made and that someone wants to buy it."


Online artists community

Aussie grown

International crafts

Or for a more tactile experience, check out these handmade-focused markets:

Young Blood Designers Market
When: Twice yearly, next market tomorrow and Saturday
Where: Powerhouse Museum, Harris Street, Pyrmont, Sydney

Melbourne Design Market

When: Twice yearly
Where: Federation Square, Melbourne

Handmade Market

When: Launched in November this year
Where: Albert Hall, Canberra

The Finders Keepers Markets (formerly the Hope Street Markets)
When: Twice yearly
Where: CarriageWorks, Eveleigh, Sydney

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