A Craft Grows in Brooklyn - Craft Week

By Tanya Silverman

Photo by starshaped.

Brooklyn, New York has evolved into an introverted and extroverted crafting haven. Artistic minds often flock to Brooklyn, making it a major production center to harbor and export its many creative products.

New York City’s most populated borough also offers lots of socializing outlets for hobbyists of crafting endeavors. Even for local Brooklyn residents who do not have like-minded friends, finding a crowd with a common craft interest is easy.

One example of such a group is Knit 1, Sip 2 in Greenpoint and Williamsburg. Every month, these knitters, who are of all different ages and levels, meet at a local bar to chat, drink (lightly, or even sip soft drinks) and work on their yarn projects.

While there are several craft Meetups in Brooklyn, Laurie Finch founded this particular North Brooklyn knit and crochet group in 2012 because she did not want to commute to places like Park Slope. That worked out in her favor, as other participants travel from upper Manhattan, and even out from Long Island, to join the locals at the neighborhood bars. Because the group is open to novices, the expert knitters can act as teachers, and the community can share advice to work out any issues anyone may have in their projects.

Speaking of internet startups and crafts, it’s not surprising that Etsy, the online arts and crafts catalog, is based in DUMBO. The concept of this website was sparked in 2005 by Brooklyn resident, Rob Kalin, a painter, carpenter, and photographer who had been unable to locate an appropriate online source to sell his creations. Given its simple accessibility and cheap maintenance fees, this internet resource has become the go-to for selling creative crafts online throughout the borough and far beyond.

Beginner crafters, established ones, and every kind in between, of every variety, post their items on Etsy. Searching through the website, the curious shopper may find difficulty trying to make sense of all the eclectic aesthetical items, which consist of anything from “mixed media assemblage altered art doll” to taxidermy muskrat feet. Crochets of almost anything are listed, such as grumpy cat dolls, Cthulu ski hats, and imitation cigarettes.

To get a more refined outlook of creative products sprouted from this location, the Brooklyn Collective offers a unique curatorial array of handcrafted items, many of which are designed and manufactured locally. Shelves and tables are stocked with assorted elegant elements, such as lacey vintage garb, shiny gem jewelry, and fluffy pet portraits, as well as items on the sarcastic or ironical side, like greeting cards that read “I miss your face.”

Tessa, an apparel designer, and Rachel, a jewelry maker, co-founded the Brooklyn Collective, which has become a fitting niche component in local shop community along the Columbia Waterfront. The way it works is that once the owners decide a line is appropriate for the store, the chosen designers go on three-month contracts where they split the spatial rent and keep their profits. It’s a useful outlet for young, up-and-coming designers, as well as a place where artists have the freedom to display different kinds of work that they are not able to in their usual galleries. Some lines have been active in the Brooklyn Collective for years.

“We try to carry things you can’t find anywhere else,” says Rachel. They’ve certainly succeeded in such efforts, carrying items such as phantasmal lamps that are made out of anything from pipe cleaners to steel food steamers.

The Brooklyn Collective also acts as a community, in which members are able to network through each other’s skills. The space not only functions as a store, but also as a community venue to hold gatherings like fashion shows or sewing classes. In addition, there is studio space in back where all types of artistic and crafty productions occur.

Some locally based talents also take personal initiative to disperse their knowledge. Shabd Simon-Alexander, a renowned tie-dye artist, works out of a Williamsburg studio. She maintains a colorful line of classy garments, and has instructed classes on tie-dye processes everywhere from Brooklyn to Berlin; she even taught Martha Stewart how to tie-dye!

“I found that really soon after launching my line, one of the responses that I got from people was an excitement, not only for what is was and what it looked like, but also how it was made. People loved the fact that I made it myself, and that they could theoretically make it themselves as well,” explains Shabd.

The fact that she loves teaching others and seeing their reactions to tie-dye has led Shabd to write a book, Tie Dye: Dye It, Wear It, Share It, which is set for release on June 4th. While the information in her book will allow people anywhere to dye all sorts of patterns and materials, Shabd attributes much of her honed personal knowledge of the craft to the technical accessibility she is granted in New York City, and the space she has to work with in Brooklyn.

“I dye everything in my studio, and it is really important to be in Brooklyn. I have the space to do all of the hand dying myself,” says Shabd. She also considers her local community of friends that consists of artists, musicians and designers to be influential, noting, “I have inspiration at my fingertips all the time.”

Beyond the aforementioned examples of the local craft scene, one could go on exploring the countless other outlets, like classes at Brooklyn Skillshare, the vendors of the Brooklyn Flea, or the plethora of studios and gallery nights that exist anywhere from Bushwick to the Brooklyn Navy Yards. The many realms of creative crafts that are developed within and around this area make up an ever-expanding universe of their own.