Crafting gets thrifty in Denver area

DIY artists  find new ways to create

Wool caps with crocheted flowers, buttons made from old maps and typewriter keys, plush animals in a zoo-full of varieties, canvas totes with colorful embroidery, and jewelry of every kind; these are the wares of your local crafters. Knitters, sewers, welders, designers, and screenprinters are bringing their homespun crafts out of the home and into your local boutique.

Rakun, created by Denver Handmade Alliance Vice President, Meghan Throckmorton, offers space for this and more. Since 2011, it has featured 100 percent locally-made bits and bobs. Rakun operates on consignment, making it easy for crafters to test their salt with less financial risk and a more cooperative focus for retailers.

“I help people with [online] stores, branding, and pricing,” Throckmorton said. “I love that just as much as running the store.”

More than just a hobby or a business, crafters have built a strong local community. Becky Hensley started the Denver Craft Ninjas as a way for artisans to craft in a fun and welcoming environment. The group has since spun off into Share Denver, a community workshop space with classes and meet-ups for creative minds.

This produces terrific collaborations: Becky’s Buttons makes buttons from cut up maps and Sarah Guindon, whose unique illustrations come to life as paper dolls, team up to make downright adorable diorama lockets.

Throckmorton, however is mixed about Rakun’s Santa Fe location. A lot of first Friday visitors are expecting gallery art.

Hope Tank, a similar boutique, moved from the neighborhood to South Broadway. However, many of those artists with pieces in galleries are crafters themselves. David Justice, a fine art welder, has jewelry  displayed next to that of Adrienne DeLoe, whose work has shown at traditional galleries like Kanon.

“I struggle with the notion that crafters aren’t artists or vice versa,” Hensley said. “I don’t think a lot separates them.” Jewelry, fashion, and decor are just another avenue for artists to express and support themselves.

“It’s cool to have things that are unique and an expression of creativity, but are also accessible,” Throckmorton said.

Using found or recycled materials is not only a way to cut costs, it’s in fashion. Etsy, an online retail platform, has enabled hundreds of thousands worldwide to turn their hobby into a small business.

As positive as it is, this influx of makers has some downsides. “Lots of hobbyists start selling and all they want is the satisfaction of having it there, so they price low and that can drive the price down,” Throckmorton said.

Even so, the spirit of the community is all about inclusion. “[We’ve] always been about putting crafts in the hands of people who have described themselves as ‘not crafty’ and testing the waters,” Hensley said.

The full-time crafters who sell at Rakun and Hope Tank compensate for saturation by staying creative and trying new things. “It’s important to be adaptable with any small business,” Throckmorton said.

It all goes to show, the crochet hook is the new weapon of choice for entrepreneurial artists.