Handmade Arcade attempts local DIY revival

By Larissa Gula

Handmade Arcade

David L. Lawrence Convention Center

1000 Fort Duquesne… Handmade Arcade

David L. Lawrence Convention Center

1000 Fort Duquesne Blvd.

Saturday, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Free Admission

In 2004, 32 vendors served about 1,000 attendees at a craft fair. Now, in 2011, 120 vendors will serve a crowd that, last year, numbered 10,000.

Currently in its seventh year, the annual Handmade Arcade has grown over time into a mixture of a craft showcase and a social event and has become a champion of locally made eco-friendly goods. The items sold can vary, but include jewelry, children’s toys, clothing, art prints and sometimes bath products.

The Handmade Arcade might not be one of the biggest craft fairs in existence, but it has the distinction of being “one of the first indie craft shows in the country,” said Rebecca Morris, an organizer and Pitt alumna.

The joy of the Handmade Arcade, Morris said, comes from the way it goes “back to a simpler way.”

“With so many mass-produced items, it’s nice to appreciate something handmade,” Morris said. “Here people can meet the maker, which isn’t something you get to do with a typical transaction.”

For Jennifer Baron, who is both an organizer and vendor, being involved with the Handmade Arcade has been a “natural process” from the start. Before the Handmade Arcade began, Baron started an online craft store with her friends in New York and began selling greeting cards on the website Etsy under the name Fresh Popcorn Products, a tribute to her favorite snack food.

Baron eventually moved back to Pittsburgh and expanded her interests. She began collecting vintage food packaging, made patches out of recycled fabric to sew onto shirts and fashioned shirts and tote bags.

“Before this even started, I’d traveled to national craft fairs,” Baron said. “Friends and I were carpooling across the country. We saw a need for this in the city. There was a void.”

When Baron saw a flyer advertising the Handmade Arcade, she signed up at once. She sold her handmade shirts and collages at the event in its first year and soon found herself assisting in organizing the entire fair.

Others have returned to Pittsburgh for business reasons. But vendor Jenn Gooch is a “Pittsburgher by choice,” moving to the Steel City from Texas after attending Carnegie Mellon for graduate school.

“The nice thing about Pittsburgh is it’s one of those places you can afford to live and pursue things you wouldn’t be able to pursue otherwise, like crafts, art and music,” Gooch said.

Although she sewed as a child, Gooch is relatively new to the craft scene. She began making scarves and hats to sell about a year ago, after wanting to redesign a hat she purchased but didn’t particularly like. What began as making items for herself turned into a small business, as friends expressed interest in the items as well.

“It’s one of those things that if you find what you really like, it may be expensive or not interesting enough,” Gooch said. “I like hats, but it’s a dying art as far as having a local hatmaker goes.”

Gooch’s hats are handsewn and usually made out of panels of separate pieces and various materials picked up at thrift stores, she said.

While Gooch’s interest and business are relatively new, Baron said her interest in crafts goes way back.

“It’s something that has been with me since childhood,” Baron said. “It’s ingrained in me since my mom was always sewing. She’d make clothing, curtains and pillows. I still have the curtains she made in the late ’60s, and they’re in wonderful shape. I collect those vintage things and interests from the family.”

This year, the fair also features hands-on demonstrations for interested guests, giving shoppers a chance to work with materials themselves to create prints or scrapbooks at the Handmade Arcade.

Vendors work at other places around the city during the year, including WildCard, a store in Lawrenceville owned by Morris that currently features several of Baron’s products.

“That store has become a brick-and-mortar version of Handmade Arcade,” Baron said. “We sell our products and do demos there. It’s a great hub for indie craft making in the city.”

The Handmade Arcade, though, remains a valuable resource for everyone involved, Baron said.

“We’ve evolved in terms of audience and space, but we’ve also created a community within the greater arts scene and we helped shape it and bring it to life,” she said.