The arts-and-crafts-fair season is upon us, and it's taken on heightened importance this year for those who are selling their homemade wares at churches, schools and community centers. Some crafters or their spouses have lost their jobs, and the seamstresses, quilters and jewelry makers are finding themselves trying to turn their hobbies into moneymaking ventures to help support them and their families.
Sue Oglesby has done machine embroidery for six years and will have items for sale today, from bookmarks to aprons to coasters, at the Lord of Life Lutheran Church Craft Fair and Fall Festival. It's from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 11215 W. 13th St. Oglesby's husband was laid off this year, and "I don't know what we're going to do yet," she says.
In the meantime, "the money I do get from my embroidery business helps out. While I am not getting rich off the business, every little bit helps."
The Lord of Life craft fair will feature only items that are handmade, says Tina Spain of the church.
"Several of this year's vendors either supplement their income or live solely" by their art or craft, she says.
Shelly Stilger, owner of Twist Yarn Shop in Delano, says her sales have remained steady through the recession — but she does see changes in spending habits.
"I have noticed that people are spending less at one time," Stilger says. But she thinks that knitters are forgoing other expenses such as traveling and are thereby able to still spend money on yarn. They also may be saving money with their hobby.
"People are making more gifts," Stilger says. And a dozen or so of her customers who need extra cash have started selling their wares at etsy.com, a Web site that allows crafters and artisans from around the world to showcase and sell their products online.
"People who have been successful are making garments, hand-dyeing yarn or making wool soakers," Stilger says. The latter product is a cover for a cloth diaper that is knit of yarn that has been coated with lanolin. The wool is resistant to moisture.
"It's kind of a booming business," Stilger says of the wool soakers, as more young mothers are switching to cloth diapers because they're more earth-friendly and natural for their babies.
Several of the crafters who are going to be at the Lord of Life fair today say their hobbies are helping them make ends meet or are at least providing them with enough money to buy materials to keep crafting.
Angi Harlan's family is down to one income since her husband got laid off. He stays home with their 2 1/2-year-old son and 2-month-old daughter while he looks for work and while Angi works at the Sedgwick County Zoo. She grew up in a craft-y family and is always knitting or making stuffed animals, which she'll be selling at the fair today.
"I craft in the evening as a way to calm down and relax," Harlan says. "Knowing I can sell the items to help make ends meet makes it even more rewarding. ... If I did not have an outlet to sell my crafts, I would not be able to afford to continue making them."
Melissa Shockley will be selling her handmade jewelry at the fair. She is working to put her husband through school, and they have three children and one of the way. Her craft gives her a creative outlet and the money to provide her family with some extras, she says.
"I may sell a bracelet and be able to take my children to the pool instead of playing in the sprinkler," Shockley says. "I may sell a pair of earrings and have the extra to buy something a little better for dinner."
The crafts-fair season runs through early December. A calendar of events ran in an insert in The Eagle on Sept. 23.
"Craft fairs are fun, but there are only so many a year," Harlan says. Crafters such as Oglesby give out business cards and fill custom orders at other times of the year as well as sell their goods on etsy.com. A group of such Wichitans is listed on the Web site www.wichitahandmade.com.
Seamstress Victoria Lunsford, who will have handbags and T-shirts with bling and children's items for sale at the fair today, says she likes to shop for hand-crafted items first.
"I always say if there is homemade anything available, I want to see that before I go to a store," Lunsford says. "I know the kind of time I put into the items that I make and how particular I am about how they are finished, and so I just always think that homemade is better."