POSTED ON AUGUST 6, 2008:
Crafting a New Niche
Local ladies turn old into new with handmade designs
The Gamut. The weather&noise collection consists of buttons, keychain bottle openers, pocket mirrors, reclaimed shirts, skirts and dresses, hand-printed t-shirts, baby bjorns, buttons and original artwork.
I know my limitations. While I do have many talents, I am completely aware of and okay with the things I may never pick up, no matter how much I force myself. I'm probably never going to be able to parallel park, and that's fine. I'm all right with the possibility that I'll never really be into watching or caring about sports. And I'm never going to be crafty.
Not crafty as in a synonym of cunning--I am plenty that--but the knitting, sewing, cross-stitching, Hobby Lobby aisle-hunting kind of crafty. I think it's the hand-eye coordination, of which I have none. It's amazing I'm even able to type this. Not really, but no matter how hard I try, I can't get the crafting to stick. I can finally admit that, no matter how much it pains me to miss out on the artistic endeavor, I will be never be a crafty girl. Fortunately for us, there are those who can get their ability to craft to stick and have taken their hobby to a new level as local fashion entrepreneurs. The Knit Owl and weather&noise are just two of these endeavors.
Amby Barnes had always been a seamstress. Her crafting resume eventually expanded to include knitting as well. She soon found herself making bags, totes really, just for fun. Exploring the Internet for craft forums, she came across a link to Tulsa Craft Mafia. All of these separate elements came together in the creation of The Knit Owl, the craft business Barnes started in 2007.
The Tulsa Craft Mafia describes itself as "a great way to meet like-minded people, learn new crafty skills and get exposure for your indie business." All members have an established craft business, which can include selling crafts in area markets, at local shows or at etsy.com. Members meet once a month to showcase new products and provide tutorials on crafts, like screen printing or knitting, in order to get more people involved in crafting. In general, it's a support group for crafters beginning or continuing a business.
The Knit Owl's name came from Barnes' love of knitting. Additionally, at the time she began The Knit Owl, owls were becoming trendy again, and Barnes found herself collecting them. She also thought it was a fun wordplay on "night owl." In the year since she made her debut at Tulsa's Indie Emporium, The Knit Owl has spread locally and even internationally. What started with bags now includes rings, wristlet key fobs, fabric headbands, pins, earrings, pillows, wall art and coasters with all of The Knit Owl fashions and home accessories made from vintage fabrics. This, Barnes said, is where she really has fun. Hunting down the vintage fabric, whether through someone's grandmother or other outlets, and then turning them into something new entirely is what inspires her. Seeing a striped, floral or other patterned fabric might inspire her to make a new type of bag.
And the aspect of recycling the material and not wasting any scrap of it lead to The Knit Owl's jewelry line. Barnes used the pieces not large enough for her bags to make pins, earrings and rings. Pieces still too small for those items are used to help stuff the pillows. And while it wasn't necessarily in Barnes' forethought to be making recyclable, eco-friendly fashions, she likes that it has taken this direction.
In addition to selling The Knit Owl in Dwelling Spaces and the new Brookside boutique Ida Red, Barnes is also the ghost designer for the Ida Red line of totes. Her wall art is also featured in the back of the boutique. She's in the works to create more for the store in addition to branching out to other boutiques across the country. In Tulsa, Barnes said, the big, round rings (of which the pins and earrings resemble) have become really popular. They have also become a popular item on her Etsy site, theknitowl.etsy.com, where the rings have shipped across the country and as far as the United Kingdom. Barnes has been using modern day marketing tools like Etsy and The Knit Owl's MySpace to spread the word about The Knit Owl, crafting and inspiring others to see the value of crafting and creativity. To find out more about The Knit Owl outside of etsy.com, you can visit www.myspace.com/theknitowl or www.theknitowl.com.
Another Tulsa-based crafter that has found a spot on the World Wide Web courtesy of MySpace and Etsy is weather&noise. Weather&noise was established in May 2006. Christine Crowe is a long time crafter that began her Etsy enterprise by selling soy candles she made with her husband. Crowe eventually began expanding the craft items she created because, she said, "I didn't feel like candles were enough of a creative endeavor, so I started weather&noise to sell my reclaimed clothing and tote bags." The name weather&noise came from a song lyric during a trip to Houston.
Like Barnes, Crowe is also a member of the Tulsa Craft Mafia. Her venture into Tulsa's craft network began with monthly meetings with "craft queen" PattieWack and other crafty ladies around Tulsa. Eventually, Crowe read about the Austin Craft Mafia.
"We decided that we wanted to start one [Craft Mafia] in Tulsa. The Austin girls informed us that the lovely Tara Mason of My Little Gnomies had already established the Tulsa chapter, so we joined her. We now have eight or nine members," she said, further noting that, "It's really been great to find a group of ladies with similar interests and goals for their businesses."
The weather&noise collection has a variety of personal and home fashions. Crowe said she is always "experimenting with new techniques and projects." Additionally, with every piece that Crowe makes for weather&noise, the idea of ecologically and environmentally consciousness is included. This is most apparent in the totes that read "I Exercise Ethical Consumerism."
Crowe explained, "A big part of shopping handmade is knowing where your products come from and how they were made. Fortunately, people are starting to pay more attention to these ideas. I started making the bags because I wanted a shopping tote that reflected my ideals about consumerism--that shopping isn't a bad thing; you just need to be mindful about what you're buying and how it was created. I listed it in my Etsy shop and shortly after, I found the bag featured on the Etsy homepage. It's been one of my best sellers."
The rest of the weather&noise collection consists of buttons, keychain bottle openers, pocket mirrors, reclaimed shirts, skirts and dresses, hand-printed t-shirts, baby bjorns, buttons and original artwork. Like The Knit Owl, weather&noise has incorporated vintage fabric into the collection. Items feature embroidery or fabric decals as well. For these, daydreaming inspires Crowe, and the new line of reclaimed clothing is almost all inspired by feathers and flight. Recently, Crowe said she has been drawn to birds, peacocks, and feathers. She is also working on creating her own screen printer to add a new element to the line.
Everything from weather&noise is available at weatherandnoise.etsy.com or www.myspace.com/weatherplusnoise. With products in Lundeby's EcoBaby, Dwelling Spaces and buttons that will soon be sold at Ida Red, Crowe sees the future of her company further expanding, saying, "I'd love for weather&noise to be carried in some more local shops and perhaps eventually open my own boutique."
Additionally, she will debut a new line of handmade dresses at this year's Indie Emporium. Crowe also organizes the event.
The first Indie Emporium occurred in October of 2007, bringing together 36 Oklahoma-based crafters and creators, 10 gallery artists and five fashion designers. Visitors of last year's event could purchase local jewelry, clothing, accessories, stationary and art. The event is occurring this year again and will feature a variety of local craft vendors, a fashion show, "make-and-take crafting stations, a fine arts gallery space, and workshops and demos led by fabulously crafty people." While it won't be here until October 10 and 11 (at the VFW Post 577 at 1109 E. 6th St.), applications for potential vendors are still being taken. For you crafty readers who would like to find out more information about how you can become part of the Indie Emporium, visit www.indieemporium.com.
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