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My art on your sleeve 

Nine locals band to make the Springs look cooler, one 'craft' at a time

click to enlarge Jen McKee makes bags you wont find at, say, Target. - COURTESY CALAMITY CRAFTERS
  • Courtesy Calamity Crafters
  • Jen McKee makes bags you wont find at, say, Target.

Everyone's been there: searching for that perfect gift for a fashion-forward friend. Either you don't find it, or worse, you can't afford it. The solution for some locals: Make it yourself.

A few of these artistic souls have even taken the next step, creating jewelry and clothes for friends and for others. They aren't professional jewelers or seamstresses. They're a new breed of crafters, and some of them have created a club to share and sell their works.

The group, now nine members strong, goes by the name Calamity Crafters. Its creations, for the record, don't include toilet-paper cozies and Christmas sweaters.

"The term 'craft' seems to have this kind of diminutive, like, 'Oh, isn't that cute. She's crafting,'" says member Kelly MacPherson Staat, 31. "[But] when you think about it, people who have a sort of skill call it their craft."

And one look at Calamity's wares is impressive: retro-fabulous jewelry, handbags, T-shirts and other accessories. MacPherson Staat creates chunky resin necklaces showcasing vintage movie posters or creepy-kitschy animals manipulated through Photoshop. Marcea Flowers, owner of the tattoo parlor Holey Rollers (where the women regularly sell their crafts), transfers images of Mexican playing cards or Elvis onto T-shirts.

Beyond wearable crafts, the group's sole male member, Jeff Cloutier sells photographs, including some of fashionable femme-fatales. Flowers also sells photos of staged vintage tableaus of murders and mug shots.

Crimes of fashion

Most of the women claim a lifelong interest in crafting. As they met through friends and acquaintances over the years, the group slowly began to take shape.

"We were all doing our own thing independently and then we came together and thought, 'Wow, we should become a force,'" says Flowers.

They only formally organized a year ago. Flowers explains that they originally joined as a chapter of a nationwide alternative craft ring, the Craft Mafia, based in Austin, Texas, but felt too restricted by the Mafia's rules and regulations. They dropped out, changed their name, changed it again, and moved on.

click to enlarge Solid, chic and even a little scary: Kelly MacPherson Staats jewelry.
  • Solid, chic and even a little scary: Kelly MacPherson Staats jewelry.

"[We're] the outlaws of the craft world," the 38-year-old Flowers explains with a chuckle.

Though Flowers could be credited with organizing the group originally, she insists that there isn't a leader and they vote on all decisions. What they've formed is as much a quilting circle as a business venture.

The group has met on a monthly basis and rented booths at farmers markets, art events such as Nocturnal Mockery, roller derbies and burlesque shows. For more permanent arrangements, individual members have worked with art establishments such as Edifice Gallery and the Business of Art Center. Other tattoo parlors and local boutiques like Out of the Box carry pieces by a few of the women.

When asked if it's difficult to market to retail businesses, the women shrug and admit they haven't pursued it that much. Each has a full-time job and a family, which leaves less time for aggressive promotion.

While nationwide Craft Mafia groups peddle styles similar to Calamity Crafters, the women have yet to come across another alternative crafting group in the region. And outside Calamity's umbrella, several of the women have created their own brands. Jen McKee, 31, has Spilt Milk Clothing; Jones LeFae, 40, has Escape from Babylon; and MacPherson Staat's Shady Lady markets "good jewelry for bad girls."

The Internet is another source for sales, although seeing a picture online isn't the same as inspecting a piece in person, says MacPherson Staat. She, like McKee, sells through the merchants' forum site etsy.com; other members, such as LeFae, have their own Web sites.

Art of dressing

In light of the swooning economy, Calamity's crafters seem refreshingly resilient.

"People are getting more into handmade things and starting to support people locally," says Flowers. "With this economy especially, people are starting to think about where their money goes."

It helps that the crafters' prices are reasonable. LeFae's gemstone jewelry runs between $20 and $100, while MacPherson Staat and McKee's works top out at $40 for a large necklace or handbag. Flowers starts T-shirts at $6, and she says they sell out at every show.

The pieces are as well-constructed as they are chic. The handbags are lined and tightly sewn, and the jewelry findings are good-quality metals. Even better, the crafters tend toward Earth-friendly ideals. Flowers and McKee, especially, strive for eco-conscious pieces by way of recycled materials salvaged from estate sales or the dumpster. McKee has been known to use a leaky faucet to rust a piece of metal.

Some would argue that what they create doesn't qualify as art, but the crafters unanimously disagree. Jewelry, they say, is an art, and it's something you can carry around with you, unlike a painting.

"You hear the phrase, 'a person who is good at their craft.' Well, that is what we all strive to do. This happens to be our outlet," says LeFae. "That's the ultimate expression of your personality ... how you dress yourself."

edie@csindy.com

  • Everyone's been there: searching for that perfect gift for a fashion-forward friend.

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