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handmade for the holidays

Arts and crafts shopkeepers say business is booming

Holiday shopping season is getting off to a good start for the artists and crafts people who make handmade items – and for shops that cater to crafters.

Stores that specialize in textile arts – quilting, sewing and knitting – say business is brisk.

Artists and art shop owners report no trouble getting people to buy, but purchases are often for lower-priced items.

The flight to handmade goods was evident Sunday at an art show in southeast Spokane where customers snapped up plenty of pieces. The sales success suggests that in hard economic times, people turn to something with comfort value, such as crafted jewelry or hand-stitched bags.

Among her items, artist and organizer Dara Harvey was selling hand-sewn holiday ornaments for $2 apiece.

“It all adds up,” she said. “Five dollars here. Five dollars there.”

Artist and art teacher Megan Martens was doing steady business in small collage paintings on wood blocks and similarly decorated art boxes.

“People are selling smaller, more functional things,” Martens said.

The artists at the show at 1727 E. 17th Ave. said they were pleased the sales season was getting off to a good start for them.

Artist Tresia Oosting said customers “are willing to spend $20. They are looking for something meaningful.”

The trend was confirmed by art and craft shopkeepers across the area, who reported that business was either better so far this fall, or if not, it was down only slightly.

Aly Robbins at Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts, 12205 E. Sprague Ave., said she’s been seeing a lot of customers at the fabric-cutting table in recent weeks, and many of them are buying to make their own seasonal gifts. She took an impromptu poll of her co-workers last week and said they agreed that do-it-yourself gifts are in vogue this fall.

“We always ask, ‘What are you making?’ and a lot of people are making Christmas presents,” Robbins said.

Most popular in the fabric area are items for fleece blankets and quilts, she said.

During World War II, there was a “make do and mend” movement in England. The London Telegraph recently reported that sales for sewing machines, buttons and dress patterns are on the increase in that country.

Vickie Black, owner of Sew E-Z Too, 603 W. Garland Ave., said her sales are up by about 20 percent in recent months, and she is selling more low- and midprice sewing machines along with the expensive models.

“Any time the economy takes a downturn, you will see crafting go up,” she said.

While people might be trying to save money, there is also a parallel trend of greater appreciation for the sense of accomplishment that comes from doing something yourself.

“We used to craft and sew to save money,” Black said. “That’s not the case now. We sew and craft because we like to.”

The trend to authentic goods is what has kept Tracy Mielke at the Bead Addict’s Attic, 635 W. Garland Ave., hopping. Her classes, which are held on Thursdays at 5 p.m. and Saturdays at 1 p.m., are always full. While her sales receipts are down some in recent weeks, she is also getting new customers all the time.

“I’ve had quite a few people coming in and making Christmas presents, and they have never beaded before,” she said.

They include about six new regular class members and about 30 new customers.

The small North Side shops along Garland Avenue near Monroe and Post streets have become a destination for arts and crafts in recent years.

At Tinman Artworks, 811 W. Garland Ave., owner Sue Bradley said her show of works by renowned Spokane artist Harold Balazs this month has been a success, with fans buying his pieces quickly, including several intended as gifts.

As a result, she said, sales at her shop over the past month were probably the best she has had since opening five years ago.

On Friday, the Tinman is opening its fourth annual handmade ornament show, which will include works by Dina Fernandez, Nan Drye, Alice Nelson, Steve Adams, Pat Boyd, Bill Hagy and Ken Frybarger. The pieces will include blown glass, angels, snowflakes, cornhusk dolls, pine needle ornaments and a “Wizard of Oz” series.

“I think people are looking for something personal this time of year,” Bradley said.

Mike Prager can be reached at (509) 459-5454 or by e-mail at

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