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February 17, 2006

Get a Life—February 17, 2006

Chicago Craft Mafia. It sounds pretty sinister, and it indeed felt that way as I walked down North Milwaukee Avenue last Friday night, past barred-up sporting goods stores and darkened shop windows, on my way to the Second Annual St. Valentine’s Day Craftsacre—like “massacre,” but with crafts. Get it?

A fair showcasing and selling crafts from members of the Chicago Craft Mafia, the event raised money for 826CHI, a non-profit that offers tutoring and education programs to improve literacy among children. Twenty percent of all profits from the St. Valentine’s Day Craftsacre went to 826CHI, as well as all proceeds from a raffle that was held. (If I have to write “Craftsacre” one more time, I will no longer be able to take myself seriously. Damn it. I just did. Self-respect is overrated anyway.)

The craft fair offered me that lovely “I’m-doing-good-by-not-really-doing-anything” feeling—not only through the connection to 826CHI, but also because of the socially responsible commerce that the Chicago Craft Mafia represents. “The revolution will be crafted” was the fair’s slogan. This evokes a resistance to postmodern technological society and the protest of anonymous industrial conglomerates through the production and purchasing of crafts…right?

Okay, so maybe it’s just a catchy slogan, but the Chicago Craft Mafia does believe that crafts can be political: “We’re not just trying to sell stuff. We’re trying to change the world. We want everyone to rethink corporate culture and consumerism,” they write, in their “Craftifesto.” (Really, people, how many words can we insert “craft” into?) So even if I can’t forgo Starbucks, buying from these vendors supports local people who are trying to make a living doing what they love. I believe in that.

I make it sound like I was doing them a favor, though. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not like they were selling lanyards and Popsicle-stick birdhouses. Everything looked well made, and I love the stuff I bought. I got mini-Valentines from Girl Metro, Inc. that say in fancy calligraphy things like “Dinner, drinks, debauchery—I knew I liked you,” “Consider yourself Valentined,” and “It’s not stalking. It’s love.” I also got adorable thank-you notes from Loosetooth.com and some scrumptious cookies from Blue Cat Candy (my favorite was a chewy mint chocolate-chip meringue). And I almost bought a retro-looking apron from Chel, but I thought it would just remind me of my domestic failings.

On the Chicago Craft Mafia’s website (www.chicagocraftmafia.com) you can find links to the web sites of these companies and others in the “family”: a group of six craft-sellers who make everything from bath products to kitchen gloves to custom stationary. (Blue Cat Candy is not one of the six. Find them at www.bluecatcandy.com.) Be warned—although the design is cute, the content of the Mafia’s website isn’t quite up to date. Perhaps indicative of their desire to resist the strictures and immorality of modern industrial society, the Mafia’s most recent post on the site announces an event that was in November 2005.

Now, I know this column is called “Get a Life” and not “Fun Things I’ve Done and You’ve Missed,” so I have suggestions for ways to involve yourself in the craft culture of Chicago:

1) Go to www.chicagocraftmafia.com and sign up for their e-newsletters about future events.

2) Go to Handmade Market (www.handmadechicago.com) the third Saturday of the month (starting in March), which features Chicago Craft Mafia’s own Poise.cc, a funky purse-making vendor. The market is held at the Empty Bottle (www.emptybottle.com), a music venue at 1035 North Western, from noon to 4:30 p.m. Alcohol is served. Drinking and craft shopping—how can you go wrong?

3) Buy some of the Mafia’s crafts online. You can assuage that guilt for shopping at a Wal-Mart Super Center last year, as well as end up with something much more unique and personal than anything you’ll find mass-produced and sold in aisle 10.

Postscript: I got a call from the Chicago Craft Mafia the morning after I wrote this column. I won the raffle. How’s that for karma?