February was a very good month for Port Hueneme resident Becky Haycox. In one prolonged moment of kismet, much of what had crowded her daydreams for eight long years had suddenly and almost magically manifested: An indie craft conference was coming to Ventura; superbuzzy (an online shopping oasis for Japanophiles who sew) had opened a storefront in midtown and the owner had formed a chapter of the Modern Quilt Guild.
“When I heard about Craftcation, I felt like the Mothership was coming home,” she said.
An indie business and DIY conference that brings together emerging artists, crafters and designers — for business and pleasure — the first ever Craftcation takes place March 22 to 25 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Ventura.
Equal parts retreat and networking conference, Craftcation is the brainchild of Delilah Snell and Nicole Stevenson, co-producers of the Patchwork Indie Arts & Crafts Festival, a biannual Southern California event now in its sixth year.
As the story goes, the two were stuck in traffic on Highway 101, discussing the business needs of professional crafters, when it occurred to them that it might be neat to create a getaway for creative types, a way for them to network, showcase their talent and have fun. Craftcation was born. The event, which is sold out, will feature panel discussions and DIY workshops with leading industry professionals on art, craft and food-centered small business.
Choosing Ventura as the location for the inaugural Craftcation made perfect sense to the two women, who had visited the city and loved it. “We traveled here and thought this place was awesome,” said Stevenson, who along with Snell got to know the area more intimately when creative economy specialist Eric Wallner gave them a personal tour.
To his credit, Wallner became closely involved with the creation of Craftcation, which will bring 250-plus people to Ventura, most of whom are coming from out of town — mainly Los Angeles and San Francisco, but some from as far away as the East Coast and Canada. And the timing couldn’t be better; the handmade movement is growing at an exponential pace.
Not so long ago “crafter” was a bad word that conjured unpleasant memories of heavily scented potpourri, ungodly amounts of glitter and pale blue duck motifs. Glitter notwithstanding, the art of craft has evolved, and identifying as a crafter is no longer an act of bravery.
Stevenson says the crafting renaissance began soon after the events of 9/11, and gained momentum when the economy tanked. “There was a consciousness raising that happened where people saw this fragility on our own turf, [followed by] the recession, and they started looking at their lives and questioning how they were spending their time,” she said.
Kelly Stevens, who owns superbuzzy in Ventura, says interest in making things may have skipped a generation when the post-war prosperity of the mid-century saw some women rejecting it as something they associated with traditional roles, though later it did become part of hippie culture. Today, many women — and some men — are yearning for that sense of handmade. “Having something that’s not mass-produced is more special,” she said.
The craft revolution was also a reaction to technology’s grip on modern living, though, ironically technology has propelled it. Etsy, an online marketplace for handcrafts (sort of like eBay for hipsters) launched in 2005, making it possible for anyone to open a store online. Last December, Etsy had 1.2 billion page views and its community enjoyed $69.8 million in sales. The latest social media craze, Pinterest, is also helping push the handmade aesthetic into the mainstream.
Stevenson likens the current interest in crafting to a similar trend that emerged at the dawn of the industrial revolution. “The more our lives become machine-oriented or high-tech, the more we want to make things with our hands in our free time.”
Haycox remembers learning handcrafting from her elders but not taking it seriously as a “viable form of creativity.” In the early part of the 2000s she lived in San Francisco, where the craft renaissance was taking root. She became reacquainted with her sewing machine and got fairly serious about quilting. When she moved back to Ventura she had a difficult time findting kindred spirits to share the craft with, which is why she’s so excited about all the new developments. “There’s such a renewal of interest in crafting,” she said. “I love that there’s opportunity to build a larger community.”
For more information about Craftcation, visit www.craftcationconference.com. For information about the local chapter of the Modern Quilt Guild, visit www.venturamodern quiltguild.com.