By Allison Brickell
For The Baltimore Sun
9:02 AM EDT, June 17, 2013
On Saturday, crowds of people will gather at St. John's Church in Charles Village to experience the eighth annual Pile of Craft. It is, organizers say, a different sort of craft show.
About 50 vendors will be there selling items in a variety of media, including paintings, plush toys, soaps, repurposed clothing and pottery.
Michael Bracco, one of the founding members of the Charm City Craft Mafia, which organized the event, said that while he mostly targets 18- to 35-year-olds, he also finds unexpected customers for his Spaghetti Kiss science fiction-themed apparel at the show.
"I can't tell you how many silver-haired old ladies have come up and said, 'Oh, I love the robotic octopus,' " he said. "As a dude, there's that memory of going to craft shows as a little kid, and it was horrible, boring stuff — old-lady stuff. [But now] there's really something for everybody."
About 200 vendors applied to be in the show, and they were whittled down by Mafia members both by quality and by organizers' desire to make sure there would be a wide variety of items on display.
The event has grown steadily in popularity since it started in 2006 with about 1,500 visitors. Last year's show drew about 30 percent more people, with crowds of about 2,000 — and organizers say they're hoping for a larger turnout this weekend.
"A lot of our customers are telling us we've outgrown our space at St. John's, but we haven't quite found anything else with the character and affordability of that space," said Charm City Craft Mafia President Kacey Stafford, who makes mixed-media paintings on wood panels as well as textured work, drawing inspiration from her family, agriculture and yoga.
"I'm continually surprised by the diversity of [the show]," she said. "It's amazing how many different types of people who have started following us. People that come are people that appreciate things that are handmade that you can't find anywhere else, people who appreciate something unique."
While organic and thoughtfully sourced items are always featured at the show, said Danamarie Hosler, a five-year veteran of Pile of Craft and a Craft Mafia member, a newer trend is focusing on quality products for children. This is something she frequently focuses on in her own work.
One of the items Hosler creates are known as "knitimals," plush toys that she makes by hand. Because nothing she makes is mass produced — she doesn't even use a basic pattern — each toy is one of a kind.
"My philosophy has been if you're going to have things in your house anyway, those things should have a purpose and they should be beautiful," she said. "It should be something that is creatively inspiring to [your children] and to you."
The advent of Etsy.com has made selling handmade goods much easier.
Hosler said Etsy has helpeds expand the craft community, but it has also saturated the market in a way that makes it difficult for artists to break through and for buyers to find what they want.
Bracco, who sells his items on Etsy, said he thinks the site is a positive thing for artists.
"The whole point of it is that it's for regular people, but Etsy creates this kind of celebrity status," Bracco said. "I don't see how Etsy could ever be a bad thing. I've done 13 shows in that church and I've done all these shows in Baltimore, and I feel like my audience keeps growing."
Whatever its qualities, Hosler said one thing is certain.
"I don't think Etsy will ever replace this [show]," she said. "It can't replace meeting the artist and interacting with the maker."
Pile of Craft
•10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at St. John's Church, 2640 St Paul St.
•Admission is free.
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