Craft socials turn DIYing into party

A flower made from paper at the Chicago Craft Social.

Jennifer Gaudreau

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Gathered around dozens of tables, more than 115 women are working on craft projects on a Friday night, stamping buttons, turning old T-shirts into totes and using crayons to create cross-stitch patterns.

The strangers, most in their 20s and 30s, have paid $25 each to attend the Chicago Craft Social, which organizers believe is the nation's biggest craft party. It's held four times a year. The draw: offering crafters a chance to try new techniques, find inspiration and sample new materials.

More than that, Craft Social is a chance to build community for a new generation of do-it-yourselfers who follow popular crafting blogs, search YouTube videos and post their own tutorials online.

"Crafting is kind of a solitary thing -- you do it in your basement or on your dining room table, and your husband is like, what are you doing?" said Amanda Edwards, 32, who took over the year-old Chicago Craft Social after being laid off from her job in real estate. "People are craving community, so we say make stuff, make friends and meet with other people."

So far, there have four Chicago Craft Socials, and attendance has grown at each, organizers said. They credit Twitter, word of mouth and publicity from a handful of craft bloggers. They hope the socials become as popular as the movement that introduced knitting to a new generation about a decade ago.

Edwards has had inquiries from other communities about holding similar parties, and some similar efforts are already under way elsewhere.

The DIY mega-site Etsy.com organizes craft nights in New York and San Francisco, while Swap-O-Rama-Rama offers clothing-swapping parties where participants exchange clothes and then learn how to alter them into something new. Many independent arts, yarn and fabric stores host single-night events where customers can get help on projects or just work in the company of others.

Caitlin Kurnit, 26, of Chicago folded paper into intricate flowers at the Craft Social. She has watched the Social grow over the past year from a collection of friends using each other's remnants to this event with 21 organized projects, and official sponsors from area bead, yarn, fabric and stamp shops. The Social, she said, is a chance to mingle with like-minded dabblers.

"It's really nice to come together with people who are as obsessed as I am," said Kurnit, who lists card-making, knitting, sewing, jewelry-making, paper crafts, embroidery, quilting and felt projects among her interests.

Susie Ziegler, 42, a quilter from Grayslake, Ill., who taught a group at the Craft Social how to embroider, said the gathering is a way for today's crafters to build community, beyond the virtual ones they've created.

"For our grandmothers, there were sewing circles and there were craft guilds at church," she said. "People have always gotten together to craft. And we can connect that way in the modern day."

Edwards' tips for smaller craft social for friends: