As I walked from booth to booth at a recent Mission Indie Mart, I
marveled at all that was gilded, felted, and emblazoned on t-shirts and
noticed some trends: mustaches, silhouettes, and owls were all in
vogue. The Indie Mart is a bi-monthly shopping extravaganza featuring
local designers. As a lover of the handmade, I've been going since I
moved to San Francisco. You drink beer, listen to live music, and nosh
on mini-cupcakes, all while feeling like you're doing something for the
On this visit, though, I had a strong nagging feeling that I (a) did not need a lot of these things and (b) could probably make a lot of it. With a New Year in motion and impossibly optimistic resolutions looming, I resolved to apply myself.
From the outset, I am ambitious. My three-step plan: I will learn to create things sold at the Indie Mart. I will sell my things at the Indie Mart. I will make money for the things made and sold.
To execute said plan, I head to Workshop's website and figure out which class to take. Workshop is a newish DIY space opened by Ms. Kelly Malone, founder of the Indie Mart, and they have classes on everything from making your own terrariums to sewing to heavy metal aerobics. I complicate my three-step plan even further and decide to learn two skills, mostly because I can't decide whether I want to learn how to silk screen or sew. Anyway, this will make me a crafting double threat and not a one-trick-tshirt-pony.
First up: silk screening. I'm told to send over a sharp image with good contrast for the nice folks at Workshop to print on special transparent paper. I scour the pages of Clipart ETC, which has incredible vintage drawings, finally settling on the skeleton of the ichthyornis, an ancient seabird.
The class provides one free t-shirt, so I decide to stop by Thrift Town on my way and pick up a few more items to print. The endless aisles tempt me, but I'm running late, so I grab a kids sweatshirt that looks alarmingly small, an ill-fitting blue-and-white striped '80s number (you will be my masterpiece, I decide), and a baseball t-shirt.
At Workshop, the class consists of one couple and two other females, probably all in their late 20s. The space is unsurprisingly cool. There are different sized light bulbs clustered together in random corners, metallic saws adorning a wall, and several chairs on a raised platform. The aesthetic morphs everyday items into objets d'art.
We all sit down at the square black table. Kelly introduces herself and her co-teacher, Nicole, and I immediately feel welcomed, and not just 'cause she's offering $2 PBRs. In a cowgirl shirt with a tattooed sleeve, Kelly is a giggly, disarming force. She pairs each part of the lesson with an anecdote about her mother or a failed craft attempt, and uses the word "rad," indicating what all Workshop crafts strive to be.
Silk screening is actually pretty easy, but it requires a fair amount of setup and quite a few materials. We start by practicing the process on paper using screens that already have Workshop's images on them. We glob brilliant pinks and blues onto screens with cute animation, curse words, and old Rube Goldbergesque machines.
Using a squeegee, I press the ink evenly over a cartoon porcupine and
then do a few more pulls to make sure the ink distributes properly.
Carefully, I pick up the screen to reveal that I've used too much ink.
Kelly stands over me and guides my hands to demonstrate how much
pressure to apply, encouraging me to do a few more practice turns.
In addition to the t-shirt we get for free, there are Moleskine notebooks we can buy and tons of paper and envelopes Kelly picked up from SCRAP. I print on some envelopes and cards while the first group burns their images on screens. Once in the darkroom, Nicole grabs screens that had already been coated with photo emulsion so we can expose them. We use a fancy machine that looks kind of like a Xerox machine and set up some images to burn on the screen. We put the screen on top, put the cover on and let the machine work its magic. First, it sucks out any air between the machine and the screen, and then it exposes the screen to light. BAM, my bird dinosaur is ready to go.
I print my image on two shirts, mixing ink colors for a cool effect,
and use Workshop's images for the sweatshirt and the striped number. I
spend some time eyeing a fellow classmate's gorgeous tree image and
sheepishly ask if she'd mind if I printed that tree. Fresh out of
Thrift Town purchases, I take my cardigan off and print the tree in
bright green on it. Apparently, at least one person disrobes and prints
a class. I dry my sweater and put it back on, exclaiming, "This looks
rad." Yes, Kelly has won me over.
By 7:30, our three hour class has run over, but Kelly is cool with letting us finish up; she's more concerned about our projects and satisfaction than getting us out of there. She reminds us we can now come in for studio hours, but I'll be back sooner than that, since I'm learning how to sew.
When I return two weeks later, I'm determined to alter the Masterpiece (ahem, blue-and-white striped shirt) so that the shoulders aren't so big and the sides not so droopy. This time, we are seven women, some of whom are probably closer to late 30s. Since sewing isn't just for the crafty Indie Mart shopper, the class has a different vibe (I think I'm the only one who drank a beer). We sit around our machines and Kelly warns us we will be intimidated threading the needle and bobbin, but we'll get better. This time, she steers away from "rad," but Kelly admits to "totally geeking out" several times.
Forty-five minutes later, we've all successfully prepped our machines, and begin putting our feet on the pedal and watching the machine speedily stitch onto a piece of canvas. I make fun swirly patterns and attempt a straight line. I try writing my name but get as far as the horizontal line in L and give up.
Our first project: beer koozies! We cut out the simple pattern, grab scrap fabric from a bin, and sew away. My koozie looks somewhat demented and asymmetrical, but I'm proud of my first try, and laugh that the flannel koozie encasing a PBR belongs at the Knockout. By our next try, we've learned to make a clean hem for our second koozie and gotten a quick demo on how to hem jeans and alter t-shirts.
The last portion of the class is dedicated to a project—either making a cutesy sock monster, or altering an article of clothing. I take out the Masterpiece, have co-owner David Knight pin the shoulders and sides to fit my body, and start sewing away. The first side goes smoothly enough, but when I try to replicate this on the other side, my shirt zigzags and I have nothing close to a straight line. With silk screening, if you're cautious, it was a rather easy craft. Sewing asks more of you: there is math in inches, a steady leg and hand required, as well as an eye for detail.
I grab a seam ripper and race against the clock to undo my seams and try again. When class is over and I'm still ripping, Kelly graciously offers to let me stay and finish or come back during studio time. I quickly sew up the side, doing a mildly better job, and try on my Masterpiece.
OK, "Masterpiece" was a bit presumptuous. The sides are rather off to my untrained eye, which probably means they're disastrous to anyone who can tell. I'd carelessly gotten some pink ink on the shirt from printing, and the item was definitely not sellable. Hell, my Mom probably wouldn't even buy it.
I feel accomplished for even reaching steps 1.A-B and confident that if I spent more time at Workshop, I could eventually reach 2 and 3. For now, I'll head to the Indie Mart, with a newfound respect for the crafty merchants, and call it a day.
If you've got the craft itch, check out Workshop to learn about class offerings. Or just come out to The Bold Italic's Screen Printing Party at Workshop on February 24th! For unbeatably cheap supplies, visit SCRAP, a creative reuse warehouse where Kelly picks up a lot of goodies. To buy or sell at the next Indie Mart, keep an eye on their website to find out when the next one will be held.