The Women of the Long Beach Craft Mafia Know the Handmade Revolution Will Not Be Televised

DIY Or Die
The women of the Long Beach Craft Mafia know that the handmade revolution will not be televised—it’ll be on Etsy.com

 

“I used to crochet pasties,” explains a pigtailed Steph Calvert.

The pasties resembled Hostess cupcakes—swirly white icing, chocolate frosting and all.

“Cupcakes for your cupcake,” she smiles. “They were great. People would come up to my table at craft shows, and they’d be totally into them and buy them.

“And when they were walking away, it’s weird because on one side of your brain you’re like”—she pauses for a fist pump—“‘Yeaaaaahh, they love my pasties!’ And then on the other hand, you’re thinking, ‘Wait. They like pasties? Did I want to know that about them?”

Calvert, 31, grins at a table at Hot Java at Junipero Avenue and Broadway in Long Beach. She’s cute, quirky, energetic, creative—the kind of girl you’d meet at your liberal-arts college of choice. The kind of girl who’d design Hello Kitty and Madeline graphic tees and paint robots and woodland creatures for a living. The kind of girl who wears skirts over her jeans, as she does today.

Calvert is one of the five active members of the now-2-year-old Long Beach Craft Mafia. Along with Tamara Dutton, Kelsey “Kelso” Cooper, Liz Abbott and Lexi Lee, Calvert is part of an enterprising new wave of Generation X, Y and Z women (mostly) who take the DIY mentality and make it a way of life. All five produce and construct original, handcrafted items to sell online, at craft shows and elsewhere.

It’s 8 p.m. on a Wednesday, but the dim café is crowded—pods of friends and some loners with laptops and notebooks occupy every seat and spill onto the open patio facing Broadway. The Long Beach Craft Mafia, here for their monthly meeting, occupy the largest corner of the café, but a group of bookish thirtysomething men with rimless glasses, unbuttoned shirts and MacBooks sit across the way.

“Looks like our male Mafia members are here, too,” Liz Abbott jokes.

She wears a hot-pink cheetah-print sheath dress with strategically placed slashes across the chest—her own creation. She’s cinched it at the waist with a wide black-leather belt. Her pulled-back hair matches the dress perfectly, sans a few bleached-blond strands. She fakes a sob when she reveals her age: “I’m 34, damn it!”

This is just one chapter in a 31-city, worldwide network of similar groups with the Craft Mafia name. Nine women in Austin founded the original group in 2003.

“The idea of Craft Mafia as a whole is that everybody who is in it has some kind of DIY, indie-crafty business,” Calvert explains. “It’s about networking, where you share info and ask questions: ‘Hey, I heard about this show coming up,’ ‘I’m having a problem making this,’ or ‘How should I set up my table for a show?’ We have to pay dues to Austin to use the Craft Mafia name, it’s kind of like . . .”

“The Mafia?” suggests Abbott.

“A Mafia,” repeats Calvert, laughing. “We gotta pay our dues. To the big bosses!”

“Or you get whacked,” finishes Abbott.

The women are preparing for their first event as a group: Long Beach Second Saturday Art Walk, where they’ll man their own tent and sell their respective crafty goods—and, in the process, strike a blow against America’s fixation with Wal-Mart, serial production and cheap, shoddy stuff.

When asked if the Long Beach Craft Mafia consider their crafting a hobby or real business venture, Lee replies, “It’s like a really, really serious hobby.”

They come from varying backgrounds: Some went to fashion school in Manhattan, some work cubicle jobs, one even worked as a go-go dancer at Stinky’s in San Francisco, “Home of the large and lovely go-go dancers.” But all of them share a need to create.

 

THE GLOBAL COTTAGE
longbeachcraftmafia.com

The DIY mentality is nothing new. Sci-fi fans wrote and self-published the first zines in the 1930s. Stitch-’n’-bitch circles, a sort of hip social knitting group, have been big for more than a decade now. Whatever you want to call them, artisans and crafters have been essential to our everyday lives—until buying a chair or even a loaf of bread meant not once encountering a single person who helped produce that item. But thanks to a loss of ties to our goods, a negative stigma has been attached to the word “crafter.”

“People want to be known as ‘artists,’” says Cooper, 24, from behind her long bangs. She’s dressed in a loose navy jumper with a hot-air-balloon motif she hand-sewed on. “I feel like a new generation of younger people just aren’t afraid and are bringing [crafting] back.”

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