Beautiful, local and practical — a Christmas craft fair credo

While “start early” is a good general rule of thumb for Christmas shopping, hopping between craft fairs in the city should — and can — be a fun way to get all of your holiday shopping done, especially with these survival tips from local artisans. (A great list with all of the seasonal craft markets can be found here, at City and Baby).

Be semi-organized
Photographer Ashley Champagne and illustrator Andrea May Hirji both suggested that having an idea of whom you’re buying for before you leave the house is important.

“Without a clear idea in mind, you will find yourself accidentally buying a lot of things for yourself — though that’s not such a bad thing,” said Hirji, who will be at the Royal Bison this weekend, selling adventure-themed and whimsical illustrations, silkscreened tea towels and embroidered felt ornaments under Mount Pioneer Design Works.

During an illustration class, she was required to transform an illustration into a marketable project, and her three-part illustration silk-screened T-shirts were a success, she said.

“It is a total bonus to see people smile or laugh at something quirky I have made; it is important to me to inspire joy in people’s life.”

Talking to vendors is important because they’re likely able to point you in the right direction, said Champagne, who normally works as a commercial and editorial photographer, but added she loves the light-hearted side of photography her greeting cards have allowed — she’ll also be selling some tree ornaments and some of her prints at the Bison this weekend.   

“Have a list of people you’re shopping for and a general theme or idea, but be open-minded, “ she said. “The things you find will be really different and unexpected, which is great.

“Shopping local is good on many levels — supporting local talent is one thing, surprising someone with something rare, original and that they likely haven’t seen before — that’s something you can be confident about.”

Go early — but have plenty of time
Since these wares are handmade, vendors often have a limited quantity. Plus, if you go early, it’s nice to be able to walk around and not be overwhelmed by the crowds, said designer Justine Ma.

Her specialty is hand-lettering and calligraphy, developed because an art director at the time needed a job done with a handmade flare.

“It’s definitely become a lost art with computers and fonts to do it all for you, but there is something special and unique about something hand drawn,” said Ma, who will be selling holiday ornaments and wooden blocks at Royal Bison this weekend.

Have the time to visit lots of markets and local shops, added Rachel Pereira.

“Craft markets like the Bison, a shop like Carbon or a collective like the Carrot all carry a wide range of beautiful project; the bonus is that you’re helping places like these to succeed,” she said. “The easy part is going — don’t ask us how to choose!”

Pereira works with Hannah Schneider, and together they comprise Buckwheat and Birch — Pereira makes photo jewelry and accessories out of reclaimed wood from the river valley, while Schneider embroiders photo badges and other pieces on to felt.

Community leagues also often have their own small shows that aren’t as widely advertised as the big craft fairs, said Jennie Fernandez, who works under the moniker the Pretty Knotty Sweatshoppe, crocheting everything from scarves and cowls to hats, mittens, blankets, pillows, sweaters and leg warmers — “basically, anything cozy and anything that aides in warmth.”

“There’s some amazing talent in Edmonton and not all of them get into the big craft shows,” she continued, adding that there is also a search function on Etsy to allow the user to restrict results to local artisans.  

Use your resources
Have an idea of something you’d like to find, but not sure where to start? In addition to chatting and networking with vendors, look within your connections and commission work from someone you know personally, said Kristine MacDonald.

She started silversmithing as a hobby several years ago, and started selling her prairie-inspired jewelry this summer.

“It was a great way to meet lots of new people and see what other creators in the community are doing,” she said.

“Chances are, you have lots of talented friends and family members — carpenters, musicians, illustrators — even if they aren’t officially marketing those talents. Your encouragement and support could be just what they need to send them in that direction.”

Hidden gems — something for everyone
Judy Zastre, owner of P.S.A. (“Partnership of Science and Art”), started making soaps and lotions when her allergies caused her to react to all the other available products.

Her science background — “I knew my university training would come to some use” — allowed her to develop recipes using local products, including fresh strawberries, carrots, pumpkins and hemp oil.

“Beautiful, local and practical — my credo and my suggestion that everyone should use for holiday shopping,” she said.  

Valerie Sawdo, from Sister Bear Designs (handmade Aboriginal crafts and artwork), echoed a similar sentiment.

“There is nothing better than knowing something we made and loved making is something that someone will use or wear because they, or who they gift it to, will love it as well,” she said.

Edmonton is a great place for supporting local artists, but its artists also show their love for the city — a handful of artists listed on the Royal Bison website are specifically dedicated to capturing Edmonton’s iconic images, including Stephanie Medford, who works under the title I Heart Edmonton.

After finding unique, handmade postcards while travelling through the United States and the United Kingdom, she borrowed the idea of printing lino-block images of Edmonton landmarks over Edmonton maps, as well as creating larger prints of Alberta destinations and burlap purses with handwoven straps stenciled with an Edmonton map.

Many of these vendors can be found at numerous markets throughout the year, and some local shops also stock artisan wares.

“A ‘hidden gem’ tip is to go check out Barber Ha, a men’s barber shop on east Whyte Avenue,” said Pete and Karen of Offal Goods. “They also carry a growing selection of gifts from locally made hair products to hats and toques, wallets — and bow ties.”

All of these artists and more can be found at the Royal Bison this weekend — a full list of vendors and their wares can be found here. Need more ideas about shopping local this holiday season? Check out the #yegSanta project.