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Pittsburgh Creative Arts Festival will teach crafts, skills, history

| Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, 9:06 p.m.
Andrew Russell | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Quilter Annie Stunden, 78, of Regent Square uses a long-arm quilting machine at her studio off Meade Street in North Point Breeze, Friday, Aug. 8, 2014. Stunden has been sewing since she was eight.

Artisans from throughout the region will gather this weekend to demonstrate and sell their work at the first Pittsburgh Creative Arts Festival running Aug. 22 and 23 at the Four Points by Sheraton in Mars.

The event is a new venture for Barb Grossman of Fox Chapel, whose annual Pittsburgh Knit and Crochet Festival marked its 10th anniversary in March.

“A lot of the classes we've offered at Knit and Crochet over the years aren't knit and crochet, but fill up in no time, like basketry, beading and wire-working, and we've gotten requests to branch out into other things,” Grossman says of the impetus to launch another venue.

“There are other arts festivals around, but what makes ours unique is that you'll not only be able to buy one-of-a-kind things, you can learn how to make some of what you are seeing, all under one roof.”

Demonstrations and make-it-and-take-it workshops will be offered in greeting cards, rag rugs, Bento boxes, bobbin lace, fabric-dying, sweater-repurposing and dozens of other outlets for creative expression. A drop-in play area will allow festivalgoers to experiment with machines for felt-looming, embroidery, sewing and other crafts.

Teachers will include local artisans, many of whom are affiliated with organizations like the Butler Spinners and Weavers Guild and Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

The East Liberty-based TechShop, a 16,000-square-foot facility that leases workspace and equipment to innovators of all stripes, will showcase members' inventions. Other studios and shops from the tri-state area will be represented, too.

“We tried to be very selective about who we invited to participate,” Grossman says. “A lot of people contacted me because of my reputation for putting on a high-quality show.”

Annie Stunden will teach quilting in the Gee's Bend tradition that originated with African-American women in the isolated hamlet of Gee's Bend, Ala., in the 19th century. Members of the Gee's Bend Quilter's Collective are producing work today to worldwide acclaim.

“Gee's Bend quilts are bolder and more dramatic than the kinds of quilts most people think of, which are typically made with tiny floral patterns,” Stunden says. “The Gee's Bend quilters used whatever fabric they had on hand, including solid colors. Their patterns were more abstract.”

Stunden of Regent Square works at a studio in North Point Breeze, where she keeps various sewing machines, including a longarm quilter, a 12-foot-long industrial tool that speeds the production of large pieces.

“I like to put things together quickly, and I like working big,” Stunden says. “My quilts are usually 6 by 6 feet. I keep a pile of them at a corner of my bed and change my quilt every time I change my sheets.”

A member of the Fiber Arts Guild of Pittsburgh, Stunden has never sought to sell her work but has helped produce quilts for charities such as the East End Cooperative Ministry and the Children's Institute of Pittsburgh.

A retired chief information officer for a major university, Stunden says she quilted throughout her career. “It's the way I kept my sanity,” she says.

Her arts-festival class will be informal. “I'll bring some Gee's Bend books, and we'll see what we can do,” she says. “We'll put things together as the spirit moves us.”

Another tradition with early-American roots will be explored at Lori Chandler's soap-making workshop.

The owner of Ashgrove Soaps, Sundries and Beeswax Ornaments in Valencia, Chandler will delve into the history of her craft while helping participants produce a bar of cold-pressed soap to take home.

Chandler got into soap-making through her interest in historic re-enactments, and over the years developed an extensive line of products using restaurant-grade vegetable oils, goat milk, beeswax, buffalo and elk butters and essential oils, with many of the ingredients locally sourced. A member of the Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild, Chandler makes 50 to 60 varieties of soap, plus bath teas, hand-crocheted wash clothes, antique-style Christmas ornaments and other items throughout the year.

At the festival, participants will work from her recipe for a moisturizing and conditioning whole-body bar infused with lemongrass oil.

“At the end, everyone will leave with a notebook, their bar of soap, and the confidence needed to replicate what they've done with me at home.”

They'll also have gotten a lecture on the evolution of American soap-crafting, from Colonial days to the present.

Chandler brands her approach as edu-tainment. “Practical creative arts are being lost, and I enjoy sharing them with others, especially the next generation,” she says.

Among the nearly 50 artisans and vendors slated to sell or display their wares are fourth-generation blacksmith-artist David King of Farmington, members of the Pittsburgh Lace Group, potter Susan Ramey of Kingwood, W.Va., and Alison Saville of Fox Chapel, who repurposes items into one-of-a-kind jewelry.

“We tried to include a lot of variety,” says Grossman, who encourages registration because many classes run concurrently.

Deborah Weisberg is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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