Annual Handmade Arcade entices crafters to the Pittsburgh

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Most people break plates accidentally.

Juliet Ames breaks them on purpose.

The artist from Baltimore, Md., creates jewelry pendants from pieces of smashed china.

”I used to just buy plates for no reason, because I thought they were cool,” Ames says. “I needed to make something because I am a creative person. I started making mailboxes and had some leftover pieces, so I made a necklace with one of the pieces, wore it to work, and people started asking me about it.”

That meant more dishes faced destruction.

Ames, the owner of The Broken Plate Pendant Co., will bring her cracked creations to Pittsburgh on Dec. 7 for the 10th annual Handmade Arcade. She is one of 150 vendors representing 15 states. Vendors encompass all ages, including high-school students from Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School, Brashear and Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School.

Handmade Arcade was Ames' first craft show. Porcelain knuckles are her newest item. She loves dishes with flowers because they make such nice jewelry. One of her favorite china lines is Johnson Brothers.

Ames uses a more sophisticated way of breaking the plates with a tile cutter to make specific sizes. She uses a glass grinder to smooth the edges. Most pieces are priced between $20 and $60.

“I would tell people who have never been to Handmade Arcade to come and check it out,” Ames says. You will see people using materials in unexpected ways. It's a good time. I quit my job after Handmade Arcade. It was fun, and I knew then this was what I wanted to do full time. I love coming to Pittsburgh. Handmade Arcade is an amazing event.”

Founded in 2004, Handmade Arcade is Pittsburgh's first and largest independent craft fair. The event attracts more than 9,000 attendees and provides craftsmen and artists working outside mainstream and fine-arts sectors with a grassroots, high-visibility venue to sell wares, build community and share their artistic practice. This will be the largest show to date.

Along with the vendors, a Hands-on Handmade area will feature a variety of drop-in interactive programs — including craft demonstrations, mini-tutorials, make-and-take activities, craft competitions and art installations — all designed to bridge the gap between consumers and creators.

“Pittsburgh has a strong arts community that supports each other,” says Tricia Brancolini-Foley of Brentwood, a vendor whose company, Petunia Girls, has aprons and diaper bags and who is a co-organizer. “It also helps to have backing from organizations such as the Sprout Fund. With so many more do-it-yourself projects that people like to do, crafting is interesting to people. The interest in re-use and recycle has grown, as well as more and more people devoted to buy locally.”

Handmade Arcade is the big show of the year for Tabitha Reed of Kittanning. She owns Missy Mae Tutus, a company that makes tutus, bonnets, crowns, hair clips and dresses for girls, plus bow ties and neck ties for boys. Prices range from $4 to $60.

“I love seeing all of the different types of crafters and all the unique items,” Reed says. “It's different than most craft shows. It's an exciting atmosphere all day because the buyers appreciate something handmade, and we all get to share our stories with them.”

Sharing stories is part of the fun, agrees Rachel Bone of Baltimore, Md. She owns Red Prairie Press. She uses organic cotton to create hand-printed T-shirts, tank tops, sweaters and scarves. Her work is folk art inspired. Prices range from $24-$50.

“Pittsburgh is similar to Baltimore in a post-industrial way, and there are a lot of artists who live in Pittsburgh,” Bone says. “Handmade Arcade does a great job of bringing in a variety of vendors who have really creative ideas. And everyone supports each other.”

That support is important, says Nathan Bell of Beechview, who makes lamps, paper-towel holders and coat racks out of copper plumbing pipe. He got the idea while renovating his kitchen. He chose the name Nine & Twenty from 29, the atomic number of copper in the periodic table. Prices range from $20 to $120.

“We all try to keep the price points reasonable,” Bell says. “It's a labor of love for us.”

Events like Handmade Arcade get to be known among crafters, says Alison Simonian of Chicago, Ill. Her company, Miss Alison, is known for creating handmade vegan accessories such as bold purses, pouches, pencil cases and belts from upholstery vinyl. She will be also bringing tote bags. Prices range $15 and $50.

“It is really nice to meet and interact with the person who makes the thing,” says Simonian. “I think the customers are looking for something interesting at Handmade Arcade, especially for the upcoming holidays.”

Gabe Felice of Greensburg looks forward to this event every year. He creates fake books and other artwork from reclaimed wood for the Fake Book Publishing Co. They cost $50.

“At Handmade Arcade, I get to see people who I haven't seen in a while, and you get to see lots of new items,” Felice says. “Everyone does their own thing, but we all have the passion of creating in common.”

Planners try to bring in a variety of crafters from the local and national community, Jennifer Baron, another co-organizer, says. Vendors who sell items at Handmade Arcade are often inspired to do their craft full-time, she says. They open studios and pop-up shops, and they always support each other.

“We also have a lot of interest from the people of Western Pennsylvania who appreciate a hand-made item,” Baron says. “It is a very competitive event in that there are 350 applicants who apply for this juried show. That has grown from our first year, where we had 30 vendors. This year, there will be 150. We can't wait.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7889.

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