Watermelon-shaped welcome signs, yard-goose costumes, and crocheted toilet paper covers are just a few of the things that won’t be available at this weekend’s Renegade Craft Fair. Organized by Sue Blatt, Kathleen Habbley, and Christina Brazinski, the daylong fair is designed instead as a showcase for what they call the DIY underground crafts movement.

As the popularity of magazines like ReadyMade and Web sites like Knitty.com and GetCrafty.com attests, scores of people (mostly women) weaned on the do-it-yourself philosophy of indie music and zine making have turned to crafting in recent years, giving rise to a multitude of tiny one-or-two-person businesses producing jewelry, clothing, books, and accessories that are often distinguished by a retro or tongue-in-cheek aesthetic. Blatt, for example, makes necklaces and earrings out of vintage guitar picks. Habbley, her roommate, turns vintage fabric into wallets. Both have sold their wares to friends and on crafting Web sites, and last spring–after investigating established events like the Bucktown and Hyde Park art fairs and getting frustrated by the $200 or so it cost vendors to register–they decided to throw their own fair. They came up with the name and settled on a relatively low $50 vendor fee and a simple online application process. Vendors would get a ten-by-ten-foot plot, a listing on the fair’s Web site, and not much else–they’d need to provide their own booth, tent, table, or picnic blanket.

Blatt and Habbley spread the word by posting a call for vendors on GetCrafty and passing out flyers in Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village. The initial response was slow, but after the two started personally inviting their favorite crafters and Amy Schroeder, editor of the zine Venus, lent some promotional support, the number of applicants skyrocketed. Soon they had to draw in Brazinski (who knits) to help.

The organizers had expected perhaps 30 or 40 would-be vendors; by mid-July they had 150. Ultimately they only had room for 75 plots–some of which are being occupied by more than one artist. “It was really hard to make the cut and then take it when people were upset,” says Brazinski. They also didn’t anticipate that half of the registration fees would go toward getting licensing from the city, leaving little for rent, insurance, and promotion. “It’s sort of been thrown at us to learn to do what it takes,” says Blatt.

They were surprised, too, at how far many vendors were willing to travel to the fair. About a third are coming from outside the midwest, but plenty of local crafters will also be in attendance, including Corinne Niessner of Lucky Penny Hand Made, who knits wool, wool-merino, and cashmere dog sweaters, Jeanmarie Petro and Barbara Tinger of Weener Ware, who make bottle-cap-art pins, hair clips, and accessories, and Brandy Agerbeck of Loosetooth.com, who makes jewelry, rubber stamps, accessories, and cards. Agerbeck attributes the alternative crafts boom to the faltering economy. “You don’t have a lot of money,” she says. “But you still want to have cool stuff.”

The Renegade Craft Fair takes place rain or shine Saturday, September 20, from 11 to 5 in Wicker Park, 1425 N. Damen. Browsing is free; see www.renegadecraft.com or call 773-278-5386 for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Saverio Truglia.