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Crawling the Crafters’ Web

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
February 28, 2011 Deadline
April 2011 Issue

Crawling the Crafters’ Web

Beading, quilting, knitting and various other crafting hobbies occupy, literally, a fair amount of space in our household. My wife enjoys assembling bracelets and necklaces, creating jewelry that easily matches items we’ve seen in stores and at craft fairs. Handmade items are given and received as gifts in both of our families; my mother and sister-in-law both quilt and sew.

One thing I’ve learned about crafters is that they respect the handmade projects of other crafters. It is a community with a passion for supporting each other, too. These artisans are small business owners, too, selling their crafts. There is no better way to show your support for arts and crafts than buying items made by the men and women at local craft fairs. My wife and I visit craft fairs several times a year.

During the winter months, there are fewer such markets. But fog, rain and even snow do not stop crafters from finding each other. The World Wide Web offers a year-round, 24-hour a day craft fair for artists to sell, buy and share inspiration.

Many artists use eBay, Amazon Marketplace and Craigslist to sell their creations. However, these websites are not known for arts and crafts. For selling items, Etsy is the clear leader.

Etsy (http://www.etsy.com/) was founded in 2005 by artist Rob Kalin. According to Etsy’s website, “We work to highlight the true value of handmade goods and their creators and encourage awareness of the social and environmental implications of production and consumption.”

Anyone can create an online store for handmade crafts, as long as the items do not violate copyright or patent laws. Items you sell on Etsy must be original creations. Etsy’s media relations department reports this online marketplace for artists facilitated more than $314 million in transaction in 2010.

The technical wizards behind Etsy have created a system that allows shoppers and artists to search items by everything from the type of craft to their colors. You can search “jewelry” or you can look for a “blue” item. For a special experience, you can shop “Curated Lists” of items. The Etsy team compiles items by subject, such as “For Baby” or “Celebrate Cinema.” This makes it easy to find the perfect gift for someone else or yourself.

The forums on Etsy allow artists to discuss ideas, share business tips and communicate with customers. If you enjoy a craft, the odds are someone on Etsy can help you learn even more about it. The sense of community makes Etsy unlike most retail websites.

One alternative to Etsy is ArtFire. Founded by artists in 2008 as an alternative to eBay and Etsy, ArtFire is still a small website. However, it is growing rapidly and often feels like Etsy. Because ArtFire features promotions from major craft suppliers like Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores and Lion Brand Yarn, I expect this site to become a major destination for crafters.

If you want to shop worldwide, DaWanda (http://en.dawanda.com/) is the website for you. With the slogan “Products with Heart,” this German-based company sells only handmade arts and crafts from around the world. They do accept vendors from anywhere, as well, but they screen online vendors for quality. This selectivity means shoppers select from some of the best crafts available. If you’re a talented artist, this is the best craft fair on the Web.

Artists enjoy a different type of “market” on whoopdwhoop (http://whoopdwhoop.com/). Unlike Etsy, whoopdwhoop isn’t about buying and selling goods. Whoopdwhoop doesn’t try to be a consumer-only website. This is a site for artists. Whoopdwhoop is a barter website, describing itself as “The currency free creative marketplace.” You have to have something to trade to participate in the whoopdwhoop community.

Though whoopdwhoop isn’t as elaborate as the Etsy website, its users are just as passionate. In this economy, the “currency free” aspect allows artists to share ideas and inspiration. I know several artists who use the site to trade items with other artists on whoopdwhoop.

When someone requests one of your handmade creations your account is credited with “Whoops,” a virtual currency for barter. You can set the initial value of an item from one to five “Whoops,” but you are always free to accept a different payment. It takes time to learn the perceived value of your handicrafts. The more goods you ship to others, the more “Whoops” you earn to trade for items you might want.

If you want to learn more about crafts, without necessarily buying, selling or trading items, the website Craftster (http://www.craftster.org/) is popular. The site was founded in 2003, which is way back in Internet time. Craftster allows people to share “how-to” instructions complete with photos and videos.

The Craftster site includes this warning: “Craftster is for freely sharing how to make things! Don’t post pics of things you sell in hopes of getting some sales or we’ll have to bust out the limbo stick on you!” If you use Craftster to sell items, they ban you from the site. It is a community and social networking site.

I encourage everyone, not only artists, to visit the virtual craft fair websites. Shopping for gifts at a craft fair, online or in person, guarantees that the gifts you buy are unique. Plus, it feels great to support independent business people.

Some places to buy, sell or trade arts and crafts:

Etsy (http://www.etsy.com/)
ArtFire (http://www.artfire.com/)
DaWanda: Products with Love (http://en.dawanda.com/)
Whoopdwhoop: The Currency Free Marketplace (http://whoopdwhoop.com/)
iCraft: Creativity without Borders (http://icraft.ca/)
Handmade Catalog (http://www.handmadecatalog.com/)

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