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The Good Eye: Bringing Messy Back

Them other boys don't know how to craft ...

By Amy Gentry, Fri., July 4, 2014

Elisabeth Winkelman, proprietor of Craft, isn't afraid to get her – or your – hands dirty.
Elisabeth Winkelman, proprietor of Craft, isn't afraid to get her – or your – hands dirty.

Craft culture has always struck me as a double-edged paper cutter, even before the Supreme Court started handing gold stars to those who believe women exist solely to buy puffy paint and breed. If anything, the Hobby Lobby ruling underscored the ancient connection between craft culture and keepin' the womenfolk at home, their hands safely occupied above the belt. Crocheting is for preggos, am I right, ladies? (Better keep those knitting needles under lock and key, though.) On a lighter note, one problem with the most recent wave of Etsified, Pinterest-pimped DIY is that the word "craft" seems to have lost its connotations of freedom and play. What once called to mind finger paint and dried macaroni is now more closely associated with upcycling deck chairs out of shipping palettes and hand-tooling leather placecards for a rustic wedding.

Now, I'm no stranger to wedding crafts. When it came time to plan my own wedding, I swore that everything, from the invitations to the centerpieces to the bridesmaid gifts, would bear the imprint of my snowflake-like creativity, saving us thousands of dollars and banishing the dreaded "cookie-cutter wedding."

At first, I was in heaven, watching glitter melt into liquid gold under the heat-embosser, spritzing glass votive holders with water and silver spray-paint to mimic vintage mercury glass, and resurfacing vintage postcards with tea-stained label paper. At two in the morning, however, staring down hundreds of invitations as the third Drew Barrymore movie in a row wound up its tepid plot on my television, I started to reassess my anti-cookie-cutter stance. How did pre-cookie-cutter civilizations shape their cookie dough into Christmas trees and Santa hats, anyway? With little knives? Why had I done this to myself? Who would be the better for it? And how could anyone believe that 25-year-old Drew Barrymore was a high school student?

On the day of the wedding, sainted family members wrapped hundreds of matchboxes with label paper printed with a historic textile pattern from Taschen's World of Ornament, then stuffed them with bluebonnet seeds and little messages that said "Thanks for coming to our wedding!" They forgave me, but I wish I had internalized the secret of wedding crafts beforehand: Do them with friends, bring alcohol, and never make more than 10 of anything at a time.

If only Elisabeth Winkelman's DIY venue Craft had been around back then. As far as I know, there's nothing like Craft in Austin or elsewhere. It's more like a rental studio than a store. You pay an hourly rate to hang out in the well-stocked Bouldin Creek bungalow and play with Winkelman's seemingly unlimited art and craft supplies, which are dazzling in their variety – not just paint, clay, glitter, googly eyes, rhinestones, ribbons, stamps, pads, stencils, and paper of every description, but also mason jars, doll heads, picture frames, vintage mugs, wood scraps, little plastic dinosaurs, fake plants, old books, and more. Basically, Winkelman hoards so you don't have to. It's BYOB, and when you're done messing around with glitter glue, you take your finished crafts home and she cleans up the mess. It's like a children's birthday party for adults.

Winkelman has hosted copious bridal showers and crafting parties, and will even order special materials ahead of time for your mason jar-terrarium centerpieces. With a twinkle in her eye, the self-taught craft guru with a pixie-ish mop of curly red hair told me about a Craft-hosted bachelor party that featured a surprise appearance from a nude model and an art instructor for the groom and his buddies. Now that's a lesson in two-point perspective! If you know what I mean.

Peeps, this ain't no Paper Source. You have to see the photo gallery to believe the sheer amount of stuff Winkelman has, but she's always on the lookout for more. In fact, before my husband and I move into our new house, I'm emptying out my craft drawers and taking a load over to Craft to donate. Who needs to own her own embosser anyway? If I ever get the itch again, I'll know right where to find one. And it sure as hell won't be Hobby Lobby.


Craft is located at 1628 S. First. Hourly crafting rates begin at $10. For more information about hosting parties there, visit www.craft-austin.com.


Check out pictures of the Craft studio and its resident dog, Happy, in our online photo gallery at austinchronicle.com/photos.

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