The Austin Chronicle

The Good Eye: DIY vs. B-U-Y

By Amy Gentry, March 14, 2014, Columns

Lately I've been thinking of chucking it all – yes, even the glamorous life of a style columnist – to start a craft business. I have the name narrowed down to either Beaver & Cress, Narwhal + Oak, or ocelot*elderberry. My only problem is what to make. After years of adopting various crafts and then dropping them as soon as they become too challenging/expensive/boring, I have come to the realization that I have only one really enduring DIY skill: wrapping presents at the last minute using found materials.

By "the last minute," I mean in the car on the way to the party, and by "found materials," I mean the trash on the car floor. There's actually a lot to work with down there, including leftover party streamers that have faded in the sun, cracked CD cases, printed-out Google Maps directions, a hairbrush, Austin Chronicle issues dating from the late Nineties, and an array of corrugated cardboard coffee sleeves that make great cards. If I can turn this sedimentary mulch of memory into thoughtful, handmade gift wrap using only the jagged shards of an ice scraper for scissors and the gunk at the bottom of my cupholder for glue – why, think what I could do with resources!

My business plan: You just got home from work, and you're heading out to an engagement baby bachelorette birthday bridal shower at the house of your most tasteful friend, the one who runs a minimalist homesteading blog and custom-designs a line of screenprinted mason jars for Anthropologie. But wait – your gift is still sitting in the hallway in an Amazon box, mocking you with that little smile! You can't bring it like that! That's where Cranberry & Orca comes in. I arrive at your house with moments to spare, and, using only whatever is already on the premises, wrap your present in half an hour or less. If the giftee doesn't say, "Oh how cute/classy/realistically twiglike!" it's free. The only caveat is, I can use anything in your house, including houseplants, coffeetable books, framed posters, treasured heirlooms, actual twigs, your clothing and jewelry, food from your refrigerator, and power tools. I charge $840 for this service.

Realistically, though, maybe doing it myself isn't really my style. The vintage birdcage I was going to make into a terrarium has instead become a cat-hair-and-dustbunny holder, while my one houseplant languishes on the verge of death. The only apron in our home has a "Los Pollos Hermanos" logo and came with the Breaking Bad box set my husband ordered when I was away one weekend. I never even re-centered the pictures over the sofa after moving it a foot to the right three years ago.

What is it they say about DIY culture? Those who can, do; those who can't, shop. Luckily for me and my craft-challenged kindred, the Renegade Craft Fair, perhaps the single best place to buy things you wish you had made yourself, is making its first ever SXSW appearance at the Palmer Events Center (900 Barton Springs Rd.) March 13-15, from noon to 8pm. When you tire of sitting through panels on connectivity in the bleepblorpsphere, take a break and go look at some beautiful objects lovingly handcrafted by people who are, let's face it, just better at being human than you.

It's also a great chance to familiarize yourself with some of Austin's most creative and sought-after makers, who will be making a strong showing. Of the local offerings, I covet the fluorescent-dinosaur succulent planters from Plaid Pigeon; the gorgeous, sturdier-than-vintage end tables by A & K Woodworking and Design; art deco necklaces in laser-cut wood from Diamonds Are Evil; leather belts hand-tooled with Kurt Vonnegut quotes from Stowe Provisions; and miniature, embroidered animal portraits from Poppy and Fern. But topping my priority list are the frilly unmentionables from I See London. Because the one thing my car is missing is a change of underwear.

Admission to the Renegade Craft Fair: SXSW Edition is free and open to the public. For more info, see

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