Homies for the Holidays

The art and science of Austintatious giftology

While we have some mild grammatical quibbles with the adverb-leery "Buy Local" slogan, our hearts are in the same place. Even if you don't count the fairly astounding civic economic boost, there are any number of reasons to keep your hard-earned cheddar in the ATX. But here's the main one: Austin is an energetic, wildly creative, sophisticated city, and its local retail offerings have grown to reflect that. We offer below just a few examples of this phenomenon – a starting point for your own exploration. Because with all the top-notch, one-of-a-kind, high-quality goods at your fingertips, there's absolutely no reason not to buy local. –ly. Locally. – Cindy Widner

Stitch Lab
Stitch Lab

Stitch Lab Grand Opening

Saturday-Sunday, Dec. 19-20, noon-8pm

The word is out about the newest addition to Austin's hearty crafting scene – even before this weekend's grand opening, many of the sewing classes offered at Stitch Lab are full through January. Since her earliest days in Austin theatre designing costumes, Stitch Lab owner Leslie Bonnell has brought together artists with diverse interests, and this latest venture is just as vibrantly inclusive. The roster of instructors includes a former designer for BCBG and Jennifer Perkins of Naughty Secretary Club; Tina Sparkles even walks you through her pattern that placed second this year in Blackmail's Little Black Dress contest. They teach everything from knitting and screenprinting basics to advanced millinery techniques and how to handle a serger.

Stitch Lab recently relocated to South First, and it will be celebrating with a full-on Soiree and Indie Craftivity Scene, featuring more than 20 Austin designers. In lieu of this year's Bouldin Creek Studio Tour, many of its usual artists and vendors will be at the soiree as well, displaying wares ranging from crafts to jewelry, fine art, and pie. Highlights include Shannon Lowry's plantable bird-themed letterpress greeting cards, Rachel Lavin's delicate sterling silver jewelry line Pio, and Kathie Sever's Ramonster line of custom Western wear, recently featured in the documentary Handmade Nation.

Stitch Lab instructors will be available to meet, greet, and answer questions, and we have our calendars marked and our wallets ready to take advantage of the grand-opening 20% discount on all fabrics. As a guilt-free bonus, 10% of the combined proceeds of Bonnell's handmade items and the overall weekend Stitch Lab sales will go to Grrl Action, a writing- and performance-based arts program for teenage girls, founded by Rude Mechanicals. – Lei-Leen Choo

Stitch Lab, 1000 S. First, 440-0712, www.glitzkrieg.biz/glee.


For the Artful Lodger

IF+D's whimsical, contemporary furniture, art, and accessories are nothing if not totemically reflective of our hometown's love of the absurd and the beautiful; you could almost call owner Kristen Bolling's offerings "curated." Local artists' work covers the walls – including pieces by elusive wheat-paster Failure ($65) and renderings of such notables as Tom DeLay, Charles Nelson Reilly, and the Runaway Bride by Mike Merritt ($250) – and Bolling often seeks out odd secondhand ephemera to fill out her collection of exquisite pieces. IF+D boasts boatloads of affordable eccentricity – a compelling mod butter dish ($28), avian-themed stationery ("My Peeps" address book, $18), napkins embroidered with street-lamp designs ($7), wood-covered desk necessities ($12-24), and a variety of nutty toys ($5 and more) – but even its spendier items are carefully chosen and appallingly reasonable. What special someone wouldn't love a colorful Modernica shell chair ($375), anything by Blu Dot, Merritt's rubberized stoneware ($65-175), or a kickass handcrafted wooden Magno radio ($200) that sounds great and has (shhh) a jack for your iPod?

Spruce (Photo by John Anderson)

The women behind Spruce, Lizzie Nguyen and Amanda Brown, bring high design and recycling culture together (at last!), working with beautiful, rare fabrics to recover and restore vintage furniture of all eras, right in their on-site upholstery workshop. Spruce offers gift certificates for upholstery classes or in-store purchases, as well as some amazing, exclusive fabrics by the yard, and its retail floor offers plenty for your holiday pleasure. Indie South African fabricmaker Skinny LaMinx's "I Wish We Had IKEA" dish towel ($15) tops our list, but her other towels and aprons ($15-25), as well as Spruce's handmade Christmas stockings ($65), vintage lamps and bowls (vintage prices), new and vintage design books, delicious Voluspa candles ($9.75-25), polished-wood-encased tape measures ($12), terrariums ($40-125), and Elum bookmarks, note cards, and cloth-covered journals ($2-21) make that a tough call. Add to that some select redone furniture (particularly the Tentacle Swirl patio set, $595) and local art by members of the 12x12 Project, and you have a bounteous holiday selection.

We'd be remiss if we didn't mention Iron Thread Design's lovely, one-of-a-kind multiuse ottomans and benches. Fabric, batting, and buttons are Austinite Sheri Bingham's muse, and her pieces are perfectly crafted and magically designed. Though priced in the "investment piece" category ($600-1,200), they boast environmentally responsible (and beautiful) materials, local craftsmanship, and handmade upholstered buttons, making them a shoo-in for the "heirloom" category. In breaking news: Her new line boasts 30 new fabrics as well as sofa and chair options; all can be had at a number of local stores (listed on the website) or by e-mailing Bingham directly. – C.W.

IF+D, 208 Colorado, 469-0870, www.ifdaustin.com. Spruce, 6607 N. Lamar, 454-8181, www.spruceaustin.com. Iron Thread Design, sheri@ironthreaddesign.com, www.ironthreaddesign.com.

AHRC Guadalupe tee
AHRC "Guadalupe" tee


Atomic City is the gift-bomb for any occasion and has been for more than 25 years. Godzilla rules here, so let collector/connoisseur Jim "Prince" Hughes show you his new selection of Toho-licensed Godzilla tees ($19-26). Don't miss the rack of Hawaiian-made shirts from Reyn Spooner, Kalakaua, and Kamehameha ($65-135) nor the Tiki Farm limited-edition tiki mugs ($10-25). There are as many T-shirt designs represented here as in any shop on Sixth Street, especially Eighties punk shirts ($19), Sanrio-like Tenshi Neko rubberized canvas bags ($25), and a great collection of books, including ones on the art of tattoo that are not carried elsewhere.

Don't let the bright circus of mechanical squawking and human squealing that greets you as you enter Toy Joy distract you. The secret of this spot is that there really is something here for everyone on your list, including your mother-in-law, who would love a matching planner and notebook from the handsome selection of Moleskines ($12.95-20.95). You'll also find a wall of games, including the Rubik's 5X5 cube ($29.95), Rubik's Star Trek cube ($18.95), and Rubik's new Revolution cube ($24.95). After selecting a good old-fashioned jigsaw puzzle to put under your tinsel tree ($14.95-200), gawk at the strange tribe of Uglydolls on your way out, since Big Toe and Babo's Bird ($9.95 each) or Turny Burny ($9.95) just might be someone's wish this year.

If you still have an unresolved list, head across the street to Oat Willie's, which isn't just for stoners anymore. Another local twentysomething retail veteran, the shop has wisely diversified, making it a first-rate gift stop for any age group. Housewares include wooden Acaciaware serving pieces, such as sectioned platters ($18), salad bowls ($16), baguette trays ($14), and olive trays ($10). Find plenty of bedspread-sized dorm-style wall tapestries from India Arts ($20-25) here, as well as a beautiful selection of silver and semiprecious stone jewelry, including locally crafted turquoise and amethyst pieces ($25-75).

Did you know that Texas is the only state with no provision for legal needle exchange? Support harm reduction initiatives for safe injection supplies and look like a million bucks at the same time in a gorgeous T-shirt ($20). Visit Austin Harm Reduction Coalition's online store to buy a "pink nurse" or "Guadalupe" tank. – Anne Harris

Atomic City, 1700 San Antonio, 477-0293. Toy Joy, 2900 Guadalupe, 320-0090, www.toyjoy.com. Oat Willie's, 617 W. 29th, 482-0630, www.oatwillies.com. Austin Harm Reduction Coalition, www.austinharmreduction.org.

Obama woodcut
Obama woodcut


Nubian Queen Lola's wall o' gifts: For a change this holiday season, why not pick up something totally unique, superfly, and hand-crafted with love – and do your community some good? And how better to back up our commander-in-chief right now than the Obama Woodcut?! Featuring a handsome likeness of our president worthy of your most mantely mantel, this regal portrait puts those TV collector plates from late '08 to shame. Impressed by a newspaper account of Lola's extensive homeless outreach, some incarcerated gentlemen have decided to donate the products they make in the shop so she can put the proceeds into meals for the underserved. In addition to the sweet array of woodcuts, you'll find lovely paintings, gorgeous leather crafts (stamped and tanned by Lola's husband, Otis Bell), and more wall hangings, all $2-130 (average $20).

New Brohemia: Sure, you're already onto New Bohemia, the discerning South Congress vintage concern. But do you know about its Bro, ham? Its brotherly compadre offers one-stop shopping for the person in your life with a proclivity toward natty menswear, especially if your particular proclivity is of the budget-minded. The dead-stocked and gently vogued bounty includes sweetly arrayed configurations of pearl-snap shirts in all colors, sizes, and eras; a rainbow of guayaberas; the curiously beloved "leather sweater" (about 20% leather in the form of patches and the rest knit); boyfriend (or girlfriend, if you are the proud owner of a big beefy dyke) jewelry; and if that's not enough to blow your mind, there is an adjacent discount/clearance area in the back. Shop on, bromeisterpants.

TapeLenders/Skivvies: Austin's queer video and gay pride nerve center features more than just rainbow windsocks and Jeff Stryker show-and-tells; TapeLenders proves that somewhere over the rainbow, there does exist a smidge of taste. And of course, there's the video catalog a mere stumble down the staircase. The most thrilling division of TapeLenders, however, is Skivvies. Everyone knows where to get panties, but Skivvies has manties – men's underwear more stimulating than a gross of tighty-whities and less mortifying than the hysterical boxers at Wal-Mart. Metro-, pomo-, and pyro-sexuals alike may revel in the panoply of underpants that is Skivvies, the undergarment and accessories store-within-a-store at TapeLenders. It carries Andrew Christian, Diesel, 2(x)ist, Ginch Gonch, Timoteo, Justus Boyz, Unico, Private Structure, PPU, and Priape, among many others. The target is obviously the gay market, but really, if you guys (straight, dyke, and lady guys) knew what type of man pants your lovers liked, you'd get a lot more action. Trust us.

Monolithic Dome Institute goodies: The Domes for the World nonprofit and Monolithic Dome Institute (or, as we like to call it, "Those Monolithic People") is selling all sorts of great holiday gifties to support its cause of "providing permanent, fireproof, disaster-resistant homes and community buildings," as its mission says, "that are shaped like pregnant mushrooms," as we say. For less than $15, you can flavor your pal's favorite wall with Monolithic's 2010 calendar, and hats, shirts, and mugs featuring the swooshy domers logo can be had for $6-20. For the strongly intended, there are books, CDs, and DVDs with titles like Dome Living, How to Build an EcoShell, and Urethane Foam: Magic Material – and the Best Kept Insulation Secret Evarrrr (okay, we added that last word). For the truly hardcore, there are floor plans, CO² meters, and more. You'll be able to boast the difference between shotcrete and Jell-O shots in no time. – Kate X Messer

Nubian Queen Lola's Cajun Soul Food Kitchen, 1815 Rosewood, 474-5652, www.nubianqueenlolas.com. New Brohemia, 2209 S. First, 804-0988, www.newboaustin.com. TapeLenders/Skivvies, 1114 W. Fifth #201, 472-0844, www.tapelenders.com. Monolithic Dome Institute, 117 Dome Park Place, Italy, TX 76651, 972/483-7423, www.monolithic.com.

Homies for the Holidays


Eventually, almost vomit-sick of the holiday hubbub, you'll want to do little more than put on a T-shirt, page through a fierce coffeetable book, and listen to some music that most of your friends haven't heard yet. Best place to get that T-shirt, we reckon, is the Alamo Drafthouse's Mondo Tees, where the images are ripped from Hollywood blockbusters and cult weirdnesses alike and often laced with bright, clever snark. The book you'll be enjoying probably comes from Domy Books, the local emporium of high-end graphic collections and arty micropublications that's like Shepard Fairey, Camille Rose Garcia, and Philippe Starck teamed up to build a section of heaven. And the music? From End of an Ear, of course, where you can discover an entire universe of sonic recordings – much of that vintage vinyl stuff, even – off the beaten groove. And, gifts bought from any of these places will surely get you thanked or laid or both by the recipients. Merry, indeed! – Wayne Alan Brenner

Harold McMillan
Harold McMillan (Photo by Jana Birchum)

GIVE, AND THE ARTS GIVE BACK: New East Gallery needs a love infusion

Harold McMillan is an Austin powerhouse. For almost 20 years, he's worked to keep art alive east of I-35, promoting and preserving African-American arts and music. Yet now that the strengths of East Austin are being recognized by the wider city (and gentrification is in full swing), his New East Gallery is struggling to survive.

A mission-driven space that gives special attention to artists of color, New East Gallery opened in 2007 as a reincarnation of the DiverseArts Little Gallery. A small, bright storefront in the Saltillo Lofts, it also houses the administrative offices of DiverseArts and serves as a hub for a dizzying array of cultural productions.

Word/Jazz, the Blues Family Tree Project, Austin Downtown Arts Magazine, the jazz and blues venue Kenny Dorham's Backyard, the Austin Jazz and Arts Festival, and East End Fourth Fridays – all anchors of Austin African-American culture – are DiverseArts projects. Through this nonprofit, McMillan has long been providing the building blocks of cultural arts infrastructure along the newly designated African American Cultural Heritage District.

"There's not a lot of nonprofit arts programming for the African-American community," says McMillan, "and we've pretty much taken it on ourselves to provide that. We work on music, visual arts and crafts, children's programs, and educational content. We've produced more programs for the East 11th Street corridor over the last eight years than any other organization. If we go away, the programming will be missed.

"Our expectation is not that we'll get rich selling art, but we do need to do some business," he continues. "Because of the economic climate, the organization and the gallery are on the rocks in a very serious way. At this point, it is difficult to know if New East Gallery will exist into the new year. That's not just end-of-the-year fundraising rhetoric; that's the reality that we're in right now."

It's a perfect time to visit the gallery, which is full of meaningful gifts and an eclectic mix of local photos, paintings, sculpture, prints, and jewelry. The prices range from $20 (for earrings made of recycled computer parts) to $5,000 (for large paintings and sculptures).

New East currently features North Texas' David Zvanut, whose radiant recycled sculptures use found materials to surprise and delight, evoking music notations and Texan themes. One piece stands out: a large acrylic painting of a stylized Texas flag – its star made of jalapeño peppers – that hangs behind a circlet of barbed wire. It's an elegant statement in support of unfenced borders and Mexican culture in Texas.

McMillan explains: "It's a multicultural art space. The ambience there is a rainbow family, a real diverse mix of people. Black folks and brown folks, moneyed art collectors, and a lot of artists of all kinds. People like coming to our gallery because it's not just the same old arts scene."

New East Gallery welcomes visitors Tuesday-Friday, noon-6pm. This Saturday, Dec. 19, from 6 to 8pm, the gallery is hosting a fundraiser, and from 8 to 10:30pm, a party open to the public. – Abe Louise Young

New East Gallery, 1601 E. Fifth #106, 477-9438; DiverseArts, www.diversearts.org.

More for the Arts-Lover on Your List

Those whose busy schedules never seem to allow time for, say, a night at the ballet, should give themselves or someone else a gift of the local arts scene this season. Boasting a fifth Grammy nomination this year, the 38-member Conspirare choir will perform Concert Series 3: A New Year's Conspirare Classic in January ($38-42). The 2009-10 Zach Theatre schedule offers a wide range of entertainment – from Thornton Wilder's Our Town to Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses, to name two – as well as a 30% ticket discount for subscribers. The gift of great filmmaking with a membership to the Austin Film Society will bring pleasure all year long. In addition to advance notice and presale opportunities for premieres and a smartly curated screening schedule, members enjoy discounts on regularly priced shows at various local movie houses. Do yourself a favor and head over to Texas' largest gallery for African and African-American art, Mitchie's Gallery. Its stock of originals, serigraphs, giclees, limited- and open-edition artworks, and African carvings will keep you busy, but don't overlook the wonderful array of books, cards, calendars, collectibles, and T-shirts, including work by Annie Lee, Church Pew and Sunday Morning figurines ($8.99-14.99), and a variety of book/Bible bags ($23.99) that will make someone's day. – Anne Harris

Conspirare, 476-5775, www.conspirare.org. Zach Theatre, 476-0541 x1, www.zachtheatre.org. Austin Film Society, 322-0145, afs@austinfilm.org, www.austinfilm.org. Mitchie's Gallery, 7801 N. Lamar Ste. B-148. 323-6901, www.mitchie.com.

I kissed a dolphin, and I liked it.
I kissed a dolphin, and I liked it.


The most memorable gift is the gift of experience: How about making out with a dolphin? Enjoying a water park in the dead of winter? Or hanging out where FDR fished the deep blue (okay, kinda greenish-brown) sea? Added bonus: One of the most economical ways to experience all this and so much more is to give a trip during the winter season to the Texas Coast. And winter season pricing isn't limited to the coast. Check out our online Travels & Experiences blog posts to plan some absurdly affordable adventures: austinchronicle.com/chronolog. K.X.M.

For a guide to holiday gift bazaars, see Community Listings.

For more deets and gift ideas, check out our Chronique blog.

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