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Handmade gifts by East Bay crafters.


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Does it get any better than handmade? When you buy something from an artist, you can count on its being unique, personal, painstakingly crafted, and often eco-friendly. Plus, the purchase directly supports the artist—and small business. As we approach a season of gift giving, Diablo introduces you to six incredible East Bay crafters. Browse their online shops, and you may find that elusive perfect gift for your sister. Or make a few gifts yourself using our DIY guide and tutorials from the artisans.


 

Megan O’Keefe

Megan O’Keefe gets very excited describing the science of soap making: “The moment the lye solution begins to emulsify with the oils is like magic. You can actually see the translucent oils turn opaque, as the mixture begins the chemical reaction that will transform the liquids into solid soap.”

The dual loves of science and art are what caused 25-year-old O’Keefe to leave the corporate world in 2009 and start making soaps, lotions, scrubs, perfumes, and lip balms at home. Her business, Blushie, is a family operation: She calls her fiancé, Joey, the official Lifter of Heavy Things and Loader of the Car.

Making soap takes less than an hour, but the soap needs to rest in molds for 12 hours before it is cut, and then it must cure for another three weeks for optimum feel and performance. O’Keefe’s products are as beautiful as they are functional, with a dusting of crushed oats atop an oatmeal and honey bar, and coils of pink coming out of an appletini. Many of her fragrances have a personal connection: “Seaberry was created after a trip to Shelter Cove,” she says. “And Sweet Lemon Cream is my re-creation of an absolutely perfect gelato I had in Florence, Italy.”

Blushie is available at the Berry Patch in Pleasanton and online at blushie.com.

DIY

TO LEARN
► The Nova Studio in Point Richmond (thenovastudio.com) offers an array of classes, from making transparent soap to creating herbal extracts.

TO SHOP

► Soap-making supply shops include Juniper Tree in Berkeley (junipertreesupplies.com), Mission Peak Soap in Fremont (missionpeaksoap.com), Aunt Helen’s in Martinez (aunthelens.com), and TKB Trading in Oakland (tkbtrading.com). TKB partner Kaila Westerman authored a how-to book called Melt & Mold Soap Crafting. Regional Michaels stores (michaels.com) also carry a small selection of soap-making supplies.

TO DO

► Learn how to make your own lip balm, using ingredients from your neighborhood farmers market or grocery store. For O’Keefe’s tutorial, go to diablomag.com/diy.

 

Jodie Cruz

As a young girl, Jodie Cruz would sew pillows for her dolls. In college, she studied fashion design. So when she needed a new wallet and couldn’t find one with the right number of pockets, Cruz, 28, designed her own.

Her brightly colored and embellished purses, wallets, pins, and hair accessories, which she sells under the name Petals, all incorporate vintage accents, be it a button or a bit of lace. “I love the history [each piece] has and the individuality it gives,” she says.

Working full-time in the loan department of a bank, Cruz creates her accessories during her two-year-old son’s nap time and while she is watching TV with her husband in the evenings. Sometimes, she’ll even bring projects on BART. “Having a day job and being a mom force me to be creative with the little free time I have,” she says.

Her husband and son are among the biggest inspirations for her whimsical designs. Indeed, wallets for men—with prints of cars and maps—can be found among the many feminine accessories in her Etsy shop. Cruz also delights in nature: “Sometimes when I’m out walking, I will see a leaf that is the most beautiful, perfect shape, and I turn that shape into a bit of appliqué on my next project.”

Petals accessories are available at Needles and Pens in San Francisco and online at etsy.com/shop/petals. 

DIY

TO LEARN
► Ask Mom or Grandma for some lessons. Or check out a local fabric store: Stonemountain & Daughter in Berkeley (stonemountainfabric.com), ThimbleCreek in Concord (thimblecreek.com), Wooden Gate Quilts in Danville (woodengatequilts.com), In Between Stitches in Livermore (inbetweenstitches.com), and Piedmont Fabric in Oakland (piedmontfabric.com) offer a variety of classes, from sewing and appliquéing to making quilts and stuffed animals. The Dublin Sewing Center (dublinsewing.net) teaches students the ins and outs of their sewing machine. If you don’t have your own machine, head to the sewing lab at Rock Paper Scissors Collective in Oakland (rpscollective.com).

TO SHOP

► Unique fabric can be found at the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse in Oakland (creativereuse.org). Regional JoAnn Fabrics locations (joann.com) offer many supplies.

TO DO

► Learn how to make decorative felt bobby pins. For Cruz’s tutorial, go to diablomag.com/diy.

 

Patty  Benson

At first glance, the nesting bowls, plant cozies, and flower vases made by Papaver Vert’s Patty Benson look like ceramics, with smooth lines and vivid colors. Touch them, and you realize they’re wool.

Using a wet felting process called fulling, Benson first crochets the shape she wants with wool yarn and then puts it in a washing machine. The agitation, hot water, and soap “bond and entangle” the fibers. She then dries the object around a mold, trims the edges, and steams the material with an iron. “I love working with my hands,” she says. “It’s very calming. And I love the transformation of a floppy crocheted piece into a semihard, 3-D form.”

A former fashion designer—and current antique rug restoration specialist—Benson, 34, first learned to crochet in 2005, from a coworker at Old Navy. She fell in love with it immediately and learned to felt from books and online tutorials. While she enjoys experimenting with shape and color, she also aims to create items that are practical: “I want to make something functional. But I want it to be artisan quality.”

Papaver Vert is sold at Atomic Garden in Oakland and online at papaververt.com.

DIY

TO LEARN
►  Yarn stores, such as Article Pract in Oakland (articlepract.com) and Knit One One in Berkeley (knitoneone.com), offer classes in basic knitting and crochet. To learn to wet felt, you’ll have to head across the Bay to Urban Fauna in San Francisco (urbanfaunastudio.com). California College of the Arts teaches a similar type of felting, called needle felting, through its extended education program (cca.edu).

TO SHOP

► There is no shortage of yarn shops east of the Caldecott, including Big Sky Luxury Yarns (bigskyyarns.com) and The Yarn Boutique (yarnboutique.us) in Lafayette, Fashion Knit in Walnut Creek (fashionknit.net), Knit This Purl That in Pleasanton (yourknittingplace.com), and That Yarn Store in Dublin (knitmke.com).

TO DO

► Patty Benson shares how to make a felted coaster or trivet at diablomag.com/diy.

 

Marja Germans Gard

While analyzing statistics on schizophrenia for her doctoral dissertation, Marja Germans Gard needed a creative escape. She turned to a childhood love of jewelry making, first stringing beads, then moving on to metal-smithing after taking courses at the Crucible in Oakland. Eight years later, Gard, 38, sells her contemporary mixed-metal creations under the name Lemonade Handmade.

“As soon as I picked up a torch, I knew it was for me,” Gard says. “There is a limit to wiring things. When you can actually solder metal, you can create anything you want.”

Gard scribbles ideas in a notebook she keeps with her at all times and creates in her home studio while her two young children are at school. She finds inspiration in clean, modern forms and textural contrasts. These trends are evident in her work: Brushed, recycled silver disks dangle from gold earrings and oxidized, hammered silver rings of a necklace link with a 14-carat gold loop. 

Though there are some pieces Gard can’t part with, including her favorite gray drusy gemstone ring, she enjoys finding new homes for her creations. “I love when someone puts my jewelry on and it’s perfect for them,” she says. “That’s a great feeling.”

Lemonade Handmade is sold at Modern Mouse in Alameda, Professor Squirrel and Urban Indigo in Oakland, and online at etsy.com/shop/lemonadehandmade.

DIY

TO LEARN
► The Crucible in Oakland (thecrucible.org), Baubles and Beads in Berkeley (baublesandbeads.com), and Walnut Creek’s Civic Arts Education (arts-ed.org) offer dozens of jewelry-making classes, from soldering metals to stringing seed beads. Or check out antique boutique Cottage Jewel in Danville (cottagejewel.com), where owner Marcia Harmon leads workshops on making fashion jewelry, such as vanity pendants and button charm bracelets.

TO SHOP
► For beads and supplies, visit Bead Inspirations in Alameda (beadinspirations.com), Just Bead It (justbeaditconcord.com) and Beads & Etc. (beadsandetc.com) in Concord, Beaded Bliss in Danville (beadedbliss.com), Bedazzled (925-283-1998) and House of Beads (houseofbeadsonline.com) in Lafayette, and Richards craft stores in Alamo and Livermore (richardsartsandcrafts.com).

TO DO
► Gard shares how to make a stamped-initial charm necklace at diablomag.com/diy.

 

Lisa Wong Jackson

Lisa Wong Jackson got hooked on creating when she designed and screen printed note card sets as favors for her 2005 wedding. She enrolled in graphic design courses and eventually transitioned from the marketing department to design at the consulting firm where she’s worked for 12 years.

“I have always loved making things and took some art classes in school, but I never thought I could or would make a living doing it,” says the 35-year-old. Now, in addition to her full-time graphic design position, she creates custom invitations and a line of stationery and office supplies for her own business, Good on Paper.

Her contemporary and occasionally quirky designs are printed on recycled paper with earth-friendly inks—and much of the imagery reflects nature, from birds’ nests to butterfly wings to the floating seeds of a just-blown dandelion.

“I’m really lucky to have grown up in the Bay Area. I love how the nature around me influences colors and texture in my work,” she says.

Good on Paper is available at Bella Vita in Oakland, Treehouse Green Gifts in Berkeley, and online at goodonpaperdesign.com.

DIY

TO LEARN
► Graphic design courses are available at most junior colleges as well as UC Berkeley Extension (extension.berkeley.edu). For screen printing and letterpress instruction, check out Patchwerk Press in Oakland (patchwerkpress.org) and the Richmond Art Center (therac.org). Or head across the Bay to Jordan Ferney’s studio (jordanferney.blogspot.com), the San Francisco Center for the Book (sfcb.org), or Root Division (rootdivision.org).

TO SHOP
► Paper Source in Berkeley (paper-source.com) has a wide selection of stationery paper and offers workshops on handmade, scrapbook-style cards. For more paper and stamp supplies, head to Scrapbook Territory in Berkeley (scrapbookterritory.com), Pleasant Memories in Dublin (pleasant-memories.net), or Remember When in Pleasant Hill (rememberwhenph.com).

TO DO
► Learn how to make your own custom stamp at diablomag.com/diy.

 

Caitlin Keen

Caitlin Keen wears many hats: She’s a wife, professional violist, music teacher, full-time student, and maker of plant terrariums. One wonders, Where does she find the time to create?

“I’m definitely a ‘productive procrastinator,’ which means when I’m procrastinating practicing music, I’m probably making terrariums,” she says. “I love that other people enjoy the terrariums because it allows me to legitimize spending time doing it.”

Keen, 28, has a plethora of experience with animal habitats (she kept hermit crabs, tarantulas, and hissing cockroaches as a kid), but she fell in love with plants at the Baltimore Conservatory, during a year with AmeriCorps. To create the tiny succulent terrariums she sells under the name Tortoise Loves Donkey, Keen blends potting soil, sand, and charcoal, and tends the plantings carefully until they develop strong roots. They are housed in vintage apothecary glass and laboratory beakers, which she collects from thrift stores and flea markets. Terrarium groupings make for unique decorations and require little care—perfect for people who lack a green thumb.

“My goal is to always create terrarium obsessions,” she says. “Who doesn’t need an entire room with glass-enclosed plants everywhere? Hopefully, my terrariums are just the gateway terrarium.”

Tortoise Loves Donkey is sold at Modern Mouse in Alameda and online at etsy.com/shop/tortoiselovesdonkey.

DIY

TO LEARN
► Terrarium-designing classes can be found across the Bay at Workshop (workshopsf.org) and Flora Grubb Gardens (floragrubb.com).

TO SHOP
► Urban Ore in Berkeley (urbanore.ypguides.net), the monthly Alameda Point Antiques & Collectibles Fair (antiquesbybay.com), and Goodwill and thrift stores are hot spots for vintage containers. Buy succulents and learn how to care for them at Cactus Jungle in Berkeley (cactusjungle.com), Alden Lane in Livermore (aldenlane.com), Orchard in Lafayette (orchardnursery.com), Tassajara Nursery in Danville (tassajaranursery.com), and regional Navlet’s locations (navletsgardens.com).

TO DO
► Learn how to make a seashell air plant magnet. For Keen’s tutorial, go to diablomag.com/diy.

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