Sara Arnold, who spends hours each week turning old leather belts into sleek, modern looking rugs, considers herself part of the ''alternative crafts'' movement.
Sara Arnold, who spends hours each week turning old leather belts into sleek, modern looking rugs, considers herself part of the "alternative crafts" movement.
She is one of a growing number of people in their 20s and 30s who are using traditional craft techniques to make nontraditional projects, often employing recycled or unusual materials. Arnold and other organizers of the Rock n Roll Craft Show in St. Louis say calling their work "alternative" helps patrons know what to expect.
"The first couple of craft shows we didn't make that distinction, and people wanted to know why we didn't have any bird houses," says the 26-year-old from St. Louis.
Alternative crafters might opt to cross-stitch an irreverent message over a landscape or create a stained glass image of Elvis rather than a floral pattern, explains Tina Barseghian, editor-in-chief of "Craft" magazine, which is geared to younger crafters.
"It's not so much that the craft itself is alternative," Barseghian says. "The aesthetic has changed."
Alternative crafters routinely share tips and ideas online. One of the most popular alternative crafting Web sites, Craftster.org, receives more than 500,000 hits a month. The site allows members to post photos of their creations, and includes pictures of everything from crocheted, fingerless mittens to a bag made from old juice containers.
"They are the lifeblood of creativity within the crafting industry," says Victor Domine, spokesman for the Craft and Hobby Association in Elmwood Park, N.J. He credits alternative crafters with helping to boost industry spending from $29.5 billion in 1996 to nearly $31.8 billion last year.
Cities including Washington, St. Louis and Columbus, Ohio, hold regular alternative craft fairs, which often include beer, rock bands and evening hours.
Many crafters are drawn to the movement to make personal connections, live green and express themselves.
"None of us are making a living off of it," Arnold says of her circle. "I really like that feeling you get when you make something and you give it to somebody and they say, 'You made that?'"
Rachel Bone, 26, of Baltimore, was able to turn her craft — screen-printing T-shirts — into a full-time job. She sees renewed interest in crafting as a reaction to growing up in a world full of computers and big box stores.
"Our generation is the first one raised having computers in schools — being stuck in front of the computer all the time," she said. "We want to get away from the computer and do something with our hands."
Still, the computer plays a big role in the movement, said Craftster.org founder Leah Kramer. Along with sharing patterns and how-tos over the Internet, alternative crafters buy and sell wares on personal Web sites and through online stores like Etsy.com. That site, launched to help artisans find a market, has seen sales increase from $166,000 in 2005 to $26 million last year.
The Internet has made crafting hip, Kramer said.
"Crafting hasn't been cool for decades," she said. "Now, it's an accepted creative outlet."
Many crafters and customers say they like having access to items that weren't mass produced abroad.
"My generation has really started caring about where our products are made," Bone said.
That's what attracted Arnold. She started buying handmade items and decided to try making them.
"It gets really exciting to see how somebody made something and how you can do it too," she said.
The ability to put a new spin on a technique, or to repurpose some material is crucial to participants.
"It's the idea of reusing, and how clever can you be in creating new and interesting ways of putting these things to use," Barseghian said.
And alternative crafters, she said, have no lack of respect for traditional crafters: "They're paying homage."