Crafty Bastards


The first day of October might have felt more like mid-December, but that didn’t stop art enthusiasts and their umbrellas from amassing in Adams Morgan for the eighth-annual Crafty Bastards Arts & Crafts Fair. The day-long event was a sensory barrage of food, artistic demonstrations, live music, and 180 of the country’s craftiest independent artists selling everything from multicolored faux-taxidermy mounts to miniature clay houses. As wind and rain whipped through tents lining 18th Street and the Marie Reed Center, thousands of scarf-clad shoppers shuttled in and out of booths as they searched through the stitched, painted, sculpted, printed, and carved crafts—some beautiful, some bizarre.

We asked the creative minds responsible for several of our favorite pieces to tell us about the inspiration behind their crafts.

“A little over a year ago, we opened Ginger Root Design on U Street. We do a lot of repurposed clothing design and repurposed ties, and we house a lot of local artists. When I moved here, I had no idea what DC was like at all, and I found the U Street area, and I felt at home. I like it because DC is the biggest small town you know; you always run into people you recognize, and I love that. We’re really happy to be a part of the momentum that’s there for people wanting local design. I originally designed the lady tie last summer because we wanted to come up with a different tie that we could wear, and sometimes, those experiments turn out awful. And then the lady tie was born, so we have this little magical beam of light shine through. We’ve sold over 200 in the District just because of people working them into their work wardrobe or wearing them to fashion events or art parties. So it’s been kind of cool to see how people can wear them in all these different ways.”
—Kristen Swenson, Ginger Root Design, U Street Corridor

“Our art is basically custom-painted suitcases with kind of a pop-art aesthetic. We take vintage luggage and usually use characters from history—like hip-hop and other historical political figures—and put them on our cases. I had a history in graffiti and street art, so that’s really where our design aesthetic comes from, graffiti and stenciling and stuff like that. When we find our cases, we tape them off and cut them to make our stencils and spray paint them; then, we just take chip board and any images we like, and we’ll paint them on there and try to make them eye-popping. Most of the text comes from different hip-hop songs—which I think is funny with the juxtaposition of the political figures. I’m a nerd about it; it’s just one of my things.”
—Jon Pemberton, Final Approach, Maryville, TN

“I’ve always loved books. I used to work in a used book store, and they would throw books away all the time. I just thought that throwing a book in the trash was the worst thing you could ever do, so I would save all these beautiful books that nobody else wanted, thinking someday I would do something with them. I’ve always made things out of recycled stuff, so I thought, ‘What can I do with these old books?’ I thought of a purse. I’d seen purses made out of cigar boxes or license plates, things like that, and thought, “Well, if you can make a purse out of that kind of trash, why not out of a book.” The actual process is very long; I have to find fabric to match each book, so they’re all one of a kind. My favorite author is JRR Tolkien, but when it comes to the purses, my favorite ones to use are old text books, grammar books, encyclopedias, and dictionaries. My best sellers are Jane Austin and Nancy Drew. People have very good taste in books in DC—it’s a very literate city, so it’s very perfect for me.”
—Caitlin Phillips, Rebound Designs, Mount Rainier, MD

“That’s the crazy antennae on Georgia Avenue, this one is on 11th Street, and that’s actually behind my house. I see art everywhere, so I’m constantly thinking of new ideas and feeling super inspired all the time to the point where I wish I could work more than I could possibly ever sustain. But a lot of these are also from a cross-country road trip that I did with a friend this summer, so they’re from all over. I try to capture a certain color of sky or shapes of buildings. I just think in shapes and colors, and then I extrapolate on that when I actually make the piece. So I use photos as inspiration, but the piece always becomes a thing in itself. The actual process of creating the piece is kind of complex. For example, this piece was a little more complicated than some of the other ones because the buildings are in perspective and there’s certain rules of perspective that you have to follow in order for the angles of the building to look right to create a sense of space.”
—Jamie Lynn Langhoff, Seeing in Fabric, Columbia Heights

“I’m selling my mixed media artwork, where I combine knitting and painting. And I’m also selling my illustrations being printed onto notebooks. The knit pieces are about how knitting connects each generation’s past, and sort of about my grandmother, and other people’s families, and connections to people around them. I wanted to sort of push myself to combine the knitting and the painting, and it sort of seems like, combining the two, you have to end up with something that’s three-dimensional. And then my illustrations’ inspiration comes from everywhere.”
—Rania Hassan, goshdarnknit, Bloomingdale

“I have two distinct lines of things here: cast glass, and cast plaster, and they’re both pretty different processes. My cast glass is kiln-fired glass, so I make the molds inside of a kiln and fire sheets of glass over top of that. For the cast plaster, I make rubber molds of other objects, and cast plaster into that. I like common objects—the slightly nostalgic shapes of objects. Those kinds of things tell a really cool story, so I try to use those in my work. They’re things I can gather and people can actually relate to. But sometimes they’re a little outdated, like the doors — they’re really old doors. They’re very Victorian-style era doors, but they’re not specific to DC. I’ve been here about 15 years, and I was a painter when I came here. I started to do sculpture since being here, and I’ve started working in glass specifically because I met people who started a glass school here, the Washington Glass School.”
Sean Hennessey, Bloomingdale 

“The designs are really referencing vintage goods—I’m a thrift store-holic. I got tired of trying to find the things I was looking for, so I started to draw them and design them. A lot of my work is based off my collections—vintage clothes, cameras, trophies—and then it’s all hand-drawn, drawn into the computer, laser cut, laser etched. I liked the idea of ‘neogranny,’ since it’s a mix of old and new technology. I’ve always been drawn toward 20th century design. I definitely look to the 1950s 1960s for inspiration, and a lot of the colors are pastel and really bright. The method of laser etching makes a dark burn into the wood, and the bright colors are in better contrast to that. And when people smile when they see those colors and when they see the designs, I like that. So the colors definitely respond to a happier time.”
—Molly Reilly, neogranny, Charlotte, NC 

“We work on wood blocks, and we trade the blocks back and forth, drawing and carving until we’re both happy with the images, and then we print them up all by hand. It really depends on the size and the number of colors for how long it takes, but sometimes [it's] a really long time and sometimes a little bit faster. A really short time would be like two or three weeks. A really long time, like for the ‘America the Beautiful,’ [piece] is about six months. We just draw real meticulously and carve it real meticulously and then register it as best we can, also meticulously. We draw mostly just the natural world, what we see around us – also, what we’d like to see around us is something we are into drawing. We try to stay positive with it. We just love what we do, so you do what you love.”
—Paul Roden, Tugboat Printshop, Pittsburgh, PA 

“I make hand-stitched, one-of-a-kind plush monsters, and then I also have these baby hoodies to adult hoodies, so you can have your own little monster. I have a lot of just monster inspiration, like the Muppets and Where the Wild Things Are. I usually give them their face first, with horns; then, I decide the rest based on the face—I know that sounds really weird. It’s like, ‘What kind of personality does this monster have?’ Then, I kind of do the horns off of that. The big ones probably take like three to four hours and the little ones like one to two. I prefer making the monsters only because they’re all one of a kind, and I can kind of be creative with them.”
—Diane Koss, Cutesy but not Cutesy, Westmont, NJ