St. Charles Residents Let Their Crafty Side Come Out
Handmade art sees a resurgence in St. Charles.
For Christine Gnandt, crafts are a great way for her two children Abby and Jack to pass the morning.
“They love doing crafts, and this is more interesting than anything we can do at home,” she said surrounded by colorful waxworks and painted art. “They are already asking when they can sign up for next year.”
Gnandt’s children are clients at My Handyworks, a Main Street establishment that seems to be part of a larger trend in the community as St. Charles looks increasingly to handmade crafts and artwork as both a hobby and a creative skill.
“People love the new idea, the interaction, the hands-on part of it where they can come in here and do activities,” said Heather Miller, who co-owns the interactive art studio. She founded it with her husband, Gregory, about a year ago.
As the name implies, My Handyworks focuses on the hands. Wax molds of hands, imprints on T-shirts and stylized impressions on tiles are all popular. Heather said the shop has worked with children as young as 1 week old—though in that instance they used the baby’s feet.
“You can do everything from a peace sign to ‘I love you,’” she said, noting the different hand gestures. “Couples even come in and hold hands.”
She said they’ve been working a great deal with camps of late but also do other events as well, even birthday parties.
“A lot of parents are looking for that newer scene, but they are tired of the jump house or bowling alleys,” she said. “(Here), it’s something tangible you can take home.”
This month, the new establishment won best in show at the Jaycees Fourth of July parade. The store owners made spray paint art, handing the pieces out from the float as they went along.
“It was thinking outside the box,” Heather said. “We didn’t just make a float and spend thousands of dollars putting all this tissue on. We just did what we do every day.”
That sort of improvisational ethos and desire for frugality can be a big driver of crafts work. Gail Zumwalt, owner of Stitches, Etc, a nearby South Main Street business said she thinks the economy has really been a factor in the popularity of homemade crafts work.
“That’s part of my goal here, to show people how they could be doing things at a better price,” she said.
Stitches, Etc sells everything for the do-it-yourself cross stitcher or embroiderer from patterns and thread to needles and fabric. She thinks money is a big concern these days, and people are more partial to doing things for themselves rather than buying from a retail outlet.
“That’s part of it, but I also think it’s a true birth of creativity that’s bringing them in,” she said.
She says business has been steady, and perhaps has even gone up a bit of late. Throughout her nine years of owning the shop, she said interest in the hobby has waxed and waned.
“When I first came in it was dying, and there was a big fear that it was going away and then there was resurgence,” Zumwalt said.
Connie Kukal at nearby Knit and Caboodle said she thinks age is playing a role.
“We’ve seen an increase in the number of younger people, more 18 to 30-year-olds,” she said. “We did a Groupon recently, and over 140 people responded that they were interested in taking beginner’s classes.”
Kukal’s business offers lessons in everything from crocheting to the more obscure art of spinning yarn from raw wool. While the idea of making yarn may seem anachronistic, Kukal said it’s a great diversion.
“It consumes you,” she said. “All of your senses are involved in fiber and spinning.”
She said she feels interest in the area is up significantly.
“It seems like our beginning knitting classes are the most popular," she said. "People want to come in and learn. Last January and February, we had more than 40 people take our beginning classes, so the demand has really seemed to increase in the last few years.”
She said she’s seen an explosion of craft websites and knitting blogs recently that are really helping to connect those with an interest in the topic.
She also admits the shop does its part. “We’re enablers,” she said. “It is very addictive. It’s very relaxing. Knitting is also very social.”
That’s not lost on Victoria Riddle. The 59-year-old Frenchtown resident said she thinks crafts are growing because they bring people together in an increasingly anonymous electronic world.
“People are so distanced from themselves now in so many ways,” said Riddle, who enjoys crocheting as well as making her own soap and rugs. “Everybody’s doing the Internet. Everybody’s on Facebook, so they don’t have a lot of contact with people on a physical level. They are not writing or conversing. They are just texting, so I think people are really trying to get in touch with themselves in a different way.”
She also sees a greater interest in the art form from the next generation.
“We’re finding that younger people are becoming interested. It isn’t just the old ladies sitting around knitting anymore,” she said. “Knitting is just one aspect. I think other crafts are a part of that.”
Those crafts can provide a wide variety of different creative outlets from quilting to jewelry making.
“One of the reasons, I think, also is that we have so many resources in St. Charles to draw from,” she said. “The shops are amazing, and the craft stores are amazing also so they are finding a lot of things here they don’t find in other places. Their crafty side is coming out, especially when they go to the area along Main St. and see all the things that can be made and purchased.”