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A Conversation with Sue Eggen

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Sue Eggen, 28, moved to Pittsburgh from Portland, Ore., last summer after her boyfriend enrolled in grad school at the University of Pittsburgh. Among other delights, she found a burgeoning community of hip young crafters who spurred her plans to open a Pittsburgh branch of the Church of Craft.

 

What did you think Pittsburgh was going to be like?

Really dirty, really gloomy, gray, industrial -- what you usually hear. We came across the bridge, out of the tunnel, and I saw all of the bridges and my heart just started to flutter -- I thought it was so beautiful. My expectations of Pittsburgh went from zero to 10 instantly. From then on, I was really excited about the town.

 

How did you discover other crafters here?

I just started to meet other people and wanted to create something in Pittsburgh that would bring everyone together -- that wouldn't be strictly a social gathering. I wanted there to be an outlet for crafters to feel like they have somewhere to go and get help with what they're working on, learn new crafts, and also meet some really cool people -- hence the Church of Craft.

 

What's the Church of Craft?

The Church of Craft was started in New York City, and now there are groups in Boston, London, L.A., and Portland, where I learned about it. Essentially it is a regular monthly gathering where crafters get together and show other people in the group a craft and everyone learns it, or just bringing what you're working on and helping out others who have questions.

 

Is there something about Pittsburgh that leads you to believe that this is going to be a good Church of Craft location?

Even if it is tiny, that's OK with me. But it seems that Pittsburgh is so thirsty for this outlet. I think there are more people here crafting than in Portland, which surprised me.

 

The younger generation is dominated by technology and automation. Do people get restless hands?

I think that having your hands do something else besides tap on a gray keyboard all day is very empowering, especially when you actually get an end product that is useful or pretty. Most of us work in businesses where nothing is physically created anymore. People want to be artists, and with crafting they can actually produce something. Some crafts enable people who may not have any traditional artistic skills to be creative. It's an outlet for your ideas.

 

It seems many of the newer hipster crafts focus on recycling or re-adapting products.

A lot of crafters go to thrift stores, and we see things there that we can de-construct and re-construct into something else. It's a good source of cheap material that is unique, so it gives any craft project more character. Like I take old sweaters and rip them to pieces -- make leg warmers, arm warmers, hats, scarves. I use every single piece of the sweater. I also use men's button-down shirts and silk-screen on to them, then hand-stitch embroidery over the silk-screen. Old pillowcases make awesome skirts, for instance. Picture frames, old records, jewelry, buttons, belts, shoes -- I turn it into something else.

 

 

There's also a desire for stuff that is created by hand, whether it's for sale or just a gift. A lot of indie kids don't want to go to Target and buy something that everyone else has; they want something that someone else made and is different.

 

 

 

What do you do to make crafts seem more gender-neutral?

I know some guys who silk-screen, hand-stitch and knit, but absolutely it's harder for guys to take up a handicraft. I think a lot of the recycled crafting seems more unisex. Part of the Church of Craft mission is to help people understand that crafts aren't just knitting, sewing and frilly things, but that you can make things with leftover Pabst Blue Ribbon cans. Get some heavy-duty gloves, an X-Acto knife and we're gonna make some kick-ass light-covers for your room. One of the Church's goals is to train people to think of crafting as this activity beyond the guidebooks, kits and their preconceived ideas -- to take what interests them or a visual thing that appeals to them and be able to translate that into some sort of "traditional" craft form.

 

So if you were a punk-rocker dude, you might learn to embroider the A-in-a-circle on your hoodie instead using a Sharpie?

Exactly.

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