Sensory Overload at West Coast Craft

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Over the years, I’ve visited a good number of conventions and fairs, yet it’s only recently that I’ve truly mastered the essentials for making sure I last through the day. My feet still remember all those times I’ve worn the most impractical of heels, only to end up wincing in pain after about two hours of strolling across the concrete floors of some expo hall. Add that to the fact that it’s taken me nearly two decades to finally grasp the proper approach to layering clothes in the city, and it’s a surprise I’d ever managed to get anything done in San Francisco without getting cranky and going home right away.

On Saturday, my clearly advanced survival skills (I’m waiting, Merit Badge Fairy!) came in handy at the inaugural West Coast Craft fair. With my proper arch support and light weight scarf, I was able to spend over four hours strolling back and forth between the booths and was able to really soak in the fun, relaxed atmosphere of the fair. The organizers managed to strike just the right balance in spacing out the vendor aisles, making sure there was enough to keep visitors browsing for hours, while still leaving a wide berth for mingling and large communal eating tables. There was a coat check, a coffee stand right outside, and the sound system was rigged so that you could hear music everywhere but not be overpowered by it. Nick Sarno and Co. found a low-key way to appeal to every single one of the senses (including the 6th sense, and by that I mean FEELINGS) to ensure that we would keep on shopping and hanging out at WCC. If it wasn’t so much fun, I’d almost consider them evil masterminds.


Fabrics! Colors! L to R: Gravel & Gold; Ealish Wilson; Tasty Ties; Osei Duro; Sketchbook Crafts

Bright jewel colors and neutral shades were on equal display, from clothes to ceramics and accessories. Between the designers and the attendees, I saw a lot of chambray, lightly treated denim, crochets and knits in earth tones, leather and canvas, and lots of hand dyed organic fabrics. At the same time, while things looked sort of rustic, it was clear that many of the designers were taking traditional methods of craftsmanship and putting a modern twist on them by using new techniques. For years now, my approach to dressing myself has been a mostly monochromatic outfit - or some mélange of black, grey and more grey, often in stripes - with a bright scarf added for a pop of color. Scarves are what drew me to the booth of textile designer Ealish Wilson from the UK. She explained to me the process of taking objects like lace, photographing them, rendering the design into 3D, and then converting it back to a flat design to be printed as a fabric pattern. The most craftiness I can muster is making a snowman out of cotton balls, so I always end up in awe and a little bit confused when makers explain their creative process to me. For those of you more on the tongue in cheek side, I saw a cropped silk blouse hand painted with a pattern of breasts in various shapes and sizes at the Gravel & Gold stand.



I try to be good about looking with my eyes, not my hands, mostly because I don’t want to accidentally snag a delicate piece of fabric or put a smudge on something. But it was kind of hard to resist doing that at the fair. I’m a bit sensitive to certain textures, particularly when it comes to food or the feel of certain fabrics against my skin. (I’m working on overcoming my aversion to certain things that I know taste delicious but freak me out because they’re a little too slimy). When it comes to my surroundings, however, comforting textures are as important as how things look or their practical use. Jacques Tati’s movie Playtime is my idea of a nightmarish environment: austere and open, all white and grey chrome, glass and plastic. Ironically, a lot of the furniture I saw at the expo actually recalls a lot of '50s and '60s design, but the materials used are a bit more organic in appearance: lots of reclaimed wood, slightly imperfect ceramics, and textiles that beg to be touched. This speaks to me, as I would describe my aesthetic approach firmly planted between Russian country cottage style and the Jetsons.


There were so many lovely scents wafting about the place (both from the food and the various vendors selling perfumes and body care products) that at one point I just ended up following my nose. Although I did venture outside to observe how the guys at Juniper Ridge extracted natural fragrance oils from sage using science and wizardry, for the most part, my nose led me back to food. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, although a good way to get me on your side is with a freshly baked kouign amann. I do, however, have a savory tooth. Which is why it pleases me to tell you that it is definitely the age of the pickle. One of the more popular vendors was the McVicker Pickles booth. My friend and I almost came to blows over the last jar of pickled grapes. Armadas of ships were launched over smaller matters. There were also vendors selling kimchi, and olive oils and spices. I know we’ve had this ongoing fondness for the combination of savory and sweet for a while, as Tony Bravo noted a while back, but I still prefer my salty, tangy and briny foods unadulterated with things like maple syrup or chocolate.



Throughout the event, there was some great music filling the expo hall, from breezy and hazy tracks that reminded me a little bit of Washed Out, to folk songs that could have been Vashti Bunyan. But my ears were more tuned to hearing what people were saying. Towards the end of the day, I ended up chatting with an artist who told me that for him one of the motivating factors for participating in the fair was the fact that he saw so many other artists and makers he admired on the roster. The overwhelming sense I got from both the visitors and the vendors is that we’re all tired of poorly constructed objects that don’t last; we want quality over quantity; we like shopping to be a pleasant, welcoming experience. More than that, there is definitely a community of both creators and consumers that are drawn together by a common longing for a sense of comfort and craftsmanship. I still couldn’t tell you in simple, ad copy perfect words what it is that actually makes “West coast style,” but if what I saw on Saturday is any indication, West coast is where I’m happy to be right now.