Handmade in T.O.
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Handmade in T.O.

While local handmade hub Toronto Craft Alert is bidding the city farewell, the city's craft scene continues its explosion online and on the ground.

A summer 2009 Toronto Craft Alert event. Photo by {a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/angelune/3707143482/sizes/z/in/photostream/t”}Moon Angel{/a} from the {a href=”http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/”}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}

On February 9, the online hub of Toronto’s handmade community announced it would be shuttering its site at the end of the month. Run by Jen Anisef, Toronto Craft Alert has been an online bulletin board of sorts for craft events, workshops, and exhibitions since 2006. Anisef also helped to co-found the city’s annual City of Craft holiday festival, whose director, Becky Johnson, spoke with us in December. During that conversation, Johnson noted that the crafting landscape has become more difficult for artisans to navigate over the past few years, partly as a consequence of the recession, but also as a result of handmade culture entering the mainstream, upping competition among those looking to sell their wares. While Anisef agrees that times are changing, her reasons for packing up Toronto Craft Alert are personal.

“I’ve been running this project for six years and it’s been an incredible experience for me,” says Anisef. “But it does definitely take up a lot of my free time. I’m a maker myself, and with working full-time now, I want to clear space to make things.”

Nevertheless, Anisef agrees with Johnson’s assessment that the nature of craft businesses has undergone immense changes over the past few years. “When I started out, I had a few craft businesses in the early years of this craft revival. It was so casual. You didn’t have to have a product line. But I’ve seen, over the years, a definite increase in brand awareness.” The “plucky optimism” of makers in early-2000s craft shows has been replaced by a more calculated sense of business savvy.

Kalpna Patel, a West Toronto-based maker of metal and paper goods, has watched what she describes as a “huge spike” in craft events across the city over the past five or so years. She shares Anisef’s observation that makers have become, as a group, more entrepreneurially minded.

“I think more people are depending on or engaging in craft in an entrepreneurial way, turning to craft as their livelihood or at least to supplement their other income,” says Patel. “Just as there are fashion trends, there are certainly trends in craft, whether they are aesthetic or related to various media [or] methods. And while I can see specific trends petering out, I think handmade culture in Toronto is here to stay.”

“People are definitely thinking more about aesthetic trends and marketing to an end user,” Anisef concurs. “That’s informing what they’re making. But I think, also, the proliferation of craft blogs connecting people all over the world in a way has also kind of homogenized what’s being made. People end up making a lot more similar stuff, because there’s more and more shared influence.”

Still, Anisef is by and large an enthusiastic proponent of an online craft culture. She recalls moving back to Toronto in 2004 after a period of living in Montreal. “There was no centralized resource to find out about what was happening or to connect with other makers,” she says of that time. Now, with the proliferation of blogs and social media sites, Anisef believes that this communication gap has been bridged. It’s become much easier for Toronto’s community of crafters to grow and jell.

“There’s a lot more ways to find out about that information now, so I don’t feel like I’m leaving the community in the lurch,” she says. “Those resources weren’t there, necessarily, when I started the [Toronto Craft Alert] project.”

Just in case, the Toronto Craft Alert will continue to maintain its Facebook page as a forum for makers and DIY aficionados alike after the main site ceases operations at the end of the month.