Make It! Vancouver artisans offer new twists on standards

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      Most people have a slightly scarring holiday story from childhood that involves the unwrapping of a practical parental present such as pyjamas or the dreaded underwear. And if they don’t have a wince-inducing memory of their own, Hollywood has been kind enough to portray such moments on the big and small screens for decades.

      But that was then. When it comes to giving gifts to adults, it’s the thought that counts. And who doesn’t love receiving something useful, especially in Vancouver, where not everyone can afford an attic in which to stockpile unwanted tokens of affection.

      No one is advocating that you hand out family packs of white tube socks or rubber dishwashing gloves to everyone on your list. The key to giving functional gifts is an air of individuality. Few events in the city offer as much in the handmade, one-of-a-kind way as the Make It! craft fair, taking place Thursday to Sunday (December 4 to 7) at the PNE Forum (2901 East Hastings Street). With 250 vendors from across the country selling their creations, the Straight spoke with a few who are offering original takes on the everyday.

      Fit to be tied

      Vincci Li's unique Topknot ties.

      The go-to gift for youngsters to give Dad on Father’s Day, ties also make uncredited cameos throughout the festive season. If the recipient is a tie-wearer, they should get a lot of use out of your offering. Why not give them something as unique as they are instead of a prewrapped polyester slip-on?

      “I don’t want people to feel they have to take my ties off to go grab a beer after work,” says Vincci Li, the designer behind Topknot Ties. A master’s student in communications at SFU, Li fashions skinny ties out of recycled and vintage fabrics in her Mount Pleasant living room and has no plans to make them full-time, much to the relief of her boyfriend/obliging fit model. “It’s a hobby business,” says Li, who spends two to three hours on each tie to find the right balance of texture and colour. Supply at Make It! will be limited to how quickly Li can sew in the coming days. Topknot Ties sell for $65 to $70.

      In contrast, tie-making is Brandy Byhoffer of the Green Flamingo Designs’ main source of income. A proponent of the “do what you love” school of thought, Byhoffer wears ties almost every day. “Ties are a big part of my wardrobe,” she says by phone from her Burnaby home, “but being a woman, it was hard to find ties that suited me—pun intended—so I made them myself.”

      Green Flamingo Designs take the bow tie into gender-neutral territory.

      Byhoffer’s ties are made with upcycled vintage fabric and designed to be gender-neutral. Since launching last summer, she’s expanded her line beyond long ties and bow ties ($20 to $25) to include pet bow ties ($12) and hair clips ($4).

      Sock it to me

      Thermohair's cuddly mohair socks.

      “We never got socks for Christmas, we got pyjamas,” says Thermohair Inc. founder Theresa Bergeron by phone from her southern Ontario farmstead, where she tends upwards of 50 goats. “Maybe that’s why I went into making socks and not sleep shirts!” Founded 22 years ago, Thermohair is one of Canada’s largest mohair-sock producers. Available in 10 to 12 hand-dyed shades as well as natural white, black, and grey, “these aren’t your $1 socks at Walmart,” she says. “Mohair is a very long-wearing material. I get people coming to craft fairs with socks they bought from me two decades ago that look just as good today as they did then.” Thermohair also outfitted members of the expedition that recently discovered the wreck of British explorer Sir John Franklin’s ship HMS Erebus in Nunavut. “You can’t really take tube socks to the Arctic,” Bergeron says. “Well, you can, it’s just not advisable.” Thermohair socks sell for $30 to $40 a pair.

      Neck and neck

      >Make It! will be Leonie Vatter’s seventh craft show of the season, and also her favourite: “It really speaks to the customers I have,” she says by phone from Calgary, where she’s slipped away from her booth at another market. “It has such a young, fun audience, and that’s who I make my scarves for.” The German-born designer behind Calgary-based Maple and Oak Designs sources fabric from vintage shops and estate sales to make infinity scarves, headbands, and more aimed at “bold people who aren’t afraid to wear colour. I’m upbeat, happy, and a little funky. So is what I make.” Prices range from $30 to $45 for scarves and $15 to $25 for headbands.