Craft Quest: Southwestern Michigan

comments (2) May 25th, 2009     

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Jen_W Jennifer Worick, contributor
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The North Pier may be St. Joseph, Michigans most famous landmark, but the region is also full of distinctive craft shops and galleries.
Just Bead It in St. Joseph features a ton of samples to inspire jewelry designers.
If you visit St. Joseph, make sure to try out the blue moon ice cream at Kilwins.
Located next to Just Bead It, Forever Books is a well-stocked independent bookstore.
My high school classmate Stephanie owns Gotta Go Pottery, a great place to craft with your kid.
The North Pier may be St. Joseph, Michigans most famous landmark, but the region is also full of distinctive craft shops and galleries.

The North Pier may be St. Joseph, Michigan's most famous landmark, but the region is also full of distinctive craft shops and galleries.

Photo: Sheila Miller

Growing up in Southwestern Michigan, I had little to no interest in crafts. Sure, I rolled out pie dough with Grandma and watched as Mom découpaged yet another Holly Hobby-ish head or affixed a seagull and some moss to a piece of driftwood with a bit of florist's putty.

But I was focused on being a big-city career gal and studying my buns off so I could get out of Dodge.

Which all came to pass exactly as planned.

But a funny thing happened along the way. Antiques creeped into my apartment (located a fer piece from my Michigan beginnings), I spent long days trolling flea markets, I happily used my great-grandmother's Blue Ridge Pottery plates. I took a few jewelry-making classes. I learned to knit.

When returning home these days, I finally have some activities other than sitting on the couch and wishing I could pry the remote out of my History-Channel-lovin' stepdad's hands. I hit the antique mall down the road, I chat up mom's girlfriends about knitting and sewing while knocking back a cold one at the American Legion. And I drive around the area, checking out various craft shops.

Come to find out, my stepmom's former student Wendy Larson now owns the Weekend Weaver (4229 Lake St.), a shop in Bridgman, Michigan, devoted to spinning and felting yarn. Wendy generously gave me a spinning demo when I popped into the shop and I snapped up some locally produced alpaca yarn.

I also love visiting Ivelise's Yarn Shop (159 E. Napier Ave.) in Benton Harbor, located on a corner I drove by almost every day in high school. Somehow, with homework and drama club rehearsals, I never even noticed the shop. And what a well-lit, well-stocked, spacious shop it is. It's fun to go in there, plop down with my knitting bag, and visit with both customers and employees alike. Just down the road near the Orchards Mall is Jo-Ann Fabric & Crafts, where I always snap up spools of ribbon on December 26.

Across the river in St. Joseph, Just Bead It (312A State St.) is a great little bead shop nestled in a quaint block of State Street. After getting a cone of blue moon ice cream at Kilwin's, this is just the place to pick up an unusual lampwork bead or restock my fire polish. And I never fail to find something in the small-but-mighty Forever Books (312 State St.), located next door to Just Bead It. My high school classmate Stephanie owns Gotta Go Pottery, around the corner from Forever Books at 516 Broad St. It's a fun, lively place for kids' crafting parties. Over the holidays while I was visiting with Steph, I saw more than one parent picking up an ornament that their child had painted and had been left to be fired. When I want to check out some grown-up artisans' wares, I head to Chartruese (304 State St.), an artists' co-op filled with with all sorts of local jewelry, pottery, artwork, and other cool goodies, or the Box Factory (1101 Broad St.), which features several galleries, a gift shop, and studios for more than 30 artists.

Further afield is Trade Wind Beads on Main Street in Watervliet. The dusty shop features a ton of seed beads and loads of semiprecious strands in unusual shapes. I never know what I'm going to unearth, and that happily feeds my flea-market soul.

For my paper craft needs, Creating Lasting Memories (2632 W. John Beers Rd.) is located just down the road from my dad's place in Stevensville. It's chockablock full of acid-free papers, stickers, Fiskars tools, and everything I need for special paper projects. If I can't find what I need there, I zip over to Creative Adventure (1142 Vineland Rd.), which also specializes in paper and scrapbooking needs, but it stocks a good assortment of other craft and art supplies as well.

It's pretty amazing all of the resources that were in my backyard all the time. I only needed to look. And when I don't want to leave my mom's cozy kitchen, I just pull out her jewelry box for inspiration. That Sarah Coventry owl from the '70s looks pretty fresh right about now.

What shops have you discovered in your hometown?

In the future, you can find me at my website or blogs, Things I Want to Punch in the Face and Prairie Tales. My new book, Backcountry Betty: Crafting with Style, is hitting the stores now.

posted in: travel, st. joseph, benton harbor, southwestern michigan

Comments (2)

Jen1964 writes: Sounds like a crafter's dream vacation town.
Seems like around here where I live the craft stores have a really hard time thriving. Could be greedy landlords or high taxes (both likely) or the slim base of crafty customers with actual time on their hands. That's a symptom of modern city life, and some of the nearby areas I've seen.
So I look for my supplies at garage sales and on vacations wherever I go.
I would buy at home if the stores were still here. The closest surviving is next town over. Some stores make the mistake of selling only mid to higher end stuff. That rules out all young moms and middle agers with mild-mannered incomes! Then there's the hefty competition of the already made stuff, where the finished product costs less than the materials to make it. (How'd they do that?) Not a nice thing to do to faithful crafters!
So my heart is with you on the towns that prize their crafts.
Posted: 12:14 pm on July 23rd
pedalpower writes: St. Joe is one of my favorite little the summer we live about 20 minutes from there. Silver Beach in St. Joe is a great place to spend the afternoon drawing.
Posted: 1:01 pm on May 27th
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