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A frog made from twirled paper.

Celebrate life's little pleasures.

Celebrate National Craft Month.

March has been designated by the craft industry — which will be a $29 billion industry this year — as a time to focus on crafts, to introduce people to new crafts and to talk about the pleasures that crafts give us, said Terry Ouellette, a national spokesperson for the Hobby Industry Association.

As an Emmy-award winner for her Arizona-based home arts-and-crafts show, Ouellette has long kept her eye on what's going on in the field.

The No. 1 reason why people do crafts, she said in a telephone interview from New York City, where she's on the road for Craft Month, is to make gifts for someone. The No. 2 reason is to make something for their homes.

So, she said, its an industry that evokes feelings of love and sharing as well as artistry and creativity. Besides that, "it's just fun. Personally, I'm driven to create. I have to have that outlet. It relieves stress, it helps me relax, and I get excited to see new things come along. Crafts are also a way to bond with other women, with other people who have similar interests."

According to HIA surveys, more than 8 out of 10 households in America have at least one family member engaged in crafts/hobbies. The typical crafter spends 7.5 hours a week engaged in his/her craft/hobby.

Crafts tend to be more popular with women — 97 percent of adult women ages 55-64 have participated in a crafting activity in their lifetime. Of these, 88 percent continue to craft — including four in 10 women over the age of 75.

When it comes to specific crafts, said Ouellette, "scrapbooking in huge. And it's a trend that's never, never going to go away. It's just going to grow, get more advanced."

Even people who don't make scrapbooks are finding ways to incorporate those techniques into other projects. "They make shadow boxes for their walls, or make pillows or cards." A new, popular craft, she said is "altered books. People buy old books at the thrift store, decorate the covers with letters and tags and fibers. Then they cut out the pages inside to hold polymer clay figures or other treasures."

Beads are very popular, she said. As are jewelry, clothing enhancements, anything in needlework. "Knitting and crocheting scarves — that trend is huge."

That's something that RaNae Zimmerman has noticed at local Zim's stores. "Knitting and crocheting is bigger than it's ever been in history," she said. She credits it to the popularity of knitted scarves, hats and shawls, but also to a return to "comfort crafts. After Sept. 11, we saw a shift back to more of those."

She also puts scrapbooking at the top of the list. "There's always something new there. It changes monthly."

Cross-stitch has stayed strong, she said, and tole painting has a loyal and dedicated following.

Interest in crafting died down for a while, Zimmerman said. "I don't know if it was because mothers were too busy to turn it over to the next generation, or what." There was always a dedicated clientele for any craft, but now, she said, craft stores are offering more classes, teaching new ideas and bring in new people. "We get a lot of people who come in and say their grandmother did this or a friend told them about it, and they want to learn."

Diane Thomas, who manages the downtown Mormon Handicraft store, has also noticed a resurgence in interest both in people who buy items from the store and in consignors who offer them products.

Now there are more craft malls and consignment shops around, but Mormon Handicraft is the oldest, she said. It was organized in 1937 by Louise Robinson, general president of the LDS Relief Society as a way to help women earn money while tending to home and family.

In 1986, when the Relief Society announced plans to close Mormon Handicraft because it didn't fit with the needs of the worldwide church, there was a huge outcry among the public. One week before the closing, Mormon Handicraft became a division of Deseret Book.

And it's going stronger than ever. "We add between 150 and 200 consignors each year. We have between 500 and 600 consignors who are very active and about that many more who contribute on a more infrequent basis." In fact, they are in the process of opening satellite Mormon Handcraft outlets in seven Deseret Book stores throughout Utah and Arizona. "So, we are always looking for new crafters." (Products must be adjudicated to make sure they meet certain standards. The consignor pays a yearly fee of $25 and receives 70 percent of the profit.)

"It's fun," said Thomas, "to see the new things the crafters come up with. Some things are perennial favorites, like the quilts and dolls. We have people who have been making those for us for 10-15 years."

But other things are also popular. Pillows and wall hangings with embroidered sayings are big, as are pressed-flower art-and-prose pieces. A new item is canning jars, which have been painted and turned into candle holders.

Part of Mormon Handicraft's mission, she said, is to help retain heritage crafts. "They're a part of who we are. We can't lose that; it's too precious." To that end, Mormon Handicraft offers a variety of classes dealing with everything from quilting to knitting, crocheting, rug-making and more.

The classes are a lot of fun, said Ann Danzig, who recently taught a class featuring a simple table-runner with snap-on blocks for each month. They give (mostly) women a chance to come and learn skills while enjoying the company of other crafters, she said.

"I've quilted for four years, but I'm a beginner," laughs Carrie Moore, who was taking the table-runner class. "I begin things and begin things and begin things. Now I'm trying to finish some things off. But it's addictive. And so much fun!"

Home arts, said Thomas, are "embedded in our relationships with each other." But, she adds, crafts are also very personal. The crafts and activities you are drawn to, "are part of what makes you you. Embrace that."

There are so many ways to express yourself, to have fun, she said. "Crafts really are little things that give us special pleasures."


E-mail: carma@desnews.com