Pam Dart transforms vintage pillowcases into dresses, evoking the kind of nostalgia that moves the Penryn crafter's customers to tears.
Jennifer Smith has been crocheting since she was 5 years old, knitting since 17 and now has a burgeoning Etsy.com business.
Danya MacDonald and Traci Townsend have seen a steady uptick in business at their Folsom shop, Sew Fun Fabrics Quilting and Sewing Center.
Kate Payne can't get enough of canning. Erik Knutzen likes making vinegar, soap, beer and bread.
They're generationally diverse Xers, Yers, boomers yet they're tapping into skills that many people in their age groups have forgotten, abandoned or never learned.
An increasing number of Americans are picking up or perfecting the handicrafts and homemaking abilities so valued in the 1950s. As it turns out, there's more than just pleasure and pride to be had in these humble pastimes. There's also coin.
Smith launched her Etsy store, Cupc4ke, in January 2010. The 26-year-old's crocheted monkey hats and array of beanies for children have become wildly popular. She starts preparing for the holiday rush in August.
Smith maintains a full-time job at Macy's, but her side business is profitable.
"It's daunting, but a great experience to be successful," she said. "It puts a smile in my heart because someone is happy with something I made. It's cool to know the stuff I make in little Sacramento is over in Switzerland and Germany and Canada."
Smith learned to crochet as a girl from her grandmother and picked up knitting as a teen from her aunt. She's happy to pass along her knowledge, too.
"It's sad that more people don't create because it's a great way of expressing yourself," she said. "I'll teach anyone who wants to know because I don't want it to go away."
Although Smith has a full-time job, many other people joined the Etsy community to make ends meet after being laid off during the recession, noted John Gerzema, a social theorist and consumer behavior expert. What they found, he added, was a new career doing something they loved.
Gerzema is co-author of "Spend Shift: How the Post-Crisis Values Revolution Is Changing the Way We Buy, Sell and Live" (Jossey-Bass, $25.95, 288 pages). The book shares findings from a two-year study that analyzed the behaviors of 1.2 million people since 1993.
Among the findings: Nearly two-thirds of respondents agreed that, since the recession, they're interested in learning new skills to do more for themselves and rely less on others.
"The crisis took away more than money; it took away self-esteem," Gerzema said. "The crafts movement is a movement to restore self-worth and reliance as much as making things."
Dart started her business, Warm Hugs Design, after being laid off in 2009. The vintage linens she had stashed away turned out to be perfect for making pillowcase dresses, not unlike the ones her own grandmother made out of flour sacks.
"People are really taken by them," she said.
Dart began by selling her dresses mostly on Etsy but has focused efforts at the Foothills Farmers Markets in Roseville and Rocklin.
While some customers like the dresses because they're made of vintage material, others appreciate that it means the old linens won't wind up in a landfill. Many are swept up in the nostalgia they evoke.
"One gal cried," she said. "People comment that they really like getting back to the basics of remembering yesteryear, and that's why I love doing it."
Interest in getting back to basics seems to surge every time the economy takes a turn for the worse, said Knutzen, who, along with wife Kelly Coyne, wrote "Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World" (Rodale Books, $19.99, 320 pages).
"It's almost as if we're rediscovering common sense," he said.
Knutzen, a Los Angeles resident, said that building a chicken coop or making homemade shampoo bars isn't about looking back, but moving forward.
"I like the Internet; I even tweet," he said. "It's a matter of combining high tech and low tech and integrating the two. ... It may be about discovering something more genuine."
Payne didn't learn the skills she writes about in "The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking: Decorating, Dining, and the Gratifying Pleasures of Self-Sufficiency on a Budget!" (Harper Design, $19.99, 288 pages) from her mother.
Instead, the 30-year-old Austin, Texas, writer gradually picked up skills by taking classes, reading books and talking with her grandmothers. She learned canning through community resources, books and an online university course.
Like a 1950s Southern granny, Payne cans whatever she can get her hands on watermelon (jelly), cucumbers (pickles), ground cherries (preserves).
The best thing she's ever canned? Concord grapes, which she scored during a chance walk through a farmers market while living in Brooklyn.
"I used an apple for pectin, and I was just so pleased with the result," she said of the jelly. "It was like my crowning moment of canning."
Making instead of buying is the root of the joy for Payne, even if it's something as simple as a meal or gift.
"It's really cool to be invited to an event and bring something that doesn't cost a lot of money to create, like a homemade apple crumble, and it's something you didn't just run to the store and spend $8 on and is sort of blah," Payne said.
MacDonald has noticed a younger generation of sewers and quilters frequenting the Folsom shop, Sew Fun Fabrics Quilting and Sewing Center, that she opened with Townsend this year.
Young children are taking sewing classes. A mother in her mid-20s often comes in to use the quilting machine.
Teenage girls pop by for fabric, patterns and ideas. Inspiration and encouragement also comes from popular culture such as the Bravo show "Project Runway."
Basic self-sufficiency, it seems, will never go out of style.
The hands-on approach
Want to try your hand at crafting or get back in touch with homemaking skills? Here are some books and resources to get you started.
The Sacramento County UC Cooperative Extension Master Food Preservers will demonstrate canning of pickles and late summer fruits from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 17 at the extension office, 4145 Branch Center Road, Sacramento. Cost is $3 and no registration is required. For information (916) 875-6913.
Sew Fun Fabric Quilting and Sewing Center offers classes for a wide range of skill levels. For class schedules and information, go to www.sewfunforall.com or call (916) 353-2700.
"Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post Consumer World" (Rodale Books, $19.99, 320 pages) by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen gives step-by-step instructions on everything from how to make mouthwash to beekeeping. Check out their blog, www.rootsimple.com.
"The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking: Decorating, Dining, and the Gratifying Pleasures of Self-Sufficiency on a Budget!" (Harper Design, $19.99, 288 pages) by Kate Payne offers tips on cleaning, canning, sewing and more. She blogs at http://hipgirlshome.com.
"Vintage Craft Workshop: Fresh Takes on Twenty-Four Classic Projects From the '60s and '70s" (Chronicle Books, $19.95, 142 pages) by Cathy Callahan features guidance on how to make vintage crafts like découpaged magazine holders and macramé hangers. Callahan blogs at www. cathyofcalifornia.typepad.com.
"Girl's World: Twenty-One Sewing Projects To Make for Little Girls" (Chronicle Books, $24.95, 176 pages) by Jennifer Paganelli includes adorable patterns for clothes, accessories and housewares.
Warm Hugs Design.
You can find Pam Dart and her vintage linen wares including her pillowcase dresses at the following Foothill Farmers Markets: 8 a.m. to noon Thursdays at Mahany Park (corner of Woodcreek Oaks and Pleasant Grove boulevards, Roseville);
8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every other Saturday in Rocklin (RC Willey at Blue Oaks Center). Next date is Aug. 6. Dart also will be at the First Friday events at Fountains at Roseville, 6-10 p.m. For more, go to http:// warmhugsdesign.blogspot.com.
Jennifer Smith's crocheted and knitted childrens' hats can be purchased through her online Etsy shop, www. Cupc4ke.etsy.com. Or visit her Facebook page, facebook.com/imCupc4ke.