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Rocking the Stitch Rock

How does one annual event become a cannot-miss, long looked forward-to major celebration? Although the town lacks the massive cultural capital of Miami, Delray Beach is rapidly becoming a center of local culture amidst Palm Beach County and this upcoming weekend will tell visitors why. In addition to the traditional Delray Beach Craft Festival taking over several blocks of famed Atlantic Avenue, Stitch Rock, South Florida’s largest indie craft market, will be taking over Delray’s Old School Gymnasium on Saturday, October 3.

Since the first Stitch Rock in October of 2007, the event has blossomed from an Etsy spillover to a must-attend day in Delray. The brainchild of artist and entrepreneur Amanda Linton, Stitch Rock has only increased in popularity over its existence. Linton originally simply wanted to put in place a market where she could buy the local wares she saw on Etsy, but it’s spun into so much more and helped inspire a thriving craft scene across South Florida. “Pretty much the reason I started it was because I wanted to shop for the goods I saw on Etsy,” she said. “I couldn’t understand why no one else had tried it, so I gave it a go.”

Upon arrival at Stitch Rock, you’ll find not only unconventional craft vendors from all over Florida, but food trucks, popsicle stands, cupcake vendors, live music, fashion shows, and most of all, plenty of hard-working local artisans who deserve some of your hard earned cash.

“We’re all just out there hustling. It’s really nice being a vendor and seeing your friends and fellow vendors and how far they’ve come,” said Melodie Blaize of SnipTease, who’s especially well known in Miami for her customized clothing. “I’m excited about this weekend. Stitch Rock brings its own awesome community and there are some people I only see there once a year.”

Skirt made from an old table cloth by TableWears. (Courtesy of Stitch Rock)

But why indie craft fairs? What distinguishes events like Stitch Rock from larger, more commonly occurring events throughout South Florida? Nate Shelton, editor of the art & craft show magazine Sunshine Artist, believes that indie craft fairs definitively serve an often unserved market. “As wonderful as traditional craft or art fairs can be for any community, indie craft fairs have a unique ability to capture the attention of consumers who might otherwise shy away from the ‘same-old, same-old’,” he said. “Whether the exhibitors at these events use time-tested crafting techniques to pay homage to today’s most adored pop-culture properties, find all-new ways of working with classic mediums, or even lead a resurgence in crafting methods previously thought to be lost to the sands of time, they truly offer something for just about any taste under the sun.”

And as with Stitch Rock, which incorporates food trucks and live music and other performances, indie craft fairs become experiences all of their own.

Papercut art made by Scissor Storm. (Courtesy of Stitch Rock)

Organizer Amanda Linton may also be South Florida’s busiest woman in crafts. In addition to planning Stitch Rock and selling her own wares at the event, she runs the Slush Box gallery at Ink & Pistons Tattoo salon in West Palm Beach and has also masterminded events such as Art Rock in West Palm Beach, Downtown Open Market in Boca Raton, and Retro Indie Market in Boynton Beach.

In many ways, Stitch Rock is the culmination of many more frequent events that occur throughout the tri-county area. Smaller scale events, including the art walks that are phenomenally popular from the heart of Wynwood to the industrial fringes of Boynton Beach, appear in many cities up and down the coast, but Stitch Rock remains the powerhouse of the off-kilter crafting scene in South Florida.

When asked why she believes Stitch Rock is so very popular, Linton is humble, believing that much of the event’s success is due to its perpetually excellent vendors. “I think one of the main reasons people love Stitch Rock so much is due to the consistency of knowing you will find tons of great quality vendors year after year,” she said. “Also, having the show only once a year makes it special and something to look forward to.”

In the early years of Stitch Rock’s success, several other similar events popped up in other cities, including the Indie Craft Bazaar, which hosts events in various cities across Broward, and Hollywood’s Odd Duck Bazaar. Miami’s most notable indie craft fair, the Brickell Bazaar, opened up on Tobacco Road in May 2011, but unfortunately could not continue to pull in crowds like Stitch Rock and, based on its web presence, was absorbed into the Indie Craft Bazaar organization.

Books turned into custom art by Recycled Jude. (Courtesy of Stitch Rock)

One of the big differences between indie craft fairs and established large scale, often juried, arts fairs (such as the Coconut Grove Arts Festival, one of the largest and most-recognized outdoor fine arts festivals in the country) is also the availability of goods at a lower price point. While there are definitely big ticket items available at Stitch Rock, many of the vendors there seek the business of young people and young families. In many ways, this makes Delray, a city with a demonstrably lower price tag than Miami, an ideal home for such a fair.

Stitch Rock has also maintained a funky yet family feel over the years. In its early days, the event was popularized by word of mouth, with the information spread mostly among groups of young women locally. As Linton said about many of Stitch Rock’s early vendors and patrons, “You make things that you can use, that your friends can use.” Each year, there seem to be more young children attending the event, which Linton believes reflects less on the market attracting children and more on regular patrons starting families. “A lot of us we started in our early 20s, and now many of us have kids,” she said. “It’s just a natural progression.”

Courtesy of Stitch Rock

An event like this could not exist without the influence of artists in from Miami, several of whom represent at Stitch Rock every year. One such artist, Cristina Montes, a self-described “geek mom,” brings her unique brand of knit and crochet toys (under the personal brand Crafstina’s Stitchery) to the event.

For Miamians who would like to see more events such as Stitch Rock closer to home, even the experts know that sometimes indie craft fairs can be difficult to sustain. As Linton explained, “It’s a tricky combination, wanting to give vendors a place to sell their goods and being careful not to oversaturate the market. I don’t have all the answers; I have just managed to figure out works for us in our market.”

Regardless, Stitch Rock is the perfect excuse to see what the arts and indie crafts scene is serving up beyond Miami-Dade County. Admission to Stitch Rock is $5 and gift bags go to the first 100 visitors. Doors open at noon and the fair runs until 6 p.m.