Alva Houston

Dogwood Crafters member Alva Houston stands with a display of some of her handmade dolls at the store in Dillsboro. 

By Dave Russell

 

The creations of 85 crafters in the 2,788 square feet of Dillsboro’s Dogwood Crafters isn’t enough for Director Brenda Anders.

“We always say there is room for one more,” Anders said. “I would say we could hold another 20 crafters. We can always scoot over and have more room.”

Crafters within a 175-mile radius of Dogwood’s 90 Webster St. building in Dillsboro are welcome. 

“We have that in place because they need to be able to come to the shop and take care of their inventory,” she said. “And hopefully work at the shop.”

Dogwood has two levels of membership for crafters.

Those who put in 176 hours per year at the shop working the register and assisting customers pay only 20 percent of sales to Dogwood. 

“That’s only 16 hours per month,” she said. 

Those who do not work at the store pay a 40 percent commission, Anders said 

Anders is looking to expand both membership and the collective’s offerings.

“We don’t have a lot of wooden bowls right now,” she said. “We don’t have any carved wooden spoons, we don’t have anybody making tin punch ware, or weaving.”

Other categories are full.

“Photography right now is pretty full,” she said. “We put people on a waiting list, and when somebody drops out they would be brought in.”

The turnover rate for crafters is almost zero.

“When people die, they drop out, or when they are so old and go to the nursing home, they drop out, but most people persevere and stay in,” she said.

Most of the crafters making the rugs, dolls, jewelry, candles, quilts and other traditional craft are from Jackson County.

“I love finding the hidden gems of Jackson County, or Macon County,” Anders said. “There are so many people out there making stuff by hand and in another 25 years they will not be here and the children right now are not interested in learning craft. If it can’t be done with their thumbs, they’re just not interested.”

Keeping mountain traditions has been a goal of Dogwood since its creation in 1976, she said.

Part-time residents must live in the area six months of the year, she said.

The draw of the handmade crafts brought people in despite COVID-19, Anders said.

“Business was really, really good last year,” she said. “We can’t complain at all.”

The shop offers hand sanitizer, requires masks and installed plastic barriers between the registers and the customers.

To become a member, crafters must complete the application form and agree to the terms and conditions of membership.

“Then you bring a sampling in and a jury committee meets once per month and tells you if you are accepted or not,” Anders said. “Everyone is not accepted. For example, we have so much jewelry right now, because it is easy for people to sit and make jewelry. To get in now making jewelry, you’d have to have copper or something special that we don’t have.”

Crafts should also be handmade.

“We don’t like so much assembled crafts,” Anders said.

Crafts made from re-purposed materials are a big hit. Dogwood has a list of things they welcome from the community.

Plastic shopping bags are crocheted into handbags and sleeping mats. They like small jars, spice cans, old quilts, old sweaters, bottle caps, old doorknobs and shirts.

“Buttons,” Anders said. “Oh my gosh, we will fight over buttons. And cotton clothesline. We can’t find cotton clothesline.”

A recent addition to the collective is Alva Houston, who makes snowmen out of old lightbulbs among other things.

“I found her at the craft show over at Western Carolina University and told her about Dogwood,” she said. “It’s good for Alva because she, with her health difficulties, was trying to do craft shows, setting up tents and tables and toting and this and that. Becoming a member of Dogwood has cut all that out for her.”

Family members helped out, but with her Dogwood membership Houston can market her craft without bothering her family, she said.

Houston and her husband, Fred, provide an eclectic range of crafts for sale, mostly from material from their farm in Caney Fork. Fred turns locust fenceposts on a lathe. Alva makes dolls and Christmas decorations.

Her dolls feature a hickory nut face, yarn hair, hand-sewn dresses and fine details that tell their story.

“Whatever they have in their hand, that’s what they are,” she said.

There’s a cleaning lady, one feeding a bird, a shopper and a farmer, among many others.

Prices vary according to size, in the $45-$50 range.

“They’re hard to make, but I love to make them,” she said. “I can sit down with Fred at night while he is watching TV or whatever and work on my crafts and I love it.”

Beginning March 1, Dogwood opens from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily. Currently, hours are 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.