Renegade Craft Fair delivers DIY delight

By HermineBloom

For Chicagoans who find joy in curling up with their handmade patchwork quilt, knitting a scarf while donning a pair of cute handmade button earrings and a handmade silk-screen t-shirt, the Renegade Craft Fair is their Mecca.

For mostly everyone else, the 7th annual Renegade Craft Fair is a spirited celebration of all things Do It Yourself. It’s an opportunity to hear people say “that’s so cute” over and over again and collect business cards, while chatting with the designers or shelling out cash for kitschy goods. For the vendors, however, the fair is a lucrative endeavor and a way to physically interact with customers, potential buyers and other vendors.

The Renegade Craft Fair travels to Brooklyn, San Francisco and Los Angeles annually in addition to Chicago. The fair started in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood in 2003. This year, Chicago artists prepared everything from yarn animal paperweights to hand-cut wooden rings to show at the largest and most reputable traveling DIY fair in the country, where they witnessed a tremendous amount of traffic leading to a large number of sales.

Division Street hosts the Renegade Craft Fair between Damen Avenue and Paulina Street on Sept. 12 and 13 every year from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. Traditionally, a juried staff accepts 250 artists to fill 250 booths. However, 300 artists were chosen out of over 500 applicants this year.

Lesley Timpe, 37, conceptualizes and designs her own line of original garments and accessories called Squasht by Les in her studio that’s also used as an office and a storefront in Pilsen at 1932 S. Halsted St. This was Timpe’s third year at the Renegade Craft Fair but she’s had her own booth at the Renegade Craft Holiday Sale at Pulaski Park Fieldhouse, 1419 W. Blackhawk St., for the past five years.

After attending Maestro Mateo Design School in Santiago de Compostela, Spain from 2002-2004, Timpe began working on her own European-inspired designs.

“The concept of the collection is modern vintage,” Timpe said. “People often say it looks old and new at the same time. A ’50s silhouette with an ’80s fabric … I’m mixing different eras of style.”

Creating everything from retro-silhouetted garments to reversible hats to 1940s-style petal headbands, Timpe’s line is meant for women of all ages, she said.

Timpe likes to use organic soy cotton, which she says is the base material for most of her fall collection. Renegade, specifically, allows her to make great business connections because everyone in the growing DIY business attends.

Esther Ramirez, 29, contacted Sue Daly, the proprietor of the Renegade Craft Fair, to learn how to go about putting together one of these events. In turn, she was able to sit at Daly’s booth and sell her company, Essimar, which consists of paper products cut and designed by hand. Ramirez has sold at Renegade for the past four years and Essimar appears in 59 boutiques around the world.

Born and raised on the south side of Chicago, Ramirez went to school for interior architecture, graduated in 2005 and became an assistant for a creative director in Chicago. After she was laid-off, she began to actually pursue paper material-based crafts and continues to take art and design courses at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Hyde Park Art Center and Harold Washington College. Now, she is a full-time supervisor for the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing shop.

“I’m only making cards now,” Ramirez said.  “From cards I’ll go to sculptures, from sculptures I’ll go to wall installations, from wall installations, I’ll develop household goods. Then I’ll develop brooches. There’s no end. I just hope to improve.”

With no assistants and a full-time job, Ramirez returns home to craft paper products as her second full-time job, simply for the love of creating her art.

Not unlike Ramirez, Michele Bosak, 33, has her own individual craft business and she runs her own Etsy online store, a website devoted to selling people’s vintage and handmade art. She is still relatively new to Renegade, having only set up shop once before this year.

Splitting her time between Chicago and Grand Rapids, Mich., Bosak graduated from Northern Illinois University last year and likes to call herself a “jane of all trades.” She started off doing sculptures, moved to drawing and now she incorporates both into her encaustic paintings inspired by ’60s architecture and graphic design. Encaustic paintings require beeswax, oil paint and painting while the medium is hot.

“It’s something that’s really tactile that I can carve, size and work into, but I also get to utilize drawing which I just love doing,” Bosak said.

A torrential downpour plagued the weekend’s festivities at last year’s Renegade Craft Fair. This year was enjoyable, sunny and full of people eager to shop and talk, Bosak said.

In the midst of trying to situate herself after graduating, Bosak said that in the next couple months she will start securing some good retail places to sell her encaustic paintings and drawings.

The Squasht by Les studio, 1932 S. Halsted St., is open to the public from 6  p.m. – 10 p.m.  on the second Friday of each month. To make an appointment call: (773) 719-1444.  For Essimar visit, For works by Michele Bosak visit,