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click to enlarge Small, cute and so Pittsburgh: Alicia Kachmar's mini-knits - RENEE ROSENSTEEL

Wildcard
4209 Butler St., Lawrenceville
412-224-2651 or www.wildcardpgh.com

 

One of this holiday season's most popular gift ideas is the Apple iPad. It starts at $499, features a 9.7-inch screen and at least 16 gigabytes of memory, and offers a universe of video, text and other data for you to consume without getting your hands dirty.

You won't find one at Lawrenceville's Wildcard. 

Wildcard is a one-floor, one-stop shop for handcrafted items. It's all about being handmade and hands-on. It prizes the unique rather than the universal, the tangible rather than the abstract. 

Proprietress Rebecca Morris opened Wildcard in October 2009 -- perhaps a natural step given her lifetime interest in handmade goods. A Shaler native who returned home after a few years in Chicago, Morris "grew up with grandmas who taught me knitting and crocheting. Although I hardly have time to do any of it now." 

That's because she's managing a "year-round craft fair," one that offers items from 300 local and national vendors. 

Much of their work is made from recyclables, like a pendant made from a UPC bar-code symbol, or Carla Morris' scarves and hats, seemingly assembled from pieces of other scarves and hats. And it's all scattered about a store that is itself a harmonious hodgepodge of old and new. Items are heaped on old shop-class tables, spill out from the drawers of an old school library card-catalogue cabinet -- furnishings that Morris picked up at an auction of stuff from a shuttered city school. Greeting cards, many hand-made, line a front wall.

Most of what's on display costs less than $50 -- "that's the price range that appeals most to my customer base," Morris says -- so almost anything here could be an impulse item. Can any Pittsburgher pass up a crocheted pierogie by Alicia Kachmar, or a tiny woolen traffic cone, for example? How about a latex devil mask, in black and red, by Sharpsburg-based Specter Studios?  

"I have to stop myself from buying too much of this stuff," Morris confesses. "But I tell myself that wearing it is free advertising." 

For Morris, opening up Wildcard was a case of coming full circle. A University of Pittsburgh graduate, she admits that she "wanted to go to school for graphic design" but "got scared because I didn't want to create ads all day." So she chose a field that demanded a different kind of craftiness: political science. But after a few years spent working with local politicians in the halls of power, where all they weave is intrigue, Morris moved to Chicago. She did a sort of apprenticeship working at a craft shop there, and returned to Pittsburgh in 2008. 

"I think there's a pretty strong craft scene here," she says, citing the influence of regular craft-vending events like Handmade Arcade and the I Made It! market. About two-thirds of Wildcard's vendors are local, she says -- which is just as well since she rarely has time to travel to craft fairs outside of town any more. She does, however, troll the craft site Etsy to keep her eye out for anything new. 

Which raises the question: Given that so many handmade items are sold online -- and that craft fairs are so popular -- is there even a need for a bricks-and-mortar store? 

But take it from Morris: There are so many crafters out there that you can go crazy trying to keep tabs on them all. Better to let her worry about that. What's more, she says, "It's nice to have it all in one spot, and to be able to actually pick it up."

Though for some shoppers, the real question is whether you can put it back down.

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