No doubt about it, Alexandria is one craftastic city. Voted one of America’s Top 10 Towns for Craft Lovers, Alexandria offers a wide variety of finely made artisanal designs—from jewelry, to furniture, decorative items, and more. For those with a hankering for creating, discover a smorgasbord of activities for your nimble fingers: knit a beanie, paint a glass dish, or string a necklace. No experience necessary!
Whether you’re in the mood to shop or to make, Alexandria offers plenty of options for a day of creativity and inspiration. Here are the top 9 things to do to satisfy your craft cravings:
1. Visit the Torpedo Factory Art Center
Located at the waterfront, the Torpedo Factory Art Center anchors the Alexandria arts scene with over 80 studios, galleries, and more–the largest collection of publicly accessible working artist studios in the US! Drop by Keenthings for some bottle cap art, and take your pick of pottery, sculpture, fiber arts, and metal works, to name a few.
2. Dress up with wearable art
Enhance your wardrobe with a one-of-a-kind piece from Imagine Artwear. Designed and handmade in the US, you’ll find art to wear, as well as hand-felted hats, chenille texting gloves, and other accessories. Don’t miss: individually piece-worked dresses using hand-dyed silk.
Complete your look with vintage jewelry designs from Elinor Coleman’s Vintage Mirage. Contemporary jewelry designers create pieces from hand blown glass, “metal lace” crocheted sterling silver and wires, or decoupage embellished vintage purses and shoes.
Customize your jewelry at Dejan Studio Jewelry, or work with artist Dejan to create a completely new “wearable sculpture,” as he calls it. You can even bring your own family gemstones and refashion an heirloom!
Want to design your own wedding band? Head to Gold Works, a fixture on King Street since the 1990s, and work with owner and designer David Martin on your custom jewelry.
3. De-stress with DIY
Knit yourself to relaxation at fibre space, a locally owned shop and easily one of the biggest knitting destinations in the area. Find rare hand-dyed yarns from small independent sources, such as Neighborhood Fiber Co., which names its yarns after DC area neighborhoods. You guessed it, there’s one called “Old Town.”
Potomac Bead Company is a certified go-to for locals and visitors, many of whom bulk up on beads and return yearly for more. Find beads of all shapes and sizes, gemstones, glass, metals, and everything you need—including introductory classes–to finally start that necklace project.
4. Go fair trade treasure hunting
Drop by Ten Thousand Villages for fair trade handcrafted items from all over the world—they have everything from home décor to kids’ toys. Ask for the coffee and chocolate grown by local farmers in small cooperative farms.
St. George Gallery gives you a taste of Ethiopia and Africa. My favorite: the whimsical guinea hens made by a local women potter’s cooperative.
Step into Indus Imports for a little slice of India on King Street. Owner Rais will proudly tell you about the community of artisans who painstakingly carve chess pieces and hand-stitch quilts, even incorporating repurposed vintage fabrics. Fun fact: look for the huge hand-painted elephant papier-mâché that took one year and several people to make.
Like Frida Kahlo? You’ll love Gossypia, where handcrafted Latin American folk art, nativity scenes, and Day of the Dead artwork abound. Owner Amanda has known some of her suppliers for 50-60 years, and tells of how they live in the same town as the artists and give back to the community.
5. Design your own furniture
Looking for industrial themed furniture and can’t seem to find the perfect one? Why not design it yourself? Carbon Industrial breathes life to your idea by creating it with reclaimed barn wood from old barns they demolish themselves. The result—bespoke wooden furnishings trimmed with cast iron and factory gizmos.
Pompanoosuc Mills has been handcrafting every hardwood piece to custom order since 1973, resulting in heirloom quality furniture often passed down for generations. You can customize every detail of your furniture from the type of wood to the upholstery fabric.
A kitchen island carved out of the tree in your own backyard? Yes, it’s possible! Artist Lisa Sikes runs Heart & Hammer Furniture Co., handcrafting locally sourced hardwood furniture with a live edge style. Lisa creates her unique pieces at a shared woodworking studio by the famous Birchmere music hall in Arlandria; the coop houses several other talented artists, too. Tip: see Lisa’s designs at work when you dine at Sweetfire Donna’s.
6. Learn a skill
Take advantage of art classes taught by talented and well-known artists at The Art League; courses include printmaking, handbuilding ceramics, papermaking, and weaving.
Looking for more options? Head to Del Ray and hit Sew Lab, where kids ages 7-17 can learn to make clothes from scratch, or visit The Clay Queen to learn how to create your own stoneware using a pottery wheel.
Join Del Ray Artisans for creative learning events and meet like-minded artists: live model drawing sessions, collage cut ups using junk mail, card making parties, and more.
7. Pamper your skin
For more bath time goodness, look for Truly-Life Eco at the Old Town Farmers Market. Owner Mellenie started making soap in her own kitchen in an effort to live green. Now she has an urban garden right here in Alexandria, which produces, among other things, herbs for her handcrafted soaps.
8. Print in style
In the age of technology, digital printing has long overrun the ancient letterpress, until a recent revival brought the hand-cranked art of printing back in vogue. Old City Press & Co. applies modern techniques and smashing graphic design to the age-old technique, and handcrafts elegantly embossed invitations, stationery, and cards.
Send a note with flair! Patricia Palermino’s American folk art prints and note cards feature colorful scenes of Alexandria life, such as King Street restaurants, First Night fireworks, and Market Square, among others.
How about an intricate, graphic map of Old Town or Del Ray? Sediment Press creates screen printed posters, cards, stickers, and even packaging materials–all from a one bedroom apartment in Del Ray.
9. Attend Art Events
Alexandria has plenty of arts and crafts events throughout the year. Stay tuned for Alexandria’s celebration of American Craft Week, Art on the Avenue, Art on Tap, and the Fine Art & Fine Craft Holiday Market.
For more of the arts in Alexandria, click here.