Kelly Malone crafts up a new kind of SF playspace

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Kelly Malone is making a functional version of the light fixture she crafted for Workshop (shown here sword of Damacles style)
Photo by Caitlin Donohue

I'm going to venture a thought that may prove controversial, but it bears saying. San Francisco is not a crafter's wonderland. Now, certainly it is fertile ground for artistic genius. But craft? Such a small, persnickety pastime thrives better in towns with worse weather, or less going on, or in ones with an idyllic beach or field where no one asks you if you'd like a weed infused peanut butter and jelly sandwich every god damn twenty minutes. Perhaps this explains the widespread popularity of Workshop, a crafting social space where you can zone out for an evening of PBRs and careful make-time.

Workshop co-founder Kelly Malone grew up with a functional notion of craft. Her dad's a carpenter and her mom a part time seamstress. The couple would sit in the garage and sewing room, respectively, “and I was like, well that's kind of lame,” Malone tells me one morning at Workshop, after we have gotten coffee across the street at Matching Half Cafe and I had managed to spill it on my dress, twice. Malone's mom would try to teach her stitches back then, but “I'd get all goth on her, and tell her to piss off with the sewing.” It wasn't until college that Malone got into crafting, after which she nabbed New York creative gigs for Victoria's Secret and Betsy Johnson before moving to San Francisco.

Once here, she assembled her crafty friends in her backyard for Indie Mart, a hip DIY craft fair where Malone would cram in 25 vendors, stick a DJ in the bushes and was the funnest thing ever until the bathroom line got too long. So they moved it out to larger venues like the blocks outside Thee Parkside bar, and The Independent (it's still going strong). Malone battled ovarian cancer (three rounds of chemo, but in remission as of last month), and decided that she wanted a permanent spot to capitalize on the SF craft mania that Indie Mart seemed to tap into.

So she sold nearly everything she owned, and got a Western Addition space that had lived previously as a T-shirt company, and as a dry cleaner for thirty years previous. Her vision paid off. Nowadays, she can't post the one-off classes to the website quick enough – they sell out, nearly every one of the 13 the center usually offers a week. When Workshop opened, Malone had expected to teach no more than four a week.

“I didn't realize that home ec doesn't exist anymore – no one knows how to sew,” she tells me. “We all used to make things, but now we don't create our own things anymore. I don't nerd out on the politics of it too much, but I like seeing people make their own commerce.” 

Workshop classes do seem to attract their fair share of aspiring professionals eager to beat their cyclical unemployment. A recent screen-printing course I took played host to a girl in a homemade dress that seemed intent on learning the functionality of making prints, even though we shared the space that night with a sweethearted pack of leftover Pride tourists that came for the good times that Malone's affable instructors provide. Some students have become Indie Mart vendors, even gone on to sell their wares to stores, and an Indie Business class at Workshop has found an eager audience.

But crafting is still clearly the source of much amusement here. My screen-printing instructor, Nicole Schwieterman, seemed equally concerned with the amount of fun students were having as their grasp of the technical skills involved. “It's supposed to look like that, right?” she smiled when I sheepishly showed her the excessive mess my paint slops had made. Most people left with a finished product, of sorts, but I'm guessing only half will ever avail themselves to Workshop's open studio hours.

 

The Workshop team's votives of their space's patron saints. Holla, Mr. Wizard, Martha Stewart, Bob Vila, and Shepard Fairey! Photo by Caitlin Donohue

Popular classes include glass terrarium making and rock 'n roll sewing (for beginners), from which participants walk away with a homemade beer cozie. Examples of these lovely floral and/or screen-printing specimens lie piled in a basket in a corner of Workshop's front room in accordance with a house rule that all drinks must be drunk thusly, well insulated. It's good times -- I liked the teacher ladies so much that when the three hour class had finished, I wanted to crack another beer, nest into the lounge area by the front door, and suck in more of the fun-productive ambience.

I can't decide which of my three visits to Workshop I enjoyed most. The first was my initial stumble-upon when I caught their Divisadero Art Walk party. The same room I learned to screen-print in was packed with alterna-looking young people, and a girl headed up a punk band whose instruments were hooked up to more amps than seemed strictly necessary for a space so small. “We have our fair share of social events,” Kelly told me when I came back to chat with her on my second trip to figure out how this place came to be. And of course, there was the third time, making owl print T-shirts and killing beers with my roommate and a bunch of nice strangers. 

I take it back, I'm obviously going with the third time. You can hear a cute little indie band any day of the week, and hanging with successful creatives is cool, but a night on the town just making stuff? Totally San Francisco -- or at least now we can pretend that it is.

 

Workshop

1798 McAllister, SF

(415) 874-9186

www.workshopsf.org

 

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