As the holidays approach and everything in western Queens becomes frost-covered and glistening in lights, the neighborhood is in high spirits, but the stress of finding the perfect gift for loved ones can feel heavy. However, it doesn’t have to take a million chaotic trips to Macy’s or Best Buy to find a cherished item; there are plenty of western Queens artists and vendors who make unique gifts for under the tree.
These local creatives sell their goods on the artisan-focused online site Etsy to offer everything from Queens-centric embroidered goods to fashionable jewelry. You won’t need to leave your home on a chilly day to these support local businesses, and you’ll know that your gift is one-of-a-kind.
Sam Lina Sin of Sweet Sincerely said she gears everything in her Etsy shop toward love. The Astoria-based calligrapher often chooses inspirational quotes to write in her fanciful handwriting on high-quality paper. Her crafts are ideal for framing or for mailing to a faraway special someone in the form of a greeting card. If it’s sentimental and can be put on a flat surface, Sin is your craftswoman.
“Sometimes, it’s a quote that inspires [me],” Sin said. “Sometimes, it’s a beautiful piece of paper that I’ve been dying to use. … Some of my pieces are spur-of-the-moment writing, while others are meticulously planned out with tons of sketches, layout ideas and trashes of paper.”
Sin’s favorite offering is a rendering of a couple’s wedding vows in calligraphy accented by art. The sample piece shown on her site is from her own wedding.
Remember when you walked through your grandmother’s house as a kid and passed by framed embroidered images on every wall? Now imagine that concept, but in the style of minimalist landscapes.
Astoria resident Mary Spadoni embroiders vibrant landscape images framed in hoop frames. Her work puts a contemporary twist on the traditional practice by replacing the commonplace pastel flowers with scenes from forests, mountains, rolling hills, lavender fields and wheat fields, just to name a few.
“There are a ton of great embroideries on Etsy, but not too many people are stitching minimalist landscapes,” Spadoni said. “One thing I’ve noticed is that my pieces are popular with people creating gallery walls. Since they’re round and smaller than typical artwork, they can be that colorful piece you’re looking for to fill the last spot in a larger arrangement.”
Astorian Sarah Conrad began screen-printing when she and her husband decided to design and make their own invitations, place cards and gift bags for their wedding. Now she sells her screen-printed goods on her Etsy shop, Conrad Crafting Co.
“A few years ago, I noticed that there were a lot of shops selling shirts, hats and bags with ‘Brooklyn’ across them. The Queens and Astoria shirts were far and few between. So I made my own. Now there are so many cute boutiques in Astoria that sell lots of Queens pride items,” Conrad said.
While the Astoria screen printer creates other graphic tees and even tea towels, she primarily designs Queens and Astoria pride T-shirts and tank tops.
“The other day, my friends and I were at Veronica’s Bar on 36th Avenue and discovered they were about to celebrate their 20th anniversary. Such an occasion needed some T-shirts, so I took a few pictures of their signs and turned them into graphics. Occasionally I will hand-draw some elements,” Conrad said. “[I] currently do not sell on any other sites, but do take custom orders. Just please don’t ask me to make Brooklyn shirts.”
On her Etsy shop, Queens Knits, Flushing-raised knitter Christine Gibson sells infinity scarves, cowl scarves and Queens-themed coffee cozies, which have circular patches representing the various Astoria subway lines.
“I like to think my customers will get a hot cup of coffee from the deli or coffee shop and pop a knit cozy onto it to keep their hands cool and their coffee hot while riding the subway into work,” Gibson said.
The scarves Gibson knits are a “labor of love,” she said, since each cowl scarf takes her about six hours.
“I like to keep mine on all day because my office is freezing,” Gibson said. “Each one is knit with two strands of yarn at one time, so it’s extra warm and I knit them tight.”
Beyond Etsy, shoppers can find Gibson’s work for sale locally at The Brass Owl, Q.E.D., Chateau Le Woof, Inside Astoria, and at craft fairs such as the Astoria Tiny Market and The Queens Craft Brigade.
There’s nothing on Etsy quite like the quirky products offered by Sunnyside resident Rebekah Thornhill. The artist’s business page, R + D, teems with fun, original 3-D printed goods, primarily earrings.
“All of my pieces are designed by me and then 3-D printed. This method of rapid prototyping allows for a lot of fun in the process — I can quickly create things that are kitschy or funny,” Thornhill said, “For example, after one friend saw my Taco Tuesday design, they joked about wanting best friend pendants for her and pizza. By the next time we saw her (which was for pizza and wine) I had a new pair for her.”
A glimpse at R + D tells you that Thornhill puts a lot of thought in fabricating specific designs for a variety of people. She sells various minimalist dangly earrings, some of which are great for bookish types, and others that would appeal to an edgy skull enthusiast. There are also multiple accessories for nature lovers.
“I draw on any number of things when creating earrings — popular culture, nature, friends. I like to have fun when creating designs and don’t take things too seriously. I’ll make something just for a laugh,” Thornhill said.
A drawing is never just a drawing, is it? A picture evokes something different for every viewer. This sentiment is evident in sketch artist Matthew Benchimol’s work. His Etsy site, Teo Industries, showcases detailed cross-hatched images of authors, New York and Astoria sights, and much more.
“[My favorite piece of mine is the one of] Mark Twain or the one of Barney Frank. Both are very intimate, like an aside where the photographer caught them focused entirely on something else so that their expressions seem very natural and genuine,” Benchimol said.
Benchimol’s work caught the attention of a set designer from the HBO show “Enlightened,” who bought a sketch off Etsy to use in the background of a scene. Benchimol has also designed and painted the interior of a Philadelphia restaurant, and he’s been invited to exhibit in shows.
“My style is really methodical and it can take me a very long time to create a very small piece. I am also terrible at self-promotion. I just put my stuff out there and sometimes people find me, and interesting things happen,” Benchimol said.
The concept for Astoria artist Tara Genen’s Etsy shop, Sweet Little Bee Stings, was inspired by the birth of her now 3-year-old daughter, Violet. After sewing headbands and “drooldanas” for Violet and her baby friends, Genen decided to widen her clientele and expand her reach. Genen’s crafts includes vibrant cotton drooldanas and fabric headbands that can be bought individually or as Mommy and Me sets. She also makes embroidered wall hangings.
“I find something or someone I admire and go from there. I love Frida Kahlo so I started making drooldanas featuring her image,” Genen said. “When my daughter was too big to rock a drooldana, I wanted to figure out another way to feature the icon, so I started making decorative embroideries that can be hung on walls.”
The most popular product in her shop is the Rosie the Riveter headband, which is available in adult and child sizes.
“I am currently pregnant with a baby boy, so expect to see some new items geared toward boys pop up in the shop,” Genen said.
Etsy vendor Briana Melendez scours second-hand stores to repurpose fabrics and produce tote bags and other accessories for her Etsy shop, Panchita’s Bodega. Melendez’s current obsession are the bags she makes out of men’s T-shirts.
“I try [to] incorporate as much of the shirt into the final bag, like utilizing a sleeve cuff as the interior pocket. They are fun to make because each bag is different and unique to itself,” Melendez said. “Over the summer I found a Boy Scout’s uniform shirt at the thrift shop and that was a blast to repurpose. I played around with some of the sleeve patches so that I could incorporate them onto the front panel of the bag.”
Melendez’s incorporation of old and new in her products was inspired in part by her Queens upbringing.
“Queens always felt like the ‘come-up’ borough. With a history behind us of the Mets and Jamaica and Queensbridge with its contributions to hip-hop, we have an attitude of making things [and] situations work — something from nothing,” Melendez said. “Working with repurposed materials [is] about creating something new, so I approach my designs with that same frame of mind.”
Nothing says girl power quite like a Gloria Steinem quote embroidered on a hoop frame. That’s one of the messages the Etsy shop Caustic Cross Stitch conveys through its embroidered goods — women’s empowerment through hard work and creativity.
“Feminism has always influenced my work, though the influence has become more explicit in the past few years. I enjoy subverting people’s assumptions about traditionally feminine activities, both by using sewing to express feminist sentiments and by being a lawyer who sews,” said Caustic Cross Stitch artist Katie, who asked that her last name not be published.
No feminist could resist the set of dishtowels Katie hand-stitched that read, “Femininity is not fragility” and “Womanhood is not weakness.”
Another common theme in her intricate pieces is an appreciation for the beauty and landmarks of Queens and Astoria, like the Long Island sign at Gantry State Park and the Sunnyside arch. Katie also represents the borough by creating framed designs of various NW train stops; she has one specially made for those who reside off 30th Ave., Broadway and Ditmars Blvd.
The varied architecture of Queens, whether it’s the Triborough Bridge or a Greek Orthodox church, inspires artisan Rebecca Fragola to craft beautiful jewelry of precious stones and modern designs.
“The Art Deco architecture in Astoria and New York City has always inspired my work,” she said. “Details on certain buildings and bridges have been design elements that I’ve used in my work for years. There are so many old homes with unique details that translate easily into a jewelry design.”
Fragola’s family has lived in Astoria for almost 60 years, so it’s no surprise that the Etsy vendor’s surroundings are embedded in her business, Adriatic Jewelry. The artist offers a wide selection of rings, necklaces, earrings and bracelets with and without gems, in countless kinds of materials. She was even featured on the popular wedding publication The Knot, which praised her engagement rings.
“I think my product stands out compared to other Etsy sellers because of my slightly Art Deco [and] modern style, and all of my work is hand fabricated with recycled metals and all natural gemstones. My work is also easily customizable in different stones [and] metal types depending on the customer’s personal taste,” Fragola said.
Have you ever wanted to write or doodle in a personalized or distinctive notebook instead of a bland Moleskine? Astoria embroiderer and Etsy vendor Alison Grande helps shoppers find a unique journal for themselves or the writer in their life.
“When I sell at events in person, I notice a pattern with many of my customers. They are drawn to the table by an item, they pick it up and feel it and realize that it’s embroidery, and not a printed or drawn image. The tactile nature of the work is one of its best selling points,” Grande said.
Grande’s Etsy shop, Koto Designs, features notebooks, wall art and greeting cards made of cardstock that Grande hand-stitched with designs, such as a gold geometric pattern on a black notebook and a greeting card with a faceted diamond.
“My brother loves biking and has dreams of opening his own bike shop one day. For his birthday I made a card with a little embroidered bicycle to match his favorite bike,” Grande said. “It was such a hit that I tried it out in my Etsy shop on a notebook, and it’s been one of my most popular designs ever since. Every time I sell one I think of him.”