Hand-stitched leather wallets, engraved wall art, comfy neck pillows, you name it — you’ll find it at Walla Walla Valley Handcrafted, a Facebook group dedicated to local handicrafts.
In November 2019, Celeste Kemmerer saw the need for a local social media group focused on promoting, buying and selling handmade items.
“There are other groups like this, but for some reason I just didn’t fit in,” says Kemmerer. “And some of them want post approvals, and they care a lot about what people post. So I wanted to expand the parameters a bit so people can post their links and not get in trouble for it.”
Kemmerer, herself an artisan, wanted to help set up small, private businesses and give people a platform to showcase their work, so she took matters into her own hands.
Since its launch in 2019, Walla Walla Valley Handcrafted has grown to over 900 members, including buyers, sellers and people who just appreciate art.
Vendors can post photos of their work, descriptions, prices, and links to their company websites. The rules are simple: no negative comments about people’s artwork and keep it family-friendly.
“We’re here to support each other … don’t be unkind,” says Kemmerer.
The group boasts a large number of creators who produce a variety of custom items. Inside, buyers will find wood etchings, resin art, paintings, beadwork, and more.
“There really is someone for every art and craft,” says Kemmerer.
It’s also a platform to connect customers with vendors and join buyers so they can support local artists.
Many of the artisans can be found at local events such as the Weekend at the Blues festival and various farmers markets in the area.
Members of the group regularly post photos and descriptions of homemade items, including fresh produce and flowers. Some creators represent established businesses in the area, while others just work with their hands and see extra income as a welcome bonus.
The group is private and requires admin approval to join, but only because the intent is to keep it local to Walla Walla and surrounding areas.
“If you make it public, anyone from anywhere can join in,” says Kemmerer, “and then anyone from anywhere can post there and post all kinds of stuff.”
Kemmerer states that sometimes the spammers manage to get in, but it’s easier to manage this way.
Pumpkins, poultry and pillows
A rooster crows “Hello” as Walla Walla Valley Handcrafted member Carrie Bergherm introduces her flock of 28 chickens who produce plenty of eggs for her family and sell some.
Two years after buying a piece of land south of the Washington-Oregon border, Bergherm’s farming dreams begin to take shape. She and her family have gradually expanded this 5-hectare homestead with the goal of not only having home-grown vegetables and fruit, but also having a lavender field and food forest.
“We’re growing some pumpkins for the farm this year,” she says, pointing to a fairly large patch of pumpkins, “and then some pickled cucumbers and dill to sell—we just get our feet wet in ‘growing food for others.’ . Department.”
Bergherm makes items with lavender such as soaps and skin care products, so growing their own lavender and extracting the oil is also on the to-do list. She wants the farm to eventually provide most of the family’s food and sell some of it.
But farming isn’t Bergherm’s only endeavor; She enjoys sewing and crocheting, making blankets that remind her of her childhood, newborn baby sets with blankets, swaddles and stuffed animals, and two sizes of neck pillows for lounging and travelling.
The children’s room sets include blankets made of soft plush fabric and flannel. The neck pillows can be used in a variety of ways and have loops on each end so they can be attached to the car headrest or hung and tucked out of the way.
Bergherm is a fan of keeping trade as local as possible.
“The idea of helping local people is more my desire… to keep the money here and support people who just want to earn a little bit more, either to support their hobby or to support their family or even their own start a business,” she explains.
Bergherm can be found at a number of local markets, including the Waitsburg Farmers’ Market.
Everyone needs a hobby, especially first responders, says Adam Wilkinson, a local firefighter who uses lasers to cut and engrave in his spare time.
Wilkinson wanted a 3D printer and bought one that could also do laser cutting and carving. But 3D printing is hard to reconcile with family time, he says, because you have to troubleshoot while the machine is printing.
So he started making laser art with wood, cutting individual layers and stacking them together to create dimension. He buys designs from individual artists online and creates clocks, coasters and wall art.
But that’s just the beginning – he has plans for an upgrade. “I’m actually trying to buy a bigger laser because I like it so much.”
While the art he currently produces is limited to 1 square foot, the new laser machine has a workspace of 35″ x 55″ with bidirectional passage, allowing for much larger projects.
Wilkinson does not advertise his work, aside from posting images of completed projects on the Walla Walla Valley Handcrafted Facebook page and his own page, Wilkie Does It. Nevertheless, orders continue to trickle in.
“I enjoy it and people enjoy it,” he says. “The whole machine was for my hobby; it wasn’t for any business. I was going to do some stuff here and there for friends and stuff, but it turned out to be a nice fun gig.”
According to Wilkinson, even if you love your career, it’s important to do something for yourself.
The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) operates a psychiatric facility on the east coast to help association members suffering from work-related trauma, anxiety and depression.
“One of our guys went back east … and one of the things he came back with and shared was that for a lot of us, the job is our identity,” he explains, “and when that ends, is it voluntary.” or you’re forced out of health or whatever, retirees basically lose their identity… You need something different, and so I thought, “Well, I can be the laser guy.”
Jack Wallace reluctantly dabbled in leatherworking while living in Montana a decade ago, working for a leatherworking man who wanted to pass on the skills of the craft.
Wallace didn’t consider himself artistic at all, but when he finally agreed to try it, he was hooked.
“My brain clicked with the swivel knife,” he says. “It gave me some confidence and gave me a hobby. I was just so focused on work back then. It gave me a nice little creative outlet.”
Since then he has occasionally done leatherwork when time and weather permitting, as he does a lot of it in the garage. He likes to refer to YouTube artists and leathercraft magazines for inspiration and guidance.
“YouTube is fantastic,” he says. “I follow several other artisans from around the world.”
Wallace makes purses, bags, wallets, holsters and some smaller projects.
“The few times I’ve been to craft shows and stuff the first time I’ve been, I’ve noticed that a lot of people want to support my craft but can’t afford to spend a hundred, a hundred and fifty dollars on an item at a time. I started making making some little things like bookmarks and little cuffs and things like that — I sold my bookmarks for $5.”
Some of the designs on Wallace’s leather goods are freehand drawn, like the Celtic knots. “Once you get the hang of it, it’s just geometric,” he explains.
Other designs are often found online and transferred to dampened leather with a round tip. You’re supposed to cool the wet leather, Wallace says. Not sure why it helps, but it does.
Most of Wallace’s projects are custom made since he works full time and doesn’t have much free time for his hobby, but he still enjoys it.
Hand sewing takes up most of the time invested in a project. When he first started, he made gifts for all his friends and family, he said. “The last person I’ll ever do anything for is me.”