Plush jellyfish, iPod holders and fuzzy, cloudlike scarves replace the baby booties, pot holders and clichÃ©-addled needlepoint that typically spring to mind upon hearing the phrase “crafting club.” Decades away from enjoying senior citizen discounts, the members of Girlfriend Sweatshop hardly fit craft circle stigmas.
More Sex and the City than Golden Girls, Girlfriend Sweatshop meets every Thursday over glasses of red wine and skeins of yarn to rave about life, rant about lousy jobs and yes, to craft.
“At home, I don’t look at my easel or paint supplies,” Rachel Threet-Teten, 30, said. “I’m too busy doing other things. Here, we motivate each other and hold each other accountable. If I say, ‘I’ll make this or that’ for an art show, I can’t show up empty handed. It makes me productive.”
It’s this productivity and propensity for crafting that earned Girlfriend Sweatshop its eyebrow-raising moniker. Founders Threet-Teten, USF library sciences graduate student Kim Yau and Jen Leon, 26, named the group after an ongoing joke.
“A lot of us in the group were dating members of the band Red Room Cinema, and they were like, ‘you can make stuff for us – you can be our little sweatshop,'” said Yau. “They wanted us to help design CD covers and basically work for them. We took the idea and turned it around into something more positive. It was attention-getting and it just sort of stuck.”
Utilizing its founders’ artistic potential, Girlfriend Sweatshop emerged as both an organization to meet like-minded individuals and an entrepreneurial endeavor.
Rather than hold formal meetings with officers, dues and the like, Girlfriend Sweatshop prefers a more laidback approach, which it is able to do because it is not an official USF organization. The club simply asks members to come as they are, ready to chat and with crafts in hand. Nobody is told what to make, nor are meetings mandatory. It’s an opportunity to get together with people of similar interests, not an obligation. Because of this, the turnout at any given meeting varies. It could be as small as a group of two or contain more than a dozen members.
“I got excited when I heard about this group because I wanted to get back in touch with my creative side,” USF graduate Mina Mostifavifar, 22, said. “I’ve gotten so busy that I haven’t painted in four years. It’s sad because I don’t know if I could still paint to the level I used to.”
One of the group’s perks is that members learn new trades – and perfect techniques – by learning from each other. At last week’s meeting in La Casa Dolce, Yau described how she and Leon taught Threet-Teten how to knit.
To demonstrate Threet-Teten’s initial technique, Yau hunched over her work, clutching her knitting needles until her knuckles blanched.
“She was knitting like this – so tight – that her first project, a pot holder, came out curved. We joked that it was waterproof,” said Yau.
“I gave it to my mom,” Threet-Teten interjected. “I’m heavy handed – I didn’t understand that the movement is supposed to be slow and relaxed. My fingers would hurt after knitting.”
To help Threet-Teten loosen her grip, Yau and Leon replaced her thin, pencil-like knitting needles with 35-milimeter, sausage-like ones. The result?
“I love to knit now,” Threet-Teten said. “I’ve been knitting for about a year and a half.”
Though its members share a common interest in crafting, Girlfriend Sweatshop also serves as an escape from a perfunctory school-work-home-repeat lifestyle.
“I need the estrogen boost of being here,” Threet-Teten said. “I need to get away from my house and work – I need to get out of my routine. Since we meet weekly it may seem routine, but we vary things by holding our meetings at different places. It’s an escape.”
Each week the founders choose a meeting spot of their fancy, contacting members via e-mail. Popular haunts include La Casa Dolce, Kaleisia Tea Lounge, New World Brewery and various members’ homes.
Many of the crafts made during Girlfriend Sweatshop meetings are later sold at alternative craft shows or online at Etsy.com. Upcoming Girlfriend Sweatshop projects include an Oct. 6 art show in Delray Beach, and another at Kaleisia Tea Lounge on
The show at Kaleisia will benefit Kiva.org, an organization that provides no-interest micro-loans to budding entrepreneurs in developing countries. Over time, the small businesses repay their loans, and lenders may choose to withdraw their loan or redistribute their funds to another startup business in need.
“We’ll give about 30 percent of our proceeds to Kiva,” said Yau. “It’s a great way to give someone a leg up without just giving them money. A loan could be as little as 25 dollars.”
Paramount to making money or hosting art shows, Girlfriend Sweatshop exists to satiate its members’ need to embrace their creative side.
“I craft because I need to,” Yau said. “I have to do it; otherwise I think I’d go crazy. I need to be able to express myself - I need this outlet.”
For more information on Girlfriend Sweatshop, or to subscribe to their mailing list, visit Girlfriendsweatshop.com.