Talk to the Vendors
The connection to artisans is a plus of market shopping. So ask questions. "You may find out the brooch contains scrap leather, or the artist used sweaters from Goodwill to craft a felted wool bag," says Lori Paximadis, co-founder of Cleveland Handmade, which operates the Cleveland Handmade and Last Minute markets. If Paximadis notices someone lingering at her Alchemary stand, she explains the process behind her enamel stack necklace. "People don't realize I work with torch-fired enamel, which gives my pendants this weathered look to the edges that a kiln cannot do," she says.
Order Early Online
The prospect of avoiding lines makes online marketplaces such as Etsy a tempting holiday shopping solution. Just remember handmade takes longer, says Allie Jackson, owner of Allie M. Design Studio and Gallery in Akron. "Artists who sell on Etsy are super busy creating for shows and fulfilling more online orders than usual, so place the order at least two weeks in advance to make sure you get it in time," she says. Jackson offers most of her pieces online, but she says there are perks to shows. "You may find a piece that I might not have posted online."
Little Touches Matter
How can you tell if an ornate hand-stamped pendant is worth the price on the sticker? When it comes to handmade, you're investing in the artisan's time, creativity and curated materials, says Christie Murdoch, owner of Banyan Tree in Tremont. "We have these long-burning candles made by an Ohio City artist who wraps them with a floral-patterned hessian, like a potato sack," Murdoch says. An artist's personal stamp, like intentional handprints at the bottom of a stoneware ceramic bowl, adds dimension. Local materials such as reclaimed barn wood bolster the product's value. "You see the imperfections, like a knot in the wood, and you know the item wasn't made by a big machine," Murdoch says.