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For this group of craft artists, no request is too unusual

WESTCHASE — After she gets the girls down for a nap, Nickole Kostelis heads to her garage and fires up her power tools.

She's been doing woodworking since high school, but until recently it had been a hobby for the stay-at-home mom of three young daughters. About four months ago, she found a group on Facebook called Made by Mama, which was created as a way for Tampa Bay artists to sell their handcrafted goods. Kostelis joined. She called herself Mom With a Saw and posted her work. Old cribs and bed frames transformed into cool benches. Rustic wall hangers. Signs for newlyweds.

People started buying her work.

She posted cute name plates for teachers shaped and painted like pencils and sales went crazy. She made more than 100 of those. Buyers went mad for her wooden pumpkins, too. Requests for more items poured in.

That's when Kostelis knew she didn't have a hobby anymore.

She had a business.

"I get to sell stuff that I enjoy making," said Kostelis, 30, who lives in Westchase.

She has an Etsy shop and a Facebook page, but gets the majority of her business through Made by Mama. The group has been around for three years, but recently has taken off through word of mouth, going from 1,000 to more than 3,000, said founder Lisa Duncan-Thayer of St. Petersburg.

"I didn't think it would be such a success," she said. "It's really surprising."

Duncan-Thayer, a 36-year-old mother of three girls, also had a moment a few months ago when she realized her local Facebook group wasn't small anymore. Her business is called Cozy Crochet and she created a crocheted Elsa hat — blue cap with a long braid — from the movie Frozen. She posted a photo and had more than 70 orders in 24 hours.

"My hands were pretty sore that week," she said.

Duncan-Thayer regrets the name because all people — not just moms — are welcome to sell and shop. But now the group is so large, she said, Facebook won't let her change it.

Sellers must live in the Tampa Bay area and offer only handcrafted items. Customers can find nearly everything in the group — metal stamped art, pottery, jewelry of all kinds, jams, cakes, breads, clothes, accessories and anything related to children, from toys to tiny furniture.

"It's like going to an online craft fair every day," Kostelis said.

What makes the group special is the ability for customers to connect with the artists. Want something made but you're unsure if it can be done or who could do it? Just post a question to the group:

Help! I need an embroidered Jake and the Never Land Pirates shirt for my son's third birthday party. (Which was three days away. She found someone.)

I need two coordinating Christmas dresses for my girls. Who can do it?

Does anyone make inexpensive holiday stockings?

Who makes photo frames?

Ideas on gifts for my tomboy teenage daughter? My mother in law? Child's teacher? Colleagues? (Undercover narcotics officers was a recent request.)

People continually post photos of things they've found online, asking for anyone local who can make it for them. A woman posted a photo of a gorgeous pink cake for a baby's first birthday party on a Monday and asked who could make it for her by Thursday. People responded and, within 20 minutes, the cake was ordered. Another woman posted a photo of a sock that looks like a shark eating the person's foot. In minutes, an artist was found who could make a pair.

Adrienne Burleigh, owner of Reenie's Bread Biz in Seminole, found a bed for her autistic son through the group. It's like a large dog bed, thick and soft, with an alphabet border. He obsesses over the alphabet, she said.

"I would never find this anywhere in a store," said Burleigh, 42. "It would have cost me a small fortune to have a company custom make a bed for him."

She said the bed cost about $100.

To me, it's priceless. He drags it all over the house. I can take the cover off and put it in the washing machine," she said. "It's the most amazing thing I've ever gotten for him."

Sellers talk of how supportive the group is compared to other groups.

"It's comfortable," said Melanie Merritt, 36, owner of Joyful Blessings out of Pinellas Park. She is the mother of three, two with special needs. She sells crafts and uses the money to make and send free superhero capes and other goodies to sick children, her way of giving back after receiving so much help herself. She sincerely enjoys the group — for the things she's bought and sold, but also for the relationships she has made.

"There is no drama. Nobody is competing," she said. Sellers help each other with crafting questions and alert each other when customers post wanting an item.

"A lot of the women on there are spectacular," she said.

For this group of craft artists, no request is too unusual 12/14/14 [Last modified: Sunday, December 14, 2014 10:24pm]
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