DI(f)Y gifts: Queer artisans do it for you

By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly

There’s nothing better than giving a gift made by hand with love — except, perhaps, when someone else does the making for you. If you don’t have the time (or the talent) to create original works of art for your family members this holiday season, never fear — there is a veritable army of queer artists and artisans working on items full of spirit and spunk destined for your hands.
Still not convinced? A few local queer artisans talk about the inspiration for their work, why you should support your local creative community, and how to put your money where your mouth is.


Sarah Dee Ditson makes apparel and accessories from salvaged materials.

Ditson is a 28-year-old Portlander who sews, knits, works leather, does woodwork, paints signs, takes photos, throws pottery, and more. (She’s also on the cover of this issue.) Ask her what she’s learned on YouTube lately. Just don’t call her “sweetie.”

“My parents opted to make rather than buy most things around our house, from beds to toys to clothes, so my siblings and I learned from them. When I was 11, my dad and I built a 31-string folk harp from scratch. It was an amazing learning experience.”

Get inspired: “I love puzzles and problem-solving. Often my pieces start as a challenge — a friend wants a belt to hold various things while at a festival, or a shirt I like doesn’t fit right. I get great satisfaction from solving the problem. I am also inspired by salvaged materials; I like letting them take shape into something new. I start to go a little crazy if I’m not creating. It keeps my mind occupied and constantly working on the latest ‘puzzle.’”

Support local: “Buying from local artists is essential to keeping local culture and spirit alive. It also allows more of your hard-earned dollars to go directly back into the local economy, which in turn helps lessen the need for big business to come in and ‘create jobs.’ To know who lovingly made what you’re buying adds a preciousness to it that you just can’t get at Target or Fred Meyer. I think that’s important in a society where everything is so disposable.”

Buy it: Sarah has a shop on etsy (sarahdee.etsy.com), but you can save on shipping by checking out her open studio holiday sale from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Nov. 30 at Radius Studios (322 SE Morrison St.) with fellow artisans Korin Noelle and Alex Simon.


Burton Ford uses wood burning to create unique pet portraits.

Ford, 40, paints large abstract oil paintings and is currently working on a series of multi-media lightboxes. But people are really into his woodburned pet portraits.

“I did a few portraits as gifts for Christmas and for friends whose pets had recently died,” Ford says. “Word got around, and everyone knows someone who dotes on their pet, so people started contacting me.”
Get inspired: “I’m inspired by people’s love for their animals. People love to have something on their wall that reminds them of the good times with their kitty or doggie or ferret or … I’d be excited to do a snake or a frog,” Ford says. “I like paying tribute to these very important relationships.”

Support Local: “It inspires us to keep creating, and it creates community,” Ford says. “Local and well-made things sometimes cost a bit more, but you find a lot of thought and passion have gone into what people make. Handmade stuff lasts longer and it carries spirit in it. There is more meaning in it, and it makes our region stronger.”

Buy it: The custom-order nature of Ford’s work means that customers should expected to spend $100-$200 and wait six to eight weeks for delivery. He can be reached with questions and requests at dubmixford@yahoo.com.


Lauren LaMotte incorporates found items into her handcrafted books.

LaMotte, 32, has tried her hand at a number of arts and crafts, including sculpture, installation work, fiber art, and baking, but is currently focusing on bookmaking — specifically, journal and sketchbooks.
“I started making books in college 12 years ago while I was studying photography at the California College of Arts & Crafts in Oakland,” LaMotte says. “I loved black and white photography, but was feeling a bit jealous of my painter and illustrator friends’ sketchbooks. They were so colorful and involved while my books felt a little too grey.”

Get inspired: “I find the details and craftsmanship of objects and papers from the 1920s to the 1940s to be very inspiring,” LaMotte says. “I love finding old diaries that only have two entries in them, or half-written lists in the notebooks and pads of paper that I discover, and I love giving these things a new life and a new chances to have heartfelt feelings or drawings on them.”

Support local:
“I think it is important to keep money supporting your local community. I view it as tiny little micro loans,” LaMotte says. “Someone buys a book and that help supports me and the shop owner. We then go out to eat, which supports the owners of the local restaurant and the servers, which then they can go out and continue the chain.”

Buy it:
LaMotte’s books are on the shelves at Worn Path (4007 N. Mississippi Ave.) and at Palace (828 SE 34th Ave.). The can also be purchased online at thestarsandthesea.com.

Feeling inspired to get crafty? Check out our PQ staff guide to DIY gifts on our blog.