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CRAFTS : Ideas Can Be Crafted With Supplies From Unlikely Sources

October 01, 1992|ZAN DUBIN | Zan Dubin covers the arts for The Times Orange County Edition.

A while back I walked into the Little Depot, a model train store in Hobby City, a conglomeration of hobby, craft and collectors shops in Anaheim. As a jewelry maker, I keep my antenna up for unusual, small doodads that might dangle as an earring or fit onto a lapel pin, and indeed, I hit pay dirt.

Remember the tiny commuters, farmers and other folk that Dad used to bring his train track layouts alive? Little Depot has all sorts of such figurines, some only as tall as an eyelash, from circus performers to beach bathers to a bride and groom.

They're the perfect size for wearable art, and I bought a set or two and went to town, embellishing my people pin with rhinestones and beads.

I have to admit the idea wasn't original. I've seen these miniatures used for the same purpose. But I was reminded that clever crafters will find raw materials where more conventional minds might never send them shopping. Here's a list of such places:

* Miniature or dollhouse shops. These days, manufacturers make almost everything in micro-size, from a Platex bra box (an exact replica) to sliced ham to cuckoo clocks. (Beware: Often the smaller it gets, the more expensive it is.)

* Imported food or gift stores. The colorful, out-of-the-ordinary labels on imported foods, candy or other goods put Campbell's soup and Dove soap to shame. How about using Chinese fireworks wrappers for a striking collage? Many shops with handmade goods carry jewelry crafted with milagros, the metal charms, that are worn throughout Latin America to help heal the body part is represents.

* Swap meets, thrift stores and garage sales. Simon Rodia, one of California's most venerated folk artists, constructed his graceful Watts Towers out of broken pottery, 7-Up bottles and tile. Where better than a swap meet or thrift store to buy dirt-cheap dinnerware you won't mind smashing to bits? These are prime sites for anything you won't mind disassembling, de-beading or ripping up, and for buttons, new or vintage magazines, paintings and old jewelry boxes or vitrines awaiting your creative touch.

Gem and mineral shops. This is where to find shiny, semiprecious pebbles and larger stones in every color to glue on those jewelry boxes and vitrines, plus fossils, precious stones and other goodies.

* Hardware stores. Where to begin? Cheap copper and brass sheeting, wire, rods or hollow tubing, wooden dowels--from 1/8-inch round and up--chain-link, window screen, colorful rope and cord, pliable balsa wood sheets and strips and fancy wood moldings.

* Craft supply stores. Well, duh. But wait--what about using the standard stuff here in unorthodox ways? For instance, glue pink rhinestones onto a doll-size, clear plastic pump (think Cinderella slipper) from in the wedding decorations department. What to do with said shoe is up to you. A wonderful world of kitsch can be found in plastic cake decorations, too.

* The Business-to-Business Yellow Pages. Contemporary fine artist Barbara McCarren has a tip for anybody looking to buy in bulk: Let your fingers do the walking. McCarren used the big book to find a tool company where she purchased 2,000 vice grips for an installation, called "Silo," in which the grips held erect 2,000 individual stalks of wheat.

She also suggests going to the top if you hit a wall.

She called the general manager of all Pep Boys Southern California stores when the manager of one of the auto supply stores refused to sell her his entire stock of car deodorizers.

The tactic worked, and she purchased some 1,500 green, pine-tree-shaped air fresheners for her piece, "Timberline."

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