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Crafting cute with a quirky twist: Amy Barber fashions a unique line of handmade accessories

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Compact cases made by Austin artist Amy Barber, who uses designs sourced from vintage fabrics and found stock photos. The cases sell for $12-$14. She sells her products at SoCo First Thursdays, every weekend at the pop-up market at Snack Bar, 1224 S. Congress Ave. and on her website, www.sweettoothbags.com.iPhone cases by Austin artist Amy Barber. Barber vends her work at Blue Genie Art Bazaar, SoCo First Thursdays, every weekend at the pop-up market at Snack Bar, 1224 S. Congress Ave. and on her website, www.sweettoothbags.com

Like many who revel in the making of things, Amy Barber caught the crafting bug early.

As a child in Houston, she watched as her grandparents built up quite a tidy nest egg in their spare time, refurbishing salvaged furniture or creating new items from found materials that they then sold at flea markets.

Barber still has a bright green circular rug her grandmother inventively crocheted out of bits of fabric tied together to form a kind of yarn.

But for Barber, the making of things is her full-time career.

For almost a decade, under her business moniker Sweettooth Bags, Barber has created and sold a range of original, individually made accessories including purses and handbags, wallets, headbands and hair accessories.

Everything reflects her passion for the upbeat, whimsical aesthetics of 1940s and early 1950s design when clean forms and lines played within a vivid but wide-ranging color palette. Barber repurposes antique millinery adornments to decorate fanciful hair pins and clips. Purses, wallets and handbags are sewn from vintage or vintage-reproduction cotton fabrics.

Yet in a new line of iPhone covers, mirror compacts and business cards, Barber’s style goes beyond simple nostalgia. Instead, she collages designs she sources from vintage fabrics together with quirky or out-of-date stock images and patterns.

“I definitely relate to the sweet and cute style, but I also like things that are a little weird,” she says.

Thus her iPhone covers (she makes them for both the iPhone 4 and 5) sport equal parts sweetness and psychedelia. On one iPhone cover, a neat, illustrated image of a cheetah floats against a pink flowery pattern. In another, a bird is superimposed onto a cascading trellis design.

Barber uses a heat press ink transfer process to print her designs onto metal that is then fitted to either the hard plastic iPhone cases or the metal compacts and business card cases. The iPhone covers sell for $28, the compacts for $12-$14 and business card cases for $20. (Barber also sells her work on her website, www.sweettoothbags.com.)

She found her way to being a full-time artisan after studying theater at the University of Texas. Though she was studying acting, classes in costume and set design tapped into that deeply seated love of hands-on making she had inherited from her grandparents. Barber handcrafts everything she sells by herself, working out of her small home studio, a room filled with work tables, a pair of sewing machines and stacks of colorful fabric and other materials.

Like many independent Austin artists and artisans, Barber finds the holidays to be her busiest time. But unlike when she first started out consigning her wares at boutiques around the country, it’s pop-up shops and markets that now make up the majority of her sales.

Indeed, similar to the food trailers that emerged in place of brick-and-mortar restaurants in the past few years, pop-up retail events and markets now figure more prominently within Austin’s indie retail landscape.

Barber currently has a booth in the Blue Genie Art Bazaar, one of the more original indie holiday markets, that runs through Dec. 24. And every Saturday, she vends at Market at Snack Bar, an outside pop-up market at Snack Bar restaurant on South Congress Avenue. The market is also a part of First Thursdays, the evening of special vending, dining and restaurant events along the popular stretch of the South Austin avenue known as SoCo.

Blue Genie Art Bazaar