I sold 5 baby hats and a scarf, totaling $95, at the Depart-Ment craft fair this past weekend. I did better at last October's show, but this was still respectable and worth the looooong bus trip to the renovated warehouse where the show is held.

On the bus ride back, I chatted with a fellow vendor (she sells jewelry) about the general crappiness of the clothing offered. The jewelry, stationery, photography, and woodworking merchandise are always top-notch, but the clothing usually consists of either (a) commercially bought T-shirts with ugly silk-screened designs or really bad embroidery or (b) poorly sewn "original" items. I'm all for DIY, but if you want to be taken seriously, you need to know how to sew a @#$-ing seam properly. And if your buttons look like they'll fall off after one trip through the washing machine, I ain't buying it.

The jewelry vendor's theory on why the clothes stink is that all the good Chicago designers move to LA or NYC. No one stays here, because Chicago doesn't have a market for haute couture. I fear that she's right. It's not that Chicagoans aren't fashionable or well dressed, but they tend to be conservative and averse to experimentation. Even the high-end boutiques on Oak Street tend to sell the expensive ready-to-wear stuff, not haute couture. Those funky boutiques in the Wicker Park/Bucktown area are willing to sell one-of-a-kind hand-made items on consignment, but the truly rich, older ladies who can afford those things don't venture that far west and they don't buy innovative designs. They stick to the Gold Coast and buy Prada bags and St. John knitwear suits. Mayor Daley is trying to encourage fashion designers to stay here in Chicago and has sponsored a Fashion Week, but I think it's a lost cause. For most Midwesterners, clothes are strictly utilitarian.

Having said all that, I have to admit that I haven't had too much trouble selling unusual accessories at these craft fairs. In fact, the stuff I make with more unusual color combos sells more readily than more-traditional looks. I think it's because a scarf or a hat is small, and people are more willing to experiment with something small than they are with an entire garment or outfit. So I'm just going to keep plugging away and hope that word-of-mouth spreads and that I get more comissioned work as a result.