What Do You Make? Mormon Handicraft Shop Sells It, Shows It
“The Mormon Handicraft Shop … is a nonprofit organization sponsored by the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and operated by the general board of the Relief Society.
1. To provide a market for the handwork of women throughout the Church and assist them in supplementing family income within their homes.
2. To perpetuate and encourage handwork skills.
3. To set high standards in the production of handwork of all types.”
(Relief Society Handbook, 1975, p. 57.)
Intricately patterned quilts surrounded by colorful doilies, hot pads, China dolls, rag dolls, stuffed animals, baby clothes, afghans, decorative plaques and pictures—sound like Santa’s workshop or a Disney daydream? It’s the Mormon Handicraft Shop, operated by the Relief Society under the direction of the general presidency.
The Mormon Handicraft Shop has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1937 when it comprised one small display case on the top floor of the old Bureau of Information building on Temple Square. Originally conceived by the Relief Society as a welfare project to help widows and other women who needed to supplement their incomes, the shop had as its object the production and sale of such items as these women could be taught to make. Embroidered gloves, quilts, and baby clothes were some of the items originally sold; soon square-dance dresses were added to the wares, and the shop has been expanding ever since.
Now located across from Temple Square at 21 West South Temple in Salt Lake City, the shop is divided into two parts with different purposes. Downstairs is the Gift Shop, where items handcrafted on consignment are sold to the general public. Articles of every size and description reflect the diverse natures of their creators, who range in age from eleven to ninety.
Although most of the 5,500 contributors are Latter-day Saint women, some men and nonmembers also submit their creations. A yearly membership contribution of $1.50 is given by each individual whose handwork is sold through the shop. (Rules for submitting articles for sale may be obtained from the shop on request.)
Accordving to Nettie Slotboom, manager of the shop, the store has a widespread reputation and is noted for the quality and uniqueness of its wares. Its location promotes sales to a diversity of individuals. Once a member of a rock music group performing in the Salt Palace wandered in and bought a quilt. He later returned with three friends, one of whom bought fifteen quilts for his boutique shop in England. Many tourists who become acquainted with the store after a visit to Temple Square continue to purchase by mail or telephone when they return to their own homes. One New York woman sends for hot pads from the shop as gifts for her friends; a man in Los Angeles sends to the shop for dish towels.
The upstairs portion of the shop serves an entirely different purpose. Here craft supplies ranging from quilting material to patterns to embroidery floss are sold to Relief Society presidencies and homemaking leaders only. Among the specialties sold is a quilting material designed here and produced in Japan exclusively for the Handicraft Shop, with a new pattern being created each year. In addition, five special quilt designs are created yearly. Kits containing all the materials (except batting) necessary for making these quilts are available. Supplies are sent to Relief Societies as far away as New Zealand.
To manvy individuals the shop is much more than just an outlet for creativity. One sister is supporting her son on his mission with the earnings she receives from the sale of her quilts. Another woman whose daughter has cerebral palsy has paid the hospital bills by selling her “Tiffany Dolls” through the Mormon Handicraft Shop.
One unusual story is that of a man who had a heart attack that left him bedridden. The doctor told him he needed to keep his hands and mind busy to keep himself alive. Although he had never carved before in his life, he began carving dolls out of wood and sold them through the Handicraft Shop. “His pocketknife saved his life,” says Sister Slotboom.
Another man was a concert pianist and an amateur calligrapher when he was stricken with multiple sclerosis. The shop still sells material he printed before contracting the disease, and the money helps pay for his care.
One widow is a prolific producer of dish towels and other goods. Left with no pension or social security benefits when her husband died, she supports herself with the revenue from her sales. Another woman built a home with the money she earned from the sale of her pixie dolls.
A young girl began making and selling bean-bag frogs at age fourteen. Ten years later she is still making frogs, and the money she has made by doing so put her through school and bought her a car.
Many handicapped people are wholly or partially supporting themselves in similar ways. Several retarded people, ages twelve to twenty-nine, who live in the Davis County Training School make wooden toys for the shop to sell; the proceeds go toward the operation of the school.
Most of the contributors, however, make and sell their crafts for the sheer joy of creation. Anyone who desires to do so is encouraged to contribute. At present there are plans to enlarge and to have different areas in the shop represent different areas of the world.
The Mormon Handicraft Shop is both a way for Relief Society women to express their talents and a market for them to supplement their incomes. Says Sister Marian Boyer, the homemaking counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, “We’re always encouraging the sisters to hang onto their local crafts, to develop and retain them. We feel the Mormon Handicraft Shop helps to do this. We invite contributions from all.”