Artisans’ election-themed merchandise proves to be profitable side business, with Sanders earrings and dolls moving fast – but crocheted Cruz doll is hard sell
New Yorkers know how to party, which is why Sara Caldwell just spent several days building and hand painting a 36-in tall custom Ted Cruz piñata to send off to a primary party in New York on Tuesday.
The 54-year-old from Santa Clarita runs the Etsy store Mosaic Bones , where she sells her handmade presidential candidate piñatas (priced from $30) and papier-mâché decorations. For the custom piñata being sent to New York – so large she needed to make a special box to ship it – Caldwell shaped Cruz’s body out of cardboard and papier-mâché, then created a Cruz button in Clip Art to go along with his painted blue suit and thick quizzical eyebrows.
“I’m so glued to the politics this year … no pun intended,” Caldwell said.
She’s not the only crafter around the country inspired by this year’s election. The online marketplace Etsy shows thousands of results for homemade election merchandise. You can buy Bernie Sanders bow ties , clay pendants shaped like Hillary Clinton, earrings featuring Ted Cruz’s face , embroidered Donald Trump quotes – even a 3D-printed “Birdie Sanders ” sandstone figurine of the sparrow that landed on his lectern.
Caldwell, who teaches film-making at College of the Canyons, has found election merchandise to be a profitable side business, with at least 60 large piñatas and more than 120 smaller decorations sold. Trump piñatas were her first product, intended to serve as a political statement against Trump’s stance toward undocumented Mexican immigrants . Of the piñatas sold, 90% were of Trump. “More people want to hit him,” Caldwell laughed.
Capturing the likeness of each candidate is key. Her Sanders piñata – her second-biggest seller – includes hand-painted glasses and his trademark wild professor hair made out of humble cotton balls. “With Bernie, I knew it was cotton balls. You can pull and tug on it and make it a little crazy,” Caldwell said.
Tobey King, a stay-at-home mom, was a fan of Donald Trump as a celebrity, and once he announced his political intentions, she was thrilled to add him to her series of crocheted candidates.
“I thought he’d be a great doll and that I’d love to do that hair,” said King, 41, who sells Trump, Sanders and Cruz dolls at her Etsy store TobeyTimeCrochet from her home in Corpus Christi, Texas. King is an undecided voter but not a Clinton fan.
Nailing the famous Trump helmet hair took a few attempts. In the first go, King used strands of individual gold yarn to create it, but she wasn’t satisfied with the texture. Now she’s figured out the best method. “I use a little metal brush and brush the fibers out of the yarn and it comes out this nice fuzzy, fluffy thing and I glue it in place,” she explained.
“Other crocheters message me all the time about my Donald pattern,” King said.
She makes a Ted Cruz doll as well, but hasn’t sold one yet. “He doesn’t get many views, not too many favorites,” she said. “Maybe it’s because he doesn’t have the funny hair or the glasses – he’s regular looking,” she suggested.
The most popular Etsy candidate – unsurprising, given his folksy appeal – is Sanders, with pages of jewelry, T-shirts and painted artworks dedicated to the Vermont senator turned revolutionary leader.
“I was a big fan of Bernie Sanders and figured I’d make a pendant of that design that he had,” said Chris Kline, from the Los Angeles area, referring to the illustration of Sanders’ glasses and hair that was once painted on his headquarters in Iowa and has since become a ubiquitous image in his campaign.
“Bernie’s got that iconic head with the glasses and the hair, it’s kind of perfect,” Kline said.
A laser repairman, Kline uses a fiber laser machine to create Bernie Sanders jewelry, which he sells at his Etsy store Dill Pickle Pendants . At first, he only sold pendants – until a customer requested a small pair of earrings. Now those earrings are his top seller, and 15% of sales go to the Sanders campaign.
Sanders’ popularity has meant that Kline and his wife have turned their jewelry project into a full-fledged business, with more than 800 sales to date. The couple have day jobs, however, so they are only able to work on the jewelry in the evenings. “We sit down every night and we make them. I get home from work every day and I work on these Bernie pendants,” he said.
While Kline suspects it’s mainly devoted Bernistas buying his merchandise, he says that’s not always the case.
One woman contacted him after he sent her a pair of Bernie earrings, saying: “‘I got these in the mail and I don’t know who they came from and I’m not really a Bernie supporter, but thank you,’” recalled Kline, who suspects the earrings were used as a prank – or to goad her into voting for Sanders.
But he doesn’t care about the politics of the customer. “I just get the order and ship it,” he said.
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