It’s the thought that counts: The city’s holiday craft fairs champion the local, the sustainable, and the adorable

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Brooklyn Night Bazaar. ()
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Jenna Sauers

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With all the budget-balancing and recipient-matching the yearly gift-hunt demands, you could do worse than to check out one of the plethora of holiday fairs that currently dot Manhattan and Brooklyn—prices are good, selection is vast, and perhaps most importantly these markets are trading in stuff with the marks of authenticity, hand-craftedness, and keeping-it-local built in. Aside from the anxiety-inducing megamarkets in Union Square, Grand Central Terminal, and Columbus Circle (most of whose vendors are pretty light on actual craft and heavy on tchotchke-ism), there are several less frenzied, more humane, and way more charming seasonal shopping fairs.

Among them is BUST magazine’s annual Craftacular, with its focus on all things DIY and home-made. Over 200 vendors gathered at it last weekend to sell gifts, food, and booze. (The Craftacular, like many such fairs, only lasted a couple of days, but all of the vendors mentioned here are showing at other fairs around the city and maintain stores online.)

Wishbones were a prominent feature of the jewelry on offer—I spied wishbone rings, wishbone necklaces, and a wishbone belt buckle—as were little charms that resembled such things as harmonicas, cassette tapes, and old-fashioned bent shears—everything lo-fi and humble. Anarchy in a Jar sells jams made in Greenpoint, including a tasty pear with an undertone of chipotle ($6; they’ll bike-deliver it to your door if you live in Brooklyn or Lower Manhattan). And you might even spy a real-life Sad Etsy Boyfriend sitting by the door looking listless, swaddled in coats.

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As befits BUST’s readership, the offerings skew heavily female. An outfit called Clare Bare, which makes new lingerie from vintage fabrics, will sell you an appealingly bare-bones garter belt—just a matrix of thick lingerie elastic in teal and black ($40)—or a coral bralette ($35). If any part-time vamps are on your gift list, Dollsville NYC’s brightly colored glitter vinyl hair bows, affixed with buttons featuring skulls, PBR cans, and images of Frida Kahlo, should fit the bill ($5-$10). They also sell cocktail hats and cage-veiled fascinators with a variety of silk flowers, and more unusual touches, like a plastic cello or a hummingbird ($29 and up). For those with an appreciation for head coverings but less patience for whimsy, hand-blocked felted men’s and women’s hats are available at Artikal, which offers a variety of fedoras, bowlers, and ‘60s-style caps. I liked the cloches best, until I picked up one—with a narrow brim and a distinctive mitered self-bow, set on the side over three pinch-pleats—that looked virtually identical to a cloche made a few years ago by the New York milliner Eugenia Kim. (Felted hats $110-$170, straw hats $100-$130.)

If the BUST DIY fair had a motif, it was the bicycle. There were T-shirts screen-printed with bicycles ($20), bicycle tote bags, bicycle jewelry, and prints of bicycles to frame and hang ($50 and up). Bicycles: the new birds? For a fee, an artist named Taliah Lempert will even paint an acrylic portrait of your bicycle ($400-$3,000, and Lempert will need the bike to observe in person—no photographs). If there was one surprising gift trend, however—among all the oversized Scrabble tile coasters ($5 each) and tagua nut jewelry ($15 and up, and it’s “almost like ivory,” says the Brazilian man who makes it)—it was the terrarium. Terrariums seem like they’re going to be big for Chrismahanukwanzakah 2011. Sellers touted their easy maintenance—keep out of direct sunlight, and spray with water fortnightly—and offered terrariums in leaded and stained glass, twee terrariums with little plastic figurines, Zen terrariums with rocks. The magazine even offered a DIY terrarium class at the event.

Handsome prints of the city with each neighborhood outlined in a different color were $40 at Rocket Ink’s booth, but too bad if you live in Queens, the Bronx, or Staten Island—they only do Manhattan and Brooklyn. The most strikingly original gifts, and to my eye, some of the most beautiful, were by ceramic artist Amy Korb, who makes glasses and salt-and-pepper shakers that she glazes to look like almost exactly like tin cans—and a separate line of mugs and bowls whose handles hide your fingers. The outsides, naturally, Korb paints to look like hands ($25 and up).

The Holiday Shops at Bryant Park are as chi-chi as the Craftacular was home-made. You can sip hot organic tea ($2.50) while you browse or snack on an arepa (a usurious $5)—although the fair is outdoors and fills the area behind the New York Public Library and next to the skating rink, all the booths are enclosed and heated.

At Sabon, an Israeli purveyor of Mediterannean sea salt-based cosmetics, a sales assistant will offer to “welcome” you with a hand scrub over a big, stone urn, followed by a dab of shea butter and olive oil cream. The pitch links the product to the amelioration of everything from cellulite to stretch marks; when I interrupted with a question, my salesman paused politely and then resumed his script, like a Jehovah’s Witness on a doorstep. (Salt scrub, $24-$30.)

At a shop called J-Wave, you can buy Pikachu, Micky Mouse, and Hello Kitty costumes that double as adult-sized footie pajamas ($59-$69), or just get an animé character hat ($25). The North Pole specializes in Christmas decorations, including one of a desktop P.C. whose screen reads, “I love my computer because it’s got my friends in it.” ($12.99) Mistura, a Colombian company, sells rugged watches with wooden faces and leather straps. They sort of look like Swatches, if Swatches were hand-made in Texas out of environmentally sustainable and recycled materials ($145 and up).

At the Brooklyn Night Bazaar, (whose final night is tonight) more than 100 vendors crowd a 40,000 square foot warehouse, filling up booths designed specially for the three-day event by architect Julien De Smedt (his inspiration: Lars Von Trier’s 2003 film Dogville). There’s plenty of Craftacular vendor overlap—Dollsville NYC is in attendance—but more of a focus on second-hand clothing: this is the place to go to pick up an only slightly overpriced Coach bag ($60), or a ’60s cheetah skin clutch. “Is that…” asked a shopper. “Yes, it’s real,” replied the vendor. ($150) A guy in a T-shirt sat next to a sign that read “Free Advice, $1,” and one stall advertised “FlyKly: The best electric bicycle of its kind,” which is, as slogans go, certainly honest.

Kasbah Moderne sells only used typewriters, including a Smith-Corona painted to look like a Keith Haring ($475). If you want to pick up a diaristic novella called The Back Of The Line, written by Jeff Parker and illustrated by William Powhida, a signed copy can be yours (for $25). Virginie Millefiori sells sea urchin rings and rings with spin-able pinwheels in sterling silver ($40) alongside cufflinks and necklaces based on Space Invaders ($50 and up).

If browsing makes you peckish, over in the food area, a joint called Saucy By Nature will sell you locally-made quinoa falafel—I enjoyed the “Mui Thai Pumpkin,” which came in a pita with spicy pumpkin and a scallion-cucumber salad. ($5, but they’ll knock off $1 if you follow them on Twitter.) A Brooklyn Lager stand sells tiny plastic cups of beer ($6), and for carnivores with Commonwealth tastes, Tuck Shop beef pies are a good bet ($6). Luke’s lobster rolls are pricey but delicious ($15). Something called Eagle Street Rooftop Farms will give you a taste of their hot sauce, which, a saleswoman explained, is made from “jalapeños, vinegar, salt, and not much else.” ($6; it’s fiery.) Raaka Virgin Chocolates sells chocolate made from cocoa beans that haven’t been roasted ($5-$28/bar).

That and snack-sized cannolis ($2, available in classic, mocha, pistachio, and Samoa) should tide you over ’til the music starts in the adjacent space—Thursday, opening night, featured a D.J. set from LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy; Friday was curated by BrooklynVegan ($10); tonight it's Titus Andronicus, The Hold Steady, and more ($18). For free entertainment, though, it’s hard to beat the stall with the 3-D printer. When I passed by, it was spitting out little clips to hold together a Christmas tree made of inside-out potato-chip bags. “Have a chip,” offered a young man. “They’re very fresh.”

Brooklyn Craft Central’s annual Holiday Market kicks off today and is on through tomorrow, and founder/organizer Deb Klein says she’s looking forward to her fourth edition of the fair, which always takes place on the last shopping weekend before Christmas. In Gowanus’s Littlefield Art Space, 65 vendors and food trucks will ply their trades—with complete turnover from Saturday to Sunday for variety.

Klein says she looks out for “vendors who do really original things, who do good work—and who are also affordable. It’s not a high-end market that I run.” And she keeps gender in mind, too. “I try to get vendors that might appeal to men, so things are not all just for female shoppers.” She’s perhaps most glad to be able to promote some neighborhood businesses. “I have a vendor called Gowanus Furniture who does amazing woodwork. I have a guy who works around here called Dogtag Design and he makes lamps and stuff out of found metal objects.” And what else is exciting this year? “Twig Terrariums is an amazing local business that does these wonderful, very eccentric-looking terrariums, with almost these dioramas inside.” And so, as noted earlier: Terrariums!

BUST Magazine Craftacular: (now closed) 

The Holiday Shops at Bryant Park: Daily through January 8; Hours: Mon-Fri, 11am-8pm; Sat, 10am-9pm; Sun, 10am-6pm. Free. 

Brooklyn Night Bazaar: December 15-17; 5pm-1am. Free; entry to music venue $10-$18. 

Brooklyn Craft Central Holiday Market: December 17-18; 12-6pm. Free.