AUBURN — Anne Clapper has been recognized in public as "The Potholder Lady." 

What started out as a hobby 20 years ago to keep busy after having surgery has evolved into a successful small business. 

The Auburn woman began making her own potholders after back surgery left her unable to work. Since then, she has sewn thousands of potholders — over 2,000 a year — and has sold them across the country. 

Clapper said been selling her homemade potholders at Cayuga Community College's annual Holiday Craft Fair for about 10 years. 

"I've created a monster," Clapper joked of her small business Sunday afternoon behind her booth in the Spartan Hall gym. 

Clapper, wearing a Christmas hat and Grinch-printed shirt, said it only takes her about 15 minutes to sew each set of two potholders, but hours of prep work go into making each one, from shopping for fabric at Spring Lake Fabrics, to measuring the fill and cutting the loops. She brought over 900 of her custom potholders with her, in patterns that feature flowers, dogs and cats, insects and chickens and popular sports teams. 

She said she likes coming to the Holiday Craft Fair because of the atmosphere. 

"I like to meet the people," she said. "I have people that look for me every year. I enjoy it."  

Pam Heleen, who took over organizing the fair this year, said the atmosphere is what makes the event special. 

"It's a big family event," Heleen said. "We see relatives, extended families, crafters who have been next to each other for years — this is their time to get back together. This is their holiday." 

Heleen, who works as the executive assistant to college President Brian Durant, expressed her gratitude for the staff, students and volunteers who helped make the 44th annual craft fair a success. She said she plans to gather suggestions from vendors to improve the fair next year. 

Nearly 150 vendors from 56 cities and towns sold their homemade crafts — from jewelry and art to baked goods and holiday decorations — during the two-day craft fair.

Barb Dart, of Barb and Deb's Gourmet Cupcakes, sold a variety of cupcakes in flavors such as lemon, orange and espresso, as well as a variety of other baked goods. Her fifth year at the craft fair, Dart said it is the biggest event she and her partner attend. 

"We like coming to the fair every year because it's a chance to meet new people and see old friends," Dart said.

She said this was the first year they set up a kids table where children could decorate their own cupcake or cookie. 

Uli Ethridge, a crafter from Baldwinsville, designs jewelry made from bullets and shell casings.

She started out designing beaded jewelry as a way to raise money for the American Heart Association. She said she enjoyed making the jewelry and began selling her creations at craft shows. Then one day, she found a box of shell casings that her husband, a firearms instructor, was going to throw away. 

"I said, 'Don't throw them out. They're shiny, I want them,'" Ethridge said. 

She then began incorporating the bullets and shell casings into her designs. She bought a micro-engraver at a craft store so she could etch patterns onto the bullets. Some of her work features simple swirls or lines, while others have detailed horses or birds etched into them. 

Ethridge said this is her third year at the Holiday Craft Fair and she finds that many people are interested by her unique items. 

"That's one of the reasons I've stuck with it," she said. "There's a ton of different jewelry out there and I enjoy making this type of jewelry."  

Staff writer Natalie Brophy can be reached at (315)282-2239 or natalie.brophy@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @brophy_natalie. 

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City Reporter