Caroline Infante began sewing at her home in 1968, making children’s clothes, muumuu, diaper bags and dolls, with little notion that her hobby would one day turn into something much larger.
The young mother was a self-taught seamstress and eventually a grass-roots entrepreneur who single-handedly launched what is now the 24th Annual Islandwide Christmas Crafts & Food Expo.
Her first handiwork?
Six dresses made from 30 yards of fuschia Hawaiian print. They were a hit at the weekend swap meet. With four children by her side, Infante went on to run Caroline-Hawaii, a clothing business, from her home for the next 20 years. She continued sewing and selling her crafts at swap meets and fairs, until she had a vision of organizing one at the Blaisdell Center.
She applied for a date, then personally walked outdoor craft fairs to get acquainted with crafters and invite them to participate.
The first Islandwide Handcrafters Christmas Fair took place in 1987 over Thanksgiving weekend, with 175 crafters signed up, drawing a crowd of 14,000.
Every year since then the fair has grown in size and scope, to Infante’s amazement.
"It’s incredible," said Infante, who no longer sells her crafts, but works round-the-clock as the expo’s producer and director.
ISLANDWIDE CHRISTMAS CRAFTS & FOOD EXPO
When: 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. next Sunday
Where: Blaisdell Exhibition Hall
Admission: $4; $2 military and seniors; children under 12 free
Info: 623-4050 or www.islandwidecraftexpos.com
Today, more than 400 handcrafters and food vendors, including some from the neighbor isles, participate in the Christmas expo, offering made-in-Hawaii gifts, along with local goodies including strawberry mochi, prune mui, rum cake and at least 38 kinds of butter cookies.
The expo draws an average of 30,000 residents and tourists. Another one takes place in the spring.
Besides being a place to shop for gifts, the Christmas expo is a full-blown event, with prize drawings for three Sony high-definition televisions and cash giveaways, a Kid Zone featuring craft activities for kids, family-friendly entertainment and ways to contribute to various nonprofits and organizations.
There will be a donation tree for the Lokahi Giving Project. The twist this year is that all the wishes written on the paper ornaments will be items available at the expo.
Kids can take photos with Santa as part of a fundraiser for Lupus Hawaii. And for the first time this year, the event will offer gift-wrapping (a fundraiser for the Highlands Colt division cheerleading team) and U.S. Postal Service booths on site to assist with mailing needs.