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Longtime crafter Marie Shea returns to fair

Marie Shea, 92, works on an item for the annual holiday crafts fair that starts tomorrow.
Marie Shea, 92, works on an item for the annual holiday crafts fair that starts tomorrow.
Photo / Donna Coveney

Regular visitors to the annual holiday crafts fair in Lobby 10 can look forward to viewing the wares of some of their longtime favorites when the fair opens tomorrow, including those of 92-year-old Marie Shea, who has sold her handmade quilts and baby clothes at the fair for nearly a quarter of a century.

The fair takes place Thursday and Friday, Dec. 6 and 7 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m, helping members of the MIT community prepare for the holidays with convenient gift shopping. According to Brenda Blais, who runs the fair for the MIT Women's League, many community members look forward to buying from their favorite vendors year after year, especially Shea.

"People ask about the fair and say 'Is Marie gonna be there?'" said Blais, an administrative assistant in the Teaching and Learning Laboratory, who has managed or helped manage the fair for about 10 years.

"People say to me, 'I bought for all my children and now my grandchildren are wearing it,'" Shea said of her returning customers, who have seen her pastel-colored baby sweaters and hats passed from one generation to the next.

The fair was originated by the Technology Community Women (a defunct group of women students and wives of students) and is now run by the Technology Community Crafters, an interest group of the Women's League. A second, smaller fair is held each spring. Proceeds from fees charged to the vendors go to the Women's League scholarship fund. Artists Behind the Desk is helping with the cost of this week's fair.


Shea, who sold about $800 worth of her items last December, first participated in the fair in the late 1970s at the suggestion of a neighbor at 100 Memorial Dr., who had seen some of her hand-knitted mittens. While she doesn't remember the exact year she started attending, Shea has kept a record of her sales since 1981 in a small, well-worn spiral notebook that lists each item displayed, those sold and at what price. In 1981 she made $19.50.

"But I had to give $1.95 to you people," said Shea, referring to the organizers' 10 percent take in the early days.

Blais said that at one time, sellers paid a percentage to the Technology Community Women "until one lady said, 'I can't give you my money. I need it.' And the next year we switched to a flat daily fee. But Marie doesn't pay anymore because I figure she's paid her dues," said Blais, who recruits vendors from other fairs around the area. "I try to get a variety of different crafts, so it's not all jewelry or all pottery."

In addition to infant toys, sweaters, hats, bibs and quilts, Shea also sells small woolen quilted throws and woolen lap quilts. Each of her handmade items has a small tag sewn in that reads: "Made with Tender Loving Care by Marie E. Shea." The "I" in Loving is dotted with a red heart.

"I'm busy and I'm keeping young. If I didn't have this, I don't know what I'd do [with my time]," said Shea, who has sewn and knitted since she was a girl. She does her sewing during the day and saves knitting for evenings and the two-hour period each afternoon when she watches her "stories" on TV. "Knitting is easier. It's more quiet and relaxing," she said.

Shea, a Cambridge native, and her late husband Joseph, who died five years ago at age 92, have four children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, with another on the way.

For more information on the craft fair, contact Sis de Bordenave in the Women's League office at x3-3656 or

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 5, 2001.

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