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Etsy, a website that turns painters, seamstresses and cushion-makers into online retail mavens, is holding e-commerce classes with a difference - they're all in the real world.

Launched in 2005, the site allows members to buy and sell handmade items from individual storefronts and has become regarded as an eBay of sorts for the crafts world.

Now Etsy is embarking on an outreach programme with some of its keenest makers, throwing its doors open every day between 11am and 6pm to advise budding sellers in a series of Etsy Labs.

During the labs at Etsy's Brooklyn, New York headquarters, site staff will help producers get the most out of their online storefronts - but the events also let the producers meet likeminded creative types during workshops.

Although Etsy's trade, like that of so many others nowadays, is handled online, participants say they enjoy meeting offline to formulate new strategies. Some events even centre around tea parties and include lectures from visiting artists.

The labs include computers, wireless internet and an array of crafts tools and materials. Items produced with attendees' new-found knowledge is likely to end up as further Etsy inventory.

The site, which handled around $1m in sales last year and has around 250,000 members, celebrates its second birthday next week.

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