Monday, 29 July 2013

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Craft Fairs

The first craft fair I ever took part in was a Stalls in the City in September 2011, I had very little in the way of staging, a stall buddy, a suitcase full of work and a box full of change.
I took the most money I've ever had outside of Christmas. Amazing! Not only that, it was fun; the customers were encouraging, the stall holders were friendly, the organisers were lovely and worked really hard to look after the artists and keep everyone safe when the marquee I was in looked like it was about to make a break for it in the tail end of a massive storm (yes, even with torrential rain I still made a profit).

Two weeks ago I took part in an event that had the best atmosphere of any market/fair/thing I've been to. There were brilliant makers and designers, vintage clothes, books, music, food, drink, pizzas, dj's. It was in a cool venue in an amazing part of town, it was brilliantly curated and advertised, the weather was glorious and I think the organisers achieved exactly what they set out to when they created the event.

My takings for that day came to a grand total of.....£3.50.

The obvious response in a situation like this is to go home and drown your sorrows in a bottle of red wine that you can't afford because you made no money. The more sensible response is to figure out exactly, or approximately, why you didn't make any money, and what, in the two years between these events, went wrong? 
Stalls in The City, Liverpool.
After going through all of my sales, item by item, for the past 12 months at fairs, on Etsy and in shops, it became very clear that turning up to a fair with none of my bestselling products may have had something to do with it. This isn't even a rookie error, this is just dumb, it's like (taking examples from previous jobs of mine) Thorntons stocking up for Easter with no eggs, or WH Smith getting their Christmas stock in without "Generic Boy Band Annual 2013". In my defence I've been skint, and I couldn't afford to buy more supplies in so I just had to make do with what I had, and that clearly wasn't enough.

At no point did it occur to me to blame anyone else. In every market I've been a part of the organisers have worked incredibly hard, promoting the event in the press, flyering outside the venue to get people in, tweeting and Facebooking like crazy in the weeks running up it, telling all their friends, blackmailing their family into helping out, being available all the time to deal with problems, help you with your loading in and out, providing hot drinks (sometimes cake) and just generally going out of their way to make the day a success for everyone involved, the exhibitors and the customers. The people organising these events love design and craft and art as much as we all do, if not more. They're providing us with a chance to get our work out to the wider public and showcase what we do, and it's not unreasonable that they are fairly rewarded and acknowledged for the work they put into it (we have early starts but they start even earlier and finish even later*). The feel of each event is unique, in all kinds of venues, targeting all kinds of people. Some are mixes of art and food and music, some are more like street markets, some offer workshops but in essence they are quite simply a room full of people with something to sell waiting for someone to buy it. And it works, we can add all the bells and whistles we like but it won't change the transaction at the heart of it. The quality of the work is what takes the event from just another market to something really special, carefully selected and beautifully presented. The Proms success endures because it is meticulously chosen music played by exceptional musicians in a beautiful space to a hundreds of people who love it, you might think it would be more exciting if they included a foam party but you'd be missing the point, and it's the same with fairs, product is key.

* really wanted to include the bit from the end of Waynes World 2 here, where the Weird Naked Indian Guy has to clean up after the concert, but I couldn't find a clip. :(
The other aspect of an arts event that can make or break it are customers, or in some cases spectators. Not everyone comes to a craft fair with the intention of buying, and in the 'current financial climate' I don't see that changing. We have to be honest with ourselves that, for the most part, we're not selling the essentials. If it's a choice between filling up your car and buying a handmade embroidered clutch bag there's not many people who would take the second option. Where we can hold our ground is special occasions, because as a nation we LOVE sending cards, for anything and everything, and missing a birthday or Christmas present is unthinkable. Our generosity with others will often persist even when times are hard, speaking for myself I will spend money on gifts for friends and family that I wouldn't dream of spending on myself. 

Money, or rather value for money is key, and very subjective. It's obvious to me now that my incredible take on that first ever fair I did was down in large part to my having very low prices. It's been a slow and scary process getting my products to a price I am comfortable with and that is not ripping off either myself or the customer. It's the trickiest aspect of being a designer-maker, and pages and pages of blogs and advice sites are taken up with foolproof pricing guides and equations. As it stands my prices ensure I am covered for materials, labour at a reasonable rate per hour (above min. wage but nowhere near the level it should be for skilled work), and overheads, as well as commission for the retail outlets I sell through. So I don't lose out in shops, and I make a bit extra when I sell online. At fairs that little extra goes to cover the stall fees and transport. This is the minimum I would expect, no one should have to sell their work for less than it is worth. The problem arises when you are faced with a public who do not understand all of this. Again, I am not blaming anyone else, but we still live in a culture where the vast majority of the things we buy are mass produced abroad by people working for ridiculously low wages in unsafe conditions, and where the act of making is being phased out of education so the average person has no experience of what it takes to create something themselves, by hand. 
The Summer Arts Market at St George's Hall.
Perhaps I should explain to them? Perhaps I should present them with a breakdown of all my costs and how long it took to make and how much I purchased the fabric for, but that's absurd. The best thing I can do in that situation is stick by my pricing, have faith in the quality and uniqueness of my work and hope that someone out there appreciates that and buys it, and that by having bought handmade and loved handmade they might tell someone else, or give something as a gift, and spread that appreciation, so that when they next go to a fair they will understand what they are looking at and what it is really worth. The worst thing I could do is reduce my prices to get a quick sale out of someone who neither understands nor cares about the value of the work because they just want to feel like they've got deal. A craft market is not a jumble sale and handmade is not a bargain. Handmade is  an investment; in the product and in the person making it and the community they are a part of and the local economy.
Capstans Grand Bazaar at Haus.
A craft market is, on the other hand, an important social event. Since losing my job in the cafe last year I have spent an increasing amount of time working on my own in the flat. When you have cats (stupid ones at that) for colleagues there's a tendency toward mild insanity if left unchecked. When I get out to a fair it's wonderful to see all the familiar faces, and meet lots of new ones. With a different person next to you each time there's always an interesting conversation to be had, and in a room full of creative people you can be sure of wise words and constructive criticism. As a community we're all dealing with the same pressures of job/day job, life/work, creating art/paying the rent, and just getting out of your house or studio for a day and talking to other people about it makes you feel less like your feline office mates are conspiring against you. This is not new, in the country cattle markets are a huge social occasion, and in the heydays of Victorian industry the Exchange Halls were awash with gossip. As the alternatives in Liverpool seem to be networking geared toward 'creatives' of a more digital less physical/material bent I value the chatter of the markets immensely and as I am in possession of basic manners I know when to stop talking and acknowledge customers so everybody wins!
A record fair at the Corn Exchange, Leeds.
As a 'route to market' it is not always the most reliable, you're up against the weather, the economy and rival events, but for no one I've met has it been the only route. Craft fairs work as part of a wider scheme, that includes online shops, bricks and mortar retailers and word of mouth. As an opportunity for customer feedback, product trialling, creative networking, having an excuse to buy yourself a fancy lunch, marketing and research they are unrivalled. 

That's why I love craft fairs.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Mini-est of Collections

This weekend sees the inaugural Summer Arts Market at St George's Hall in Liverpool. A two day event like the successful Winter Arts Market with over 100 artists and makers, craft classes and kids activities, I'm really looking forward to it.
For the occasion I have put together a tiny collection of Liberty print work, using up some Tana Lawn I've had in for a while and buying a minimum of supplies in. The prints are Mia's Island in a pale yellow, Strawberry Thief in navy with flashes of almost neon colours, and also sleep masks in a black print I have never been able to find out the name of, so if anyone can help me there... In total there are two a-symmetric necklaces, two josephine pendants, 2 josephine cuffs, 2 little josephine bracelets and two sleep masks in each print. 

When they're gone they're gone!

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Hen Party Heroes

As this post is published I should be sitting in the sun somewhere in Leeds enjoying a nice drink before the fun really starts for my sister's hen party. My contribution to the occasion, having let my other sister do all the logistics and booking of things, is the headwear.

We didn't want to do anything too obvious, and were definitely not going down the slogan t-shirts/matching pink stetsons route, so we decided on a very slight comic book theme.

  Can you see where we're going yet?


The finished headbands;

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Tutorial: Necklace Display Stand

Since I've been making my Liberty jewellery I've been looking around for some necklace stands for my stall display. As usual I knew the kind of thing I wanted but could not find it anywhere, if you are fond of leatherette or velveteen you're in luck, otherwise it's slim pickings. Fortunately I had some fabric left from my tablecloth and some battered old bits of foamboard lying around so I had a go at making my own. Here's how:

I made a paper template, it's just a little smaller than A4. The neck section was fine for the chain necklaces, but the larger a-symmetric necklaces were too big for it and didn't sit comfortably around the top, so I drew a second version with a longer neck section.

The foamboard I used is about 5mm thick so I cut two layers for each stand to make it sturdier. If you haven't used foamboard before you can usually get it from art shops in a range of sizes, usually in black (tends to have a matte paper finish) or white (which is slightly glossier, I use a sheet as a reflector for when I'm doing product photos). It's very easy to cut with a scalpel.

 At the base of one of your layers mark the centre point and cut a channel as wide as the board is deep (in my case 5mm). This is where you will slot the 'leg'.
 For my long neck version I made two channels, the a-symmetric necklaces are heavier on one side so having two legs will keep it balanced. You might want to do this on your stand anyway as it's more stable.
For the legs I just cut triangles out of the foamboard scraps, adjusting the angle until I got the neck standing the way I wanted. It's also important that the legs are long enough to balance out the slant of the neck (if it's top heavy it will be less stable.)
 You should have 2 neck shapes cut out now, one with a slit in and one without. With PVA and a brush use a stippling action to put a thin layer of glue on each neck shape. Put the 2 layers together and leave them under a pile of heavy books until the glue has dried completely.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Etsy Picks: Christmas in July

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, or are a regular visitor to my Etsy shop, you may know that I am currently taking part in a UK team promotion for 'Christmas in July'. Don't panic! It's not a campaign to change the date, or extend the festive season well beyond it's welcome. Christmas in July is a North American marketing event that promotes festive shopping in the summer months when there aren't any national holidays to boost trade. As an Etsy shop owner it makes sense to take advantage of international shopping trends, especially as the site is so popular in the US and Canada.
So, the Etsy UK Promo Team have coordinated a discount campaign, with those shops taking part, including mine, offering 10% off for the whole of July with the code CIJUK10, and it's not limited to Christmas items! Here's a few of my non-festive picks from the shops taking part.
Nadolig Llawen Welsh Christmas Stag Greeting Card, £1.50 from DyfalDonc
 I lied, this one is a bit Christmassy, but only if you're Welsh. I love the collage style and I can never resist a stag.

Cherry Blossom Ceramic Coaster, made to order by DamsonTreePottery. £12.
I only discovered the Damson Tree Pottery through this promotion but everything I've seen has been beautiful.

Vintage Glass Jewel Deco Wedding Necklace, AlteredEras. £45.
This vintage Art Deco necklace oozes Gatsby glamour.

Oat, Honey and Ginger Soap Bar, WitchWayBeauty. £4.50.
Good enough to eat!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

NSPP: Flowers and Further

Quick update on my 'Non-Specific Patchwork Project'. I've had a lot of free time at fairs and while volunteering at Arts Hub so I've made some progress.

 I've been using Gutterman Hand Quilting thread to whip stitch the hexies together, quite pleased with the tiny neatness of my stitches from the front. The thread is nice enough to work with, no snagging, but I'm finding it a little brittle, even though it's meant to be extra strong. I don't know if anyone has any other recommendations?
I've finalised the arrangement for the hexie flowers and have begun getting the body of it sewn together.

 So far as possible (allowing for mistakes) I've kept the grain running straight throughout, I don't know if this is something you're meant to do but it seemed like a good idea. It does mean that the odd hexie that's gone in on an angle winds me up more than it should, but I'm sure I'll get over it.

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