Ten Reasons Why Selling at Craft Shows is EXHAUSTING!

You might have noticed that I didn’t write a blog post last week. One reason for this was that I was still recuperating from my big craft fair the weekend before. Here’s one thing many people don’t realize about craft fairs: selling at them is EXHAUSTING!

The fair two weekends ago was my second ever big show. Last year, when I did the first one, I came home after the first day, fell on the sofa and could barely move for the reminder of the evening. My back hurt, my legs hurt, and I was utterly drained of energy. I attributed that to inexperience, to my being an introvert, and to my too-low chair. When the show was over, it took a while to get back into a routine.

This time, however, I expected things to be different. I had more experience. I felt more comfortable being around people all day. And, I even had my brand-new IKEA bar stool! I was happy with my booth and its updated setting. Indeed, when I came home after the first day, I wasn’t completely wiped out. In fact, I really enjoyed the overall experience this time around.

Imagine my surprise on Monday, then, when I realized I wasn’t in the mood for sewing. Or designing, or even for doing much of anything…

Since then I realized that this is a common phenomenon among craft-show vendors. Even seasoned vendors, extroverts and/or people with a lot of people-experience seem to be utterly worn out after a show. Some people even have a name for it: they call it “Event Hangover,” or “Show Hangover.”

So what is so tiring about craft shows?

1) There are a LOT of preparations!

Whether it’s your first or one-hundredth show, craft fairs require a ton of prep work. You need to have the right equipment, which might be different from show to show. Every single time, you need to make sure you have enough inventory. You need to organize and price everything, make lists, label, make sure you have the right licenses, and so on.

2) Many vendors probably don’t sleep well the night before

A few of the vendors I met at the show drove up to twenty-four hours to just get there! Some slept in hotels. Others in their vehicle. Many of those that came from home had to get there very early, as the first set-up shift started at 5:00 am. Me? I was just too nervous to sleep well. My brain kept going around in circles all night long, wondering whether I didn’t forget anything, worrying about this thing or that…

3) There’s not much time for breakfast, if at all

Since even the last shift sets up at 7:20 am, you need to be out of the house early. Many people don’t have time/energy to eat breakfast.

4) Setting up is a lot of work in as of itself

Artists need to load heavy equipment and boxes into their car, then unload them out of the car and haul them over to their spot. They have to put up a tent. Attach the tent sides. Build and arrange their display furniture. Put up their inventory in the most attractive manner possible. Make sure all the price signs are where they should be.

And all of that before the show even opens to the public!

5) Being immobile the entire day is tiring, too!

Being in a booth all day long is hard. It’s hard not to be able to walk much, or move a lot. On a normal day, most of us move all the time. We walk from place to place, move from task to task. But while selling at a booth, you can either stand or sit in a 10’x10′ space (or less!). You might be able to go stand outside every now and then, but can’t go very far. If you’re lucky enough to have someone help you, you might be able to take a bathroom break every few hours, or go grab some food. Otherwise, you’re put in one place.

6) Artists have to be “on” all day long

While in a booth, a vendor needs to be alert to everything that goes on all around. S/he needs to be aware of the many people passing by. Greet and smile at the people coming in. A vendor needs to offer help, but not too much help. Answer questions, but not scare potential customers. It’s a delicate, energy-sapping balance! And there’s a lot of talking involved, more than most people are used to, especially artists who are mostly used to working alone in their studio for hours at a time! A vendor needs to be on the alert for shop lifters. Constantly tidy up the mess that visitors make. Every now and then a vendor might have to deal with some strange or even scary encounters. Last year, for example, early one morning, I felt trapped in my booth when a babbling man walked in and wouldn’t leave… There’s a lot of sensory overload!

7) Trying to disconnect yourself from your handmade product isn’t easy

For an artist, selling at crafts shows is very personal. Your art, after all, is an extension of you. You worked hard on the design. Made each item with your hands. Spent months or years crafting enough items to fill a booth. The act of art-making is intimate. It’s you and your materials, shaping things with your hands. You like your products. Each of them is almost like your child. It takes courage to show them to strangers. More courage to offer them up for sale. And so it can hurt if people pass them over, or even worse–belittle or insult them. It’s hard to separate yourself from your products, and not get insulted if someone doesn’t like them.

8) The financial part can be stressful

Craft-fair visitors are entirely oblivious to the finances involved with selling at a show. Many fair goers grumble about the prices of handmade goods. What they don’t know is that selling at a fair is expensive. Where I live, booths at craft shows cost somewhere between $300-$900 or more. A vendor has to sell a lot to just cover the booth fee. Then there are additional costs: buying the tent and furniture, paying a percentage of the profit to the fair organizers, paying for gas, having a brand-new fire extinguisher every year. It all adds up. Not to mention taxes: sales tax, state tax and federal tax come off the price of every single item sold. There’s also the cost of making the item: materials are expensive; electricity, overhead costs such as maintaining a sewing machine or other equipment. And all of that before counting the time an artist put into making the item, and schlepping it, and sitting at the booth to sell it… No wonder many vendors stress over whether they will make up some of that cost, and worry about whether they can pay their upcoming bills! Once everything is deducted, in fact, many artists are left with very little profit, if at all! Some even lose money.

9) Adrenalin!

Yes, the body’s natural reaction to the sensory overload is releasing Adrenalin. It helps keep you going while at the fair, but leaves you wiped out when you come home…

10) Take-down is as effort-consuming as setting up!

After a long day of being in a booth, artists need to pack everything up, fold and take furniture apart, and take down their tent. Then they need to drive back home. No wonder they’re exhausted!!

As for me, it took more than a week before I was able to even look at my sewing machine. What did I do in that time, you wonder? Well, many other tasks get neglected when you prepare for a show: the house, the cooking, the laundry, the kids. Not to mention the garden. So I slowly started catching up on some of those. I spent a lot of time in the garden, where the spring weeds rejoiced in my absence! Some of them grew taller than me!

I spent hours weeding:

I over-filled two large garden bins!

But after being confined to a booth an entire weekend, moving about outdoors was refreshing 🙂

Craft Show Season is Back, and There’s Always More to Prepare!

It’s been a year since I did my first (and so far, only) big craft show. Preparing for it was a ton of work. I had to design and then purchase an entire booth display: tent, furniture, bag racks, and so on. I had to paint and sew, cut and glue, and think of all the little details. During that fair, I was mostly happy with the way my booth looked.

Well, this year I signed up for not one, not two, but for THREE big shows! Naively, I thought that since I already had most of the necessary items, I was mostly ready. However, an entire year passed since the last show. An entire year of not thinking about shows…

As the date for the first one snuck by (it actually starts TOMORROW!), I suddenly realized that I still needed a couple of items. Predictably, acquiring them wasn’t straight-forward…

In Pursuit of a Folding Chair

Last year, the only noticeable problem with my booth was the chair: I used a camping chair, which turned out to be far too low. While sitting on it (it’s hard not to sit every now and then during a ten-hour show), I almost disappeared behind my table. A new chair, therefore, was at the top of my to-buy list.

I needed something tall, black and foldable. Foldable since I don’t have room in my house for more furniture. I needed a chair I could easily store away most of the year. At last year’s show, the jeweler in the booth next to mine recommended a folding IKEA bar stool she was very happy with. But when I finally got around to buying it, IKEA was out of them! It was out for WEEKS, and I was getting rather worried. I spent hours online looking for alternatives, but couldn’t find anything else that seemed as good. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I was desperately checking IKEA’s website once again, and was surprised to see they finally restocked. I was there that very afternoon!

Mirror Mirror

I was packing my inventory when I suddenly recalled a not-so-pleasant encounter with a customer at last year’s show. That lady was looking at my bags, and wanted to try one on. Then she wanted to see herself in a mirror, but I didn’t have one. Since I personally never need mirrors for buying bags, it never occurred to me that other people might want one! The lady was very upset. She literally yelled at me for not having a mirror, and then stormed out of my booth empty-handed.

Well, since this year I’ll be selling textile jewelry in addition to bags, I figured that a mirror was a must. Hence many more hours of research and contemplation. I was thinking of getting a full-length mirror, but realized there was no room for one in my booth. Also, a large mirror like that would be a nightmare to transport to shows safely. So I bought a table-top mirror that I hope will do the job.

Fire-Resistant Equipment

Different shows, it turns out, have different requirements for their vendors. One of the shows I signed up for this year notified me they require a fire-resistant table cloth. I didn’t have one. I do now. It was a good excuse to get a purple tablecloth, which I think might look better in my booth.

I was all smug about having a large, fair-approved fire extinguisher, since I bought a brand new one for last yea’rs show. I knew those were good for several years, and assumed mine was still perfect. When I got a letter from the show organizers a week and a half ago, however, detailing all the final logistical details, I learned that I actually needed a NEW fire extinguisher. Fire marshals, it seems, require one that has this year’s date stamped onto it! I didn’t even know fire extinguishers had a date stamped onto them. Live and learn.

I had a busy week, so I left that one to the last minute. I figured any hardware store will have them, right? WRONG! When I finally did go to the nearest hardware store a couple of days ago, it was–how not?–out of this specific kind of fire extinguishers. They told me they will have them next week, but that is too late for me. So yesterday I went on a small expedition in search of a fire extinguisher. I did find one, in the end, but it took a good portion of my morning. I checked: it really does have this year stamped on it 🙂

So, am I ready for tomorrow? Possibly. Hopefully. I guess I will find out for sure in the morning…

If you’re in the Bay Area, come by to say hello. It’s always nice to see friendly faces, and I have a booth-full of great Mothers’ Day gifts 🙂

 

Sorting Fabrics at FabMo

I bet you don’t know what “gack” is. Well, if you’re curious you have one of two options: 1) Volunteer to sort fabrics at FabMo, or 2) Read this blog post all the way to the end (no cheating, please!) 🙂

FabMo is the amazing non-profit organization from where I source most of the luxurious designer home-decor fabrics I work with. Many people in my area know what a fabulous resource FabMo is, and purchase fabrics there. Only a few, however, realize how much behind-the-scenes work goes into making these fabrics available to the public.

After I wrote a blog post about Hannah Cranch’s weekly trips to the Design Center in San Francisco, quite a few people–including long-time FabMo customers–told me they were amazed to learn how hard the collection work was. Many others wanted to know what happens to the fabrics after they make their way to FabMo’s warehouse. Well, today I want to fill you in about the next step in these fabrics’ journey: the sorting.

I already mentioned that, while at the Design Center, Hannah collects all the fabric samples into big plastic trash bags (which she reuses over and over again):

Hannah and a mountain of fabrics

She hulls these full, heavy bags into her truck, and packs them tightly:

Hannah organizing the half-loaded truck

Hannah and her volunteer helper then drive back to FabMo’s warehouse in Mountain View, where they unload the truck’s content into a back room.

The bags wait there for the next sorting event.

Bags Full of Fabric waiting at FabMo headquarters

Regular Sort

Every week FabMo hosts a few hours of “Regular Sort.” This “Sort” is a gathering of several volunteers (usually around eight), who open the bags Hannah brings.

Opening fabric bags at FabMo's facility

The volunteers spill the content of these bags onto big tables at the center of the room.

Fabric bag content revealed! FabMo

Then they start unfolding the pieces and sorting them by size.

Opening folded pieces at FabMo

Sorting rescued fabric samples at FabMo

Sorting fabric rescued pieces by size at FabMo

Sorting fabrics by size and kind at FabMo

Neat sorted fabric piles at FabMo

Fabric piles at FabMo

A “Regular Sort” typically lasts three to four hours. The volunteers stand on their feet for most of that time. I can attest that this sometimes takes a toll on the body, especially if you have back issues!

Once the volunteers arrange everything by size, they carefully place each pile into a plastic box, which they clearly label. They store the boxes on shelves with similar-sized fabrics.

By the time the volunteers complete a “Regular Sort,” they have emptied all the bags Hannah collected on Monday, neatly sorted and packed all of the fabric pieces she brought, and placed all the boxes on their rightful shelf. The fabrics wait there for the next step in their journey: The Regular Selection Setup.

A Few Words on Gack

So what is “gack,” you wonder… Well, not all fabrics are created equal. Many textile designers design beautiful pieces. Some, however, come up with textiles that are … uhmm … less exciting… For every beautiful and luxurious piece that comes from the Design Center, there is one that is just … not. Some pieces are so drab, in fact, that they are unlikely to find forever homes even among sustainable-fabric enthusiasts. Those usually come in shades of beige and brown, are synthetic or have boring textures. Some are torn, cut or stained. FabMo jargon (yes, there is such a thing!) refers to these as “gack”.

Hannah, by the way, assured me that “gack” was a real word. There is even a story behind it. If you know it, there will be brownie points for the first person to write it in the comments 🙂

FabMo volunteers put gack pieces aside during the sorting process. This, for example, is a gack bag:

FabMo customers never see these pieces. The larger ones go to resale stores to be sold there. Some are left on “free” racks outside FabMo. Volunteers take some pieces home, to use for things like pet bedding, stuffing or as rags. Everything else goes to a fabric recycling facility.

How You Can Help

If you live in the California Bay Area and are interested in supporting FabMo’s efforts to save fabrics from the landfill, consider volunteering a few hours of your time! Sorting is fun, and an entire community will thank you for it!

If you don’t live around here but would still like to help, there are other ways to support this amazing organization: http://www.fabmo.org/fabmo/Support.html

And, if you want to take a look at the kinds of things that can be made from small, rescued upholstery fabric pieces, stop by my booth at the upcoming A la Carte and Art Festival in Mountain View. I’ll be between Evelyn and Villa, and will love to see you 🙂

Unisex Urban Messenger Bags

When I first sojourned into the bag-making world, I mostly enjoyed sewing messenger bags. Over the last couple of years, however, I found myself making less and less of them. Earlier this year, I finished some messenger bags as part of my efforts to reduce the piles of Unfinished Projects (UFOs), but those were designed along with my early work, and were already cut and ready for sewing. I haven’t designed new ones in a while.

Well, a few weeks ago I set about to tidy up my sewing room. I found a piece of sample fabric swatches that I really liked. Their pattern and colors stood out to me, so I started playing around with them. I realized that the best way to do them justice will be by making them into messenger-bag flaps.There were four flaps in the end, all made from the same fabrics, but in different color combinations. I then set them aside.

This week, winter returned with a spell of gray days accompanied by downpours of rain and even some hail. I was in a gray mood. It was the perfect setting to work on some gray messenger bags!

The flaps were mostly finished, but didn’t have closures. To me, their pattern felt very urban, modern and edgy. I sewed them to be rough on the edges, with a somewhat unfinished look. To match that city look, I decided to give them swivel-hook closures. I also added some top stitching, to make the underside of each flap a little piece of abstract art:

Each flap I matched with a solid fabric for the body, in a color that made its own colors pop out. I sewed the outer shells:

Then the linings:

Before I was about to connect the outer shells to the linings, I realized, to my horror, that I was very low on black thread…

Amazon to the rescue! But I still held my breath as I was stitching them together…

The thread barely lasted through the last stitch!

There still wasn’t enough thread to finish the straps, however, so I had to wait a day for my Amazon parcel to arrive. But the wait was worth it, as I’m very happy with how this collection turned out 🙂

And since I was already in a gray mood anyway, and had a brand new spool of black thread to boot, I went on to make a couple of gray and red artsy sling bags as well:

I plan to put them all up in my Etsy store over the next couple of days, so make sure to check it out!

My First Art Troll

Last week I wrote about the amazing Christmas market in Cusco, and mentioned the beautiful trolls we saw (and bought) there. Well, while at the market I made the mistake of telling my family something like “I can make those!” My kids (and my husband) have a tendency to remember such things, and so, as soon as we came home, they started nagging: “When will you make a troll?”

I had lots of other things to do, however. But every now and then the question came up again: “Can you make a troll?” After a while, they even started doubting: “Can you make a troll?” Ah. Now THAT was a challenge! Of course I can make a troll!

The thing was, I never made an art doll in my life. And although I played with polymer clay as a kid and sculpted as a teenager, I haven’t really touched much clay in decades (except for a short wheel-throwing class, which was an entirely different beast altogether).

So I did some research. I even learned some new vocabulary: words like armature for wire skeletons, for example. And then, one day, when the kids had no school and I couldn’t sew, I decided the time has come to try making a troll.

I started by drawing the approximate size on paper, then made a wire armature according to that.

Using a ball of crumpled aluminum foil as the base, I sculpted the face, with glass eyes I found on eBay.

I bulked the body up with aluminum foil, as in the tutorials I found online, then with whatever other materials I had on hand.

Choosing some of the more earthy fabrics in my vast collection, I dressed him up in rustic-style clothes. I made him a cape from a Viking drape I made for my son’s fourth birthday. Then I gave him some hair, using fake fur that was left over from decorative pillows I made for my daughter a couple of months ago.

Some nice folks on Facebook helped me choose a name for him. Let me introduce Sir Howard Fergus Ghingus Troll The Magnificent!

I was especially happy with how detailed his hands turned out:

And here he is, getting acquainted with our Peruvian Troll (nameless as of yet):

I think I’m almost ready to make him some new friends 🙂

Santurantikuy Christmas Market in Cusco, Peru: The Most Amazing Market I’ve Ever Seen!

I love handmade and love markets. So when we decided to visit Peru over Christmas break, I knew we absolutely had to visit the Santurantikuy Christmas Market in Cusco (Santurantikuy is a Quechua word, meaning “the selling of the saints”). We planned our trip accordingly.

Before we left for Lake Titicaca, we noticed booth markings all around Plaza de Armas. We checked them out, and I was super excited to realize there will be close to ONE THOUSAND booths!

We made sure to come back from the Lake just in time for the market on Christmas Eve (this market has been a Cusco tradition for over 500 years, ever since the Spanish Conquest in the 16th century). I expected something like Otavalo Market in Ecuador. The reality, however, surpassed all expectations!

Traditionally, the market drew vendors from the villages around the capital and from the Sacred Valley. Now, however, it draws artisans from all over Peru. One of the merchants we talked to said he traveled by bus for over 30 hours to get there!

When we approached the Plaza, the first thing we noticed were all the villagers on the side streets, many with large packs:

When we reached the square, it was crowded with locals, Peruvians from the countryside, and some tourists. There was a large police presence to keep the order.

Plaza de Armas was packed full of booths and people.

There were booths for every conceivable craft. Lots of unique, interesting things. Lots of handmade work. Textiles! A few booths had truly remarkable works of art. I was so excited I didn’t know what to look at first!

There was also a lot of food, of course.

They say that pictures speak more than a thousand words. For a change, I will talk less and let you see what I mean for yourselves. This will be a mostly picture-lead post 🙂

Christian-Themed Offerings:

I’ve seen many Christmas markets around the world, but this one had more Christian-themed works than any of them. Traditionally, this market offered ONLY Christmas-related items (hence its name), but this has changed in recent years.

There was an entire area for grasses and moss, meant to decorate nativity scenes, which every house in Peru has:

There were lots of options for the actual Nativity figures:

(I thought the combination here was funny!):

There were also lots of angels:

Lots of candles:

And some crucifixions:

As Expected, There were Some Tourist Souvenir Booths:

Lots of Different Kinds of Toys:

Some Clothing:

Amazing Textiles!!

Home Decor:

And a Handful of Truly Amazing Work!

I loved everything I saw: the diversity, the ingenuity, the liveliness of it all. But a handful of things really stood out. I found the following truly exceptional:

A life-size jaguar, carved from one piece of wood.

Wooden flying horses that could move with gears.

And two booths with trolls. The first had small trolls, and an interesting-looking doll.

The second booth had truly-wonderful, large trolls. Each was nicer than the other. They were quite expensive, even for tourists, yet sold like hot cakes.

Many Peruvians bought them, and took them on a stroll in the market. We even saw one guy buying slippers for his troll!

We couldn’t resist them, either. My kids ended up adopting those two:

They later gave us a lot of trouble with airport security, but eventually made it home safe and sound.

Keschem: A Passover Breakfast Worth Waiting For!

This post isn’t textile-art related. Tonight, however, is the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover. And so I thought it was a great opportunity to share with you the recipe for my favorite Passover breakfast: Keschem.

This isn’t a fancy dish. Nor is it hard to make. But I find myself looking forward to it year after year. It’s especially good when my father makes it (he has a magic touch!), but when he’s not around my kids reluctantly let me make it instead. In fact, the kids like it so much that we sometimes cheat, and eat it even when it’s NOT Passover…

I’m sure you’ve all heard of Matzo Brei, the fried Matzo and egg dish. Well, this is a bit similar, only A LOT better.

Most people I know, even if they’re Jewish or Israeli, have never heard of Keschem. I don’t know which part of the world the recipe originated from. I also have no idea what the name Keschem means, or even what language it is (it doesn’t sound like Hebrew). Even my dad doesn’t know anything about its origins. But it’s been a long tradition in my family. My father grew up eating it every Passover, and he made sure that we did, too.

Here is how to make Keschem. Try it this week, when all the stores carry Matzos!

How To Make Keschem:

The following is for one portion. If you want more, multiply by the number of people you want to feed.

Ingredients:

2 Matzos

1 egg

Salt, pepper, ginger powder

(optional: sliced cheese)

Directions:

Run the matzos through running tap water, so they are wet but not soaked. Let them sit for a minute or so to absorb some of the water.

Crumble the matzos into small pieces, and put in a bowl. Add the egg. Add some salt, lots of pepper, and the secret ingredient: ginger powder. You can play with amounts according to taste.

With your hands, mix it all together.

Melt LOTS of butter in a frying pan.

When the butter is very hot, make patties from the mixture in the bowel and put in the pan. It works best if you make the patties small.

Fry until golden and crisp. Add butter as needed. Turn over and fry the other side. The crispier the better!

The Keschem is ready when both sides are golden and crispy. It is great as is. But if you want, you can add a slice of cheese while frying the second side. The cheese will melt into the patty by the time the bottom is ready, and will add to the taste.

Enjoy!

Off Track, Again… But Isn’t It Fun?!

The days are too short. Or maybe it’s that the weeks aren’t long enough. Either way, I seem to blink, and it’s Friday again… My to-do lists never get shorter. My project piles never shrink. And the many, many ideas in my head just keep accumulating, waiting for a right moment that never comes.

Can you tell I’ve been busy? Both in the sewing room and out. There are kids to drive around, school events to go to, groceries to buy and meals to cook. And then there’s a house, a garden, and always, ALWAYS laundry… Despite it all, I managed to sew quite a bit in the last couple of weeks, and that’s the part I want to tell you about today.

Cleaning up my sewing room a few weeks ago turned out to be somewhat problematic. It’s true that I greatly enjoy the extra space and added cleanliness. However, allowing myself to bend my New Year’s resolution got me off track. I am really happy with how my Peruvian Tapestry Totes turned out. Working on them, though, cracked the dam that held my creativity at bay. The result? A flood of new ideas, unchecked excitement, new experimentation and a bunch of new projects… I just can’t help it! So, sadly, I made only a tiny dent in my original UFO piles, but then added quite a few new projects to make them significantly taller…

When you sew, you see, there are scraps. And when scraps accumulate, they start giving you ideas… For me, there is nothing better than sitting on the carpet surrounded by fabrics. Beautiful fabrics, in different colors, shapes, and sizes. And when this happens, I start playing, matching, designing…

Don’t these pieces look great together? They will make a gorgeous new sling bag.

And these, I just HAD to sew into a flap (for another cute, spring-colored sling):

These are flaps for messenger-bags-to-be. They started their journey as a sample that caught my eye on FabMo’s wall. They looked so amazing together that I just couldn’t resist… And yes, I will sew the rest of them, eventually…

Then I made a cross body bag for a friend, and happened to notice a few other pieces that also wanted to become cross body bags. So I let them. I love them all, but especially this one:

I DID work on some linings for previously-sewn shells (i.e.–UFOs), but these require many steps and take a while to make:

In the midst of all this, I also took a couple of days’ detour to make a custom tote for a special lady:

Ah, and there’s the troll. But he deserves his very own post, another day 🙂