On Display: selling at festivals and fairs

I spent Sunday wandering around the Cedarburg Wine and Harvest Festival. There were SO many booths filled with art and crafts: jewelry, paintings, photography, pottery, sewing, etc. And though I can't say I came back with the "I want to make that" bug, I do feel inspired to be creative. It was nice to see other people express their creativity. It's interesting to wonder whether these artists are able to make a living selling at shows like this or do they supplement these shows with other venues (boutiques, galleries, online). Or do they have a day job and they pursue their art in their spare time, selling at shows as they can.

A few decades ago, I was going along making very basic quilted wallhangings as gifts for friends and family. (I was in my early 20s, so I was always in need of gifts for bridal showers and weddings.) After many of them told me "you should sell these," I decided to do that very thing. But since it was before the internet was commonplace and I was young and inexperienced, I dove in without doing any research, and got a table at a local fall festival with my very dear, now ex, mother-in-law who had also just started selling crafts. (No, the divorce wasn't due to this adventure--I had fabulous in-laws!) Since the show was in a few weeks, I feverishly cut, sewed, and painted late into the nights during those weeks. I probably made 20 wallhangings, mostly Christmas, and all one-of-a-kind. If you haven't already guessed, it was a disaster. Didn't sell a one. It was a yucky fall day, weatherwise, and, of course, our booth on the square was just that--it wasn't actually a craft show, more like an extension of a small-town high-school homecoming day. The bright side of this situation was that, in the end, I did sell all of them--to coworkers looking for a homemade gift and to family members seeking the same. (My sister really doesn't like to shop, so she thought it was great!) So when Mom sees something that I've made and starts to say "you know, you could make those and sell those and make a lot of money," I just smile and ask "like those wallhangings?". Somewhere I have pictures of them--if I run across the photo album, I'll scan some in so you can all see. There's nothing wrong with them, they're cute enough, and they were priced fairly for what they were, but it was 1990 and I was a brand new quilter, so when I think of them now, I have to smile and think "oh bless my heart, I thought I was really something."

So tell me your stories. Do you sell your work? What avenues do you use? Anyone else have a rough first show? Lessons to share with the rest of us? Leave a comment and let me know.


Naomi said...

I don't sell at shows or boutiques anymore, but when I was, it was tough to know what would sell. I had the approach of only selling jewelry that I'd be happy to wear, but unfortunately, I never could pinpoint what might sell. (Also, I've never been good at making multiples of things.) I've had shows where I sold nothing and shows where I exceeded my goals. Regardless of the numbers, though, one of the coolest things about doing shows was being able to barter for other stuff. I think artists have an appreciation for the value of handcrafted work, regardless of what medium it's in.

Eileen Bergen said...

I was nurtured into a crafting life by a fabulous circle of friend. They encouraged me to make lots of different stuff - from paper crafts to painted dresses and oilcloth totes to beaded and wire-sculpted jewelry.

Then they launched me with a sponsored show in one of their homes. Each of them invited all their other friends.

Can you imagine?! It was a terrific send-off.

I spent a few years doing craft shows and exhibitions. (Hard, hard work - be kind to those people when you can.) Then I opened a store. Now I've written a book on decoupage and have a crafting website and blog.

All this thanks to those wonderful girls who built me up when I was really down. God bless them.

FYI, this all transpired in the course of ten years. I feel truly blessed.

P.S. Linda, thank you for this forum to "pour out my heart". I love your blog. It cheers me every time I log on. The design is just so unique and inviting. And your musings ... 'nuff said.

P.P.S. I'm from Wisconsin; so I love it when you mention place names that I know so well :-D

Taste it -you know you want to, at luxurycardstore.com said...

I'm from Philly, a fairly large city. I used to buy handbags wholesale and sell them at the flea markets, but that turned out to be a rather expensive hobby. People at flea markets will nickle and dime you into zero profit, so that's when I decided to try a different route. I paint rather large paintings and make greeting cards. I haunted 2 local boutiques, then as I made a small purchase asked if I could show them my greeting cards sometime. Both of those two boutiques bought some cards from me, but the recesion hit them both hard. One went out of business and the other just stopped buying. The fact that they were willing to take a chance tells me to hang in there, and don't stop trying. I also put some of my better cards into a basket I keep on the edge of my desk at work. Some of my cowokers buy from me and I have a shop on Etsy.com . Never give up!

Kay said...

About 10 years ago I stopped teaching and started making quilted clothing to sell. My first experience was like yours, but I got lots of good advice from other vendors and went on to sell with fair success at shows and through some boutiques for about five years. I stopped because I wanted to pursue what I wanted to make, not what was marketable. I'm very glad I did this stint of selling; it taught me what my gifts and limits are, sharpened my eye for color and design, and improved my sewing skills. It also gave me a large stash of fabric scraps which I am now working at using up!

Incidentally, I came to your blog from the Blogger's Quilt Festival list because the title seems to sum up my life experience too. Glad to make your acquaintance.

Post a Comment

Comments are welcome but will be moderated. Thanks for commenting! I love feedback!