Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Learning Experience

As a group, we've found that there are many different people, motives, places, and benefits involved with the crafting community.  As far as people go, craft fairs seem to be composed of mostly older, predominantly white women.  Younger people of all walks of life seem to focus their efforts within the consignment and internet crafting community, due to the ease of use and freedom to sell goods without requiring a physical presence, allowing more available time to work a day job or produce more goods.  Many different motives drive these people as well.  Some craft to unwind from the outside stresses in their lives (typically, younger to middle aged people who have a primary job outside of crafting), some, craft as a hobby and a social link to people who share their interests, some craft to produce things to help others, and some produce crafts simply to make a profit for themselves.  Whatever their motives, though, crafting always comes with benefits; it can put one's mind at ease, make an impact in another person's life, help create bonds within communities, preserve cultural traditions, or even just allow someone to make a decent living.  For all of these reasons, and despite the fact that it is no longer necessary for survival (in a 1st world country, at least - there ARE still many impoverished or primitive communities around the world that rely on crafting as an important aspect for everyday survival), the crafting community still remains, and always will be an important part of human life.  It sets us apart from any other organism on Earth, and we should never take that for granted.  This project has been an interesting look into the crafting community, and a rather unexpected learning experience for all of us.  Also, for me personally, it has encouraged a further curiosity in me, and I hope to spend more time crafting in the future...I may quickly become one of those people who use it as a healthy outlet for stress relief. :)
To everyone out there who has followed us on our little journey, I hope you enjoyed yourselves and hope you were able to learn something as well. Thank you for reading!

Entrepreneurs and Hobbyists

At the back of the craft fair was a booth that had no trouble drawing attention to itself. A woman was standing at the front of the booth offering customers the opportunity to be screened for some kind of lower-back related ailment while a large projection screen behind her played what looked like an infomercial for her product on a constant loop. The fact that the woman was standing on her feet and engaging customers wasn’t the only strange thing about this booth; it was both visually and audibly stimulating.

There were two kinds of booths at the craft fair, the booths that were trying desperately to push a product, and the booths with an array of simple handmade crafts sprawled out on a table with no price tags. While these two kinds of booths can be easily differentiated, there is a slight grey area. There were several booths that sold small crafts as a means of advertising for their business. For example, metal and wood working stands would sell small toys and ornaments and then include their business card in hopes of being hired by a customer for a much more profitable project.

I would not say there is any kind of rivalry between these two groups of crafters. While the non-sales oriented crafters probably have no interest in the entrepreneurial booths, there is probably some kind of mutual respect for the creativity in salesmanship that bring together all members of the craft fair community. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Crafting as an Integral Method of Cultural Preservation

United States map of world flags

We live in the United States of America; known as a true “melting-pot” of race, and more importantly, of culture.  This country maintains an identity vastly different from any other nation, which is in part, due to the fact that a limitless number of cultures are allowed to merge here.  Traditions are passed down from ancestors who traveled over land and sea to make a new life here, while bringing the comforts of home with them.  They brought tradition in the form of skills and memories, the knowledge to reproduce the familiar sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of their upbringing.  Among these traditions are the crafts unique to a particular culture.  These crafts and activities helped allow the formation of smaller communities within the area as a whole, bringing together people of a similar cultural background within the U.S.

Navajo (Native American tribe) kachina dolls
Crafting and culture have very strong ties to each other.  Culture is often inspiration for craft, and craft is an often accurate way to identify cultural background.  Native American tribes each express their unique culture through crafts such as intricate beaded clothing, feather endowed dream catchers, and painted kachina dolls.  When a person looks upon one of these items, perhaps they may not know which tribe the item represents, but they can often immediately identify the item broadly as “Native American”.

Traditional Indian block-print quilt
Quilting and woodworking are both very popular crafts among women and men, respectively.  Both of these are useful tools in identifying cultural heritage.  Both crafts have indistinct origins worldwide, and as such, both crafts utilize many varieties of production methods, materials, and styles.  The particular method of stitching, pattern, or type of material a quilt is composed of, can trace the style back to a particular culture.  For instance, Indian quilt-work (as seen to the right) will be distinctly different from a Native American quilt, or the various styles of quilting seen across Europe, and the Mediterranean.

Traditional Japanese furniture embraces minimalistic style
Likewise, the type of wood used, or the particular method of construction, can often help to determine the cultural heritage of the craftsman who produced it, as these crafts are often part of a cultural tradition passed down over many generations.  Each person may put their own individual touches on their work, but many fundamental elements remain, sometimes unchanging over thousands of years.

This is why crafting, although no longer a necessity for survival, still remains a necessity for preservation of culture and identity.  Just as we use crafts as a way to trace the evolution of culture throughout history, so will those who look back on us from future generations.

Consignment: a safer way to sell?

Okay, so I have seen the vast array of goods on various online marketplaces such as Etsy and Ebay.  I have spent hours perusing through vendor displays at craft fairs.  I have spoken more with my good friend, Alex Daly, who I mentioned previously.  I recently came to find out that along with her other handcrafted accessories; she also knits a wide variety of scarves.

Alex Daly's scarf display at the Sheldon Art Gallery
I was already aware that she occasionally sells her handicrafts at craft events, very recently holding a display at an event near downtown Lincoln, Nebraska at the Sheldon Art Museum.  She also takes a more passive approach to sales by simply wearing what she creates…if someone compliments her or asks where she got those items, she mentions that she makes them herself and gives them more information on how to purchase something for themselves.  This works out very well for her, due to the fact that she waitresses at a bar & deli in downtown Lincoln, and sees many new faces every day.  I asked Alex if she has an online site or store where she sells her goods, and she said that she does not.  However, she mentioned something I had not given much thought to before: consignment shops.

There are many consignment shops around town.  Even more prevalent are small boutiques and shops that sell more mainstream names, alongside unique local items that are sold in the store under consignment terms.  Alex mentioned that although she does not currently sell any items online, she does have some of her handmade items for sale at Tsuru, which is a small boutique in downtown Lincoln (on 14th Street, just north of “O” Street).

Front of the boutique where Alex sells her handmade items
I asked her what sort of deal they have set up in regards to money, and she said that they split any money made from the purchase of her items 50/50.  This seems like a good idea for someone who doesn’t have the time to spend sitting at a craft fair, or isn’t confident that they will make enough profit to outweigh the cost of renting a vendor table at one of these events.  She may not make a large profit from each item sold, but at least if she doesn’t sell an item, she’s not paying for the time and space, so she can’t lose money either!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Etsy and a Sense of Place

            When allowed the choice of attending the craft fair or logging into Etsy, I will admit that this would be a difficult decision for me. The first question I would have to ask is whether I am seeking anything with a particular idea or theme. Late last week, I devoted approximately an hour of my spare time to browsing this marketplace as part of a Secret Santa gift exchange that I’m participating in. The lists we are given are based more on interests rather than on actual items, which allows us to be creative in searching for the perfect items. Due to the possibility that said recipient might be a reader for this blog, all I will say is that I bought a necklace and a pair of earrings with designs based on a couple of things they like, spending a decent amount on both. The only other times that I have used Etsy was in buying gifts for others.
            Etsy serves the exact same functions as EBay or any online store in general. The buyer chooses an interesting product for further examination. The layout of each page features a detailed description that will usually include the price and the materials that were used, as well as a minimum of one or two pictures that can be enlarged with just a click of the mouse. The items I bought on this venture were both highlighted with pictures of them actually being worn, providing me with another influence on deciding whether to proceed.
As different vendors might vary in their accepted forms of payment, the items in the shopping cart are each separated by transaction at checkout. As insignificant as this might seem on the surface, I had to wonder if an illusion could be taken away from this part of the site. In moving between vendors and purchasing individual items unique to their creators, could one part of the craft fair experience be replicated here? Of course, Etsy ensures that multiple items from the same seller remain together under the same payment method.
            Is the craft fair dying out? From my standpoint, it is far too early to formulate a clear answer. The individual community takes on a physical form with a short life span. The foundation for the community itself still remains united and it’s many other components, or the vendors, reunite annually or as often as possible. What I suspected at the start of the project was that Etsy and online vending eliminated some of the interpersonal contact experience during in-person transactions. I’m still divided on this. Having actually met Katie in real life, my business experiences with her will be considerably different from those of other customers. With my Etsy purchases, both sellers contacted me by private message to thank me for my patronage and leave USPS tracking numbers. That was as far as our contact went.
            If we’ve learned anything from the internet, it’s that finding very specific handmade items is now possible. Perhaps we might see more craft fairs concentrated around one idea or theme, much like the one Jennifer described. New vendors will keep appearing. Whether the environments these fairs take place in will be impact by the type of strict guidelines that Joann discussed depends entirely on the fair itself. Seasons of Crafts was a very welcoming one, thriving in its own place.

Entering a New Community

            Perhaps the most difficult step prior to setting up a craft fair display is in the decision of what to present. It takes on an even greater significance for newcomers who hope to make their mark or at least find the encouragement needed to participate in the next event. Los Angeles resident Jennifer Sargent recently attended a fair as a vendor for the first time, armed with her own unique handmade items. “I’ve always been crafty and creative. I’ve always toyed with the idea of selling my creations. It was not until I attended the Whimsic Alley Craft Fair in May of 2012 that I saw it was not too far from my grasp.”
            Going in with some knowledge of how the process worked provided Jennifer with a swift entrance into the crafting community. Researching fellow bloggers with more expansive backgrounds also motivated her to open an Etsy store that offers the specially-designed plush creatures that she refers to as Nerdy Monsters. Each one is modeled to represent a different fandom or area of interest, though Jennifer is already examining ways in which she could expand her business.
Nerdy Monsters display table
            The fair that she discusses here is different from what we have seen so far in that it caters to one very specific market and possibly a completely separate community from that in Seasons of Crafts. The fantasy-themed Whimsic Alley Craft Fair is held twice a year in May and November at Whimsic Alley, a specialty store whose offerings are mainly based on the Harry Potter series. Its small size limits the number of sellers that are allowed. Already registered for the next event in May 2013, Jennifer has yet to see a comparison between this fair and Etsy. “Since I am so new to both of them, it’s hard to form an opinion of which is my favorite yet. I made a little bit of profit at the fair and have yet to make my first Etsy sale.”
            Expressing some of the traits discussed by Katie on creating a successful online venture, Jennifer shows a strong interest outside the community she has already joined. Finding one’s own place within it seems to be the common theme in all of our work to date. When I first began my own research, I saw examples of disillusionment and contrasting views on what usefulness the crafting community still has today. For the most part, it has expanded outward and is now defined differently according to outlet or category. 

Nerdy Monsters are available at 
Photos from 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Feast of Dreams and Professional Presentation

            Using the internet to embark on a potential business venture involves an entirely different set of skills. Some could make an argument against buying unique handmade items online, particularly those who take great pleasure in interacting with the sellers or in seeing something new and unexpected. These issues aside, the internet could be seen as a giant cluster of ongoing craft fairs with business hours spanning twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. Much like first-time vendors presenting their earliest works, the establishment of an online business requires expressing a clear identity. The absence of in-person communication serves to place additional expectations on both the seller and client.
            As the sole owner and operator of San Jose-based Feast of Dreams, Katie Lipton specializes in handmade costumes and clothing of various styles. These include but are not limited to mascot-styled outfits, knitting, leatherwork and some small-scale props or jewelry. Katie handles most of her business through direct transactions by email or personal message with an Etsy store offering only occasional, simple items not custom-designed for one individual.
There are certainly a greater number of opportunities for business, but the process itself comes with a blend of advantages and flaws, as Katie has found in her approach to talking with clients. “An online store is great because it allows you to access a much wider audience than you would normally be able to reach. The drawback of this is that it’s more difficult to be a salesperson. Tone doesn’t always come through in text, and it doesn’t matter how personable you are, if your sales listing is full of typos or is poorly written, people will look for the product elsewhere. You need to have a higher level of professionalism and polish to sell it online.”
Speaking as a repeat Feast of Dreams customer myself, I am able to verify that this is a true small business. With a room in her home devoted exclusively to her work, Katie continuously maintains a busy schedule for herself, further evidenced by a full commission queue on her website. Recently, she announced her intention to begin focusing more on pre-made items that would be readily available for shipping right away.
When we examine these establishments as a whole, we immediately notice that there is more to this than just keeping up a fresh product line. Presentation is an even greater factor, revealing to others where the business owner sees her skills residing. In the selecting the participants for her study on crafting as a full-time occupation, Virginia A. Dickie cited this as a major influence in picking out vendor business cards at a fair. “Whose cards did I select? The crafters who were most businesslike and most memorable were often the ones that had cards. As a group, they had well-constructed displays of products that were different from those people around them, and made themselves available through handouts or business cards or both listing their future fairs and contact information” (259).
After attending Seasons of Crafts, this statement is one that is very clear to us. We made sure to pick up every business card that we saw. Upon revisiting the most memorable displays for the both the blog and the presentation, the ones we choose to discuss had the most organized displays and the most creative offerings. This was the degree of professionalism that we saw with Bonfire Glass and the careful selection of stained glass works that they offered. No matter what type of involvement a newcomer is considering when joining the crafting community, how they present themselves to customers is what ultimately determines the rate for success. Katie offers three separate pieces of advice:

1. “Professionalism is huge. You need to conduct yourself as a friendly professional, stay on top of emails, and make sure that you are accessible. Quick and easy communication will always make a sale go smoother.  Also, be very mindful of the quality of your work or product. What you send out is a representation of yourself and your business. If you aren’t happy with the finished piece, it shouldn’t go out.”
2. “Always have a terms-of-service available and stick to it. Don’t bend the rules or make exceptions, this will protect both you and your customers. Never ship something without being paid in full, and always keep the commissioner updated on the status of their order.”
3. “Most importantly, stay true to yourself. If you’re selling handmade items, it’s likely because you’re doing something you love. Don’t lose sight of that, and don’t allow people to take advantage of your skills. Always make sure you are charging enough to make the return worth your effort.”

Visit Feast of Dreams at

Dickie, Virginia Allen. “Establishing Worker Identity: A Study of People in Craft Work.”
     American Journal of Occupational Therapy 57 (2003): 250-261.