Saturday, 21 November 2015

The Pro's and Con's of the Craft Fair (or, why we freeze our butts off)

I've just got back from a day peddling my wares at a Christmas Craft Fair. This one was for an excellent cause -Sophie's Smile -and always has a lovely vibe, good footfall and superb volunteers (like, the actually come around offering free tea and coffee every half an hour which is amazing!).

Despite horrendous weather, nearly sub-zero temperatures and a Michael Buble CD on repeat for five hours, it was a good thing to do. For a few reasons.  Which is why I thought in the middle of craft fair silly season I'd share some of the good, bad and ugly xx


  • You can support great causes (schools, nurseries or charities) whilst sharing your craft;
  • You can talk about the craft you love, all day, like a nutter and it doesn't matter;
  • You can make some money which helps buy more supplies (or cake);
  • I find it useful to see all my stuff in one place, get a feel for what direction I'm going in and have a good evaluate;
  • The public feedback (whether positive or negative) helps you grow;
  • It's excellent face-to-face advertising for you and your brand;
  • The opportunity to make contacts and network is essential -I've found most of my commissions have come off the back of meeting people at craft fairs;
  • You can see what is selling in the craft world generally;
  • You meet the competition and this forces you to think about your pricing, your presentation and your product;
  • It's a day away from your kids;
  • It's a safe testing ground for something new or a little bit different.

  • It can end up costing you money (consider your time, pitch fee, petrol, childcare, raffle prizes, food and drink when counting up your takings);
  • Let me reiterate; you can spend all your takings on cake (and other lovely things!);
  • It can knock your confidence if you're not used to seeing people look over your wares, or hearing the comments they make;
  • If you hear 'I could make that, that's a great idea' one more time, you might be driven to violence;
  • You can freeze your arse off in highly inclement conditions;
  • You might have to hold your pee for five hours;
  • The panic and stress involved in getting organised the week before might put you off your craft for life.

Top tips for Stallholder Survival:
  • Be realistic about your making time prior to the event, and consider the number of events you do, based on the stock you are able to make;
  • Always keep in mind that the advertising and networking value might not put cash in the tin on the day, but could pay dividends later;
  • Choose your pitch well in advance and think about the weather. If placement isn't specified on the booking form, contact the event organiser in advance and make a request;
  • Practise setting up at home so you can swiftly assemble and disassemble on the day;
  • Take your own flask of tea, coffee and snacks (saves you money!);
  • Unless you specifically need to buy something as a gift, just don't!;
  • Make sure everything is priced and labelled clearly before you go -people just don't like asking and you might lose a sale as a result;
  • Have your contact card/details at the ready in case people want to speak to you again;
  • If you can, be flexible with your commission possibilities -it's always better to discuss a customer's ideas before you say no!;
  • It's ok to say "no" (to making more than you can in the time you have, to offering a discount, to coming back next year if it really didn't work);
  • Research your pricing carefully and make sure you charge an honest and fair price to the person who made the item -YOU! You only do other crafters and artisans a disservice by charging below cost and time. 

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Changing Status: When do I stop being Red, White and Blue?

I was struck by a tricky modern dilemma this morning. My Facebook friends (thankfully many of whom are real life people who I can actually talk to, you know, face-to-face) started changing their profile pictures. Back.

Within hours of the terrible events in Paris, Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts started turning red, white and blue. It was a beautiful stream of colour and in turn, symbolic support for a nation that were in the midst of a catastrophe from an online community who could only sit and watch it unfold.

We were encouraged by Facebook themselves to place the French flag overlay, over ourselves with a handily provided gadget. There was implied support, implied solidarity, implied prayer. Others chose a French themed profile -perhaps a photo they took on a trip to France, or an image of one of the world's landmarks lit up.

Monday marked the last day of national mourning and on Tuesday, Parisians tried to go back to work. Back to school. But you can't go back and make it better.

No more than my profile picture on Facebook being able to act as a visual-Band-Aid to those who are hurt and grieving, can my actions on Tuesday, or Wednesday, with their routine normality turn the clock back. We can't erase what has happened and yet at some point it became ok to change our profile pictures back to what they were before. No one prompted this. No-one said it was ok. But I want to be able to justify this action, more so than switching it 'French' in the first place.

With every suicide bomb, with every bullet, with every fist-fight over who is better, truer and purer in this world in some twisted attempt to enter whatever it is that happens next, we take a step forward into chaos. We demand that 'something is done' when all we are often willing to do ourselves is throw money and rhetoric at the issue and hope deep down that it doesn't darken our door. Who signed up and joined the military this week? Who volunteered to help loved ones connect with those they can't find? Who has put themselves forward for election, to make sure they are the kind of politician they want to see making the tough decisions?

We try so hard to connect with the act of changing our picture to one that makes us fit with the people in the world that are good, so we don't stand out as the rapidly emerging 'other'. And there it is. The line is drawn and we are 'us' and 'them'.

I'm not sure I want it to be a case of 'Us' Vs. 'Them'. I'm pretty sure that in this war of ideology and faith it just isn't that simple. So today I turned by profile back, in full knowledge that it will, in all  likelihood, have to change again.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Crochet bringing people together (amidst tears, swearing and wine)...

So nearly a year ago I wrote about a lovely lady. It's a tricky one this, because she passed away, very suddenly and left a lot of folk stunned, shocked and empty. It hurt.

I didn't know her all that well, only from playgroup and singing group, but what I did know was the great stuff. The laughter, the smiles, the mummy hugs and the boundless enthusiasm for it all. The week it happened, she collared me in the car park at school and asked me to teach a 'Learn to Crochet' session for her and her best mate. Super I thought. More people to buy countless amounts of wool (I should be sponsored by the British Wool Board).

Well, this happened. Not in the way that we'd planned, and not in the circumstances we wanted, but it happened. I taught her best mate to crochet (and probably ruined her bank account in the process) and a group of mums also got together last winter to learn to hook. You can read about those adventures here....

And this is the result. The Balsham Muvverhookers (yep, Tarantino reaches these parts) made tons of granny squares, and I've spent a couple of months putting them together. Sometimes 'square' had to be in the loosest sense of the word, but I'm proud to say that everyone who started a 'square' was included in the finished blanket.

It wasn't really about what we made (although that looks pretty cool). It was about the talking. The 'getting through winter' thing. The remembering and trying to make sense of it all, when it really doesn't. But you have to have a way of reaching that conclusion, and if there is wine and wool and friends, then maybe that process is a little less terrifying.

So I hope that's ok. The blanket is off to the two little munchkins who are being raised by a village in the truest sense of the word, and might need something toasty on the sofa now and again. xx

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The 2015 Handmade Fair: Knitted it, ate it, nailed it.

It would've been rude not to go really, and in the name of research (ahem!) Jaydee and myself set off for Hampton Court Palace. Please don't go all Henry VIII, it was the parky bit with tents and marquees and a whole heap of ladies getting their craft on. In the interests of gender equality, there were some chaps too, but you get the general idea.

Apart from a small issue with Jaydee being on crutches (I am not destined to be a carer, I wander off with handbags when I see something shiny) and a rather tricky junction in London where Nora the Navigator decided to ignore the fact that there were 6 lanes and we needed to know which one to chuffing get into, it was a pretty awesome day.

We'd booked 'Treat Tickets' which meant you got a free gift at a small (we had a snowflake necklace, super Christmassy), a session in the Super Theatre, a tutorial session for an hour and a 'Grand Make'.

The Theatre session saw Kirstie Allsop get her sew on which was pretty hilarious -the thing I like about her is the way that she admits when she's not a pro at something (no one likes a goody two shoes) and if the cameras weren't rolling I can imaging the odd swear when it goes wrong. Lisa Comfort was the expert on hand, who actually went cross eyed when Jaydee asked in the Q&A whether it was 'alright to bodge it'...apparently not. Turns out we might be better with yarn that sewing machines, but the big top was a great venue and after the manic traffic it was nice to sit down for half an hour and have a giggle.

Our tutorial session was with 'I Make Knots' a super yarney collective who can teach you everything from knitting to crochet, macrame and more. Loved it. The mood was really relaxed, we learned to make knitted necklaces and bracelets and I loved the fact that they managed to come and demonstrate finger knitting 1:1 as we'd zoomed through. Even better was the fact that as the last session of the weekend we got to raid their t-shirt yarn stash and take the extra's home.

The last session was a 'Grand Make' which basically means 100+ people in the room crafting together. We chose block printing with some utterly beautiful wood cut blocks. It was Christmassy, and apart from the fact it was a little rushed, made me try something I wouldn't otherwise have done. Might have a go with a potato for Christmas cards...

We didn't spend all day eating, honest...

The shopping was bonkers -you could have spent a fortune on Christmas gifts, and if you are a keen sewer, there was a huge range of fabric to choose from. I was a little disappointed at the small range of yarns -those stands that were there were super quality (Toft for example) but if you wanted T-Shirt yarn, or needles/hooks, you couldn't get it. That said, this fact probably means my kids will get presents this year as I haven't blown the budget!

Would I go again? Hell yes. It's worth it for a day without the kids, a chilled lunch, a cocktail if you fancy it and some great crafting. Here are some handy tips to help you out:

1. Don't take kids (please!). It was fab to have a day off where I wasn't a mum. It was mostly an adult affair and I'd love to see it stay that way for all crafty-mums-who-have-escaped sake;

2. Flat shoes ladies: it was outside, and you'll be dashing about all day. Heels may make the outfit, but come fit for a craft workout;

3.  Book your sessions in advance: if you want something v. popular, book them up ahead of time, and make sure you look at how they are timed throughout the day. Have you left enough time for food (because it's bloody amazing!);

4. Go on a Sunday: it's the last day, it feels very chilled and you might grab some freebies from the tutors or some utter bargains in the shopping tents.

Did you go to? How was your visit? I'd love to find out more xx

Friday, 18 September 2015

Dad Made It: Crochet Tools for Muvverhookers...

So the last time Dad and I worked on something it was my GCSE maths coursework. There were tears, it didn't end well and I wasn't (quite) old enough to hit the Merlot to take the pain away.

Fast forward 20years and due to a Grandparent-down-size-garage-clearance situation, Dad has taken up wood turning...Like a tired mum to Friday night gin, he's got bloody addicted. I like the fact an ancient skill is being passed on from one generation to the next. My mum likes the fact that Dad lives in the garage.

He's made a lovely couple of yarn bowls, pincushion-cups and most lushly, crochet hook stems. This is the pretty bit that makes me feel like Hermione Grainger (slightly more than usual). And a big plus is the fact that they stop my hand gripping the hook so hard -you sort of roll the hook in your fingers rather than my usual vice-like claw hand. Anything that reduces the RSI pain and awful tension problems is fine by me.

So where can you get them? Initially from some of the Autumn & Christmas Fairs I've got coming up. Come and see the hooks in action and have a go yourself. Then, on my etsy shop. Dad's always up for a challenge and a commission, so drop me a message and we'll see what we can do. After all, it make's Mum's life quieter! xx