A Handmade Craft Fair History

I will have to admit, this month’s theme brought on a serious case of writer’s block for me. Since I was raised by a single working Mom, I don’t have a lot of personal handmade history. I do have a few fond memories of my Grandmother sitting at her old Singer sewing machine and letting me push the metal foot pedal with my hands. I doubt this could fill up more than a paragraph so I thought I would go in a slightly different direction.

Craft fairs have a long and colorful history and with the resurgence of the handmade movement they have come into their own and become a great place to get your goods out to the world. I recently sat down with Tiffin Mills of Linwood Avenue to get her thoughts on the craft fair scene and how you can make your next craft fair a success!

This month’s theme is all about Handmade Heritage, tell us a little about your history and how you got started in handmade?
I began my working life as a graphic designer, but soon, I craved doing things with my hands. I wanted to create art that I could touch and feel. Since I cannot make just one of anything, pretty soon my work was overflowing and I was loosing space in my house. That’s the thing about being an artist, you don’t feel yourself if you aren’t creating something! The indie craft scene was just getting started and I was so excited to be finding people just like me – a bit off the beaten path. I saw that these people were making a living with their creations and I though “why not me?”

We actually met at a craft fair back in 2008. How long have you been participating in craft fairs? What made you start?
Actually, the craft fair that we met at was my very first, and I was sooo nervous. Selling at a fair had always been in my thoughts, but somehow I would talk myself out of doing them. Then I met a friend who was a pro and she changed my mind and I haven’t looked back since. I work on my art at home, by myself, then I sell that work in my Etsy shop. Working at a fair is so much more rewarding than shipping items out to unknown customers. I love getting the crowds feedback and seeing what pieces speak to them. I always say that for me, sales are nice, but the lovely comments I get at fairs makes it all worth it.

I have noticed by following your blog for awhile now, your booth set up has evolved. Can you explain a little about what inspires the space?
Setting up your booth is much like decorating your home – your tastes evolve and you move pieces in and out. For my booth, I want it to feel like a tiny shop, so I try to bring in furniture items and many, many props. In fact, most of the time, my car is filled to the brim with a much higher ratio of props to art. so many people overlook merchandising and don’t create a space that shows off their art to it’s fullest. My favorite piece right now is a wall hanging unit made from two old wooden screen doors hinged together and lined with metal yard cloth. The alternative for hanging artwork would have been a very sterile white metal framing unit and that just doesn’t fit my aesthetic. Plus, my piece was much more affordable than buying the more mainstream piece.

What is on your must have list for every craft fair set up?
I have a small metal toolbox packed up for me to grab before each fair. It is filled with a ton of stuff to get me through the weekend. Some of my must have items are zip ties, clothespins, s-hooks, scissors and lengths of metal chain. I must say that zip ties are my most used. I use them to attach the wooden doors, hanging price sign and even chandeliers to the metal frame. when setting up your booth, you cannot overlook your vertical space. The frame of most booths is sturdy enough to hang items off of, you just have to get a bit clever.

What sort of promotional materials do you use to market your booth or give to customers?
I always have business cards stacked up in a few different spots around the booth for people to take. Then, with every purchase, I put a custom bookmark into the bag that includes my botanical artwork and website. One thing that always seems to draw people into my booth is a mannequin I recently purchased that sports the sweetest vintage crinoline. She is my honorary greeter and works wonders for getting conversations started.

If you could give a craft fair beginner 5 pieces of advice what would they be?
1. Be mindful that your props reflect your artwork and try to look at items as something different than their original use. I use lampshade frames as tray risers, or a metal crib spring to hang cards on.

2. If you aren’t getting much traffic to your booth, switch things up on the next day. One fair, I came in early the second day, flipped my entire booth around and was shocked to see what that did for my sales.

3. Dress the part. If you look nice, and represent the artwork in your booth well, people view you as a serious artist and will view your artwork as more worthy of their money. As crazy as it sounds, I try to wear the colors that are in my business card to reinforce my brand and it really does work.

4. If possible, have one specific place for pricing that can change if needed. I hang a skinny piece of wood that is my menu of prices. I learned early on that different fairs command different prices. If every item you have is individually priced, it will take you forever to switch out pricing.

5. Make friends with other vendors. Some of these people have been doing shows for years and will have some great tips for you such as what other fairs in the area are worth your while. plus, having someone you are friendly with that can watch your booth while you run to the bathroom is indispensable!

These are absolutely great tips and I know people will find them extremely helpful. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions.
Thank you! Helping people maximize their booths at fairs is something I love to do, I feel like I could talk about it all day long. 🙂

Not only does Tiffin love to talk about craft fairs but her super cute vendor aprons are perfect for a shop owner to carry all of the essentials during a fair.

If you have any questions for Tiffin, please feel free to leave it in the comments below and she will try and answer them.

  • Sarah

    I see on your Etsy shop that you are in Atlanta. Where you do you typically set up? Anything coming soon in the area?
    Thanks!
    Sarah

  • http://woolies-woolies.blogspot.com Woolies

    I STRUGGLE with my booth set up. I have 2 different products that are both in my booth, and am not thrilled at all with how it looks. The biggest fair I do will have my booth closed on 3 sides, only open on the front. I should really post some of my pictures of my pathethic booth and post them on my blog for input. I definitely do not take advantage of all my space. Sigh.

  • http://www.linwoodavenue.com Linwood avenue

    sarah: typically, I am at the norcross and dunwoody festivals, but am traveling on both dates this year 🙁 I keep my festivals posted on website if you want to check periodically.

    woolies: I struggle with different products looking cohesive as well. try to unify with color of your tablecloths and group like products together. send me some photos, I am happy to offer suggestions!

  • http://www.drawntoletters.etsy.com Joanne Gilbert

    This is so timely! I am gathering props and collapsible “wall ” displays for my first craft show in October. Thank you so very much for the good advice. I love the way you grouped and outlined things in color spaces. Love the “greeter” idea too.

  • http://www.krabbykasey.etsy.com Kasey

    I wish there was an entire website dedicated to craft fair booth displays!

    This was such a nice and helpful article, and I just love the pictures. You gave me a great idea of hanging a big price list “restaurant style”.

    Your mannequin is very cute, so I bet it is a great conversation starter! Perhaps I should incorporate one in my jewelry booth!! =)

  • Ginny Baker

    Ginny
    I love all the ideas here. I am doing my first Craft Show on November 12th ,2011 I am a wreck just getting things ready and then the set up – for the space they allow me is only 12 ft x 5 ft, and I had planned on 10 x 10, so I am having to build upwards for sure. Thanks for the clues on what to include when packing up “those do not forget items” are a big help. Thanks for the help. I will be in Ottawa, Ks on Nov. 12th 2011 for Homemade Holidays Craft show.