DIY Trunk Show: 10 Years Strong
10 years ago, Amy Carlton and I met up at Kopi Cafe and we drank pots of tea and ate some delightful cookies and we talked about how great it would be if there was an independent craft show that happened at the beginning of the holiday season where all of the crafty people we knew, and maybe some people who would be new to us, could get together and sell great handmade things to people they didn’t know. At the time, Amy was running a jewelry making business named “Stet” (she’s an editor geek) and I had just started Poise.cc. I don’t even think I’d registered the domain yet. So I guess I was just making bags and giving them away to people for silent auctions and raffles.
We were young and energetic and naive and we laughed and said “How hard could it be to run a craft show?” Oh, little did we know. Except, we were mostly right. It is easy to run a craft show. It wasn’t hard to figure out where to have it and thanks to all of our personal contacts, it wasn’t hard to find people who were interested in having a table. It wasn’t even hard dealing with the city to rent a HUGE room at Pulaski Park (although now that room seems so small). We gave them a money order, they gave us a handwritten receipt. We pulled in favors from friends and had a website designed. We answered emails. We went on WLUW and talked about the show and about handmaking items. We joked about awful it would be if no one showed up to shop.
And 2 weeks before the show, when we were doing all the last minute bits, we snapped. We were tired. At the same time, we turned to each other and said “Do you really think we need to do this again?” We didn’t answer each other, but we nodded knowingly. The night before the show we taped off the spaces on the floor (along with our ever-present and helpful guys Andrew and Jim) and then we went and slept the sleep of the dead before arising way too early and making it back to the space where we set up our own booths and then opened the doors and ushered in 32 crafters.
32! It’s a small number now. A tiny show. But it seemed so HUGE then. After everyone’s tables were display-ready and the crafters were fortifying themselves with coffee and had taking last minute show jitter pee breaks, we opened the doors and shoppers came through them. People we didn’t know came in the doors and bought things and high-fived us. College journalists interviewed us and tried to get us to say “Well, it’s not your grandma’s craft show.” (but we didn’t, or maybe we did, but we wouldn’t say it now) And we were high on endorphins. Literally high. I was dizzy with glee. And then, at the end of the show, as I was rushing people out the door so we could vacate the space on time, a complete stranger of a man came up and asked if he could give me a hug. I was shocked and confused and agreed. And he hugged me. Amy saw my fearful eyes and walked over to us slowly. When he was done hugging me, he grabbed my by both arms and said “Thank you. Thank you soo much. This was my sister’s first show and she’s had a horrible awful year and getting ready for this show brought her so much joy. I went from being afraid for her sanity a few months ago to seeing her soar with pride and confidence today. Thank you for her, but thank you from me, too. I loved seeing that side of my sister and I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for you guys and this show.” And then he ran away. (That woman he was talking about? Still selling stuff and she’s awesome!)
And we looked at each other and said “So? next year?” And we nodded while grinning from ear to ear.
And then the next year we wrote the Craftifesto. And there were 3 rooms of crafters. Almost 90 crafters in 3 rooms with several food vendors set up and people started making cute and awesome kids clothing.
And then the next year we did it again.
And then Amy started grad school and I did it mostly (and mostly half-assedly) by myself.
And then the Chicago Craft Mafia generously stepped in to help me make it better. (And I will forever be indebted and grateful to the original CCM crew for doing that. And if you have attended the show in the last 6 years, you should, too. Because if they hadn’t stepped in and carried the burden, it would have died.)
And then we got some new members who also helped.
And then we got bigger.
And then we moved to Broadway Armory.
And then I recognized that the DIY Trunk Show was a business. A business that takes at least 500 hours a year to run. And I was tired and burnt out and knew that I wasn’t up to doing it again. I just couldn’t. The thought of having to send out applications and accept fees and sign contracts and make sure tasks were completed kept me from sleeping.
And then I thought “There doesn’t have to be a next year. This doesn’t have to go on. There are other craft shows now. Maybe I should do what I wanted the second-wave feminists to do and hand over leadership to a younger group of folks.”
And that thought felt GREAT! And I timidly mentioned to a few of the mafia members who had been with me from the very beginning that I was thinking I was done. And they all agreed that it was time to move on. That the show could only be awesome if the folks organizing it were behind it 100%, and I wasn’t. We weren’t. And it would be better to have no show, than an awful show. And then I mentioned it to Rebeca Mojica and she said “Well, I am going to hire a new position soon and I wanted to find a way to make my shop more of an integral part of the community. And then we talked seriously. And we what-iffed. And we created lists and did math and looked at numbers and translated that to dollars and realized that this was the right move for both of us. I could get June back (hello backyard and glasses of iced tea). Rebeca could cement her biz as an integral part of community development.
And today she announced it officially. I’ve signed over the reins. What legal stuff exists is now in her name. I’m still helping with details as needed. I’m not walking away completely. I’m filling in gaps and providing history and working on answering really hard questions like “If you could start over, what would you have done differently?” (And I honestly can’t answer that. I keep trying, and I can’t.)
But I have no doubt that Rebeca and Blue Buddha Boutique are the right ones to run this now. Nor do I have a doubt that my stepping back was the right answer for me right now. I’m excited to see this show from the outside for once. I’m excited to see the magic that so many other people have talked about. I’m excited to look at the whole picture instead of worrying about details. It’s going to be great. I have not a doubt in the world. I feel lighter and excited. Just like I did 10 years ago when we got this crazy idea in the first place.
American Craftways Alliance
So after spending a little bit of time catching up on the Southern Foodways Alliance blog I had a flash of insight.
Somebody oughta do for craft what these folks have done for food.
Heaven help me if that person is me, but seriously. What the folks at the Southern Foodways Alliance has done for small makers of specialty, regional, dying food items is amazing. Because of them, I was able to eat “Cherokee mint” as part of a dessert at Big Jones on my birthday and cry because the flavor took me back to being a kid and sitting in a field near a cow pasture reading a book and sucking the juice out of blades of “weeds” that were growing around me. And I credit SFA, because I have no doubt that Paul F. (the chef of Big Jones) has gotten to source many specialty ingredients with his contacts at the organization.
Seriously, just read their Mission and Values and tell me that this wouldn’t carry over equally well to crafters as it does to food makers, tenders, growers, nurturers, and eaters? I mean, the fact that I’m considering getting a membership in the organization just because I love that they specifically call out fighting injustice in the food world makes me happy.
Japanese 12-in-2, 6 years later
UPDATE Blue Buddha is generously giving away one free kit to make a Flowers Bracelet. To register to win, just leave a comment on this post and the winner will be notified. This is a great way for people who don’t live in Chicago and can’t participate in the free class offered in-house by BBB to receive something to inspire learning and creativity. Thanks, Blue Buddha Boutique.
Six years ago, my friend Alison went on a massive cross-country road-trip and stopped in Chicago. Because she’s one of the most creative folks I know, and because I thought she’d find it interesting, I signed us up for a chain maille class at a shop in Evanston with Rebeca Mojica of Blue Buddha Boutique.
At the time, BBB was a company of 1. Rebeca sold supplies, but mostly to the people who attended her classes. And she didn’t have her own studio so she travelled to bead shows around the area to use their classroom space. There were only 5 students at the class I attended. And we sat around a very tiny table tucked in the corner of a basement. But Rebeca made the most of the situation and almost every single one of her students left that day with a finished bracelet.
I was one of the ones who didn’t leave with a finished bracelet. I knew I was about 20 minutes away from finishing my bracelet, but the time in our classroom was up and I had to take my almost-finished project home with me. I’m quite a bit embarrassed to say that I left the project sitting on the top of a stand beside my sewing table where I knew that if I had to see it on a regular basis, I would finish it. After all, it really was going to take less than half an hour to finish, so why would I put that off for long?
But, alas, my procrastination skills are wickedly unstoppable. And so, despite my best of intentions, the project say unfinished and quite literally in my way every time I needed to get out a new pack of sewing needles or a new blade for my rolling cutter, or a variety of other items that I use quite frequently. I would think to myself “One of these days, I’m just going to finish this.” right before I would put it back in place, in my way.
When I found out that Blue Buddha Boutique (which has since grown to having a soon-to-open retail space and a cast of almost 2 dozen employees) was doing a blog bomb, I thought this was the final reason to quit procrastinating and actually finish this bracelet. I’m wearing it now, as I type this. And I’m thrilled with it. And it took me exactly 22 minutes to finish. Which isn’t bad, considering that I had to read the steps to figure out how to do the clasp (which I did slightly different to make it fit snugly). But I’m thrilled. I now have an empty spot sitting on top of my cabinet. I may never take this bracelet off to remind myself that procrastination just keeps me from having nice things.
And to encourage learning and making new things, I can’t suggest highly enough that you enter this giveaway at Blue Buddha Boutique. I’m participating in a small blog-bomb to encourage people who may not otherwise know about the great classes they will be hosting in their new retail space on Granville right near the Red Line very, very soon. Even though I procrastinated for years, I thoroughly enjoyed taking the class and I wish I’d finished my project sooner. And I’ve had several ideas for small bags that incorporate chaine maille details kicking around in my head and plan on creating some of them very soon since I’ll be able to go into her new shop in person and pick out the ring sizes I want to use, try it out, and then buy what I need before I head home. Buying chain maille supplies online has just been very intimidating. And if you’re fortunate enough to be in Chicago and are interested in a class, you’ll do great to sign up for one of Blue Buddha Boutique’s classes.
Midwest Craft Caucus Thoughts: #1
I was lucky enough to attend the Midwest Craft Caucus this past weekend in Columbus, Ohio. It was refreshing, invigorating, creative, and gave me quite a bit to think about. I don’t know that I came away with answers, but I came away with new questions.
I want to take some time to flesh out what I’m thinking. But it won’t be a wrap-up or even a description of what I did or learned. Just some thoughts rolling around and in no particular order of importance.
In 2003 we were so revolutionary in Chicago, Boston, Austin for doing indie craft shows because the only other things that existed were the Kountry Krafts and the high-end art craft shows. Then the slightly smaller shows popped up. Now craft shows in more rural settings, small towns, and more adventurous locations that don’t rely on a young, hip, urban shopping audience are popping up. This means that craft is mainstream. We’re no longer the weirdos that no one gets. We’re just the “slightly off the norm” folks that seem more committed than necessary. This means that not only do we need to thank our grandmas for a) crafting with care in the first place b) supporting the make-do and mend philosophy that the Baby Boomer generation has ignored but that we’re now finding wickedly necessary and cool to boot c) teaching us how to craft in many cases d) crafting enough that there are cool books from the 70s and and before that we can still check out of the library so that even folks in hipster-starved parts of America can still get their craft on. This also means we owe a huge apology to Kountry Krafters as well. Because all y’all were crafting quietly from the late 70s through the 90s, buying kits, and focusing on easier assembly goods, it means that there are still some stores that sell crafting goods in person. Which may go against our anti-sweatshop, anti-indie ethos, however (not all craftstores are chains and) it also means that there are still people manufacturing craft supplies, even If they’re not sweatshop free and located in the US. The fact that they exist means that we were capable of finding the supplies we needed to help us find our voice.
When the craft movement first went indie, we differentiated ourselves from the “snowman poop” sellers by focusing on our young indie design sensibilities. “Comic sans is totally ironic, dude!” “Owls and octopuses rule the world!” “Tea cozy? Forget that! How’bout a dildo cozy instead?” When we started we explained how we were different by describing the design sense of our work. We focused on how we didn’t use kits to make our goods, but we used what we had around and found cool ways to get it to become something new, something exciting.
However times have changed. Urban crafters don’t have a lock on cute owls, putting a bird on it, or even reusing materials. What started out as a city crafter vs. kountry krafter ethos difference has since become more nuanced. Much more nuanced. Now it is okay to use pre-made embroidery patterns (as long as they’re created by crafty doyenne Jenny Hart and not a mass-marketed [and posing as an indie] brand with questionable ethics). It is okay to buy pre-made pieces to assemble into a final product that is far cooler than its original parts. But, is it? Is our movement really all about avoiding slave labor, sweatshops, child labor? Or are we starting to rationalize buying cool Japanese fabric that was printed in China because it is too cute to be ignored? As we focus on how we want people to buy locally, are we being hypocrites by going online and buying all of our craft supplies for the lowest price possible? Is it even possible to get all of our raw materials in the US any more? And if it isn’t, is that where we should be focusing our energy?
So what really differentiates the indie craft movement from the craft movement? Where is the line drawn?
Male Pattern Boldness: Negroni Sew-along
It is officially February 14th, and I just finished Day 3 of the Negroni Sew-Along. To say I’m behind is a bit of an understatement. And I feared I would a bit behind, but I didn’t realize we’d get hit with a blizzard, AND I’d get hit with another 2-week bout of illness. (Aside from a few weeks in January, I’ve either been getting sick, sick, or getting over a cold since the middle of November.)
But instead of making excuses, I’d thought I’d show my progress and document where I am right now in the sew-along to make a shirt for Andrew.*
The pattern, and Peter, start with the pockets for the shirt. These are not perfect, but I honestly wasn’t trying very hard to make them perfect either when I was cutting or sewing or pressing.
The pattern says that the pocket flap should be sewn on a 1/4” seam and the pocket should be sewn on a 3/8” seam. Well, if you look closely you’ll see that the flaps are larger than the pocket when they should be the exact same size. So, I think this means I need to pay more attention when I sew the pocket flap next time (hopefully out of the real fabric) to make it the same size as the pocket itself.
One great tip I read in the comments was how to make the two pockets so they were the same shape and size. Peter suggested creating a template to use for pressing. I have used this idea before, but it is a bit fiddly.
A commenter suggested sewing them right sides together, turning right-sides-out, and pressing the beeejeeezus out of it. Then turn them back inside-out and remove the stitching. This gives you two pockets with essentially the exact same size, shape, curve, etc.
I loved the idea so much that I tried it, and it was the perfect solution. I can see myself using this method when I place patch pockets on the insides of bags, as well.
Aside from needing to make sure that my pocket flap is the same size as my pocket, I’m pretty happy with my success on this so far. The only other change I’ll make on the real shirt is to change the top-stitching. Peter suggested top-stitiching 1/4” from the flap edge, which is what I’ve done here. I think it is too far from the edge and makes the pocket look more homemade. So before I go to bed, I’m going to look at Andrew’s existing pockets and see how they’re handled. But I suspect that a 1/8” top-stitching seam is what I’ll use in the future. I may do a double-row of stitching in thread coordinated to match the fabric. But that’s only if I’m feeling daring.
- In case you’re confused, this fabric is just being used as a muslin. This is not the fabric the actual shirt will be made out of. I have a whole bolt of this fabric and it has problems so it makes it useless for anything but muslins. If you want some, let me know. If you cover the cost of shipping, I’d likely be happy to ship you some. It’d be good for quilting or other small projects.
It is 100% wool (I’m going to test-wash it soon, even though I’m nervous). It’s a bit retro, but the striped pattern will help with the grain-finding in the real shirt, but the pattern isn’t so crazy that I think I’ll have a hard time matching it up.
Sewing something other than bags
Not yet, but soon. Very soon.
While trying to muster the concentration for blog-reading a few nights ago, I came across this sew-along and thought, “hey! I’ve got that fabric I purchased to make Andrew dress shirts a while ago. Maybe I should try this.” Then I remembered how intimidating the matching up of all the stripes seemed on all the little pieces and the fitting, and the yokes, and the facings and the, oh my. So the fabric sits and stares at me and says “Really? Am I not even worth a few hours of your time?”
So when I saw that this fantastic gentleman was going to do a sew-along and break it down into small steps, I decided to splurge and purchase the Negroni pattern from Colette. And I’m glad I did. It arrived last night. The packaging is amazing, the booklet with lots of perfectly clear instructions seems so much easier to deal with than the men’s shirting patterns I currently have.
So wish me luck. If nothing else, I’m really looking forward to making something that will be very different from what I’ve been doing. Even though I’ve not talked about it at all, I’ve been making many bags. Most of them are very, very custom. And I’ve loved them all, eventually. (There were a few what gave me wicked fits for a bit.) But just haven’t had the time or the desire to talk about them once they were made.
So, I’m thinking that learning something new will not only inspire something in me to find this sewing thing as a hobby again, but will also inspire me to write again. I miss it. I just need to make time for it again.
The Chicago Craft Mafia got a brand new site, baby!
Many thanks to Mr. Regan (who will be getting many cookies filled with gratitude and chocolate) for creating such an amazing site for us. It’s been a long time coming and we couldn’t be happier. It’s run on WordPress (which I’m admittedly not fond of) but the site is so pretty and it is great.
I’ll be posting on the site at least once a week, but I’ll also likely be cross-posting things here, too.
For example, this is the text of the first post I made, but I think you should go read it there instead.
A few weeks ago there was quite a dust-up about a few vendors who had some items in their shop that many (including me) felt were items that did not fit within the Etsy umbrella of “peace, love, and crafting”. They promoted (or at least seemed to laugh at) violence of women and people with disabilities. Etsy didn’t have policies that specifically spoke against the objectionable works, so they let them remain online for sale. This inspired many people to write some angry letters of complaint to Etsy and so they decided to take a look at their policies and determine what they felt like their audience wanted prohibited from the site.
Today they announced that they were changing their policies. They will:
no longer allow items or listings that promote, support or glorify hatred toward or otherwise demean people based upon race, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender identity, disability, or sexual orientation; including items or content that promote organizations with such views.
I support this policy change and think it is a great way for Etsy to support their audience by letting their audience decide what is wanted and welcome and what is not. Thanks, Etsy.
TechCrunch Examines Etsy
Thanks to another fellow mafiosa, I came across this article in TechCrunch.com about how Etsy.com needs to change in order to grow their business. I found it to be a pretty fascinating read. As someone who remains curious about the viability of quitting her day job to make a living making handbags, it was definitely a subject I feel interest in.
Essentially what has happened, is a writer has decided to dissect the business model of Etsy, figure out where their business comes from how it has grown, and what it needs to do to keep growing. Steven Carpenter estimates that Etsy will make $30 million in profit this year and compare it to $15 million in profit they made last year.
While I encourage you to read the article yourself, because I’m interested in being able to find parts of this information later for myself, I thought I would write it up and share it. There were two questions that Carpenter decided to try to answer:
The two key questions for Etsy are: How big is the market for handmade products? And can it continue to take share from eBay’s marketplace business?
Etsy gets 5.6 million hits per month currently and 4.4 million hits per month one year ago. Most of their traffic occurs during the last few months of the year for holiday shopping. There are 6.7 million products for sale. 1.5 million of those listings are jewelry (in contrast, about 40% of the applications we receive for the DIY Trunk Show are from jewelry makers). Art supplies and vintage are there other top two categories.
In order for Etsy to continue to grow, the average price of items sold needs to increase so they gain greater profit on each sale. They also need to attract more shoppers. Their statistics show that once someone shops on Etsy with a positive experience, they’re more likely to come back and shop again. New listings are growing faster than new members, which means people selling goods are posting more goods to sell, but new makers are not joining at the same rate.
In order to grow, Etsy needs to attract more international shoppers before foreign upstarts create competing sites, in needs to create and maintain local presence, Etsy needs to attract more sellers and more listings, Etsy needs to increase the average merchandise value, Etsy needs to match local supply to local demand to save on shipping, improve discovery on site and make people’s experience personal, Etsy needs to find ways to get sellers to market for them, Etsy needs to increase sales during other gift-giving times, Etsy needs to create new income streams. They could charge for Alchemy and create similar products. Given the income stream being international, it may make sense for Etsy to have their own payment method to replace Paypal.
I’m not sure how all of this would affect me as a seller, and ultimately while I want Etsy to do well, I’m more concerned about how well I do. I think I’m okay with being selfish in this way. But one of the most interesting parts of this article are the comments. I NEVER suggest reading comments on news sites because they quickly devolve into trogoldytes arguing with trolls, but this one is interesting.
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