The nuts and bolts of preparing for a big craft show

by Adrian Lancashire

A quick note from Devorah at Red Thread: For my first guest post, introductions are in order. Just over a year ago, my partner-in-crime / boyfriend moved here from France to live with me. He’d heard my crazy craft show stories from afar, and once he was here he plunged right into the stress and excitement of an artisan life. Here’s his take on what it’s like behind the scenes at our busiest time of the year… Now! 

I’m not a maker, but I live with one. Our living room is filled with clothing racks at the time of writing this. We built a new shed, the size of a small cabin, to manage overflow. I’m the helper. Luckily, I also do stage work. I feel at home around people who physically produce something, and I like that they dream it up and run everything themselves.

Hands on

“In war, no matter how much you plan and prepare and practice, when the big day actually arrives, you still can’t find your ass with both hands.” People who earn their living making things themselves prove that you actually can get organized and bring things to market. But that great line from Cryptonomicon comes back to haunt me.

Making the stuff

When it’s your brand and livelihood on the line, the first thing on your mind is “Do I have enough stuff?” Merchandise, that is — stuff you have to make. The whiteboard calendar is stuck to the wall so out of the way it almost seems passive-aggressive, and yet I feel better with a countdown, being able to tick off accomplishments as the days fly by. Piece by piece, batch by batch, a little more stuff gets hung on the clothing racks.

With only a week remaining before two shows back-to-back with set-ups in Guelph and Toronto, the design of the latest Red Thread women’s dress was still being tweaked to perfection. It was almost ready, but getting the fit just right was a challenge. Devorah knows practically everyone on our street, so she made lots of house calls to try the dress on different bodies. Our wonderful neighbours willingly strip for her, glad to be part of the process.

The One of a Kind Show in Toronto has around 800 exhibitors. It’s staggering to think of the creativity, planning and labour that goes into making this show.

 

Lights, display, action

How about the rolling racks to hang the dresses on? Oops, one of the wheels fell off. (How did that happen?) I buy a new nut. For the aluminum framework for Red Thread’s booth, we’ll also check that all the hardware is there. We’ll launder and iron the drapery. Do we have enough duct tape? Is the flooring in good shape? I’ll check.

(Can you believe that Home Depot didn’t have half-inch nuts?! Completely unabashed, the guy said straight out, “Don’t have ‘em. Unusual size. Try Lee Valley.” But I struck gold at a Home Hardware.)

Looking good

For a successful craft show, there’s the nuts and bolts, and the bright and shiny. The clothes and signage have to look their best. So I corral and count the lighting fixtures, testing each bulb and connector, and pack this all up. I lasso all the electric cords that have wandered. When you’re up a ladder with minutes to go before opening, and you see a dark area, and you have a light for it but the plug’s too far away, hallelujah for cable.

Months ago, Devorah took care of the posters. Sounds straightforward? She coordinates with the photographer to capture the latest models and fabrics, then looks at hundreds of shots, choosing the best to send to the printers. When they’re ready, we go to pick up the finished product. This takes a lot of organizing: booking and paying for a studio, with hair and make-up artists, getting the child and adult models, buying props, selecting and transporting the dresses, ensuring that everyone arrives at the photo shoot, and keeping them happy.

Devorah and me and a lot of craft show stuff squeezed into our car.

Transportation

How many elephants can you fit in a Volkswagen Beetle? Five: two in the front, two in the back, and one on the keychain. I love simple riddles. With our Toyota Matrix, we have a secret weapon. We bought a roof box. It makes all the difference. We can now fit six elephants.

(Snow tires! Mustn’t forget the snow tires.)

Loading with luck

When it comes to rain, some makers pray and some cross their fingers. We loaded Red Thread out of a craft show a week ago. Five minutes before the end, the high, metal roof of the convention centre began to thunder ominously.

We stacked our flooring, furniture and supplies onto the dolly and trundled down the long ramp with its drainage grooves overflowing. Garment bags on the rolling racks wouldn’t protect the dresses for long in the downpour, so I grabbed flattened cardboard boxes and held them like a roof over the racks, Devorah steering us. Down at the car, hefting the bags into the cargo box on the top, we squinted to see, blinking fast against the driving rain. Sailing probably feels like this, I thought.

By the time we got our sixth elephant into the Matrix, we were drenched. We drove the hour and a half back home in coats, jeans and shoes and socks like sponges.

Checklist

The paraphernalia needed for a craft show is staggering: aside from the flooring, walls or curtains, sales desk, display fixtures, lighting and cords, there are the plastic bins with payment terminals and business cards and Windex, change room mirror, little tables, bags of hangers, a stool, a ladder… and that doesn’t even include the product you’re selling. For anything more than six elephants, we might consider a bigger car.

For the upcoming One of a Kind Show, I’ll be sure to dress well for the marshalling yard. All the vendors must pass this way before entering the Enercare Centre to unload their vehicles. We wait our turn, and sometimes it’s long and cold. I wear a puffy parka, two pairs of socks and bring a Thermos. We’re preparing for 12-hour days on the sales floor, with two days to set up and dress the booth. At the closing end, it will take us just two hours to take it down.

This is what the booth looks like during the show, and at the end when we're almost done squeezing everything into the car.

This is what the Red Thread booth looks like during the show, and at the end when we’re almost done.

 

If you build it, they will come (hopefully)

While I’m lining up all my ducks, Devorah is photographing new products to keep the website up-to-date, and she’ll send out email blasts to all her customers. She’ll announce new products and give away some tickets, hoping people will come and preparing a warm welcome.

Without customers with a taste for individuality, we’d be up a certain well-known creek. So I appreciate all kinds of people who explore craft shows, and I take it to heart; if they’re prepared to meet my maker, I’m happy to lift, count, build and cook until the show comes to a successful end.

2 Comments

  1. All this work preparing for two enormous craft shows, and you still have time to write a blog post? You are amazing.

  2. Good read and good helper Adran! Mazel tov for your shows Devorah!

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