Summer adventures: my first craft fairs

At the beginning of this year, I decided that I needed to take my business to the next level.  When I set up my Etsy shop last September, I was really just testing the water, to see whether people liked my designs and were actually willing to buy them.

By January, I'd made a few sales (which I was completely thrilled about!) and I was getting a bit more proficient with social media.  Selling online is wonderful because it's really straightforward and costs very little, so a brilliant way to start out.  However, there's nothing like meeting potential customers face-to-face, for gaining instant feedback and for getting your name out there.

So, I decided that I would bite the bullet and sign up for some craft fairs and festivals.  Because modern needlepoint is still relatively unknown in this country (it's quite a niche craft compared to, say, knitting, crochet or cross stitch), choosing the right fairs would be crucial.

I decided my first one should be the Bedford Park Festival (www.bedfordparkfestival.org), which is our local, annual event in Chiswick, West London.  The festival in its entirety is wonderful.  It stretches out over two weeks and includes theatre, music, talks, exhibitions, Open Gardens, Artists At Home and the craft fair.

When I found out that I'd been accepted for a stall, I only had two months to prepare, plus Mr L and I already had a 10-day holiday booked during that time... gulp!  I made myself a huge list and scared myself to death at all the work I had to do.

Whilst on holiday, I spent a lot of time on the sun lounger with my iPad, researching things that I needed for my stall set-up.  In the past, I'd always been a bit dismissive of people who work while they're on holiday, but Marina's Home doesn't actually feel like a day job, just because I enjoy it so much.  Plus, I really got into the display side of my stall.  Being an interior designer by trade, I wanted everything to look really slick and for my display to show off my products, without detracting from them.

When we got back from holiday, I worked like a madwoman and, slowly, everything started to come together.  The night before the craft fair, however, I was still working at midnight and felt totally exhausted - something I had really wanted to avoid.

Mr L was away that weekend, but luckily my dad helped me out on the day - loading up our respective cars and helping me to set up the gazebo and stall.  My mum also popped along, to offer sandwiches and moral support, which was wonderful.  She's an old hand at needlepoint (she's the one who inspired me to start designing needlepoint kits) and we took it in turns to do some 'live' stitching at the frame, which really drew people in.

  Stitching at the Bedford Park Festival

Stitching at the Bedford Park Festival

I didn't make a huge number of sales that day, but I had mentally prepared for that.  A lot of people who visited my stall didn't know anything about needlepoint and some were scared to try it.  My mum and I did get quite a few people stitching at the frame, though!  Quite a lot took business cards, so I think the day was good in terms of marketing and making people aware of Marina's Home.

My next foray was a couple of weeks later at Thread... A Festival of Textiles (http://craft.farnhammaltings.com/portfolio/thread-festival-textiles-2018/), held at Farnham Maltings in Surrey.  I had high hopes for the festival, as it's much more specialised than a general craft fair.  I was also determined to be organised for this event!  I didn't want to be completely exhausted like I was at the Bedford Park Festival; instead, I wanted to really enjoy the day and be able to really engage with people.

  The first car, loaded up and ready for the drive to Farnham

The first car, loaded up and ready for the drive to Farnham

Luckily, the organisers of Thread allowed us to set up our stalls the day before, and I opted to do that, even though it meant an extra return journey to Farnham.  I wanted to avoid rushing to get things done on the actual day of the festival. Mr L was away (again!), so my dad and stepmum drove down with me (both of our cars were packed full with my stuff), for which I was really grateful.  My stall was in the Tannery, which is a gorgeous room on the first floor.  It has beautiful timber floors, exposed brick walls, a vaulted ceiling and skylight windows, so the space felt very light, airy and contemporary - perfect for showing off my products.

The Bedford Park Festival had been a really good test run for setting up my stall and I'd made some tweaks and improvements in the intervening couple of weeks and I was really pleased with the result.

  My stall in the Tannery at Thread Festival

My stall in the Tannery at Thread Festival

My friend, Debbie Orr, very kindly came to help me out on the day.  Debbie is the owner of Skein Queen (www.skeinqueenyarns.co.uk).  She's really familiar with Farnham Maltings, as she's exhibited there herself.  She also knew quite a few people who visited Thread that day, so it was nice to meet her friends and customers.  As well as being a great person, Debbie is really experienced at doing fairs, so on all counts it was brilliant to have her there. 

  My friend Debbie (aka Skein Queen) - her outfit coordinated nicely with my blue and orange Geometric Hexagons design!

My friend Debbie (aka Skein Queen) - her outfit coordinated nicely with my blue and orange Geometric Hexagons design!

Thread turned out to be such a great day!  It was so lovely to meet like-minded people and I got some wonderful feedback about my designs and kits.  I made quite a few sales and lots of people took business cards. 

I also had some lovely neighbours in the Tannery.  Because of being busy throughout the day and wanting to be ready to speak to potential customers, I didn't get a proper chance to chat to most of them.  My neighbour opposite was Jane of The Tartan Reel (www.thetartanreel.co.uk), who had an array of wonderful fabrics and a really lovely, clean and organised way of displaying them.

  A lovely display at The Tartan Reel

A lovely display at The Tartan Reel

There was also Nancy Nicholson (www.nancynicholson.co.uk) with her beautiful embroidery kits. This was the first time I'd seen her products and they were right up my street!  I particularly loved her Bright Bird design and her Cat Family kit.

  Nancy Nicholson's Cat Family

Nancy Nicholson's Cat Family

Two essentials that really helped me through the day was a coolbox full of chilled drinks and my drawer of snacks!  Anyone who knows me well will be familiar with my constant grazing.  I'm a bit like a baby - I need to eat regularly, otherwise my concentration really suffers and I get grumpy.  Throughout my years as an interior designer, I always had a snack drawer by my desk and the day at Thread was no exception.  

  My comprehensive snack drawer

My comprehensive snack drawer

All in all, Thread was a very positive experience and I would definitely do it again next year.  For me, the more specialist fairs - geared towards serious stitchers and crafters - are, without doubt, the way to go in the future.

My next stop will be The Knitting & Stitching Show (www.theknittingandstitchingshow.com/london/) at Alexandra Palace in London.  It's a four-day extravaganza which runs from 11th to 14th October.  The show is on a massive scale, so it'll be interesting to see how my kits do there.  Also, my snack drawer will need to be really well-stocked for that one!

Building a community

I can't lie – I've been loving the autonomy that comes with having my own business.  I enjoy that I have to be a Jack of all trades, that I have the freedom to create designs I love and the absolute thrill of when someone buys one of my needlepoint kits.

However, it can feel a little bit isolated at times, so the idea of connecting with the local craft community really appealed to me. For quite a while, I'd been searching the internet for any local groups that I could join, but I was drawing a blank.

It got me thinking that there must be other local people who have their own creative business and would love to be part of a community of designers, makers and artists. That drove me to post a message on nextdoor.co.uk (a brilliant resource for every neighbourhood), asking if there were any such groups that I could join, or whether people would like one to be created.

I received an overwhelmingly positive response from other locals, who were really keen to get involved.  It seems that there aren't any existing groups, but there was a definite appetite for something to be set up.  So, we agreed on a date to meet.

Last week, that day came and, unfortunately, the weather was pretty bad.  It had been snowing for a couple of days and, as usual, everything in London was grinding to a halt.  So, my expectations of anyone actually turning up were pretty low.  We'd planned to meet in a lovely independent cafe in Chiswick – Outsider Tart (www.outsidertart.com) – which has a very stylish interior and, even better, fabulous cakes.  I took my new 'dream plan do' journal with me (www.dream-plan-do.com), just in case I was sitting there alone, so at least I'd have something to do.

  A tiny selection of the delectable cakes on offer at Outsider Tart, all baked in-house

A tiny selection of the delectable cakes on offer at Outsider Tart, all baked in-house

But, lo and behold, people braved the weather and turned up!  Granted, there were only five of us – not a huge mob, but brilliant that those four other people had made the effort and were really enthusiastic about meeting other like-minded creatives.

The time just flew by!  We sat there for three hours and talked non-stop.  We discussed selling on Etsy; we spoke about social media (such a huge topic); also the importance of great photography for our products; and selling at craft fairs.  We each talked about ourselves and whether we already had a business, or were planning to set one up.

I found that one of the group, Jill, lives literally in the next street to me and has been selling on Etsy for a couple of years (her shop is www.etsy.com/uk/shop/WovenInWords), which I would never have known otherwise.

  Our fledgling group

Our fledgling group

At the end of our meet-up, we agreed to make it a monthly occurrence and I promised to set up a Facebook Group, to help grow our community.

I'm hugely excited that we have the potential to build a network of creatives who can benefit from each other's knowledge, offer a bit of moral support to one another and – most importantly – to maintain social contact.  Whilst it's often lovely to have solitude in order to focus and create, it's also really important to feel part of something bigger.

 

 

Trusting your gut instinct

Sometimes in life, you just have to go with your gut. No over-thinking or agonising. You have to trust that something feels right.

Embarking on my new path of designing and creating contemporary needlepoint kits has meant really trusting my gut instinct. Until a few months ago, I was a commercial interior designer and I had been in the industry for over twenty years. But then I decided I needed a big change.

Throughout my interior design career, even when I was working on a project on my own, I always had my colleagues or a boss on hand to discuss ideas, or to check whether I was making the right decision about something. When you choose to set up a cottage industry in your own home, this support network automatically disappears. However, I’ve found that it’s actually really liberating to be able to do exactly what I want and to simply follow my instinct.

Some days, I have those times where I doubt my own decisions and I’d love once again to be in a studio full of design-savvy business people, so that I could ask their opinion. But at those moments, I tell myself to trust my gut. I also remind myself that my instincts have actually served me well over the years, even though I didn’t realise it at the time (purely because I had a safety net back then).

At the moment, my bedtime reading is ‘Jo Malone: My Story’, which I’m finding fascinating. It really is a story of trusting your gut (or, in Jo Malone’s case, her nose) and just going with decisions that feel right. It also shows that determination and hard work, as well as talent and a bit of luck, can really get you anywhere you want to be.

  My new favourite bedside book

My new favourite bedside book

I also got totally hooked recently on the TV series ‘Escape to the Chateau’. Angel Adoree and her husband Dick Strawbridge took a real leap into the unknown when they bought a 45-room chateau in France. I really admire their grit and determination in turning a derelict building into a thriving wedding and events business. Angel is a really inspirational woman and she has such vision.

  The inspirational Angel Adoree in Escape to the Chateau

The inspirational Angel Adoree in Escape to the Chateau

By reading Jo Malone’s story and watching Escape to the Chateau, it's given me more confidence in going forward with my needlepoint venture. Whenever I have moments of self-doubt, I remind myself that people all over the world are building businesses from scratch and they all need a healthy dose of self-belief to make their venture a success.

Hats off to people like Jo Malone and Angel Adoree – to me, they are truly inspirational.