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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!