Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Advice Wanted and Some New Items

I did my 2nd proper craft fair on Sunday, and I don't know if my expectations have been too high, but this one didn't go very well either. I was lucky enough to cover the cost of the stall by selling quite a few greetings cards and felted soap, but apart from some nice comments and a lot of people stroking my felt pieces, there wasn't much real interest.

After the last fair I talked it over with my girlfriend and with others on the forum, and came to the conclusion that my stuff isn't instantly recognisable as handmade felt or even made from wool to the average person, and also that people need encouragement to see the versatility of items. In preparation, I made some felt using lots of natural wools with locks and texture to make into Diary covers, and lots of display cards with info about all the items and ideas for uses.

I'm kind of stuck now knowing what to do. I've spent the last few years trying to find a way to possibly eke out a living  and establish a business from felting/fibre art. I do have limited opportunities because of health problems; I don't have the time or energy to promote/market myself on Facebook or other social media and do all the 'networking' needed either online or in real life, and can't get out and about. Even all the work involved in listing for etsy and having to go out to post any potential sales (not that experience has shown there would be many) seems like a lot of wasted time and effort for little return. Also, because of not being financially secure, I can't just take risks and keep wasting time, energy and money on trying new things which ultimately fail. It's really quite demoralising too.

One thing I have learnt is that when people are looking to treat themselves, they don't want 'practical', they want silly, frivolous or a bit of luxury. So, novelty items, gimicks, things that are trendy at the moment (moustaches, owls, 50's whimsy) seem to win over well made and affordable.

So, now I'm stuck with a load of diaries which will soon be out of date - I could always put notebooks in, but notebooks are even more practical; lots of camera cases, which are useless because everyone has a smartphone with a camera on, and lots of pieces of felt which everyone agrees 'would look great on the wall' but can't think of anyone whose wall they could buy it for :)

So, does anyone have any suggestions where to go from here? Is anyone the owner of a gift shop selling artisan gifts who wants to pay me a living wage for well made items? Or maybe I should cut up my phone cases and make lots of greetings cards or just start felting cosies and covers for everything I own and stop inflicting my tat on the world? :)

All suggestions gratefully welcome, especially humorous ones!


  1. Thats a shame about the craft fairs. Ive had a similar experience....people want things for 50p and dont understand the time and expertise that goes into making things.......sorry I dont have any answers for you

    1. Thanks, Ali :)
      I had a lot of responses to the same post on the Felting and Fiber studio site. There were some great ideas there, so if anyone's interested, have a look :)

  2. Hi Zed.. sorry to see you so demoralised!
    I stopped selling at local craft fairs a few years ago, my problem was the stuff that sold well at fairs wasn't the stuff that sells well online so if I put time and energy into making stuff for a fair which turned out to be crap I was stuck with the stuff.. and as I didn't do many fairs it was more of a problem being stuck with stuff I'd 'wasted' time and materials on.. couldn't just shift them a couple weeks later at the next one. A lot of craft fairs (certainly round here) your work is devalued by what other sellers are offering and the prices they want.. people will spend hours knitting something and then charge no more than the yarn would of cost them.. they seem to be somewhere for hobbyists to get rid of the build up of 'things they've made'.. and they aren't interested in making a profit. So buyers look at their prices and then think we are mad or trying it on by charging more. I always found it worth going a few extra miles to a more affluent area and 'upmarket' event rather than just a local craft fair.. I don't think people go local ones expecting to find high quality artisan made goods, but at the 'up market' events people do..

    What I found sold best at craft fairs was scarves! Not run of the mill scarves, things that were quirky and had that touch of luxury.. beautiful colours and textures, with lots of silk fibre in, cobweb was always popular. I think a lot of people are unsure about nuno, and don't really know what to make of it till it's explained.

    My impression is that people who make a fair proportion of their income from craft fairs are doing them a LOT. There'll always be good and bad ones but I suppose you can absorb the bad ones better if they're surrounded by better ones.

    Try approaching your local museums.. they are usually more than happy to sell local handmade goods in their shops (especially traditional crafts and natural materials)! The commission can sting a bit, you might need to put your prices up a little to help cover that. But once you drop your stuff off with them that's it 'till you collect it again.

    Hope you feel better soon
    Deborah x

  3. Thanks, Deborah :)
    I hadn't thought of the museum, that's a good suggestion. I've thought about the Science and Industry museum because it has a textile gallery and lots of the old cotton combing, processing and weaving machines.
    I've thought the same thing about sellers. It seems that what a lot of people count as successful is making a lot of money, or selling a lot of things, regardless of whether the cost of materials were even covered, and just want money for supplies not for a living.
    I certainly need to spend some time finding my target market, or start selling more lightweight oitems online, because no one's going to pay postage for notebooks :)
    Thanks for your reply.

  4. You could always make covers to fit standard size diaries, notebooks etc. and sell just the cover.. so long as you include the measurements of the book it will fit I'd think that would work well.. Though in the UK it'd probably be cheap enough to post with the book.

    1. I thought about that, but even when there are standard sizes, there are different thicknesses. It's like phones and tablets etc, so many different sizes! It would be cheap enough to post here with the book, I did it last year and was under a fiver I think.

  5. Sorry you are having such a demoralising time Zed,
    your felt is beautiful and the attention to detail you devote to each piece is amazing.
    Sorry I can't offer any advice - however your suggestion of the Science and Industry museum sounds cool, the People's History Museum also has a textile conservation studio... http://www.phm.org.uk/our-collection/textile-conservation-studio/
    Hope you find your answers soon....
    Thinking of you
    Ali x

    1. Thanks, Ali :)
      I did see that about The People's History Museum earlier this year I think, but forgot, so thanks for reminding me, it's not too far from the Science and Industry museum, either.

  6. (Continued) on an iPad and Google stopped my typing...
    Anyways-a small downpayment, with an agreement for full payment when the piece was done. There were only 2 instances where people either refused payment-or said they were unhappy with the final product. I made enough for awhile to supplement a part-time job and support a child. (I was finishing school at the time)
    I DID have an attorney friend draw up the contracts-just in case-but the 2 cases that backed out, weren't worth the trouble and I ended up selling their pieces to others.

    1. PS This was LONG before tuition ballooned out of control!! My poor daughter couldn't make ends meet a few years ago, working part-time and singing in upscale establishments almost every night!! Of course, having to pay for a health insurance plan at her age, ended her last year of Uni. She almost had to declare bankruptcy. She's about to move to a fairly large city for a job working for a friend-and is hoping to finish her last semester while singing in larger establishments and hopefully selling some of her painting and sketch work.

  7. FIRST comment that appears to have disappeared: I'm just discovering your blog-after seeing your posts on Craftsy-and sending you an email on etsy. (Sorry, didn't see the link for this blog until later).
    I'm not sure about felting-OR how things work in the UK, but along with the suggestions already given: years ago, (we won't talk about HOW MANY years...), I showed at a few shows, doing several crafts: pastels, lampshades (with handmade paper), some jewelry and sewing some garments. Along with showing at more high-end shows, myself and a friend would take on personal requests, (I'd seen the value of personalization when..even a few more years before, I'd sung in a band. Personal requests always resulted in good tips!! ;) ). I would display examples of my work for people to see, and materials/colors they could use to create "their own" masterpiece. Since you already have cards, etc made up-you could use those! I would require a smallish "downpayment