A tornado of questions usually keeps me from getting a good sleep the night before I head to a craft market. How should I arrange my display? Will I make enough to cover my rent? Will the other vendors be friendly? Did I make enough necklaces and knitted hats? Should I start an email list?
Besides merchandise, there are myriad other things a vendor needs to stock before a market– display items such as racks, frames and lighting; marketing elements like signs, business cards, labels and custom-printed bags and boxes; sales items like bags, receipt books, manual or mobile credit/debit machines, and enough tools and supplies in case someone wants a custom order on the spot. Adding to the complexity is that I’m often traveling to halls, schools and community centres without help, via TTC, and I can’t bring anything that can’t be packed into a suitcase. Sometimes I feel a like a traveling salesman.
With all of these perplexing details, I’m amazed that I booked any holiday markets at all. But I’ve come to prefer a flurry of activity to a stagnant wait for the job offer, the grant letter in the mail, the phone call. Zipping up to Woodbine for beads, biking in the sweeping cold to Value Village for used frames, and spending hours online in local crafters’ forums looking for leads on last minute vendor calls took my mind off my shrinking savings. With not much else to lose, I saw buying ribbons and beads as an investment, and found inspiration as well.
The basis of my fall and holiday collection are the handfuls of brass beads in as many shapes as I could find, tumbled amber beads, tiny wood disks and tubes, and the beautifully dyed, thin-as-a-whisper sheer ribbons I found at Toronto’s location of Mokuba. Walking into this store, it’s impossible not to have a thousand projects spring to mind, and any vendor with a business card gets a twenty percent discount. Many of the silk or hand-beaded ribbons can run up to several dollars a metre, but if you know where to look, you can find plenty of affordable trims, and everything is manufactured in Japan. There’s a wall of discontinued ribbons at the back, and I particularly like a strong, soft, “vegan” leather that comes in many widths and colours. Last season, I chose grey and turquoise; this fall and winter, I’ve craved burgundy, and have seen this wine-stained shade in many stores for purses, party dresses and bags. The combination I kept repeating was amber with gold and brass and burgundy, sometimes with a splash of champagne pale pink, or amethyst, or even moss green to give the pieces balance. This combination gives such a warm, inviting feeling, yet also one of old Parisienne glamour.
I made a number of long necklaces with amber Czech fire-polished beads, hexagon-shaped brass beads, and scatterings of wood and tiny amethyst, nicknaming them the “Beekeepers'” necklace, or, in a simpler version, the “Beekeeper’s Daughter” necklace, because the warm drops of amber reminded me of honey. I also feature a modern take on pearls, which look so old-fashioned in settings of heavy gold, and instead, I paired with them tiny black wood cones, or curvy triangular translucent glass. None of my designs are exactly symmetrical, and all of them attempt to reproduce the variation of colour you might find in nature, where there is rarely pure green or pure red; instead, every shade contains a tiny splatter of its opposite, which adds interest to the eye. Hours were spent on finding the right combinations of colours and stones for the “I can’t make up my mind” necklace, medium-length necklaces each containing, perhaps, a single turquoise stone, a pearl, a few Swarovski crystals in cube or rondelle shapes, a round moss agate, a wood bead, each lined up to complement each other. I updated my popular pyrite necklace, and decided to add some silver findings and earrings, which paired better with the dark pearls and turquoise. Finally, I found a use for the spiraled strands of turquoise and green mohair that a friend gave me, by cutting them up in different necklace lengths, and stringing wide brass and wood beads erratically on them, then felting the ends. The result was unusual, even a bit absurd, and playful.
After two holiday markets last week, however, I came away having only just covered my table renting fee, and without having sold enough to even cover the cost of my supplies. Whether it’s the economy, or the location of the markets, or simply poor attendance, I wasn’t sure. I felt appalled at the customers who were duped into buying $10 scarves made with acrylic yarn, or who paid way too much for Tupperware, weird “baked glass” pendants and ironic t-shirts. A vendor next to me selling satirical phrases painted onto old pieces of wood spent the entire market sitting with her back to me, as if she couldn’t bear even to look at my table. Weary and disheartened, I doubted in the appeal of my designs, and wondered if I should have just held onto my savings and stayed at home to work on job applications.
Then, at a holiday party where I’d brought the hostess the gift of a necklace (the very one who had brought me the funky spun wool from Niagara-on-the-Lake), the other guests grew curious. In my rush to make it to the party after the craft market, I hadn’t taken my wares out from my shoulder bag, and before I knew it, earrings and necklaces were spread over my lap and armchair, ladies were trying pieces on, asking about the process, and walking around with them on over their fabulous cocktail dresses as if they’d arrived wearing them. I was overwhelmed by their response, and the bills that came quickly into my hands. It wasn’t the money that mattered to me, but that these chic women, with their versatile lifestyles, found my designs fit in with their wardrobes and unique personal style. I realized that they were my true customers- friends, friends-of-friends, their sisters, cousins, coworkers and peers. These women with careful budgets, a keen eye, and a love of good craftsmanship. These creative spirits.