Sunday, December 9, 2012

Filigree and Curlicues

With a little left of my Goldie Bronze clay I was having a tough time staying away.  I have pages of new ideas for next year and am really anxious to try them out.

Bronze clay is perfect for experiments as it's inexpensive and reconstitutes several times over to a soft,  easily manipulated state.  I've been thinking about filigree and airy designs.  As a self-taught jeweler and no classes around that teach this technique, I got to work on my own.  I rolled a long thin snake and tried to put it onto a clay frame I had made and it just wasn't working.  Wetting the snake to curl it and get it into position just wets the frame and everything eventually gets mushy.  (Put used clay into dish for reconstituting.)

Make new frame.  I don't have a syringe for bronze clay so I turned to my extruder. Using the smallest hole I extracted a snake that was very fine and with a damp brush I formed curlicues on my non-stick surface.  I had drawn out a pattern for the first pair of earrings so I knew the size and shape of the curls I needed.  After letting them dry it was much easier to place them on the frame with a little water to "glue" them on.

The first pair of earrings came out perfect but in my obsessive need for perfection I sanded it too energetically and one broke, not to be repaired.  I did try.  (More clay into the dish for reconstituting.)  And now I have to make the earring again.  But repetition is one way we learn.

I'm now getting better at curling snakes of clay.  After reconstituting the clay in the dish I try another pair of earrings--bigger and trapezoidal in shape.  Well the frame was a bit too big but I figured out that I could attach cross bars of clay to the frame to act as support for my curlicues.  And that worked pretty well as they aren't really noticeable under the filigree.  This larger, more open design was a bit harder and the earrings didn't come out exactly the same.  But I got a lot of practice making curls as I broke a few in the process. (Broken ones in the dish for reconstituting.)

Adding reconstituted clay to the piece I had left I made a large triangular frame for a pendant.  A bigger piece, it needed more support than the earrings so I put a wide bar across the triangle and attached a circle & post for a half drilled pearl.  I wanted to see what random twists and curls would look like.  Using long strings of clay I just let is fall naturally and then used a little water to keep it in place.

Now the big test.  Will these fine filaments of bronze clay survive the high temps of the kiln.  Like any other metal clay, bronze clay shrinks a bit when the bonding agent burns off.  It has to be fired twice in coconut shell carbon--once to burn off the bonding agent and at a higher temp to fuse the bronze particles together.
Fingers crossed I programmed the kiln. And here's the result.  No broken filaments, even after vigorous cleaning.

I'm pretty pleased with my first attempt.  I have a way to go in refining this look.  I know I don't like the randomness of the pendant. I prefer the pattern of the earrings.  And I think less curl might work better if I use more of them.  I'm waiting for another batch of bronze clay and when it arrives I've got a couple more designs I can work on to help me get better at this.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday, 9am, and I'm Still in My Bathrobe

It's Black Friday and I'm at home looking at news pictures of crowds at the mall fighting over products.  Christmas is different these days as my daughters are grown and living away. Hubby already got his gift and I'll pick up mine later this weekend.

Yesterday we had a noisy houseful of relatives and talked to my daughters via Skype.  It was nice to see them but not the same as having them at home.  Things have changed.  But what hasn't changed is that I still feel stuffed on Friday morning.  And as I'm not presently making jewelry, I'll have to use my creativity on the fridge full of leftovers.

And now the rundown til Christmas.  I'm anxious to start decorating the house and probably will do so much earlier than last year.  I love the little white lights in my living room and listening to carols while I cook and clean.  We may have to put the tree up gradually to let our new cat get used to it before we decorate it.  I'm afraid any movement on the tree will encourage her to pounce on it.  She's a beautiful cat but not really trainable.

Jansjems is on hiatus.  My workshop is clean and organized for the next round of jewelry making.  But I probably won't be doing that until January.  While I'm technically on vacation, my mind is forever designing pieces.  I have a few pages of sketches and notes on the things I want to try in January.  Bronze clay, a so much more affordable alternative to fine silver, will give me the chance to try some new techniques without the fear of wasting clay.

I'm done with craft shows but Jansjems jewelry is still out there and available for purchase.  If you're looking for gifts of jewelry, check out the following locations--

Jansjems Etsy Shop has over 90 items still listed and I still have a small group of pieces that will be posted soon.

The Daylily.  Bridget has several traditional Jansjems pieces and a rack of earrings in a shop full of unique handcrafted items right in the center of South Deerfield.

The Red Lion Inn Gift Shop is in Stockbridge, in the Berkshires, and includes a wonderful assortment of handmade items from the useful to the quirky.

Saw Mill River Arts Gift Shop is next to the Bookmill in Montague.  There's lots of fine art in this shop, pottery, and Jansjems jewelry, of course.

Three holiday pop-up shops also have both the fine silver and steampunk that I create.

Artisan Gala is at 22 Federal St. in Greenfield, next to the People's Pint.  Darcy and Ray have a great space and a beautiful variety of locally handmade items.  Darcy has lots of pictures of their items on the Facebook page.

Knack.Org is all about recycling.  Their Saturday Holiday Pop Up shop is on Massonic St. in Northampton.

The Power Town Pop Up is in Turners Falls, next to the Shea Theater. The doors opened on this one just this morning.

So shop locally, shop often, and buy handmade this holiday season.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

November Musings

It's Wednesday morning and the election is finally over.  Did the campaigning last a lot longer than usual or did I just get tired of the rhetoric sooner?  Whew!  Now the phone will stop ringing.

I got an email this week from Fairs and Festivals with the usual list of upcoming shows--craft, garden, agricultural, all kinds.  It was my reminder that it's pretty near time to start thinking about next year's shows. Some have pretty early deadlines.

As I look over my stats on shows I did this past year I see at least 3 that I won't be applying to next year.  Each year I've had fewer and fewer buyers.  My customers just aren't there.  On the other hand I have 4 or 5 that were huge successes so I'll make sure to watch for the apps online.  It seems I still do much better South of here rather than locally.  I'll also try to find a couple of new shows to try as I do each year.  Sometimes you just can't tell about a show unless you participate in it.

I'm finished with craft shows for the year.  Last weekend I was at 2 great little shows--Handmade with Love in Easthampton's Eastworks and the Handicrafts and Collectibles Show at the Salem Cross Inn.  Both had great traffic with people beginning to shop for holiday gifts.  Both are keepers.

My remaining inventory has been sorted and will be distributed between a couple of local pop-up holiday shops--one in Greenfield and one in Northampton.  Darcy Rosner is opening a shop, probably this weekend,  on Federal St. next to the People's Pint.  It will feature mostly local artisans and she's already collected some wonderful items.  I'll post the url on my Facebook page when I get it.  Knack is a local organization dedicated to the art of creative reuse.  Their pop-up on Massonic St. in Northampton will be open every Saturday beginning Nov. 17 through Dec. 22. Everything in the Knack Holiday Pop-Up Shop will be handmade by local artists who use at least 75% reused materials in their work.  

Looking over my spreadsheets I can say that this year was better financially than last.  Jansjems sales have been growing a little bit each year.  And, most importantly, it's still fun.  Besides the pop-up shops, my jewelry can now be found in 3 gift shops and I have one holiday wholesale account.

I'll be getting ready for the holiday, cleaning up my very messy family room workshop, deciding on the menu for Thanksgiving, and eventually, my favorite, decorating for Christmas.  But for now I'm off to get a little exercise at the Y.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Pricing Handmade ???

Unfortunately, if you're looking for answers on how to price your handmade goods, you won't find it here.  For me it's been an on-going problem that I still haven't completely resolved.  Early on my prices fluctuated with each show.  If people seemed to think they were too high I'd lower them for the next show.  Then someone would comment on how "reasonable" my prices were or asked how I could sell so cheaply and I'd raise them again.

In trying to solve this problem I found lots of formulas out there on how to find your wholesale and retail price.  After all, you need to charge enough at retail to be able to sell for less to wholesalers.  So there's:

             2x cost of supplies + time at your hourly wage = wholesale
             Double this for retail.

             3 to 5X the cost of supplies will give you enough to cover your time


             there is the Rena Klingenberg school of thought which includes the cost of packaging and other supplies and considers booth fees, camera, tools, etc.

Because I use genuine stones, fine and sterling silver, and gold I have never sold at full retail.  In this area and in this economy it just isn't possible. My prices have always been somewhere between wholesale and full retail.  Which is now a problem as I've started consigning to a few gift shops who take a 30% or 40% cut.

So if I don't have answers why did I even bring this up?   Lately some of my craft show customers have been very price conscious, even asking if I give discounts.  And at 2 recent shows typically loaded with jewelry, I found vendors practically giving away their product.  Granted their work was more of what is sometimes referred to as "assembled".  But I know what findings and beads cost, even low end beads and base metal findings.  So I don't see where these jewelers, who though they are selling more units than the rest of us, are actually making any money, especially if you add in the booth fee, travel time, meals, gas, etc.

I certainly wouldn't tell anyone else how to price their work.  Each individual has the right to decide what their time and creativity is worth.  But as I find more of these low priced jewelry makers at shows I can't help being concerned for "handmade" in general.  They not only do not value their own work, they are undercutting those of us who do.

In my last post I mentioned a young girl who called my silver pieces "real jewelry".  Some people understand the difference between handmade and hand assembled, and actually think about the time and creativity that goes into a truly handmade item.  Those that aren't aware need to be educated.  And craft show organizers and promoters can help by doing a better job of jurying and asking about the price range of peoples' work.

I don't expect the Walmart mentality to disappear.  I just wish people could leave it at home when they come to art and craft shows.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Selling REAL Jewelry

"This is real jewelry.  Not those store-bought pendants you just hang on a chain."  This is a quote from one of 3 young girls who stopped by my booth this past weekend to look at my fine silver pieces.  Though they didn't buy anything, it was so gratifying to know that they knew the difference.  I'm not certain everyone does.

This was not a very successful show for me and given that the traffic count was easily over 20,000 people, I couldn't help but wonder why I did so much better the last time I attended.   The question of what is handmade came up again as I left my booth in my friend Eva's capable hands and walked around to see how everyone else was doing. 

Crystal who makes "real" handmade bags.

                                   Becky who also makes "real" jewelry. 

About 8 or 10 booths away was a cluster of jewelry sellers, 5 or 6 booths almost in a row, selling pendants for $5 or $7 or the same bangle bracelet in different colors for $10.  I'd like to say that I can't compete with those prices.   But while several of them had people in their tents, it didn't look like they were selling a lot either.

This year on its 10th anniversary stART on the Street accepted 360 vendors, both with 10 x 10 booths and sidewalk tables.  That's over 100 more than last year.  The section of Park Ave. between Highland and Pleasant was completely filled and even included a farmer's market at one end.  As I walked up one side of the street it suddenly occurred to me that I really wasn't taking in anything.  Occasionally a painting would catch my eye but mostly I just browsed.  Between dodging people and the sameness that all the booths became after awhile, I never really focused on anything.

Many of the shows that I do have too many jewelers.  It's not often a problem as my steampunk usually stands out.  I had a corner booth so I was getting traffic from 2 sides.  I just had to put up something that would catch their eye.  So I did a little rearranging and put up a couple of bigger steampunk pieces right out front and some fancier silver pendants on the side.  Anyone who actually registered what they were looking at did stop and comment on the steampunk and the creativity that went into making my unique pieces.  Men in particular were fascinated with what I do with watch gears and sewing machine parts.  And everyone liked the expensive pieces but no one was willing or able to buy them. 

At other shows I encourage people to come in and try something on.  It sometimes leads to a sale. This wasn't an option at stART as we were also very close to one of the stages that featured some very loud repetitive heavy metal type music that made it difficult to hear.   Words don't sound very encouraging when they're shouted.

For me the show wasn't a loss.  Just disappointing.  While the organizers of stART probably did very well financially on their 10th anniversary, adding 100 vendors didn't do the artisans any favors.

You can read a more detailed review for vendors in my side pages.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Sneak Peak at My Goldie Bronze

While I love working with Art Clay Silver, there are several other types of metal clay on the market that I have been anxious to try. I like the look of bronze but previously bronze clay products were either too yellow or too pink for my taste.  Just recently Goldie Bronze became available in the U.S.  Developed by Waldo Ilowiecki of Poland, Goldie Bronze is a dream to work with, has a short firing time, and finishes to a nice soft golden color.

When I say it became available recently, I mean within the last month.  And there's only 1 US distributor and she was out when I placed my order.  So I had to wait.

Goldie Bronze, like several other base metal clays on the market, comes in powdered form and has to be mixed with water.  This is actually a great idea since it gives unused clay a longer shelf life.  
My first reaction was that the clay has a totally different feel from the silver clay--softer and more silky.  It dries less quickly so I have a lot of time to change my mind if I don't like something and want a "do over".  

While silver clay fires for 2 hours at 1650 degrees, bronze fires at a lower temp.  But the process for firing bronze clay is a bit more complicated.  I needed to purchase a metal pan and coconut carbon.  The dried pieces are fired on top of the carbon at 662 degrees for 30 minutes.  Then you bury it in about 1/2" of more carbon and fire it for 40 minutes at 1508 degrees.  You can take it out of the kiln hot if you don't want to wait for it to completely cool down.  

My first surprise was after the first firing.  The pieces were completely black.  Then after the 2nd firing they came out these lovely colors but gritty to the touch.

But after cleaning and polishing the end result is a lovely golden color.

 I've only had time to make a few pieces but we'll be showing them off for the first time at the Mattoon Street Festival this weekend in Springfield.  Stop by for the arts and crafts and take a tour of the brownstones or their gardens.

More news about Jansjems--
Jansjems jewelry is now also available at the Red Lion Inn Gift Shop in Stockbridge, MA.  If you're from the Berkshires or visiting the area, stop by and check out this wonderful gift shop.  Jayne Church has filled it with a wonderful variety of locally made artisan products.

There is also a small selection of jewelry at Sawmill River Artsa gift shop you can find next to the Bookmill in Montague, MA.

And, of course, The Daylily in the center of South Deerfeld still carries our work.

The fall craft fair season starts in earnest for us this weekend. Visit our website for a complete list of upcoming shows. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

AWM Presence at the Annual Stockbridge Arts and Crafts Show

Craft shows can be a lot of fun if you're lucky to have good tent neighbors or friends at the show.  I had both in Stockbridge.  Across the aisle from me was Beth Russo, fellow jeweler, and her friend Ellen who kept me entertained most of the day.  And several members of the Artisans of Western Mass. were in attendance as well.

Bethany was there to help me, as usual, so I got a chance to walk around and chat with people.  And she was nice enough to booth sit for Amy Love and Steve Nartowitz who were doing the show alone.

Amy had a nice spot in the shade.

I saw Steve a lot as he was near 2 of the most popular places at the show--the food court and the bathrooms.

Jody was situated behind Beth Russo so I could see her colorful clothing from my tent.

Tony is always so happy to have his picture taken.

I'm really going to be needing friends at the craft shows I set up at in the future.  Bethany, who has done every show with me for the last 4 years, will be moving away and, as children should do, will be moving on with her life.  These four years she's made it possible for me to get started selling at craft shows and, while at them, to walk around when I get antsy and to visit other vendors and network a little.

Bethany, I will miss you and the time we spend together.  I hope Denmark is the beginning of a lifetime of wonderful new experiences.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Stockbridge Arts, Crafts and Infomercial Show

There are a lot of arts and craft shows in the Berkshires, three in Lilac Park alone. It's a great place for them with tourist traffic all year long so there are new customers every week.

This weekend we were in Stockbridge.  Two great days--sunshine, warm temps, and  low humidity.  The show takes place in the center of town, walking distance from the Red Lion Inn in a town filled with tourists.  And they love to bring home local art.  So we were busy both days with customers who appreciated the work that went into the silver pieces and the creativity that went into the steampunk.  Most sales were made with credit cards and there was no shortage of American Express cards.

I was a bit disappointed, however, to find yet another show that had too many jewelers.  But it didn't seem to matter as we were all different and everyone seemed to be doing well.   We were situated across from Beth Russo jewelry, next to The Silver Web, and there were other vendors near us with jewelry as part of their inventory.  I had seen Beth at other shows but never really had a chance to talk to her much.  Being across the aisle she and her friend, Ellen, came over to compare impressions of the "garlic girl" in the next tent who has infiltrated yet another craft show.   I've mentioned her and her infomercial spiel before in this blog.  And while she professes to make each and every one of her graters herself, no one really believes it.  She is still very animated but she has dropped the volume of her routine and offends less by using less garlic and more carrots. She's been doing this for so long she has now added some comic one-liners and a Julia Child impression.  Ellen & I were amazed at the number of people who stopped by (and brought friends over) just to listen.  Is she an actress, a stand-up comedian, or just a natural talent?  OMG, she's plain annoying!   And, yes, she was selling them -- for $20!

I think we've succeeded in getting her removed from at least one show, probably 2.  But it's very frustrating for people who work hard creating from scratch their own artistic products to have what amounts to a carnival barker included in the mix.  As I've said before, she belongs at the home show next to the guy selling Vegamatics.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Figuring Out Which Joseph or Which Mary

My great grandparents, John and Sophia Libera, ca. 1900.

I've finally returned to my ongoing family history project.  It's one of those things that you have to be in the mood to do.  Over several years I collected all sorts of odd bits of information, emails from relatives, and information my dad shared with me from time to time and put it all in a box labeled "Libera".

Knowing that the Latter Day Saints have been microfilming birth, marriage and death records from foreign countries for years, off I went to Ludlow with a numbered list of reels that might have information on my family.  I thought I was going to have to pay to order them from Utah but the center in Ludlow is apparently very popular.  So popular that they have their own small permanent collection.  And my #1 reel, birth records from my grandfather's village, was in house.

Have you ever looked at these microfilmed pages from church logs?  Firstly, they are written in Latin.  Ok,so I studied Latin a little.  Puer is boy, puella is girl.  That's the easy part. Being able to read the fancy scrolled penmanship of the 1700-1800s is something else.  And they're not actually birth records but baptismal records listing parents, grandparents and godparents all scrunched into boxes to the right of the child's name.  Three hours later, square eyed, I actually found my grandfather's baptismal record....and, of course, it was closing time.

If you look real close you'll see "Josephus" and to the right "Joannes Libera" & "Sophia Nowak".

The Center is only open 2 days a week so I had to wait 7 days to get back to that record which was the beginning of a goldmine of relatives.  There are LOTs of Liberas in this little village in Poland and unfortunately many of the men are named John or Joseph and several of the women are either Sophia or Marianna.  With all the possible names out there you'd think they could be a little more creative.  And what really surprised me was that when a child died as a baby, and that happened often in those days, it wasn't unusual for another child born later in the same family to be given the same name.

So the fact that I found my grandfather Joseph's baptismal record was pretty amazing.  My father was John and I found out that my great grandfather was also John, and his father was Joseph. My grandfather's mothers name was Sophia, his grandmother was Sophia, and his great grandmother was Marianna.  He had several cousins named Marianna or Sophia and a few Johns and Josephs as well.  This whole idea of honoring your ancestors by giving your children their names can make it messy to try to find your lineage.
Especially if there were 10 siblings and each had 10 children.

Armed with my new list of ancestors I started looking for the ones who immigrated to the U.S.  The Ellis Island site is great and the U.S. Census is pretty helpful.  Problem is the birth dates in both places are estimated and the dates I have from the Polish records are baptismal, not birth.

I did finally find my grandfather's records and those of his brothers who also came here.  But in the process I've also found other John and Joseph Liberas who came from the same region in Poland at the turn of the last century and settled in Mass.  Who are they and are they related?  Well, that's a search for another day.

My family tree is now about 4' long.  And my great-great-great grandfather was named Sebastian!! But his wife was a Marianna.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Circuit Board Designs

Unlike my fine silver designs that have to be planned out before I even open the art clay, steampunk lends itself well to unplanned flashes of creativity.  I recently ran across some small circuit boards in my travels and asked hubby to cut one up into smaller pieces.  They laid for awhile on my workbench.  But each time I walked by I'd pull something out of my supply stash and lay it next to one of the pieces.  Eventually a design formed and I had to sit down to put it all together.

My daughter has created a few designs from green computer circuit boards that became quite popular.  But these are my first pieces.  

The boards are a bit older, perhaps from the 70s, and a nice shade of yellow.
I really like the way they look with black decoration but both gold and silver work pretty well too.
Jansjems will be showing off these new designs very soon at Crafts on the Common, a craft show in Amherst  sponsored by Big Brothers & Big Sisters.  The show takes place on July 14.  Stop by and see more of our steampunk/recycled collection of jewelry.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

It's June and You're Just Now Looking for Fall Craft Shows?


"Need a cheap craft show to be in on November 19th"  (June 15, 2012)

"Craft show-- need cheap booth opportunity for fall in _________, KY"

"I'm finally getting my butt in gear and looking for Christmas craft shows." (June 23, 2012)

"Need good holiday craft shows near _____________, CA"  (June 21, 2012)

"I have never done a craft show but I signed up to two thinking that I wouldn't get in to either of them...well I got in both.  Now, I am freaking out.  I have no idea if I can do enough inventory for both."

"I have done a total of 4 fairs this year and am starting to get a little irritated...the majority of the fair was full of home party vendors and people with import items."

I belong to a few craft & artisan groups that post questions and have conversations in online forums.  Lately I have been seeing lots of posts like the ones above.  It's June, Folks.  We're halfway through the year.  And you're just now thinking about looking for holiday shows?

Well, you'll probably easily find a $25 or $30 spot at a local church bazaar or high school show.  Their applications don't usually come out until a month or 2 before the show.  But do you know if that's even a good market for you?  Would you take a chance and spend even $25 to sit for 6 hours not knowing if you'll even sell one item?  I'd prefer to spend $100 to do an established show that I know attracts my kind of customers and maybe take home $500 or $600. 


Like any other business, handmade ventures require planning.  June is not the time to start thinking about doing fall or holiday shows.  But it could be a good time to start visiting shows, to scope them out, to do a little research.  Find shows you think you might like to do.  There are lots of ways you can find them online.  Then visit them. Is the show getting good customer traffic?  Check out the vendors who will be your competition and see if they are selling anything.  Watch people and see what kinds of booths attract them.  Some vendors might even be willing to talk to you and tell you if they're having a good day.  And if it looks like it might be a good show for you, find one of the organizers and ask how you can apply for next year. 

But if you see a lot of cheap resellers, move on to the next show

FYI--all this travel to do research can be a business deduction when you do your taxes.  Keep a record of mileage, meals, and admission fees.

In my first year I did a church bazaar and a PTO craft show.  I sold nothing at either.  My customers weren't there . So for the rest of the year I attended several shows I learned about online and from other vendors.  I made a spreadsheet listing each show I thought might be a good fit, application due dates, costs, etc.  And in December I planned what shows I would apply to the next year.  Yes, December.  Two of the shows I wanted to get into (a late summer and a fall show) had due dates of Jan. 15 and Feb. 1. 

I applied to mostly moderately priced shows and a couple of higher end shows ($200+).  In a few cases I had backup shows with later application deadlines that I could apply to if I didn't get into my first choice.  Does this require having a lot of money up front?  Yes, it might if you get over-zealous and apply to LOTS of shows.  Many of the checks aren't cashed until you're accepted and some not until a couple of weeks before the show, if that helps.

Also, be selective about the shows you apply to and space them out so you can plan how you'll replenish your inventory in time.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Selling at Craft Fairs vs Selling Online

I check the Etsy forums a few times a week to see what kinds of changes Etsy has made to the website.  I also find threads about lots of other issues and one question that comes up at least monthly is whether vendors sell more at shows or on Etsy.  The short answer is--it depends on what your product is.

There are people whose sales on Etsy are in the thousands.  But jewelry, generally, is a product people need to see in person, handle, and try on.  Some people buy on the spot, others need to shop a little and then come back.  Because, of course, my jewelry is better made and more unique than anyone else's:)
I get very few questions from customers at craft shows beyond, "Do you have earrings to match?" and "Can you shorten this chain?"

But lately, in my Etsy shop, I've had lots of questions like...

    "What does the center stone weigh?"
    "Can you make those with yellow pearls?"
    "Can you put up a picture of a girl wearing these earrings?"
    "You say the stone is fuchsia but it looks pink on my screen."

I try to answer questions and send pictures requested asap even though they may not be perfectly set up.  And I have yet to receive a response let alone a sale.  It seems only polite to let me know you've changed your mind.  I think even in the short time between their interest in the product and my response they've already moved on.

I love doing craft shows (except in the rain) and hope I can continue to do them for a few more years.  I like personally seeing my customers and being able to talk to them.  I like knowing where my favorite pieces are going.  And I can sell more in one weekend than I sell all year online.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

New Look at Old Deerfield

I stopped at the Old Deerfield Summer Craft Fair and it's taken on a new look.  I don't see Yankee Candle mentioned in their ads nor on their website.  And there was no Yankee Candle presence that I could see at the show.  It appears that Ford is now the new sponsor of this series of craft fairs and they are not shy.  Maybe men will be more inclined to attend if there are trucks to shop for.

Things looked better this June compared to 2011.  If you look at last year's review the organizers filled space with a local Gutter Guard dealer.  I didn't see him this year.  Empty space normally filled with craft booths was taken up by a dinosaur exhibit (artisans were encouraged to create something with a dinosaur theme) and a large area with children's activities.  Traffic on Saturday was better than last year and I noticed people buying.  There were several bead jewelry vendors selling lower priced pieces and their booths were filled.  Sha Sha Beads in particular had lots of buyers for her gemstone strand bracelets at $20.  She makes wonderfully unique wire wrapped pendants at very affordable prices but the mass produced bracelets were getting more attention when I stopped in.

I bought some jam from Dondero Orchards who came up from South Glastonbury, CT.  They had some wonderful combinations of fruit like blueberries and rhubarb that tasted great.  They also offered homemade prize winning pies.

While there were several bead jewelers, the fair also included a couple of higher end artisans. The Green Gem Co. had a booth selling their green fluorite gemstones and finished jewelry, and Chris Lann, a silversmith was there from Brattleboro, VT.  Chris Lann has taken handmade to a whole new level.  He was demonstrating how he hand knits fine wire chains.  This in itself is a long, detailed process to create an 18" chain.  But I also learned that he's particular about the type of sterling silver he uses and wire is not available with that particular alloy. So he also makes his own very fine (maybe 26 gauge or less) wire.  He truly starts from scratch.  And his designs are beautiful.

Yellow school buses still shuttle people from Channing Bete and Yankee Candle headquarters.  The food tent, as always, was packed.  The double fried french fries were probably the most popular item.

Vendors can see more info on this show at:

Monday, June 11, 2012

More Questions than Answers after This Past Weekend's Craft Show

This past weekend I had a tent set up for the third year in a row at Celebrate West Hartford.   This show continues to puzzle me.  We did really well the first year and poorly last year.  And if you've read my reviews you know that it almost seemed as though a completely different population attended each year.

So this was my deciding year and this time both the population from 2010 and the one from 2011 attended--on different days.  Saturday was a bit rainy with intermittent sun.  Lots of people found their way into our tent but very few purchased anything.  They looked at prices and continued to the next tent. Jewelry on display ranged from $18 earrings to a $250 necklace with lots of pieces well under $100.  I strolled around and checked out other jewelers (there were over 30 of us at this event) and found that a couple of the people with bead strands were doing very well while higher end designers didn't seem to be so busy.

On Sunday we put out almost all new pieces in the same price range.  The show begins at noon on Sunday due to a road race but people start wandering through around 11. By noon there were thousands of people crowding the aisles of craft show booths.  Yet things still looked bleak at 2 pm when I made the decision not to apply to this show next year and a wave of customers appeared with their American Express cards to purchase multiple pieces and tell us how "reasonable" our prices are.  So we ended up selling almost as much as we did in 2010 and way more than 2011 but mostly within the span of a couple of hours on Sunday.

So do I apply to this show again next year and hope that the 2010 population shows up even if it's just for a couple of hours?

Do I raise my prices or lower them?  Actually, I've been using a suggested formula based on the cost of supplies and my time creating each design.  I've increased my prices a bit each year to cover the increased cost of silver and supplies and in an attempt to reach full retail. I'm still about 10%-20% away.  I feel badly that some people can't afford my jewelry but I think I feel worse when someone suggests I should be charging more. As if I don't value my work enough.  My daughter thinks I'm trying too hard to please everyone but my 2 lines of jewelry are at such opposite ends of the fashion trends that I'm really creating for 2 very different audiences.

$3000I was pleased to see so many people purchasing fine art this year, much more so than in past years.  There are some incredibly talented people at this show-- from Linda Tenukas oil paintings to the graphic designs of James Polisky and including the ceramic art of Gail Markewitz.

And John Cheer just blew me away.  This show was once primarily an arts festival and over time they've included more and more crafters.

So what is the future of art and craft shows?  I did 3 shows before West Hartford and sold little at 2 of them.  I took a ride to Mayfest in Vermont and found they are accepting resellers.  Are they not getting enough applications to fill all their spaces?  Are more shows desperate for booth fees going to head in the same direction?  As resellers increase artisans, who can't compete with their prices, will decrease.  Do people no longer appreciate locally handmade goods?  Can people no longer afford them?