Doing shows

I'm just getting back into a studio career--though it was only part-time before, I'm doing it more full time now-and I've seen several people talk about doing shows, meaning weekend, there all the time, things.  We have a really good one here in El Paso around Thanksgiving and I'm aiming for applying next year.  I think it's a good opportunity to get exposure to the community as well as selling work.  My work is tapestry and other 'art' weaving and so a given piece takes close to a month to complete.  I would be showing work from about 12-18 months with a number of smaller pieces for less expensive sales and larger pieces hoping for sales there, as well as possible commission work.   My question is: how many of you do shows and is that your primary source of income?  Next question-do these indeed lead to long-term repeat clients?  Laura Fry mentioned in her blog, referenced on the forum, that she has 'down time' in the beginning of the calendar year before preparing for the fall shows; is this a type of rhythm to your weaving life?  Do all of you have this sort of rhythm or does it vary?    Given my description above, does this sound to all of you like a good fit for me and my work [some of which is posted on my page here at weavolution], or should I consider other options?  Thanks.


Posted on Tue, 09/11/2012 - 01:32

The most you can expect in the way of income is to price the amount of work you expect you can do in a year, add it up, and figure you'd have expenses on top of that.

In spite of all the blogs, there is no "recipe" here - your work has to connect with the public and the public must be willing to spend money on your work. Since this is an issue of personal taste, it can be that one year you do really well and when tastes change a bit, you do poorly. It can happen that you sell way more than you expected before your biggest show and not have much left.

If your booth gets too empty, even the nicest piece gets overlooked.

In all honesty, I don't think there is anyone weaving who lives exclusively from their "fruit of the loom."

Posted on Tue, 09/11/2012 - 02:30

Sara is right, there are very very few weavers earning their entire living from weaving.  It can be a nice seconary income, however.

As to the income arc, it depends on your product and the venue(s) you find to present it.  There are spring shows but for the kind of textiles I make (and the area I live in) spring shows have not been worth my while.  So I concentrate on doing the fall shows and try to increase my income during the early months of the year by teaching and writing.



Posted on Tue, 09/11/2012 - 17:12

Thanks, Sara and Laura. That was about what I was thinking. This would be supplemental but very welcome income for us, so it might be worth trying. I have been toying with the idea of supplementing the pieces I would show with some matted photos of detail shots and maybe even calendars. Several local painters do this in their booths and I was thinking this might be worth a try, too.

Posted on Wed, 09/12/2012 - 04:33

Consider greeting cards if appropriate for your work.  Many painters sell enough of them to be worth their time.  

Stephanie S

Posted on Thu, 09/13/2012 - 23:14

Woven cards. They were the big thing a number on years ago. Cheryl has a whole box of cutout cards. She keeps saying she is going to make some some day. I just took a quick look o see if I put the small framed weaving on the web site, I have not. The art guild we are in was doing a "small" frame show. So Cheryl wove some small pieces to put into this show. Some were inlayes and some small coverlet drafts.




Posted on Thu, 09/20/2012 - 22:30

I might try that, too, Michael, though I was looking for something that would generate additional income without added time at the loom or worktable.  So many painters use prints to supplement their studio income and I thought that might be something we weavers could try.

Posted on Sat, 10/20/2012 - 18:06

First show of the craft fair season - a small-ish show but a great place.  We're in the cafeteria of the University with lots of natural light.

Posted on Sun, 10/21/2012 - 17:06

Just catching up with about two months' worths of posts here, and thought I'd add my ha'p'orth on the subject of shows - although I have more questions than answers.

It strikes me that weavers have a
particular problem when it comes to this kind of retail environment
(though I am sure every craftsperson thinks their issues are unique!)
For instance, I get a lot of emails from people organising craft fairs
locally, which should be just right for me in the early stages of
selling my work - since we are typically advised to start with local
shows and "work up". But, to be frank, the sorts of things which are on
sale at these shows are very often not at all the sorts of things I want my weaving to be associated with! And I couldn't possibly price my work at an appropriate level, either - weaving is too time-consuming a
process for the typical price point at these events. However, it is
scary to contemplate jumping right in to the high-end shows without some
kind of experience (ideally, some positive experience) lower down the
scale, especially as the investment for some of these shows is
considerable - hundreds of pounds for a stand, plus travel and
accommodation to think about.

I am going to try one event this
year which is new and is being organised by our local contemporary arts
centre - it's being presented as a 'craft and design' market. I don't
know at this stage who else is going to be there, but I have seen how
they have targeted their recruitment advertising and I have confidence
in them as an organisation, so I'm willing to give it a go. I will be
interested to see whether I am sitting behind the highest or lowest
priced items in town, or whether I am about right for the event!!

I did have a very positive experience with our local 'Open Studios'
event in September. We were open for a week, had a steady stream of
visitors and made a lot of sales as well as taking orders for Christmas
gifts. Although the range of techniques represented is extremely wide -
and the prices too - there is not the direct comparison between you and
someone else which you get when everyone is in a hall together. So
people are looking at your work on its own terms. I'd recommend looking into Open Studios networks in your area to see whether you can sign up for something like this.

Having enjoyed the benefits of no near neighbours in September, though, I am about to experience an Open Studios of a different kind. I have moved my looms into a studio complex with lots of other artists and makers and we have our open weekend coming up in November - I have no idea how that will pan out, and whether it will even attract people who are interested in textiles, but at least I know for sure that everyone in the building is a professional and will price their work appropriately!

So much for a ha'p'orth. That must be at least sixpence!


Posted on Sun, 10/21/2012 - 17:08

Sorry - I have no idea what happened to the line breaks in my previous post and editing has made no difference!

Posted on Mon, 10/22/2012 - 00:59

Unfortunately there are no accurate crystal balls when it comes to selling your work.  All you can do is try whatever you think will work.  The show I did this weekend is a lower end show and there was enough sticker shock that I'm wondering if I should bother doing it next year.  Except, the booth fee is low enough that it is good promotion for the show in two week's time - a reminder to people that the 'big' show is coming up - and that winter and Christmas is also coming....

The open studios idea is a great one - just not one that I can participate in, unfortunately.  Good luck with yours Cally.



Posted on Mon, 10/22/2012 - 03:04

I used to live in Boulder, Colorado. I loved doing the guild sale there with Handweavers Guild of Boulder. Sales were very good. Groups of women would travel to the sale together (often from Denver or Fort Collins or other towns), sometimes doing the pottery guild sale as well and usually going out for lunch together. They encouraged each other to buy things. I heard them calling out: "Anne, you have to get that hat because it complements your new winter coat!" "Look, Mary, this table runner is perfect for your dining room."

Laura, are you doing the Seattle guild sale this fall?


Posted on Mon, 10/22/2012 - 13:01

Choosing shows is a never ending challenge. I stay away from first year almost always takes a while for the word to get out and a show to get off the ground. When I was starting out, I did plenty of smaller and less expensive shows. There are a lot of jewels out there and just because most of the work is less expensive than yours, it doesn't mean you won't sell. I think the question is more about the quality of the other work. I have a small show that I've been doing for twelve first the promoters didn't want to let me in since they thought my work was too high end and I wouldn't sell. They finally decided to let me try it, I did well and now I have noticed over the years doing that they have let more and more high end work in and the price point of the show (and look of the show) has changed substantially.


For me, it was a question of getting my booth set up as simple as possible so I wasn't investing an amazing amount of time in a questionable show. I still have elaborate set ups for longer and more established shows, but I managed to set up a one day show in 45 min this year instead of the five hours it can take!

One more thing...there are plenty of very well established and very expensive shows that have great reputations that are awful for sales. Every show is a risk, you need to decide how much of a risk you can live with.

Posted on Mon, 10/22/2012 - 15:01

My local Guild doesn't do sales or money making enterprises.  I am hoping to participate in the Guild show in Portland, OR next spring.  I should know by January whether or not I have created enough inventory.  I don't seem to be as productive as I was ten years ago...

Stephanie S

Posted on Mon, 10/22/2012 - 15:48

Hi Bonnie,

Yes, I leave tomorrow for the Seattle guild sale.  This year Doug will be coming with me (he 'retired' last month).  :)



Posted on Mon, 10/22/2012 - 19:41

It is always nice to have a helper for any show.

Good luck with sales, Laura. And luck with weather, which is one component we cannot control. Weather is the big drawback for having a sale that only lasts a rather short time. The advantages are nice, though- people make an effort to shop while the special event is happening, and they often decide to buy right away. When the piece is in a gallery, they might say that they will think it over and come back later. Also you get the remaining inventory back and can show it someplace else.


Posted on Tue, 10/23/2012 - 05:00

There is a Yahoo Group entitled "ATC_World" (ATC = Artist Trading Cards) and a number of the members actually sell their cards: some for a fair profit.

regards, Charles

Posted on Wed, 10/24/2012 - 17:19

Finding the right show is a challenge but worth it.  Small regional shows in your area can be a good fit if, and its a big if, they are run well, and for me ,only juried shows work.  If no one is looking at the work in their show, they usually are not supporting an arts environment.  I have also found that festivals, that have a lot going on are not necessarily the best place to sell quality artwork. Parades, food, kids activities etc, take the emphasis away from the vendors.  Some organizers are just looking for "stuff" to get people to attend, but hoping they will spend their money supporting the sponsoring organization, not the crafts people.

Some small shows run by arts groups are really well run, they care about the artists, and they care about whether you are happy enough to come back next year.  My best advice is if at all possible attend- it will tell you so much.  Also talk to the vendors, and try to talk to people who are selling in the price range you will have.  This can tell you a lot.  If you can't be there, web-sites can tell you a lot if they post good pictures, or the recommendation of someone who went who you trust.

Best of luck


Posted on Wed, 10/24/2012 - 23:10

I have been lurking on this forum as the topic is of interest to me but I do not do any shows or sales, other than our annual guild event.

One of the keys to success for our annual guild show is that it has been held in a very affluent zip code for nearly 20 years. (This was established way before my time.) Folks don't balk at the prices. I was wondering if where the event is being held and checking the average income for that zip code in advance might be a way to predict a better clientele when considering new venues?

Also, inquiring where the organizers for the event advertise? We thought posting notices in coffee shops, literary, and cultural venues might be more effective places to advertise than posting signs at the local grocery stores and on telephone poles. 

We tried a newspaper ad, but we are not sure the high cost was worth it. The best return we had was a newspaper article that cost us nothing, but was the result of someone knowing someone at the paper!

Here's a question, do you find a two-day (weekend) show more successful than one day shows? Our guild expanded our sale to two days a few years ago. We figured if we set up, why not go a second day, and capture folks on Sunday who might work or run errands on Saturday. We find the majority of the sales (2/3rds to 3/4) still occur on Saturday, although the foot traffic is about the same between the two days. Does that match your experience? Do you still choose a two-day over a one-day show? 

Finally, I noticed a lot of folks are using Square for electronic purchases with their cell phones at these craft venues. (Maryland Sheep and Wool for instance.) But consistently, about 1:30 the whole thing seems to be going as slow as molasses because *everyone* is using their phones for everything. This is really annoying as a customer, and I can imagine as a vendor even more so. What is the alternative? (Go retro with the card swiper as backup?)


Posted on Thu, 10/25/2012 - 00:26


In answer to your questions from my limited show experience.

2 day vs one day.  If you have to haul all your stuff there, and set up, you may as well get as much bang for your buck so to speak.  With a guild show, I am not sure this matters, because folks come to support the guild, and know your date, but a lot of craft shows are 2 day.  One I have done and liked, recently changed to Friday night, Sat, and Sun.  The first year the Friday night was fabulous-the serious buyers came out to get first picks.  Some years the Sundays are better, and others the Saturday, but this depends on weather, and also competing events in the area if this is a fall or Christmas show.

I think zip-code definitely influences, and that affects my choice of where to do a show.  I want an area with a high tourist traffic, or an affluent community that understands art and weaving.  The only show I ever did in a mill town in south Georgia, all I heard all day was "my (enter mom, dad, aunt etc) does that at the mill".  The sales were awful.

You definitely have to have someway to take credit cards, but how is a challenge.  If it takes too long people get nervous, or want to write a check.  There are options that use a dial in phone if you have no wi-fi, but you need phone service, (not always good in a building) and once again it takes a few minutes to punch it all in. I have tried the computer but you need wi-fi.  A friend of mine is about to try the square this coming weekend.  I always have an old fashioned swipe machine as a back up, so you can enter the info later.  Most people understand, and I have not had the issue of retaining info overnight.  I have had a couple of small issues, but never been stuck either.

Great discussion questions, I can't wait to see other feed back.


Posted on Thu, 10/25/2012 - 00:53

I had typed a lengthy answer and my computer burped and it was all gone!  Don't know that i can re-create it, but Cheryl said most of what I had anyway.

Re: cc purchases, I don't get a cell signal at home, so buying a smart phone & data plan don't make sense.  I still exclusively use the old knucklebuster at shows, and (knocking wood) haven't been stiffed.  I do ask people to write a phone number on the slip "in case I have difficulty reading the numbers when I get home to process the card."  Most people don't blink an eye at giving it to me, and I've only had to call 1 time 'cuz I really couldn't read the numbers & 1 time cuz the card wasn't accepted.  The person gave me another card # over the phone & it went right through.

Posted on Thu, 10/25/2012 - 01:13

Call me old fashioned but I am really reluctant to go the Square up (or whatever it's called) route.  What happens if cell or wi-fi service goes down?  I still run cards with my old tech knuckle buster and phone the sales in in the evening when I get home.  So far, so good!



Posted on Thu, 10/25/2012 - 12:58

Hi Everyone,

Haven't done any shows since '10 (1 yr cancer treatments & recovery) but keeping the tent for next year. But here are some thoughts in no particular order:

Some local events are too kid centric and events that feature food vendors is usually a sign of a no go as it becomes more carnival but even small town events  paid off in sales both then & later commissions. These were within an hour of home and often had no space fee or minimal. I plan to ask events planners more questions in the future tho before investing time & money.

A friend spent $300 for a small space at an indoor event, "Christmas in the Carolinas'" last year and had no sales, most people were selling inexpensive crafty items. She was contacted by an event person and given a completely different picture- massive advertising planned, thousands of people attending projected, yada yada yada. You can imagine how hard she worked before this show and her bitter disappointment! So my take on this is to see a show before deciding for the next year.

 This last week we were in Asheville to see the Highland Guild show, half the people we bought from used Square or other (and it was slow) and the others used the knucklebuster.

Now I'm in a 7 artist studio/gallery space and 3 of us plan to do an open studio holiday show at the end of Nov.  We will take the above suggestions and advertise in the coffee & book shops. Our local newspaper also accepts write ups with images so I'd definitely suggest contacting your paper - they are probably short staffed and eager for input.

Back in '09 I participated in a sale put on by the Triangle Weaver's Guild out of Chapel Hill. A wonderful guild but most of the pieces for sale were priced very low because some of the weavers were only looking to recoup material cost! Disappointing, so again it probably is a good idea to ask questions first.

Hope everyone has a great selling season!  Liese


Posted on Thu, 10/25/2012 - 15:17

After not accepting cc's for many years, our guild made the jump to using Square last year for purchases over a certain amount (because we are charged per use, and a low level purchase on a cc just wasn't profitable after paying this fee.) We didn't have that many sales that used it. And this is not a crowded venue, so we don't have any trouble accessing the service. I just saw that Intuit is advertising a product that is similar.

However, I have seen it happen more than once at big shows over the last two years, where the wifi or local cell phone service bogs down due to high demand in a concentrated area. If a single transaction takes more than 10 minutes to run, and the line is more than 5 deep at a show like Maryland Sheep & Wool, that's really bad news. (As a customer, I now try and take cash to large events, so I won't have to wait.)

Cheryl, your comment about Friday is interesting. We expanded our venue again last year to allow everyone drop off and set up Friday, with the sale all day Sat-Sun. I was wondering if we would still have strong volunteer support when what was once a one day sale now takes up a whole weekend. Although we have had good support for the guild, we also have many full-time professionals, not retired folks. Weekends are precious. If we don't see a decent return on our dollar for our time, that level of volunteer support could disappear rapidly. 

Posted on Mon, 10/29/2012 - 20:46

I experienced something interesting when purchasing an item at our arts fair last fall.  The artist took my credit card information along with my phone number and processed my purchase later via her PayPal account.  I thought this was a pretty good solution to the need for accepting credit cards while avoiding the expense and trouble of having your own processing machine etc.  What do the rest of you think?

Posted on Mon, 10/29/2012 - 22:45

Processing cards after the fact is what I do with the old knucklebuster.  There is the possibility that the card won't be accepted, but I do always request the customer's phone number in case I have to call.  I haven't been stiffed in the 7+ years I've been doing this, but I know it's a real concern for some people.

Posted on Tue, 10/30/2012 - 00:30

Whenever I have a credit card,customer complain when I ask them for a phone number, I gently explain that in the unfortunate event that their card gets stolen and then cancelled before I get back to my machine, I need a way to get in touch with them. It always calms them down.

Posted on Tue, 10/30/2012 - 00:30

Whenever I have a credit card,customer complain when I ask them for a phone number, I gently explain that in the unfortunate event that their card gets stolen and then cancelled before I get back to my machine, I need a way to get in touch with them. It always calms them down.