AFCI’s trade show, Creativation, went virtual for 2021. At Creativation+ Featuring Art Materials World many craft brands introduced exciting new products including Transfer Me sheets by Dress My Craft which were used to create this coaster set.

Photo courtesy of Dress My Craft

Craft trends, pandemic pivoting, and creating a more diverse industry were among more than 25 seminars and discussions at the Creativation+ Featuring Art Materials World’s first virtual trade show.

Joe Rotella, owner, Create & Craft LLC, kicked off the five-day event on March 15 with the keynote address, How to Be Successful During Turbulent Times.

Agility is key, said Rotella, echoing a theme that ran through several sessions. Agile organizations have a clear purpose, focus on customer needs, respond quickly to those needs, and seizes opportunities.

For example, when business dried up for a Massachusetts company that makes steel and canvas wheeled storage carts, they used their sewing machines for mask-making. Tanya Kostynuk of Riley & Company, which sells rubber stamps and paper crafting supplies, seized a moment by giving their popular moose character a Bernie Sanders presidential inauguration look: a rubber stamp of Riley the Moose sitting on a bench, arms crossed, sporting distinctive mittens and a face mask.

Small businesses must be agile, Rotella added, because “they are working in a constantly evolving environment.” Luckily, they can mobilize quickly because they are more nimble, more collaborative, and more responsive to changing situations than a larger company, he said.

Business owners need to lead their teams with a vision of where they want to go, with “specific, measurable, and attainable” goals. But you don’t have to lead alone. “Form a tribe, hire a coach, bring in some outside energy,” he advised. Have an “accountability partner” who can be a sounding board and keeps you on track.

When leading a team, Rotella added, be sure everyone understands his or her role and check in frequently. “This allows you to make corrections along the way.”

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: DEI and You

Diversity, equity, and inclusion were also threads throughout the event, including the panel: Addressing Your Brand’s Blind Spots: DEI, Social Justice, and How Your Brand Can Join the Conversation.

Moderator Brandi Riley, executive producer of the Influencer Activist Toolkit, which helps creatives learn to use their platforms to educate and inform their audiences about important topics, and panelists Allaya Cooks-Campbell, of Alaya Media; Katherine Shorter, founder of Yoked, a marriage community; workplace consultant Jeff Harry, and writer Virginia Duan, of Mandarin Mama and Mochi Magazine, discussed how brands and businesses can foster those goals.

Talking about race, equity, and inclusivity is difficult, all agreed, but necessary. It starts with getting to know people, building relationships, making people welcome, and not being afraid to get out of your comfort zone, panelists said.

“Change happens when you have relationships with people and learn about their history and issues,” said Duan, noting that learning can be as simple as using a search engine to explore other cultures, or following on social media people “who don’t look like you.”

“You see the richness of people, the breadth of humanity, how amazing people are,” said Duan. “You become more rooted in your community. People are attracted to businesses that are the heart of the community.”

Posting a sign on a store window or a black square on Instagram is not enough.

“Ask yourself, how am I contributing to the community and how am I willing to get out of my comfort zone to do that,” Harry said.

“Diversity and inclusion are about trying to include as many people as you can,” said Shorter. “Open yourself up to conversations. Be willing to learn from other people.”

But, noted Cooks-Campbell, don’t make one person the voice of an entire group. “Make sure they are not the only person (of that group). That’s another very ‘othering’ experience.”

Executives can widen their networks to allow a diverse group to be in the right place when opportunities arrive. For example, don’t just hire a person of color, “put them in a leadership role,” said Harry.

“Inclusion is about being intentional, recognizing that leaders of color have much to contribute,” added Shorter. “Allowing them into your space and collaborating breaks down walls, opens pathways that weren’t previously there, trying to change the narrative.”

“Ask yourself, who’s missing from the room, who’s missing from the discussion?” Harry suggested. “In a post pandemic world, if you’re not thinking from a diverse point of view, you’re going to become obsolete.”

Inclusivity also includes those with accessibility issues, such as sight, hearing, or mobility, the panel noted.

“We forget there are other types of diversity,” said Duan. “If you have a store, make it accessible for those with sight, hearing or other physical impairments.”

Finding ways to engage with others can be challenging, the panel agreed, but the benefits are great, including gaining customers and community support.

Sometimes businesses hesitate on diversity issues because “they don’t know how their customers or their community feel about this, and they don’t want to say or do anything to alienate their customers,” says Shorter. “But you could be missing an opportunity to have the conversation.”

“People are afraid of making mistakes,” Harry explained. “There’s no perfect way of doing this. You’re going to make mistakes, and that’s ok.”

New products from Clover Needlecraft include a needle sharpening “macaron;” and new styles of sewing pins.

Photo courtesy of Clover.

Honorees and Awards

Four pioneers in the creative arts industry were inducted into the Association for Creative Industry’s 2021 Hall of Fame and recognized at the organization’s first virtual Creativation+ Featuring Art Materials World industry show March 15-19.

Creativation+, the craft industry’s biggest event for buyers, suppliers, designers, and makers, was held this year in conjunction with Art Materials World and NAMTE. Several other industry leaders were also honored for excellence and philanthropy. 

This year’s Hall of Fame inductees were John Bergquist, of Help Heal Veterans; Jan Carr, former COO and vice president, sales, Clover Products; Cindy Groom-Harry, former CEO, Craft Marketing Connection and former AFCI board member; and Jerry Honemann, Ben Franklin Stores and former HIA chairman.

AFCI also honored several other industry stalwarts for their contributions to the industry and excellence in industry service and philanthropy.

 The Product Hall of Fame Award, which recognizes creative industry products that have inspired creative expression and enjoyed popularity over a sustained period, went to Aleene’s Tacky Glue, Crayola Crayons, and Mod Podge, all of which “showcase both new and historic versions of classic products beloved by generations,” according to AFCI.

Cards for Kindness™ by Scrapbook.com received the Special Recognition Award for “extraordinary contributions in positively showcasing the creative products industry” by sending handmade cards to people “in need of an emotional boost, a smile, or a helping hand.”

The Industry Achievement Award, which recognizes individuals within the industry who have done great things for the community, industry, and humanity, went to Sara Davies, founder of Crafter’s Companion. Heidi Kaisand of Hen & Chicks Studio, was honored with the Brick and Mortar Retailer Award, given to an independent brick and mortar retailer based on overall business and performance, technology integration, customer experience, community involvement, and unique characteristics that set the business apart from other brick and mortar retailers.

The Meritorious Award of Honor — the highest award of recognition that AFCI can bestow upon an individual member, past or present, recognizing an individual who has made a significant contribution to AFCI – went to Chuck McGonigle, former AFCI board chairman, CEO Mission Pets.

The Emerging Leader Award honors those professionals who have been actively engaged in the creative industry, have demonstrated excellence at their organization, and have five to ten years of cumulative industry experience. This year’s recipients were Lynn Lilly, Craft Box Girls, and Alexandra Stapleton-Smith, The Hedgehog Hollow.

You can read more about the honorees here.

Transfer Me sheets from Dress My Craft are beautiful, easy transfers that work on everything from paper, tile, and stiff fabric to leather, glass, cement and more. Place the transfer face down on your surface, wet the backing with a damp sponge, then carefully slide off the backing paper. 

Photo courtesy of Dress My Craft

Creative Goodies – New Tools for Makers

No creative report would be complete without a look at some new (or re-discovered) goodies for makers. Here are a few:

Tools: Bamboo Paper Tools from Aitoh are like traditional bone folders with benefits, great for book binders, card makers or anyone who works with paper. Not only are the eco-friendly tools, which come in two sizes, vegan friendly and less expensive than traditional bone folders, they can be sanded down if they chip or to get a sharper edge. Aitoh also re-introduced the Screw Punch, a handheld paper punch (with nine different bits available separately).  

Clover Needlecraft’s Stitch Dome holds fabric tight for easy decorative stitching; the Sweet n Sharp Macarons easily sharpen hand sewing needles (and look yummy); strong and sharp Wonder Pins and the dual-point Fork Pins help keep fabric in place.

Spellbinders’ Glimmer Foil System, while not new, got a reboot and a new magnetic tool for easier – and safer – removal of the hot metal foiling plates. The company has also added new designers and will soon launch a Glimmer Boot Camp.

 Who can resist a palm-sized, squishy cleaning scrubbie? Maker Forte, established last year, has a robust line of mixed media products including a conditioner that removes manufacturing residue from new stamps; Squid Buster Cleaner for stamps, stencils, and work surfaces; an eco-friendly cleaning cloth; specially formulated inks; and some jazzy looking tools. 

Adhesives: Glue gun ever run dry in the middle of a project? Not likely with Xyron’s Mini Multi-Stick Hot Glue Gun, which holds up to three 4-inch mini glue sticks. The Xyron Pen Style Hot Glue Gun’s small nozzle gives a thin line and heats up in less than a minute. Beacon Adhesives has a new Multi-Purpose Adhesive Spray glue, good for several surfaces. It’s non-toxic, dries clear, and works fast. Scrapbook Adhesives’ star and heart shaped adhesives, shaped foam and other varieties of adhesives add fun embellishments.

Materials: Transfer Me sheets from Dress My Craft are beautiful, easy transfers that work on everything from paper, tile, and stiff fabric to leather, glass, cement and more. Place the transfer face down on your surface, wet the backing with a damp sponge, then carefully slide off the backing paper.

Royal Talens’ Rembrandt Toned Paper Pads are 15% cotton, 20% recycled paper, in five delectable colors from Desert Brown to Mythical Blue. Papers are good for pencil, pastel, gouache, ink, acrylic, and charcoal.

Therm O Web made foiling easier for card makers with toner-printed designs on acetate or cardstock. Spray and Bond Fabric Stiffener is fast-drying and makes fabric act like paper but with a fabric feel – try making fabric tags!

Belagio Enterprises’ cork fabric is thin enough to die cut, takes ink, paint, alcohol ink and even iron-on appliques (with care). It won’t fray so is good for tassels, fringe, even crochet. About the only thing you can’t do is wash it.

DecoArt’s® Water Marbling program has everything needed for acrylic marbling in water, including Magic Marbling Medium and marbling tools.

Kits and everything else: Faber-Castell’s® watercolor paint-by-number canvas sets are a contemporary take on an old craft, with six designs from botanicals to coastal. The company also introduced Our World Colors collection of colored pencils, crayons and clay for skin tones of every shade.

We also wanted to mention Help Heal Veterans, a 50-year-old nonprofit that provides therapeutic arts and crafts kits to veterans suffering from various traumas. They welcome supply donations from companies and individuals.  

No need to color the backgrounds on your art with Royal Talens’ Rembrandt Tone Paper Pads. There are five colors in the series, from Desert Brown to Mythical Blue, and are good for pencil, pastel, gouache, ink, acrylic and charcoal. 

Photo courtesy of Royal Talens.

Trends – And How Your Business Fits

No creative conversation would be complete without discussing trends.

“Trends don’t just blow in and blow out,” explained Eliza Kapitan, creator of Craft Hangout. “They emerge, grow, and branch out.” Knowing what is trending gives you a competitive edge and helps you figure out how your product fits in.

Here are Kapitan’s 2021 macro trends, and how you can use them:

  • Nostalgia with a twist: Old crafts, such as needlepoint, embroidery, punch needle, paint-by-number, are back, but with a modern flair. For example, makers might embroider or needlepoint a pillow using a contemporary subject, such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or an edgy saying. Embroidery is “something grandma would do, but (the sentiment is) something grandma would never say,” Kapitan said.  

Examples include Amy Oxford’s reinvention of the punch needle; Marisa Morrison’s Neon Tea Party’s chic twist on summer camp crafts such as pom poms and friendship bracelets; Faber-Castell’s contemporary paint-by-number canvas kits; Therm O Web’s updated take on flocking, with flocked sheets that can be die cut; or Marvy Uchida’s retro Le Pen colors.

  • Empathetic connectivity: Empathy and crafting often go together, says Kapitan, encompassing crafting with a cause, upcycling, repurposing, and reusing. “There is a thoughtfulness about the environment, where materials come from, and an effort not to waste.”
  • “You”-nique: Making products with a personalized or unique aspect. Think things made in small batches, created the same way but with individual elements, such as marbleized art, resin crafts, message jewelry, shibori and tie die, tumblers, small batches of handmade soap, even DIY kits (same elements; individual spin).
  • Learn and pivot: “Embrace your mistakes,” she said. “Shift gears. Have nimble goal planning. Look for progress over perfection.” And above all, find “authenticity.”
  • Home alone together: Staying connected even though we are not physically together; connecting via virtual communities, such as Zoom, podcasts, Clubhouse, etc. Nesting at home invites pillows, cozy throws, tabletop items and other home accessories.
  • Blurred lines: Crafting has maintained a strong business/hobby crossover, Kapitan noted. Sometimes the craft is a business, but also done for pleasure. Other times you craft for pleasure but want it to be a business. This crossover is easier today because of tools that are now accessible to home hobbyists, such as electronic cutting machines and sublimation machines (i.e., heat transfer vinyl).

Following a trend, Kapitan emphasized, does not make you a follower. Instead, figure out what elements of the trend resonate with you, inspire you, and spark new ideas.

Roberta G. Wax

Roberta G. Wax


Roberta Wax is an award-winning journalist and imperfect crafter. A former news reporter, her freelance articles and projects have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines, from the Los Angeles Times and Emmy magazine to Cloth Paper Scissors, Somerset Studio, Craftideas, Belle Armoire, etc. She has also designed for craft companies. Although she has no art background she was a crafty Girl Scout leader. www.creativeunblock.com

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