Last month, Nicole Stevenson was able to resume some of her Patchwork craft shows for makers in California. She looks forward to bringing back Craftcation: Business and Makers Conference, a five-day event that attracts more than 450 people, in April 2022, after a delay of almost two years.
Photo courtesy of Nicole Stevenson.
They’re ba-aaack!!! In-person craft shows are back – with some modifications – and show organizers and exhibitors are optimistic about a sunny show season.
Just as the pandemic sent show organizers scrambling to figure out virtual options, the return to in-person events is also fraught with rapidly changing rules, regulations, and comfort levels. In fact, requirements are shifting so quickly that some research done for this story may be outdated by the time this article is posted.
“People are chomping at the bit to get back to shopping in person, to seeing their friends, to doing business face-to-face,” says Bob Ruggiero, vice president of communications, Quilts, Inc., which puts on both consumer shows and trade shows for the quilting and soft crafts industries. Quilt Market, which had a virtual event in March, returns to an in-person trade show Oct. 23-25 in Houston and April 12-14 in Salt Lake City.
The Sewing Labs, a Kansas City, MO, non-profit that teaches sewing, entrepreneurship, and job skills to underserved women, had been trying to hold a fundraiser for several years, and finally scheduled it for May 2020. But, then, well, you know.
In January 2021 they decided, heck, let’s do it, and scrambled to launch Make’n HERstory in-person in May 2021, with a virtual component in case in-person was a no-go. “Things were changing rapidly from January to May, and the cost of (adding a virtual component) was expensive,” says Linnca Stevens, operations manager. “We had to decide if we wanted to spend that amount of money. It was expensive, but it was an investment we had to make.”
The in-person event (with some pre-recorded presentations) ran with government-mandated mask and social distancing requirements in place. Give-aways were individually packaged, temperatures were checked at the door, and everyone had to sign in with name, address, and email in case contact tracing became necessary. “We wanted people to know we were doing everything we could to be safe,” says Stevens. “Those who attended in-person complimented us on how we set it up.”
Strawberry Swing craft fair is now hosting outdoor events where masks aren’t required.
Photo courtesy of Amy Barickman
In June 2020, Katie Mabry van Dieren, curator and owner of The Strawberry Swing Craft Fair in Kansas and creator of Shop Local KC, realized the pandemic had seriously affected makers. She started holding weekly outdoor pop-ups, masks required. “These events kept us creatively nourished,” says Amy Barickman, creative arts entrepreneur, author, teacher, and founder of Indygo Junction, who taught virtual and in-person classes at The Sewing Labs’ Make’n HERstory and a virtual class at the Sewing & Stitchery Expo in Puyallup, WA. “People were comfortable and happy to be at an in-person event.”
The Strawberry Swing partnered with the World War I Museum to host The Great Balloon Glow, held across 41 acres outside, with 25,000 attendees, mostly unmasked.
“This was the first time we had not required masks in an outdoor environment since the pandemic began,” van Dieren says. “It felt wonderful! Seeing people’s smiles and joy, watching them support makers, was wonderful.”
Plans are still in flux for the March 2022 Sewing & Stitchery Expo, which had a virtual show in 2021 and may do the same in 2022.
“I wish I had a crystal ball,” says Amy Veneziano, Expo education manager. “Everything is changing so rapidly in terms of policies. Because our event is owned by Washington State University, our rules are stricter than a privately-owned event. We don’t want to do anything that makes anyone uncomfortable.” They are planning for both in-person and virtual, or even a hybrid. Luckily, she adds, the team has the knowledge and experience “to put together an event in a short amount of time – and make it nice.”
Creativation, one of the hobby industry’s largest trade shows, partnered with Art Materials World for a virtual show this year, but will be in-person, with a slightly different name, in 2022. The two organizations – the Association for Creative Industries and NAMTA (International Art Materials Association) — are moving forward with plans to merge the groups, pending membership agreements. The in-person trade show, now called Art Materials World 2022 Featuring Creativation, will run April 10-12, 2022, at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.
“While we have not spoken to every exhibitor and buyer, we sense that the vast majority of our members are excited and ready to meet in person,” says Leah Siffringer, NAMTA’s executive director. “We will follow local and facility guidelines in place at the time of our event and if we feel it’s necessary, may add additional precautions.” No decision has been made yet about a virtual component.
Shawanna Meeks of Meeks Me Smile exhibited her handmade handbags at the Strawberry Swing craft fair in Kansas City.
Photo courtesy of Amy Barickman.
Addressing safety concerns
Safety is at the top of everyone’s to-do list and show organizers will follow whatever guidelines are mandated by authorities. For instance, Quilt Market’s Ruggiero says that by late June, mask requirements at George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston were lifted, but the group will have distancing in classrooms.
Craftcation: Business and Makers Conference, held at a Ventura, Calif., beach-front hotel, is almost the anthesis of Covid-induced social distancing rules, with some 450 to 500 people working elbow-to-elbow in packed classrooms, sharing tools and hugs, and gathering for meals. The five-day event was postponed in 2020 and 2021, but co-founder Nicole Stevenson, who also runs six Patchwork shows in California (two of them were in-person in June), is determined to resume Craftcation in April 2022, with safety in mind.
One idea is to have color-coded badges that “show one’s comfort level.” For instance, red might mean don’t come close; yellow would shout yeah, you can come close, but no hugging; and green would be bring it on. “This way people can express their (comfort level) without being put in an uncomfortable situation,” Stevenson explains.
“We get a lot of introverts, and this might be a good way to show their comfort with being touched or not. I wish I had thought of this years ago.”
Craftcation already holds several classes outside and may expand those offerings. Individual bottles of hand sanitizer are already bought for goodie bags, and Stevenson is considering giving everyone his or her own scissors. “We want to do everything we can to make people comfortable.” She is contemplating whether to ask for proof of vaccination or requiring masks in indoor settings, but she notes that April 2022 is “still far away and we don’t know what the situation will look like then.”
Meanwhile, she, like many others, is “feeling very optimistic, which is a nice change from feeling not optimistic.”
Some Aspects of Virtual Shows Embraced
Virtual shows were deemed successful, according to most reports, despite an often steep learning curve. The virtual model brought in those who would otherwise not attend because of the expense or travel difficulties. Also, the 24/7 access to workshops, seminars, and dedicated vendor time slots allowed attendees to “see” more than they might have in person, and to do it on their own schedules, and teachers could reach more students.
For instance, Amy Barickman, who attends shows as a teacher, vendor, or both, has “fully embraced the (virtual) technology and the opportunity to reach beyond the in-person event.” Students in her Vintage Made Modern courses, for example, have a “front row” seat to see, on screen, the opalescence and detail of a mother-of-pearl button.
In virtual sewing classes, students could use their own machines and tools, a perk “that cannot be overstated,” adds Amy Veneziano, of Washington’s Sewing & Stitchery Expo.
Virtual shows are sometimes at the mercy of technology glitches, and computer fatigue is different – but no less exhausting — than walking a show floor. “I was not prepared for how taxing screen time would be,” says Veneziano. “At Expo I bet I walked 25,000 miles. I think it was harder to sit. At events, you get great energy from the audience; you see people having fun, or you get to help them directly. You interact with people. (Virtual) is a different kind of experience.
“The pre-work to get everyone ready was significant,” Veneziano adds. “We had to make sure everyone was prepared.” This included finessing technical glitches, setting up “drop-in” times for camera and microphone checks, getting class kits or supplies to students, or making sure they have the necessary supplies, and more.
“It was such a learning experience,” she says. “But given all the uncertainties, I think we did a lot right.”
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