Dear Lord, What Did I Learn From Doing Craft Shows?
“Dear Lord, what was the purpose of doing all those craft shows? What did I even learn?” is a question I’ve written in my journal and pondered for over 20 years. Have you ever wondered why you had to experience something that seemed unfruitful at the time? I can look back at almost all my life experiences and see the Lord’s hand. Everything I’ve done before fits into what I’m doing now. However, I could never see how doing years of craft shows helped me. It wasn’t until recently that I began to enjoy the fruit of all the hours and hours of labor I expended back then.
Craft Shows in the Late 90s
In the late 90s, you couldn’t buy items that looked hand-crafted at your local Walmart. The wreaths and homespun signs you see in the big stores today are mostly overseas versions of hand-crafted items popularized by American folk artists. Before Hobby Lobby carried the gorgeous home decor stuff you see nowadays, the craft show was king, and the place where one went to buy handmade home decor, or to gather inspiration.
It was 1997, and I had just come home to be with my beautiful two-year-old. Two weeks later, I found out I was pregnant with my second child. We were flat-broke-busted, and neither me nor my husband had any idea how we were going to pay our bills. Suddenly I had this idea, which I thought came from the Lord. “I know,” I said, “I’ll paint flower pots and sell them.”
About 10 years prior to my “idea,” my future mother-in-law and I took an acrylic painting class. In the late 80s, most people decorated in Country Style. Geese, teddy bears, and chickens reigned. It was like Farmhouse Style- just a little bit tackier, homespun, and definitely more colorful. I still love many of the elements of Country Style! Anyway, we learned to paint wood cutouts of farm animals with acrylic paints over the course of several weeks. My mother-in-law went on a sweat-shirt-painting tangent. Every woman I knew had an elaborately hand painted Christmas sweatshirt. I didn’t paint anything after that class, until I got that crazy idea (smile) ten years later.
I painted a few pots, and took them to Buds N’ Blooms, a local plant nursery. The men who owned the store were very kind to me. They took all of my pots, bird houses, and yard signs, and displayed them all around the nursery. They charged me a small consignment fee, and gave me a check every month when I dropped off new stuff. Bill was the owner I dealt with. I will never forget how kind and encouraging he was to me.
Moving on to Craft Shows
Encouraged by the money I earned from Buds N’ Blooms, I decided to try selling my items at craft shows. The process was cumbersome back then. You had to get a business license, wait for the show application to come in the mail, then submit the application along with some photos of your work. All fees had to be paid up front, and would not be refunded, come rain or shine. We bought a craft tent (with sides), tables, and a cash box. My mother-in-law helped me make a tablecloth with a gathered skirt for my largest craft table. That was one HUGE gathering string, and tons of fabric yardage.
The preparation began months before a show. My husband would cut and build the wooden birdhouses and signs, and I would paint everything. As time went on, I painted flower pots, galvanized buckets, watering cans, key holders, plaques, and mailboxes. Mailboxes were my biggest money makers. They also generated a lot of custom orders and repeat business.
Lesson #1 Only Hard Work Makes Money
Craft shows were generally either feast or famine. Most were more famine than not, once the materials, labor, and show fees were factored into the equation. One of the main problems for our young family was time. I could never paint enough stuff. After a show, I would come home with custom orders that required more intricate painting than my regular patterns. I painted several custom mailboxes with NASCAR race cars (like Jeff Gordon’s) on them. Imagine painting a NASCAR race car, and all those little sponsor stickers, on both sides of a mailbox. One thing I’ve learned from craft shows, eBay sales, babysitting, and all my other side hustles is this: There is no easy way to make money. There might be EASIER ways, but in my experience, only hard work makes money. If you have an untaxing way to make money now, it’s because of all the hard work you did in the past.
Lesson #2 The Excitement Comes After the Hard Work is Done
Ah, the morning of the craft show was amazing. There’s no excitement like craft show excitement! We arrived at our spot (we’d hope we weren’t in a hole, or on a slope), and set up the tent and tables in an hours-long process. All the work was done, and it was time to take our place among the other crafters and lovingly display the fruits our work! I deliberated over every price tag, arrangement and angle. I drank in the praise, and choked on the criticism of passers by. My favorite memory is of the typical craft show man and wife. She would say, “That’s so cute.” Then he would say, “I can make one of those.” Then they would walk away. The hard working crafter would say, “Sigh.” But, my little heart pounded with joy when I made a sale. There’s no feeling quite like making money from something you’ve put your money, effort, and soul into.
Lesson #3 Appearances Mean Nothing
Another valuable lesson I learned was, appearances mean nothing, or, you can’t judge a book by its cover. Have you ever went to someone’s house, and been surprised by the disconnect between the house and the person? Maybe the house was decorated way beyond what you expected, or maybe your put-together friend was a terrible housekeeper.
I’ve had similar experiences at craft shows. One time my husband and I were doing “The Catface Turpentine Festival” (I’m not joking about the name) in a town several hours from our house. There were lots of crafters, but no buyers. The only guy getting any sales was doing airbrushed license plates. My husband and I bought one of those at Carowinds, when we began dating in 1987. Ten years later, airbrushing was still a thing. We had our daughter’s softball helmet airbrushed in the mid 2000s, so I guess airbrush painting never went out of style completely.
After several hundred people walked by, made comments, but bought nothing, I was discouraged. This lady came up to our tent, loaded with children, looking like she didn’t have two cents to rub together. I knew that look, because that was how I looked at times. I rolled my eyes, and whispered to my husband that she probably wasn’t going to purchase anything. To my surprise , she bought a $26 sign. That was my only sale of the day. She was so friendly and complimentary that I was sorely ashamed of myself when she left. I’ve never forgotten that lesson, and always expect people to surprise me these days.
Lesson #4 Slow Down and Think Before You Get Overwhelmed
Before I became pregnant with our third child, we stopped doing craft shows and began to look for other ways to supplement my husband’s income. I knew that craft shows were too expensive to justify the return we were getting. I probably would have continued anyway, but my husband wanted to stop. He didn’t really like building birdhouses, and didn’t think we were making enough money to justify the expenditures required. In retrospect, I should have given myself more time between shows, and only done a few shows per year (I’ve never been good at pacing myself). Instead, I ran around, frantically painting and doing Podunk craft shows I should have avoided.
Lesson #5 The Lord Doesn’t Waste Anything
For a long time I thought my craft show experience was all pain and no gain. I have painted many things for my home, but I could’ve done that without doing craft shows. The value of those hours of painting hit me two weeks ago. I was painting a DIY Chocolate Bunny Welcome Sign when I realized how much easier it was for me to paint the sign, since I had painted scads and scads of signs already. Centering the letters and other components was second nature, because of my past experience. After that, I posted a Hand Painted Easter Egg Garden, and guest posted DIY Chocolate Bunny Plant Pokes on flusterbuster.com. Without craft shows, I would be looking for tutorials instead of writing them. Incidentally, I do read and reference other bloggers’ tutorials. There’s always something new to learn or be inspired by!
Applying Lesson #4 to My Life Right Now
Right now I’m trying to apply a healthy dose of lesson #4 to my life. I began selling dishes in my eBay store, The Little Dish Cottage, exactly one year ago. It became an addiction. If you want to see pictures of my mess read How I’m Taking Back My Home in 2019. Before I knew it, I had over 300 pieces in my house. All of our Friday night dates ended at Goodwill, and my little cottage was filled to the brim with dishware. Yesterday, I ended all of my listings except two, and took all the items under $10 to Goodwill. The rest will be dusted, organized, and relisted once I’ve completely gained control of my home. My husband suggested that I renew my eBay store subscription for $5.99 per month, which gives me 100 free listings, instead of paying around $20 per month for 250 free listings.
I wasn’t losing financially by getting rid of the coffee cups and other brick-a-brack I bought in my learning phase. It would have cost me more in the long run to pay more listing fees while waiting for those smaller items to sell. As humans, we hang on to things that aren’t profitable because we can’t get past the money we’ve invested, or the pride we might have to sacrifice in order to make things right again. We tell ourselves that we’re going to fix that broken item, or lose weight and fit in those 3 boxes of size 4 jeans. Let me tell you, It felt so good to drive away after that last haul was delivered to Goodwill!
The thing that turned the tide for me was our hotel receptionist in Myrtle Beach last month. She had recently lost her husband, and wanted to get rid of all the dishes (and other stuff) she had collected over the years. However, she wanted to sell them for more than what I, or anyone else, would be willing to pay. She did not want to donate them, and did not want to deal with selling them piece by piece on eBay. She couldn’t get over the money she had invested in her collections. I told her I would pray for the right buyer. I left with the conviction that I didn’t ever want to be imprisoned by stuff that was bringing me sadness rather than joy.
Now I get to clean, organize, and reboot. This time I will pace myself, and cherry-pick only the best items from thrift stores. I will allow myself a certain amount of items, and stay under that number before I buy more stock. My advice to anyone in a similar situation: Don’t be afraid to let stuff go and start over. Also, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. I completely stopped doing craft shows, when I should’ve just done them smarter. I very nearly stopped selling dishes altogether, because I was so overwhelmed with the clutter. Get rid of the thing that’s bothering you, without mercy! But don’t get rid of the part you love. Reinvent your passion with more of what you love, and a whole lot less of what you don’t.
If you’ve learned lessons from craft shows or something similar, I’d love to hear your feedback.
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