Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Kids' Craft Fair Take Five

For the fifth time (in seven years), the girls participated in the Kids' Craft Fair and I will say this: what a difference those seven years make. 

If you've been reading this blog awhile, you might be familiar with this saga that is the Kid's Craft Fair; feel free to skip the next few paras. But if you're new-ish here - and feel inclined to catch up on some backstory - you can read about our previous fairs here, here, here and here.  For everyone else, here's a quick summary: every August, our county libraries host a craft fair and kids 16 years old and younger can register a table to sell stuff. Their inventory must be handmade by them (not their parents), must be priced at $2 or less and cannot be food or services (like hair-braiding, face-painting, etc.). 

When my girls were younger, participating vs. not participating in this craft fair was a tough call. Sure, it was a good learning experience. But more for the parent hand-holding the children than the children themselves as independent entrepreneurs. There was also the risk of taking it too seriously and wasting away precious summer days mass-crafting for a two-hour event at which one might discover the hard way that project X about which one had been so passionate, was actually completely unmarketable. 

Summary: Risk management. Opportunity cost. Market testing. And all the practical repercussions thereof.

Those were the learning points we gleaned from our early craft fair experiences. We took it in stride as best we could. "The fun is in the making," we told ourselves. Never mind that we had boxes of leftover barrette supplies, or handmade notebooks, or the other Sad Surpluses with neither home nor use. "Next year," we resolved, "we will sell something more fun."

And so the girls diversified. While also growing older - and consequently more observant.  They noticed that their main clientele were kids, and that kids liked toys more than they liked decorative accessories. They also noticed that their secondary clientele were parents and grandparents of those kids, who sometimes bought items for other kids. And they noticed that half the kids who bought stuff at the fair were boys. Which made them realize that if they made an overly gender-specific item to sell, they'd be alienating a big part of their potential market. 

After some trial-and-error, we eventually found something to make and sell that fit those criteria: ribbon twirling sticks, or ribbon wands.

So for the past three fairs, we've made and sold them, with much commercial success. They're not a fast make, but easy enough to mass-produce over a leisurely summer. We started with a bunch of pre-cut dowels (we got ours here)

which we prettied up with acrylic paint and stood up to dry. We made our drying stand from random sections of two-by-four into which we drilled holes.

A multitude of colors on the sticks,

to match their ribbons. We get our ribbons in Singapore, where they can be bought by the 20'-30' roll in crazy shades (and rainbow) but we've also found them on Etsy here in the US.

So twirling ribbons became our mainstay - enjoyable to mass-produce, highly successful in generating revenue and fun to demo on the day itself.

For variety, however, the girls have typically introduced a second (sometimes third) item at each craft fair thereafter. One year it was clay charms. After that, it was Harry Potter wands made from hot glue and chopsticks. This year, the girls made scrunchies. 

It's funny: a decade ago, this would've been absolutely taboo. Not so in 2019. Scrunchies are back and all over crafty blogland. As they should be, because they are just about the easiest things to make, and terrific scrapbusters, at that.

There are so many ways to make scrunchies. I've used this method for years because I like having zero visible stitches on the RS of the finished scrunchie. Then Emily found a video tutorial to make them using hair ties instead of elastic. It's a little fiddlier in the early steps because you're sewing around the circular band to enclose it in fabric, but it saves you the effort of measuring lengths of strip elastic and sewing their ends together to make the stretchy loop. Either way, the construction involves sewing only straight seams on rectangles of fabric. Easy enough that even Kate (who's now eleven) was able to run them off the sewing machine all by herself.

So twirling ribbon sticks and scrunchies for Craft Fair 2019.

The best part, the girls tell me, was not the ease of making these two projects; there were two other things which really got them giddy-headed. One was looting through my stash and picking fabrics, imagining what might appeal to kids and/or their parents. 

"Solids," I suggested sagely in the early stages of planning. "People like solids with an expensive feel. Velvet, a nice thick knit, something classy and neutral that's easy to match most outfits."


The fun prints were the first to go. The polka dots, the pretty florals. Practically snapped up, as it happened. Nobody cared about the actual fabric, whether it was quilting cotton or velour or whatever.  Bright, happy hues and pop designs ruled the day, while the sophisticated earth tones and classic blacks and navys - were the last left on our display line.

What did I know, apparently.

Now, that's not to say that we were stuck with a couple of pathetic colorless scrunchies long after closing time. All sold out long before the twirling ribbons did, and certainly a good while before Trading Time. And not just because we didn't use hideous prints to start with (ahem - they were from Mother's Stash, and Mother likes to believe she does not own eyesores). We think the weather helped: it was a hot day and maybe people looked favorably on anything that would keep hair off their necks. But mainly we suspect scrunchies are those practical items that magically appeal to various ages; so long as one has the minimum quota of hair, one could potentially find use for a scrunchie. 

So to the girls' delight, people stopped by all morning and picked their favorites off the line: children, parents, even the librarian organizers themselves. Now, is that validation of the end of Scrunchie Stigma Season or what?

The second thing about which the girls were beyond excited was setting up their sales display. At our first fairs, we simply threw together a table and random price signs. Over the years, the girls have made some interesting changes to our table layout to make things more visible and accessible to customers. Tablecloths, fabric-covered boxes to create displays of different heights, for instance. I've mostly sat back to let them run with their ideas, partly because it can get exhausting to brainstorm with wee ones, but mostly because this is their craft fair and the older they get, the more of it they are able to own. And the more of it they own, the more their successes feel like true learning points.

For the scrunchies this year, the girls made simple paper tags and strung up some cord, clothesline-style,

between our easel and the basket that held our surplus stock of twirling ribbon sticks.

We drew and colored the price signs (the scrunchie drawings were clip art we printed off the internet),

and our annual poster.

Even Trading Time turned out to be a much smoother experience this year. For the unfamiliar, here's how that works. The last 15 minutes of the craft fair were designated Trading Time, during which vendors could swop their unsold inventory with those of other vendors so long as both sides were agreeable. These exchanges weren't always fair ones, value-wise, but in the eyes of children, My Handmade Stuff is as good as Your Handmade Stuff and we've learned to roll with it. 

Some of the lessons we've learned just from Trading Time alone are surprisingly nuanced. The intrinsic value of handmade, for instance, is often calibrated on the more visible scales of time spent, material cost and workmanship, but also on other, more inherent qualities which are much harder to name. Another lesson was about kindness to strangers, and extending grace to a child brave enough to offer their masterpiece, no matter how debatable its virtues, in exchange for another. A third lesson was in setting boundaries and managing expectations so that we could say yes to some trades and no to others and be at peace with our consciences.

And I'm both thrilled and a little sad that for each subsequent fair, I do less and less while the girls themselves do more and more. I do not mean this in arrogance; it is simply one of many other visible signs of the passing of time, of children growing into their courage and abilities, of the bittersweet pride (if I may) in letting go. This year was the first time the fair felt like their venture, not theirs-and-mom's. They budgeted for, planned and made their inventory, having consulted records from previous years' sales. They publicized the Fair among their friends and neighbors, some of whom biked over on the day itself to help man the table and provide company. They even enforced a uniform of sorts (and bossily made me wear one, too). 

I helped draw the poster and drive the car to get us to the fairground, but mostly I sat in the shade and watched the morning unfold. And took pictures, of course. It felt like a long time since I'd been behind the lens.

After the fair, we headed to a restaurant for lunch and our traditional post-mortem of the day. Did we sell out? Yes, but that wasn't the point. Did we sink a vast majority of our summer to make this happen? Nope - the girls painted and sewed intermittently over two to three weeks, max. Did we learn new skills and other things during? Well, for one, Kate and Jenna independently worked the sewing machine for hours on end without me even being in the room, so on that account alone, yes. Did we get to do something creative and enjoyable together before our summer fractured into high school sports seasons and back-to-school orientations and band lessons? Yes. 

And next summer, time permitting, we will do it all over again. 

Or they will. Since, y'know, it's their show now :)


  1. Way to go, girls! 👏🏻 I suppose they dyed their own shirts, too?

  2. These young women have great imagination, determination and drive. Well done to them.

    P.S. Were the twirling sticks and scrunchies popular with the boys?

    1. Yes! The twirling sticks, especially so. Toddler, preschool and elementary age girls and boys alike bought them.
      Some scrunchies were sold to male humans, but whether for their own use or to become gifts, we never found out.

  3. I'm tearing up. What a beautiful essay and reflection.

    (The only thing missing is a picture of you in the tie-die uniform!)

  4. SWEET! And bittersweet...
    Congratulations to your girls on another successful craft fair!

  5. I wish my town had something like this, including the ground rules of handmade-by-kids. My daughter would love it. I've tried to encourage her to put up an Etsy shop but it's not the same. Older kid up and got a job at a corner bakeshop, so he's learning financial literacy first-hand. (Did no prompting at all, he first did it to help out a friend but goes diligently for his 6 am Sundays shift!) Btw, it's crazy how big they've gotten!

    1. Reeni, we feel lucky that our county libraries have this fair! My oldest also has an Etsy shop, which is a different kind of fun and gratification, but she (and my other girls) really enjoy the face-to-face seller experience. My middle loves anything baking and would love a job at the bakeshop, so I envy your son's opportunity at his!

  6. Your girls are just lovely and growing up to be such bright, imaginative women. How lucky you are! Great job, Mom.

  7. I really love this! What a great learning experience. I was wondering if you had the actual rules the organizers put out? I would be interested in looking at them. That would be really great to start where I live!

    1. Hi Misty, unfortunately, I don't have the official rules. But we've done this fair enough times that perhaps what follows from my memory will be a good enough starting point. Each summer, the libraries in our county launch a summer program for the kids, which includes reading logs, STEM activities and this craft fair for kids. Each library in the county hosts its own fair on different days in late summer, and anyone can sign up for one or all of the fairs (our family just does one, and some families do, traveling to the different libraries to set up shop).
      Families can sign up as soon as the summer program launches in June - and spend the next two months getting their inventory made for the actual event in early August.
      It's free to register, and families provide their own furniture, umbrellas, gazebos, signs, and so on. Families decide on their own prices for their inventory and provide change for the transactions. The fair runs from 11 am to 1 pm, rain or shine. In inclement weather, the fair is held indoors in the library basement but otherwise, a section of the outdoor library carpark is cordoned off and families set up their tables there.

      The libraries publicize this fair the same way they do all other library events, but families are free to spread the word among friends and family at their discretion.

      Anything sold at the fair must be handmade by the kids, priced at $2 or less, cannot be food (because allergies) and cannot be services offered (so no hair-braiding, face-painting, and so on). Also, nothing that may be interpreted as a weapon, although I've seen marshmallow blasters in the past.

      At 1245 pm, the organizers come around and announce the start of Trading Time. There are no rules during Trading Time, except that all trades must be mutually agreed by both parties. At 1 pm, the organizers announce the end of the craft fair, and families pack up and go home. Nobody lingers, typically, because it's past lunchtime for many of the younger kids, and on especially sunny days, we're usually pretty ready to be done.

      Hope this helps!

  8. Dear LiEr, I first found your blog when I was looking for scrunchie instructions, because shops didn't seem to sell scrunchies any more. So I am delighted to find they are back on trend! Lovely too to see your daughters growing up, thank you for sharing :-)

  9. Have been following and enjoying your blogs for a long time and this post made me quite moist eyed at how the girls have matured , they almost feel like my girls! It's been great watching them over the years, all credit to you, their Mum, you've done great xx

  10. Oh, please tell us more about their Trading Time this year! I always love to hear about it!

  11. Congratulations on another successful event! The girls look so grown up. :)

  12. While I was wiping away the happy mom tears reading this, I can add another thing they get out of this: a sense of community with other people who make things (particularly the trading time experience) and people who like buying things that are handmade. These are people who make stuff, this is what they make, this what they like AND MOSTLY talking to them and expanding your circle one more layer. Someone will remember someone later, at school or the library or years from now, and the connections make the world better.

    1. SJ Kurtz: Yes, community. And the sense that we who handmake in a world of ready-to-buy are not as few as we thought :)

  13. Such amazing young entrepreneurs! My kids plan to sew some scrunchies after seeing this post.


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