How to Make Money at Craft Fairs — and How Not To.

glitter ornaments

I answered the siren’s call of riches, fame and fortune that is the craft fair circuit this past November in a fair that took place up in Maine. It was a pre-Christmas fair, so I made crochet ornaments. I’ve done plenty of experimenting with how to sell crafts for starvation wages, so I thought I’d give a liveable wage a try.

crochet ornaments

I can make these in my sleep now. I estimated that I made over 70 at the time of the show, and then another 40 for a show I did after that, plus custom orders.

The pattern was one that I recreated from a photo of crochet ornaments I made previously while the pattern was still available online. The original pattern came down, meaning that I’m probably one of the few left who can still make these.

The Craft Fair Hustle Ain’t For the Faint of Heart

Craft Fair doodle

The craft fair was a pretty decent size, filling an entire high school gym with more vendors in another room and lining the halls. We saw lots of foot traffic too, with a few thousand estimated visitors. Unfortunately, “visiting” is about all most of them did with my stall.

I was sharing a table with my mother, and she had made three foot tall light up angels out of deco mesh and tomato cages. I think that part of my problem was that her display was so big that it dwarfed mine. Hers was a big ticket item, with lots of admirers but relatively few buyers, so most folks just did a drive by with some appreciative nods without ever getting close enough to the table to see my ornaments.


As you can see, my display was also pretty cluttered. To really see my ornaments, you would have had to walk up and stand over my wreath displays. I had thought that the wreaths would add some larger ticket items that might help offset the booth costs, as well as diversifying what I was offering. Turns out, the only damn one that sold was the one on the bottom left, that glittering pinecone monstrosity. And thank God it did sell, or I think I would have left the stupid thing in the parking lot. Only the Good Lord knows why I thought it would be a good idea to dip pinecones in a glitter bath and hot glue them to a flat wire wreath form, but it was not a good idea, and I still have that glitter in my apartment.

Crochet Ornaments for Sale, Glitter not Included

I thought it was a good idea to diversify my offerings up and down in price point–the wreaths as a higher ticket item, and personalized, glittered ornaments for a cheaper option. What I did was buy a few small, plastic bottles with very fine tips that could be used to write names in glue. Sprinkle some glitter on top of that and viola, a personalized gift that I feel fine letting go for five bucks a pop.

glitter ornaments
This is me glittering up the place
glitter mouth
And this is me getting glitter in my mouth

At the end of the day, the only way I sold any was to actually call out to people passing by and advertise my “Personalized glitter ornaments, just $5 each!!” Since practically no one was buying, I figured that the cheaper option was my only chance of selling anything at all.

I noticed something about the crowd after a little while. I had thought that I would be popular with parents of young children, since I was offering “Baby’s First” personalized keepsake crochet ornaments, with the addition of some ribbon, a tiny pink or blue clothespin, and some wooden tags. I made an extra effort to call out to parents I saw with strollers, young kids, or babies strapped to their fronts. What I found, however, is that these people were just struggling to get through the crowds without getting their kid stepped on, and the last thing they gave a shit about was my crochet ornaments.

babys first crochet ornament
Pictured: the last thing my customers cared about at the moment

I made a handful of sales, but if I hadn’t been splitting the booth fee with my mother (and sold a handful of glitter ornaments to my aunt for her cats,) I would have lost my shirt.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks later, and I’m at a new craft fair closer to home. This one was set up at Villanova University, where my husband works, and had nowhere near the foot traffic that the big gymnasium show had, but you know what? I made over double the amount of sales.

Villanova craft fair

crochet ornaments displayThere were only a few key differences in my  new craft fair approach. I moved my wreaths so that you didn’t have to lean over them to see my ornaments. I was still calling out to customers as they passed by, without all the yelling in the much more relaxed scene. As you can see, I also pared down my display quite a bit.

There was one more thing I changed that made a huge difference to sales. This time I advertised “Crochet ornaments only $10, personalization is free!” And, folks, you would not believe how jazzed people were for the free personalization. It had always been built into the cost of the ornament, but “free” sold.

That’s what I learned from my first big show since the launch of this blog. Tell me in the comments what weird tricks you found to keep your sales up!


How To Sell Crafts… at Starvation Wages!

How Not To Sell Your Crafts

So, I had sixteen-some odd hours to burn (haha, no I didn’t, what is wrong with me) and three balls of cotton bedspread thread and a book of vintage lace patterns and I thought, you know what I don’t have? A doily over a foot in diameter. So, now I do. See above.

I finished this piece one hour before I was supposed to be meeting a woman who owned a local gift shop to talk about the possibility of taking some of my pieces on consignment to sell for me, so I blocked it on our mattress and got dressed while Chris ran over it with a hair dryer. (Love that man.)

Trying to Sell Your Crafts at the Gift Shop

I lovingly unpinned it, photographed it for posterity, attempted to get it to delicately fold flat in my bag, gave up and squashed it into a weird pizza slice shape and I was off.

When I finally met the owner, she was sitting behind the counter buried under a pile of sticky two-year-old armed only with a portable DVD player blasting Winnie the Pooh and a glass of red zinfandel, and I smiled, because I’ve been there. Oh, have I been there.

(Except for the Red Zin. My niece is like a grabby little ferret and she’d immediately sense that the red stuff in the glass is the only thing in the whole kitchen that she can’t drink. She would immediately make it her life’s mission to attempt to consume it, and I’d have to explain to her irate mother why her baby smells like she’s been knocking back cocktails at a country club social. That, and I’m more of a Moscato kind of girl. Actually, if they could just make apple juice alcoholic, I’d probably drink that. I’m more of a fan of the idea of booze than the taste of it.)

red zinfandel pouring into a glass
Admittedly, I have a hard time explaining to her why it’s any different from her sippy cup grape juice. “Uh, it’s pretty much grape juice but… older? They let it go bad in a barrel first or something? Listen, you’re two years old and I have a bachelor’s degree, so sit down and watch your Dora the Explorer DVD.”

The Offer

I laid out my precious wares (on a pile of old receipts and DVD cases,) told her a bit about the three-day-long stint that went into making it, and stood back, smiling hopefully. The kid responded by grabbing the new doily and chewing on it. Ah, a lesser woman than I may have protested, but this is not the first time my lacework has had its seams tested between the gums of a toddler. Chew away, kid, I wove those ends in like a stitch wizard. Instead, I say, “Oh, look, he already likes them!”

She smiles, ponders them a moment, and offers $40. That’s a decent chunk of money, but remember the thing I said at the beginning about the doily taking me sixteen hours to complete? That price would net me about $2 an hour.



Calculate Dollar per Hour When You Sell Your Crafts

Afterwards, the store owner told me that “crafters never, ever get paid the amount of time that they put into it.” She’s not lying. I count as one of the lowest points of my life the time that I got haggled down from $2 to $1 on a beautiful hand made lace wash cloth set. I found myself hoping that my dried-up, over-mascara’ed bargain hunter managed to choke on it as I gave that dollar to the hot dog guy so I could have something to chew on while I wept over the mustard and re-thought my life plan.

Les Mesirables getting her hair cut
My new life plan looked something like this.

So, just so we’re clear, I can make more money rolling silverware or delivering pizzas than I can making doilies and sell crafts to that particular gift shop.

At first I thought I just had a PR problem, and that people didn’t think my doilies were as cool as I did.

Doily wearing a YOLO chain and smoking a cigarette

I thought that I was a relic of a forgotten age, without having actually been born in that forgotten age. But there are still people who thinks my doilies are really cool. I ended up mounting it on a matte board and displaying it on my wall. I get compliments on that piece all the time. But who has $160 to spend on a doily? If you sell your crafts, you may know of markets where there are folks who do have that type of money, and would be willing to spend it on this. At the time this happened, I did not have access to those markets. I didn’t know how to find them, I didn’t live near them, and I didn’t have time to create enough stock to appeal to them.

The Real Problem

I didn’t know my market before I started making product. I was never going to get an amount of money that would make selling that doily worth it. The reason was twofold, by the way. Even if she had offered me that kind of money, I would likely have hesitated to take it. I was too attached to the project, because I had spent too much time with it. I created it in colors that I loved, and I secretly wanted to keep it. There’s no shame in loving your own crafts. It’s really natural to get attached to something you spend so much time with. That’s why, when I make things to sell now, I make things that take little time. I make things that I can duplicate easily, not one-in-a-million pieces of art. That’s the key to sell your crafts.