Wednesday, 29 May 2013

rag market: a lesson to consider before booking a stand

imagine turfing through granny's attic if granny is a well-heeled, bohemian collector of textiles. mrs elizabeth baer's very last talent for textiles 'rag market', dedicated to clearing clutter and selling ancient fabriccy goodness at un-characteristically low prices, promised to be such a treat.... 

yards of faded ticking. a 19th c soldier's crimson waistcoat. 19th century hand crocheted lace. vintage Chanel shoes anyone? 

ye-ssss, indeedy!

octogenarian great grandmother 'Buff' Baer has been sourcing and selling French chateau cast-offs (hemp sheets, miles of brocade curtains, etc) to 'film set people', smart Americans and such like for decades. i myself know her well thru our mutual love of soul-ful fabric, plus  some experience upholstering for her antique Napoleonic French tub armchairs in porrige-y textured hemp grain sacks.

t4t rag market = fabriccy treats piled high & sold cheap. hooray! so... 

although i have no antique trimmings to get shut of, i bravely decided to take a stand (long bench in wine vault cellars) to show off my lovely lampshades. surely handcrafted lampshades covered in vintage embroidered tableware would sell like hot cakes?


well, no. it turns out that t4t people are deeply into 
1. buying to sell on 
2. making things 
3. being fabric squirrels 
indeed, while surrounded by tables piled high with heavenly vintage and antique textiles like these…

…they were not going to buy a handcrafted lampshade. at all. not even a deliberately show-stopping liberty tana lawn one like this…

hey, you live and learn. 

donning my rosy tinted specs (as advocated by the wise dottie angel) here are five things a crafty hand-maker should consider before hastily booking a fair:

1. never persuaded by flattery... a fair organiser ONLY wants you for your booking fee. 
2. truthfully ask yourself... will a curious stranger really spend money on the spot for your wares? 
3. do calculate the hours (days!) you will spend preparing your wares to be 'show worthy', packing them lovingly into your car,
unpacking them again and then being there ALL DAY to guard them from harsh pokes, while your little family cheer you on from home hoping you'll come back with an empty car and lots of cash.
4. do dream up the very best place your wares can be shown off and to exactly the right new customers, and then ask yourself: have you really have found your ideal fair? (indeedy, those precious wares may well be best sold online which enables much musing for your own lovely customers and far less standing around for you.)
5. if you really must book a stand, take: stacks of business cards; a notebook and pencil to jot down emails and phone numbers; a warm cardi; favourite shoes; and a flask of hot tea (especially important if the venue is a dank Georgian wine vault). 

anyway, with rosy-tinted specs still pushed firmly up my nose, it wasn't a wasted day. lots of very lovely ladies took my business cards and many even gave me their email addresses so i can tell them about my little lampshade classes. i also met some lovely folks including Gabi Tubbs (stylist, art director and editor whose name is a regular in Country Living magazine and such like); and Dixie Nichols, of very useful website handmade lives. i could gush, but here's 'five words' instead: 
1. kindness  2. wisdom  3. generosity  4. advice  5. sharing
thank you.

and here are some things that caught my eye… 

the lovely Liz van Hasselt who runs the Vintage Bazaar (next stop, praps?)
a lost soul
a clue to the goings on inside the 1500ad Masons Hall, in Bradford on Avon
another clue
(these images are admittedly ropey, but i also learnt that my snazzy new phone's camera needs to learn to focus)

and here's something i bought to cheer myself on…

a teeny pre-loved handbag made of grosgrain ribbon that would indeed make a lovely 'make' and i shall bring some ideas along these lines to you soon.

oh, and here's a link to the next Talent for Textiles event.  


  1. Hello lovely, it was super to meet you at the crazy rag market! I think you have made some very valid points and highlighted some interesting observations. Hope to see you somewhere soon... Liz x

  2. hiya,
    I do know that it takes a while to sort out which fairs suit what wares, but please forgive me if I pull you up on one little point. . .

    "1. never persuaded by flattery... a fair organiser ONLY wants you for your booking fee"

    You see, I run a fair here in Dorset (Vintage at the Village Hall).
    I select my stallholders for the suitability and standard of what they sell and I sift thru applications very carefully, gently turning away those whom I don't think would fit the fair.

    Even as a long-standing textile dealer I wouldn't consider my own stock suitable for the buyers at T4T fairs.

    Hope we meet up somewhere in person, I really love the look of your stock and could certainly find a home for the lampshade!
    kindest wishes Elaine

    1. i do think you are right, Elaine, and perhaps my point is more of a sweeping generalisation than a whole truth. indeed, myself and Mrs B did discuss my wares before the rag market and we both felt they would go down well... and were both surprised when they didn't. i only realised how finely judged one has to be when having the chance to see and hear my potential buyers looking, loving... then passing on.

      that said, as a hand-maker i do get rather a lot of pressure from fair organisers to book a stall, and have learnt the hard way to make discerning choices... time is precious and fairs are hard work!

      one day i do hope we meet up. if i get to Dorset i'll come and find you. thanks Elaine x

  3. It was great to meet you too, Liz. It was a lovely day indeed, despite poor sales for me, as I met some very lovely and interesting folks. i'm sure we'll meet again soon as the next Vintage Bazaar (Frome) is penned into my calendar. I'll come and find you x


oo yes... do let me know what you think. i'll endeavour to write back to each and every one :-)