A note from Nicole:
Five years ago Delilah and I got an email from a man named Eric who was the Creative Economy Specialist for the City of Ventura.
“We’d love to have you do a Patchwork Show in Ventura and would be willing to assist with resources! Please let me know whom to contact.”
Eric invited to us to Ventura so he could show us around and we kept putting him off thinking that we couldn’t take time away from our to-do lists of things that ‘had’ to be done for something that may or may not end up working out. We weren’t super interested in bringing Patchwork to Ventura but Eric was persistent and eventually we agreed, considering it a mini-vacation and planning to use our time wisely on the drive to brainstorm the next big step for our business. At that time we were running several Patchwork Shows in various locations and juggling our own individual businesses. Dear Handmade Life as it is now with a blog, online workshops, shop, podcast etc. didn’t exist yet.
Horrible Southern California traffic turned our one-hour drive into a three-hour brainstorming session and by the time we got to Ventura we knew what our next big step would be: a conference for makers and creative business owners with hands-on craft workshops, business classes and social activities. It was something we’d thought about before but it never seemed like the right time and we weren’t sure how to get started. By the time we walked into our meeting with Eric we not only had a mini-business plan scrawled on notebook paper, AND a name for our newest venture: Craftcation, but we also had one goal: to get Eric just as excited as we were about Craftcation.
We confidently pitched Craftcation to Eric, detailing the events, workshops and activities as if we’d spent months hammering out every component. Every time he tried to turn the conversation back to bringing Patchwork Show to Ventura we offered solid reasons why Craftcation was a better fit for the city.
Five hours later, we’d not only convinced Eric to help us navigate bringing Craftcation to Ventura but we’d fallen in love with the small unpretentious beach town and knew it was the perfect place for the first Craftcation.
When we got home I totally had this “what the hell are we doing?” moment. Not only had we never planned anything this long or large but I had never even been to a conference. I had no idea what a conference was supposed to be like. At the time I felt like this was a detriment but after the first Craftcation I realized that since I didn’t know what a conference was like, I had nothing to emulate or compare it to, so we just jumped in full force and created something that we longed to experience.
Was everything perfect that first time? Absolutely not! From presenters cancelling last minute to power point presentations not being compatible with our A/V equipment to broken ovens in the kitchen where we were cooking dinner for 400 people… A LOT of stuff went wrong. BUT instead of throwing up our hands and saying “oh well, I guess there’s no dinner, or no keynote or no power points” we got creative. We knocked on doors and asked strangers if we could use their ovens. We called in favors from friends and replaced presenters. It was far from perfect but in other ways it was everything we hoped it would be.
The first moment I realized that we had created something that was not only special but desperately needed in our community was when I was in an elevator and an attendee showed me her phone so I could see the text she’d just sent (which I’ve saved for all these years – see the photo below).
Right there in the elevator I got goose bumps and started to cry, in a good way. All the months of figuring out how to do something that we had NO idea how to do, suddenly seemed to come together when I saw how all of it had turned into an actual thing. It was not only making people happy but also helping them do what they love for a living, explore their creativity and build a community of like-minded individuals.
Those were not the only tears I (or Delilah) cried at the first Craftcation. Some were from feeling overwhelmed with the outpouring of gratitude (like when I saw that text), others were from frustration of trying to solve problems that we had no idea how to solve and others were out of sheer exhaustion.
Over the past five years, we’ve streamlined several of the processes that make Craftcation happen. From making sure we give attendees as much knowledge as possible to help them prepare for the conference to having the right planning information on the right spreadsheet to building an outstanding support team (THANK YOU Craftcation staff) etc. – many of the pitfalls from the first few years are in the rear-view mirror. BUT, five years later we’re STILL learning!
This was the first year that we started a private Facebook group for Craftcation attendees (at the suggestion of an attendee ~Thank you-Holly!~ during one of our Periscope sessions). The group has not only been the perfect place to quickly answer questions from attendees and share last-minute conference changes but it has grown into a support network where attendees are giving each other knowledge and encouragement before, during and after the conference.
This was also the first year that we held Craftcation at a different hotel. We moved from the Crowne Plaza and to the Marriott. This meant reconfiguring EVERYTHING related to at-event production that we’d grown accustomed to over four years. We (as well as attendees) missed being able to walk from the hotel to Ventura’s adorable historic downtown and seeing ocean views from our rooms. BUT we gained a larger, updated space, supportive hotel staff and so much more.
Did anything throw us for a loop this year? YES! Even though we spent 10 months planning the conference there were STILL things that didn’t go according to our plan. When you’re dealing with facilitating over 100 workshops and events happening (with up to ten of them happening at one time) for hundreds of people over four days… things are bound to go wrong. BUT… with four Craftcation’s under our belt we were able to deal with them more efficiently than ever before. BIG thanks to my partner Delilah for her strong on the fly problem solving skills!
95% of the feedback we get from the survey we send out to attendees after Craftcation is positive. As much as I LOVE hearing how much attendee’s enjoyed the conference, it’s hard not to concentrate on that 5% for whom things could have been better.
The week after Craftcation, my dad called me. He could tell from the tone of my voice that I wasn’t feeling 100%. When he asked me what was wrong I told him about that 5%.
“5%!!!” he exclaimed, “what about the other 95%, doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
Of course it did! But it was hard for me to stop thinking about the people that I didn’t please. He reminded me of that Ricky Nelson song “Garden Party” – and especially the lyrics, “You can’t please everyone, so you have to please yourself”.
I thought back on those four days… overall did I feel pleased? Did I feel like I did my best? The answer was YES! Could it have been better? Of course, anything can be better. But was there anything I could have done ahead of time to make it better? No. We’re our own worst critics. I’ve been running my own creatives business for nearly 20 years and although my skin has gotten a bit thicker, negative feedback still gets to me. Not every single person is going to like every single thing you do. Not everyone who comes to a craft show is going to buy something from you. Not everyone who reads a blog post you wrote is going to leave a glowing complementary comment. Not everyone is going to buy your online course. What I have learned about negative feedback over these years is that once I get over the hump of not pleasing everyone, it’s time to use that analyze the criticism and use it as a way to improve. I know that no matter how much I improve, 100% of the people aren’t going to be 100% pleased 100% of the time BUT the using the feedback to improve helps me do a better job.
I’ve also learned that celebrating successes is key. As soon as I meet a goal my natural inclination is to immediately move onto the next one. Now, I try to take some time to relish in the completion of the goal before I start on something new. In that spirit, when Craftcation was over I took some time to relish in, internalize and remind myself of that 95% of attendees that had said things like:
“This was my second year. When I went last year, I made my handbags, brought them to the conference to learn about starting my own business. They looked at my products, gave great advice, I took some business classes and I left feeling extremely and confident and excited to take the plunge! I didn’t even know to have a business card last year but this year I came with the experience of having an online shop and beginning to get into stores. I think of Craftcation as my anniversary to starting my business so its exciting to see where I am every year and look back on past notes, etc. I cry at the end of every conference. The energy is amazing and the classes are extremely helpful. I feel comfortable asking questions because I don’t feel judged. It’s an amazing conference and I wish there were more around here like that. Honestly, nothing beats it ;)”
“It was my first time and it was so great! There was something for everyone.”
“Love. Love. Love. First year but won’t be my last… I returned so inspired and full of positive energy and exhausted, but in a good way.”
“I love Craftcation. I would go every year for the rest of my life… One more thing, you guys totally rock and are doing an awesome job. I imagine that trying to balance what everyone wants out of this conference is impossible. We all come from different backgrounds & stages and with different expectations but we all leave feeling satisfied and inspired. Great work!”
“Hands down, the widest variety of activities and loveliest community I’ve encountered in 14 years of attending maker conferences and business events!”
“You guys are the greatest – really appreciate this conference. I learn so much, meet great people and will see you 2017.”
“This was my first Craftcation and it exceeded all of my expectations!!!”
Creating an event like Craftcation involves so many moving parts in the planning and production as well as personalities of the people involved. There are so many variables (many of which you can’t plan for). Throughout every single bit of the process Delilah and I put our all into every bit of it. Which makes me think about that first year and how we jumped in without knowing everything.
I’ve heard people say, “Jump, and the net will appear.” In some ways I agree. After all, that’s what we did that first year. We jumped in and got to work. However, we’d spent years preparing for Craftcation without knowing that Craftcation would ever exist. All the vendors and guests we’d coordinated for dozens of Patchwork Shows, all of our learning we’d done with our individual businesses, the employees we’d managed, the relationships we’d built in our community, the way we’d learned to solve problems quickly… ALL of that was grist for the mill that became Craftcation.
Even though we didn’t realize it, we had been weaving the net on which Craftcation would stand on for years. That is what people don’t explain about the net. The net is built on your experience, relationships and expertise in your field. You don’t know if the net is going to hold until you actually use it. So there’s always risk involved. But, if your net is strong, chances are that it will hold. Maybe it will fray here and there but you’ll be ready with your trusty needle and thread to repair it.
Whatever it is that you want to do… whether it’s to start exploring your creativity or quit your day job and start your business or grow your existing business or build you community… start building that net now! Connect with like-minded people, take a class in a craft you’ve always longed to try, seriously analyze your finances and figure out exactly what you need to quit that job and seek the support and advice from mentors and peers.
AND… if any of the things I mentioned above: starting or building a creative business, growing your community or seeking your inner creative are on your bucket list… then join us at Craftcation 2017. We’ll be waiting for you with open arms!
A Note from Delilah:
Even though I am busy behind the scenes during Craftcation and am not able to attend workshops, I still feel like I have my own version of Craftcation during the conference.
Like the version that attendees experience, my version is filled with learning and creativity. Unlike the adventures of attendees, I’m not learning business skills like branding, pricing and PR, or exploring new crafts like watercolors or sewing. Instead I’m learning how to creatively problem-solve.
Some of the big changes this year, like moving to a new hotel and some of the curveballs like rainy weather meant that I had to not only rework a lot of my usual production strategies but also had to think fast to find a new venue for our usual outdoor lunch. All the experience I gained from the previous years helped me ensure that everything went smoothly and in fact, I was so thankful to have the new hotel and the rain because we had the new lunch location at The Tavern, which was awesome!
I’m starting to realize that life’s curveballs are often thrown at you not just to test your problem solving abilities, but to show you an even better way of doing things. It seems that over the years of producing Craftcation, the curveballs have helped me to find a better way to hit a home run.
A big thank you to all of your sponsors, attendees, volunteers and our incredible team to make a great #craftcation16!
PS: I still cried at the end 🙂
Hope you enjoy the photos below (taken by LP Hastings and Nicole) from Craftcation 2016!
The theme for our pop-up shop which featured books, supplies and goods from our presenters, attendees and sponsors was Pop Art. The amazing decor Delilah planned included hanging Popsicle’s made of sponges (BIG thanks to Amanda who not only made these but most of the dinner decor), paper soup cans and my favorite part: a mural of pop art style staff portraits that LP Hastings created.
We were proud to have Darice join Craftcation this year as the official craft supply sponsor. They provided almost every tool and supply attendees used in craft classes including the needle felting workshop and watercolor mantas and meditation (both pictured below).
CreativeLive sponsored one of our business workshop rooms which included classes like: Self-care for creative business owners, Creating a profitable social media strategy, Multiple income streams, How to teach a craft workshop and more.
Our blue bayou themed opening dinner featured southern cuisine and drinks, A Plinko game where attendees won fabric from Michael Miller Fabrics (our official fabric sponsor), a DIY headband table with tons of awesome supplies from Darice led by Chelsey Andrews of The Paper Mama, a name badge decorating station from aftcra, a kombucha cocktail making/tasting area with Storey Publishing, live music from Alicia Murphy and a super inspiring keynote address from Emily McDowell.
Food workshops this year included sushi making, oyster shucking, baking classes and more.
This year we had two sewing rooms thanks to our sewing machine sponsor Bernina and the lovely team from Baron’s Sewing Center who brought 30 sewing machines for over 16 sewing workshops. Attendees had an awesome variety of Michael Miller Fabrics to choose from.
Craft classes include a modern crown flower workshop and LED light workshops with Darby Smart where attendees not only created a LED light based project but also learned how to create a DIY video tutorial.
Attendees learned the ins and outs of selling wholesale, exhibiting at trade shows and dealing with imposter syndrome in business workshops.
A classic school bus shuttled everyone from the hotel to lunches on Friday and Saturday. Rainy weather led us to switch our usual outdoor lunch venue at city hall to The Tavern which not only kept us dry but meant that attendees could pair their lunch with a glass of wine or cocktail! Friday’s lunch also featured a make and take Darice table. Thanks to the Coffee Bean Tea Leaf for the awesome coffee!
We had a variety of craft workshops with watercolors including Color theory and Watercolor brushstroke lettering.
More business panels included: Quitting your day job and Hiring and managing employees.
One of the new things this year was Wanderings: A self-guided art walk that was the brainchild of five-time Craftcation presenter Rosalie Gale. Attendees and presenters had the opportunity to create experiences (including a holiday-themed room, pop-up shops, photo booths, tarot reading and tea tasting and a handmade quilt that attendees decorated) in their hotel rooms which attendees wandered in and out of getting their ‘passports’ stamped at each room. Everyone (with the exception of non-Craftcation hotel guests) loved Wanderings. We’re hoping to bring it back next year if we can manage to do it without disturbing other guests. BIG thanks to all of the wanderings participants who put so much love and thought into their rooms especially the gorgeous quilt which Delilah and I will cherish for years.
First-time Craftcation presenter Lela Barker was an attendee favorite with her pricing, branding and media kit workshops.
Attendees learned how to take their photos to the next level in a Photo styling workshop and created patterns and prints in several block printing workshops.
Storey Publishing author Lea Redmond of Leafcutter Designs debuted her handmade apron and traveling knitting project during which she knit attendees answers to the question “why do you craft?” in a yarn color that coordinated to their answer.
Our marketplace lounge was a place for attendees to meet and relax between classes, sign up for office hours, exchange business cards, color on Darice’s giant mural, create inspirational postcards for the Write On Campaign with Hello!Lucky and Sakura of America (which we’re randomly sending to attendees), explain what handmade means to you on aftcra’s interactive board and explore Bernina sewing machines.
We returned to the Tavern for our Saturday night outer space themed dance party sponsored by Academy of Handmade that created starry decor and an amazing photo booth.
Attendees who were looking for a more relaxing Saturday night activity headed to the Storey Publishing Makers’ Lounge for an informal evening of crafting and community.
One of the best parts about moving to a bigger hotel was being able to offer so many more business classes like branding and PR and craft classes like indigo dyeing, needlework necklaces and leather working.