Crafting is big business. A Craft and Hobby Association report released for 2010 places consumer spending on craft-related products at around $29 billion annually. That's a lot of yarn, scrapbooking paper and decorative buttons. If you're a crafter, this may not come as much of a surprise. There are lots of crafts around, and an interest in one, like scrapbooking, can easily lead to an interest in a related craft like paper making, stenciling or art quilting.
Crafting can be more than a weekend pastime, too. Selling crafts and craft supplies is one way to make a little money working from home, and sites like Etsy.com that cater to the crafting market make the goal of selling finished crafts more of a functional reality for artisans.
Craft sites also help establish crafting communities where beginning crafters can learn more about their areas of interest and share their love of personal expression with others. The Internet has become a kind of electronic quilting bee for many crafters. Budding artists can communicate across large distances, make projects together, display their works in community forums, or donate their efforts to worthy charities across the globe. From a practical perspective, that means your mother-in-law doesn't have to appreciate your homemade lampshades (quilts, picture frames or silk flower arrangements). Someone who thinks they're great (and would probably like a brief tutorial on how to make them) is just a mouse click away.
The computer age has changed the nature of many crafting pursuits. An electronic embroidery machine or stencil cutter may make creating the perfect gift a lot easier, but all that technological wizardry comes at a price. A high-end embroidery/sewing machine can cost $10,000, and that's just the machine and not the designs and materials -- all the neat stuff that's so important to many crafters.
From ribbons to paper to silk flowers, crafting is about the stuff. That's not so hard to understand, either. The more pretty fabrics, decorative papers and charming designs a crafter has access to, the more his or her inner artist can flourish. But those bags, boxes and bins of stuff can quickly overrun a closet, dedicated craft room or basement studio.
Good craft management means periodic culling -- or discarding items you no longer need (or think you may no longer need, or figure you no longer need as much of). It can be a painful process, but your loss is someone else's gain if you occasionally participate in a craft supply swap. The reverse can also be true. You can pick up a few enticing extras while reducing some of the clutter in your crafting space at the same time. If the idea is intriguing, swaps are not that hard to arrange. They're also a great way to make new friends and celebrate crafting in all its many variations.
On the next few pages, let's take a look at what's involved in hosting a craft supply swap. From choosing a theme to knocking out the small details, this is one craft-related project that's bound to be a big success.
Craft Supply Swap: Creating a Theme
There are lots of crafts out there, and not all crafts appeal to all potential crafters. If you've ever been curious about which crafts are the most popular across the U.S., here they are. The numbers are based on millions of households participating rather than on the dollars generated for that craft segment.
A wide range of crafts is represented, and some big up-and-coming crafts like quilting and no-sew home décor don't even make the top 10. A scrapbooker or card designer may love the idea of receiving a few decorative stamps and colorful stamp pads in a supply exchange, but a jewelry crafter may think that type of exchange is a big waste of time if she only uses stamp pads to personalize her price tags. That's why it's important to research your guest list with care, especially if you have broad craft interests.
It's a good idea to have a few basic crafting categories (fabric, drawing supplies or yarn) in mind for the swap and make them clear from the onset. If you'll be hosting a swap that includes jewelry making and scrapbooking supplies, having plenty of participants in both categories is the key to success. That way, there'll be plenty of appealing items for everyone.
If you're a dedicated sewer, say, your stash will be made up of fabric, sewing supplies and notions. You'll also probably have a ready list of other quilting or sewing enthusiasts you communicate with regularly. Your sewing friends might be part of a club, training program or guild. They're the perfect pool from which to build a guest list for a swap. When reaching out, ask about a potential guest's other affiliations, too. Some may belong to other craft groups or have crafting friends who enjoy other aspects of the hobby. A few may also have relatives or co-workers who may be interested in participating.
If that sounds like a longshot, it's not. About 56 percent of U.S. households participate in at least one type of crafting project annually. The potential for finding likeminded, craft-loving candidates next door, down the street or in the cubby next to you at work is pretty good. Ask around. You'll be surprised to discover lots of folks you know share your love of crafting and have at least a few items they'd be delighted to swap.
Craft Supply Swap: Organizing the Swap
Swaps can be a lot of fun, but there are some details involved. If you plan ahead, the day of the swap can be almost as entertaining as Christmas morning -- without the credit card bills.
Plan ahead -- You may have already gone through your stash (or "inspiration" closet) but others haven't. Send out invitations a month to six weeks ahead of the swap to give everyone time to prepare. Taking the time to send out invitations (either by e-mail or snail mail) will save you from having to repeat the salient details and risk confusion and misunderstandings. Ask guests to set aside about two hours for the swap. Include the obvious things in the invitation like the date, time and location, and attach your list of rules and maybe a map to the location with some parking suggestions.
Define what constitutes swap worthy merchandise -- This is probably one of the hardest elements of a swap, but it's important to define the types of items that are appropriate to include. You could set a minimum and maximum dollar value, or choose other craft specific criteria, like suggesting that small items be bundled into clear bags and grouped by size, style, theme or color. Items should also have an accompanying description when the original packaging is absent.
All items should be clean and only gently used. Electronic items should be in good working order. If the swap will include software or other equipment-specific merchandise, it might be a good idea to have a computer on hand so you can check the manufacturers' Web sites to sort out any compatibility questions.
Swappers may also want to know if items are from smoking and/or pet-friendly homes. This is becoming a big issue in some quarters, especially for items like fabric or yarn, so get ahead of the question by asking your guests to label their goods accordingly.
Choose the venue -- You could be hosting the swap in your home, at a local craft store or in a public space like a meeting room at your local library. Book free meeting spaces early so you won't be disappointed. If you're hosting the event at home, refreshments are always a nice touch, but serve snack foods after the exchange to avoid greasy fingered mishaps.
Provide plenty of space -- No one wants to swap for an item without having an opportunity to take a good look at it first. Offer good lighting and plenty of horizontal space for swappers to lay out their merchandise. A dining room table may work for a small gathering, but including a couple of folding tables, or even a couple of back-to-back bookshelves with plenty of space to walk around them is a good idea. Because a swap is a bit like a friendly bazaar, placing a few tables outdoors on a sunny afternoon works well, too -- and you can't beat the lighting.
Craft Supply Swap: Swap Process
In a swap, fairness is at the heart of the whole process. That means that swappers should leave with goods that are of roughly equal value to the ones they submitted for barter. To ensure a fair exchange, it's important to assess the value of the goods submitted and rate them accordingly. Some swaps use a democratic approach where all the items are considered of equal value, like in a book exchange. Your rules may specify bundled items of roughly equal value to ensure that everyone gets a fair deal. This makes swapping a really simple process, but it may not be flexible enough to accommodate all the items guests want to bring.
Another approach is to assign tickets or pennies based on the value of an item. Here's how it works: A guest arrives with an item to swap. You or a helper suggests the item is worth about two pennies (or tickets) on a scale of one to five. You exchange the goods for the pennies and place the item on the two penny table. Now the guest can choose another two penny item, or if she brought two items and has four pennies to play with, can spend them at the four penny table. This requires a good eye for value and some diplomacy. Folks are usually pretty honest about what they have to exchange, though. Waiting until a few guests have arrived to establish a baseline valuation for say, a roll of ribbon as opposed to a fully illustrated book, will get you started.
To avoid disappointing anyone, it's also a good idea to get all the items organized and on display before opening the swap. That way all the participants will have an equal opportunity to claim the most appealing merchandise. While guests are waiting, make general introductions and go over the rules. This might also be a nice time to offer coffee and other beverages.
At the end of the swap, there may be supplies leftover that no one needs this time around. Guests can take them back home with them, or you can suggest they donate them to a local guild, retirement community, school or charity.
Craft supply swapping can be addictive. That leftover fabric, ribbon or cording may seem like a "been there, done that" proposition to you, but to someone else, those items could be the inspiration for a new project or the perfect way to finish an old one. Isn't crafting great? You may have so much fun and score so many wonderful finds that you'll want to make supply swapping a regular event. What an inspired way to stay in touch with old and new friends.
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