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'Show of Hands' Craft Fair Debuts This Weekend at Ravenswood Event Center

By Patty Wetli | November 22, 2013 9:00am | Updated on November 22, 2013 9:01am
 Emily Martin, organizer of Show of Hands, calls the show high-end, handmade couture craft designed by the indie pro.
Emily Martin, organizer of Show of Hands, calls the show high-end, handmade couture craft designed by the indie pro.
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

RAVENSWOOD — Emily Martin would like to draw a distinction between "crafty" and "craft."

The owner of Orange Beautiful, a hybrid design studio/gift shop, Martin is also the organizer of the newest entrant in Chicago's craft fair scene, Show of Hands, which debuts Nov. 23-24 at the Ravenswood Event Center.

"I've been very hesitant to call it a craft show," said Martin. "There's this association with 'hobby' that's kind of the opposite of craft or craftsmanship."

For Show of Hands, Martin wanted to raise both the caliber of participant and the expectations of attendees.

"This is a craft fair for professionals," she said, noting that several of the vendors also operate their own brick-and-mortar stores.

"The people at this event, they're good at what they do. They have unique skills," said Martin. "H.arts Henna Artistry does these handpainted henna vessels — they're incredible. Who's ever seen anything like that?"

For some time, Martin had been toying with the idea of mounting her own show.

"It's kind of been the over-arching thing of what I do, putting good design out in the world," she said.

But she only pulled the trigger when the Do It Yourself Trunk Show cancelled its 2013 event, creating an opening in the prime weekend before Thanksgiving.

"So there were basically 150 people planning on doing that show," she said.

Craft shows are not only a way for artists to get their work in front of new customers but a way to build community among themselves, Martin said.

"We can all get tips from each other like, 'Oh, where'd you get your business cards?' or 'What if we bought a carton of shopping bags together?'" she said.

"It's so great if we're all doing well. It's about making this whole economy of crafters and designers work."

A veteran vendor of craft shows, Martin approached the Ravenswood Event Center with a solid plan already in place for Show of Hands.

"People think they'll pull up with a station wagon and sell some mittens. I had a logo, a name, commitments from other Do It Yourself vendors" as well as an understanding of loading and unloading procedures and the need for security and insurance, she said.

About half of the 60-plus vendors were recruited by Martin, many of them artists whose work she sells at Orange Beautiful, 4658 N. Damen Ave., or people whose craft blew her away at other shows.

"I'm like, 'So you have a loom, and you weave fabric and it becomes a bag?'" Martin said of her admiration for her fellow artisans.

The remainder were chosen through an open application process, which Martin called "humbling and almost nerve wracking."

"You can't curate something without rejecting some people," she said. "I had to turn people away and that was weird."

Her primary concern was providing enough variety for shoppers — a mix of prints, ceramics, clothing, woodworking, stationery, etc. — as opposed to presenting 40 jewelry makers. She also took the applicant's level of professionalism — packaging, branding, website, etc. — into account.

"I want people to be overwhelmed by how amazing it is," said Martin, who confessed to secretly hoping for snow to put shoppers in a festive holiday mood.

Whether 500 or 5,000 people come through the doors Saturday and Sunday, Martin will measure Show of Hands' success by more than attendance figures.

On the one hand, she hopes to make an excellent first impression with shoppers.

"I want people either to be walking away and they did all their Christmas shopping or they bought one amazing thing for themselves," she said.

At the same time, she wants Show of Hands to stick with attendees year 'round.

"It's less about 'come to this show and buy a bunch of stuff and forget about it.' I want them to leave with our directory and a bunch of business cards saying, 'Look at all these amazing people who live in my city and make all these amazing things,'" said Martin.

"These people make stuff all year," she said of vendors and business owners like herself. "It's kind of reminding people, this isn't just a holiday craft fair. You can support me all the time instead of buying candles at Target."

She also wants her fellow crafters to leave feeling valued.

She's created a lounge for vendors to take breaks during the weekend and is providing them with coffee and gift bags.

"I wanted to make sure everybody knew, 'I can't have a show without you,'" said Martin. "It's super fun doing a show the way I think it should be done."

Ultimately, she said, Show of Hands is promoting "shop local" at the handmade, artisan level — within reason.

"Nobody should feel guilty for not spending 100 percent on local — the whole economy would break down," said Martin. "Am I going to buy a plunger from an artisan plunger maker?"

It's about small steps, she said.

"We're all looking for 10 percent of the world to get what we're doing, a niche group of people who appreciate what we're doing. We're not trying to convince the masses," she said.

"You find the people who get what you're doing and love what you're doing," said Martin. "They're the ones who will carry you."

Show of Hands runs 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Nov. 23-24, at the Ravenswood Event Center, 4043 N. Ravenswood Ave. Admission is free; the first 50 attendees on Saturday will receive a complimentary gift bag.