Crafty Manolo » An Easy Guide to Surviving a Public Demonstration of Your Craft

An Easy Guide to Surviving a Public Demonstration of Your Craft

By Twistie

It’s almost inevitable. The more obscure your craft, the more inevitable it becomes. At some point someone is going to utter those dreaded words: “Will you come demonstrate your craft for my craft fair/Renaissance Faire/colorful ethnic celebration/weekly knitting clatch/kid’s preschool?”

This happened relatively quickly for me. After all, bobbin lace (my chosen creative outlet) is pretty unusual.

The first demonstration I did… well, let’s just say my demo partner and I learned a heck of a lot for the next time.

We made every rookie mistake. We didn’t spell ourselves. We never got lunch. We only got something to drink when her husband (Or was it my father? I honestly can’t remember. It may have been an angel. Or possibly Godzilla.) brought us one soda each.

By the end of the day, we were both gibbering. I have a very clear memory of my demo partner sitting at her lace pillow muttering a conversation to herself. It went thusly:

“What you making?”

“Bobbin lace.”

“Isn’t that tatting?”

“No, it’s @$#@$@ing bobbin lace.”

“Oh. What’s it going to be?”

“A garrote to prove how strong it is.”

After that, we retired to our hotel room and lay stuck to our beds forced to watch a really horrible Charlie Sheen movie wherein he’s trying to stop an invasion force of aliens with knees that bend the wrong way. Why forced? Because neither of us could muster up the strength or the will to pick up the remote and change the channel. For dinner we ate a jar of roasted peanuts.

Do Not Let This Happen To You.

If you are going to let yourself get roped into demonstrating your craft in public, you do need to find the fun way to do it. Here is some hard won wisdom from one who has been there, done that, made her own tee shirt to wear about it, and lived to tell the tale… and even really enjoy the experience.

If the event/demonstration lasts more than two hours, you will need a break. Trust me. Just the chance to stretch your back and put down your tools is delicious. Your voice will probably also need a rest from explaining what you’re doing and how it’s done. Even if your back and hands and feet and vocal chords are doing just fine, your brain will explode if you sit there all day answering the same ten questions without a good break. If there’s more than one of you, take your breaks in turns so there’s always someone to answer questions.

If your craft is easily mistaken for another, bring an example of it along, too. Most people have never heard of bobbin lace. But most of them seem to have heard the term ‘tatting’ somewhere along the line and they assume it’s the same thing. It isn’t. Having a visual aid on hand to show how tatting is a single-thread technique done with a shuttle as opposed to bobbin lace, which is a multi-thread technique done on a firm cushion (the pillow) with threads held on little sticks called bobbins makes it easier for people to understand that these are two different crafts. If your craft has a similar Evil Not-So-Twin Skippy, have a bit on hand to show people the difference in  both the technique and the effect.

Bone up on your history. Even if they’ve never seen it before, there are plenty of people out there who are just sure they know all about how your craft fits into history and what was important about it in any given time and place. Be able to gently correct them when they commence talking through their chapeaux. You may not convince them, but at least you can correct a couple misconceptions for others.

Be ready to cover the same ground over and over and over and over again, even if it’s really, really painfully ignorant. For a time my demo partner and I demonstrated on a fairly regular basis at an historical mansion in our area. We would sit with our pillows in the servants’ dining room and explain not only our craft, but about being a household servant in 1899. At this location, in addition to the inevitable “Look! They’re tatting!” we got a lot of questions about how often housemaids in such a house would be beaten. Trust me, in 1899 in California very few housemaids in wealthy homes were beaten. Not a Dickens novel, folks. And yet, we had to retain our composure and give factual answers in a pleasant way.

If possible, have something available for interested parties to try out your craft. I know it’s not practical for some crafts or in every demonstration situation, but if it is, then try it out. We always kept one pillow out with about as basic a pattern as possible and let people try bobbin lace for themselves. It was always a popular feature, and drew even bigger crowds. It also demystified the process a little so people knew it wasn’t alchemy.

Have a list of current resources on hand to hand out. At our first demo, it never occurred to us that someone would ask where they could buy books and pillows and bobbins and instructional videos. We didn’t have a list. Oops. Big oops. For our second demo, I put together a list of resources and printed out a couple hundred copies. I think I came home with three. Once people see what you do, a fair number of them will want to know where they can learn more. True, a lot of them will never even check out one of those websites or storefronts… but some of them will.

Get into the spirit of the event. Dress up in period/native costume. Find a way to relate your craft to the setting you’re working in. Spiff up your display with items that connect your craft to the event. If you don’t get why it’s there,  nobody else will, either.

Label everything. If you draw enough of a crowd, you won’t be able to talk to everyone at once. A few labels and handouts will not only keep the masses entertained, but also keep them from drawing too many erroneous conclusions about what you’re doing. It also lets those with potentially sticky fingers know that you know what you brought with you and will be likely to notice fairly quickly if something wanders off.

Eat and drink regularly. I cannot emphasize this enough. Even if you have to stash a water bottle and a couple energy bars under the table and grab quick bites as you can between crowds, do it. Do not leave yourself forced to sit through a bad Charlie Sheen movie simply because your hand is incapable of picking up the remote.

Keep your sense of humor. No matter what else you lose, keep your humor. If you’re alive to the absurdity of things, you probably won’t snap too easily.

Be approachable. Smile and greet people to your display. If you’re looking down too hard at your work, people will be afraid to ask you what you’re doing or how they can learn. The goal is to make what you’re doing look both fun and possible.

Don’t be too comfortable with the project. Shortly after I started doing lace demos, Mr. Twistie and I set the date for our wedding. That meant I needed a whole lot of lace for my gown. I started using one of the patterns as my demo pattern. It was perfect. It was only eight pairs of threads and a simple pattern that I could do while talking, and I needed eight yards of it in less than a year. But once I’d finished my eight yards and took it off the pillow, I kept using the same pattern. After all I was really good at it by that time. And then one day I realized less and less people were trying the DIY pillow or taking literature. More of them were gasping as they watched me work.

I’d actually gotten to the point where I could do that pattern entirely by feel. It was terrifying people. I switched to a pattern I didn’t know as well for the next demo, and things went back to normal.

Demonstrating your craft can be fun and rewarding. There really is nothing quite like watching someone move from disbelief to curiosity to actually giving something new a go. Approached correctly, demonstrations go a long way toward keeping the crafting spirit going for all of us.

4 Responses to “An Easy Guide to Surviving a Public Demonstration of Your Craft”

  1. ZaftigWendy Says:

    I’ve done a lot of demo’ing of knitting and spinning, and I can say that I sure wish that I’d had this article to read before doing my first demo!

    It’s especially funny when I’m spinning on my box charkha, and “knowledgeable” parents will declare to their offspring that the lady is “sewing” and “doesn’t want to be bothered.” It is NOT sewing, and I wouldn’t be demo’ing in public if I didn’t want to be bothered!

  2. Twistie Says:

    Oh, if I had a dollar for every time someone tried to shush a kid who wanted to ask a question at one of my demos!

    Yeah, I wish I’d read an article like this before I did my first demo, too. It would have saved me a lot of anguish. You know, from the Charlie Sheen movie.

  3. ZaftigWendy Says:

    Truly! Also important – if your demo is outdoors in the summer in Texas? Bring a long extension cord and a fan and about twice as much water as you think you’ll need. And something to shade you from the sun, if the organizers have not provided it.

    Also, if a guy demo’ing silk reeling with LIVE SILKWORMS ( is set up nearby, try to be RIGHT NEXT TO HIM because he gets SRS traffic and us boring spinners and knitters can bask in his glow. Plus, he’s nice and will let you help feed the moths and will occasionally bless a spinner with a bit of waste silk.

  4. Twistie Says:

    @Zaftig Wendy: Excellent advice if you live in some of the warmer parts of California, too. And Arizona… and… yeah, there are places where a fan and a lot more water than you think you’ll need are just basic necessities.

    The worm guy is SOOOOOO COOOOOOLLLL! I kind of got used to being the cool kid on the block with the bobbin tossing which most people had never seen before, but this dude might well have outdrawn us, had we ever been in direct competition. I would want to be next to him and his worms, too. Basking in the glow of a big draw is never a bad thing. Maybe not as good as being the big draw, but I wouldn’t throw it out of bed.

Disclaimer: Manolo the Shoeblogger is not Manolo Blahnik
Copyright © 2004-2009; Manolo the Shoeblogger, All Rights Reserved

  • Recent Comments:

  • Subscribe!



    Manolo the Shoeblogger

    Quirks of Art - Scrapbook & Rubber Stamping Supplies


  • Archives:

  • August 2013
  • December 2012
  • November 2012
  • October 2012
  • September 2012
  • August 2012
  • July 2012
  • June 2012
  • May 2012
  • April 2012
  • March 2012
  • February 2012
  • January 2012
  • December 2011
  • November 2011
  • October 2011
  • September 2011
  • July 2011
  • June 2011
  • May 2011
  • April 2011
  • March 2011
  • February 2011
  • January 2011
  • December 2010
  • November 2010
  • October 2010