By Jenny Hart
Have you ever wondered what goes on at a craft trade show? Last weekend, I attended CHA’s 2011 annual winter show in Los Angeles. CHA stands for Craft and Hobby Association. This is an enormous industry event that is not open to the public, where manufacturers debut their new products to retailers, designers make appearances, and craft businesses large and small try to create a buzz in the industry. It is the opposite end of the spectrum from an independent craft market with beer and a DJ.
With around 700 exhibiting businesses, the event is overwhelming. But, even though the convention center is filled with corporate giants who’ve hoisted rotating signs from the 80-foot ceilings and booths that are really more like boutiques, the event is mostly made up of independent, family-run businesses.
Scrapbooking remains the main craft focus at this event. Paper Dreams Factory has a modest booth at the far end of the hall, in the last row. But the president, Andreas Hamm, is obviously proud and enthusiastic about what they offer. He tells me that they are the last company in Germany producing embossed, die-cut papers in the “old style.” The company’s history dates back to 1948, when Ernst Freihoff traded scraps of decorative, Victorian ephemera for food, after WWII as he left his village to join family elsewhere. “He couldn’t make it to the next village, because his papers were so popular – he immediately ran out.” Freihoff went on to build a successful company in Germany, EF-Ernst Freihoff GmbH, which today is represented by Paper Dreams Factory in the US and Canada.
Even though Freihoff’s company has a long history, Hamm’s first order as Paper Dreams Factory was in 2010. He said it took “three years of preparation” and that they have quickly expanded to offer colored foils. I ask Andreas where a crafter can find his papers. “Well, they are not available in big-box stores – only smaller, independent shops. But if someone can’t find what they want locally, they can write me and I will try to accommodate them.” I look past his shoulder at the glittering sheets of embossed birds, monkeys and fruits. The papers are so beautiful I briefly consider giving up embroidery to start scrapbooking.
Lisa Bluhn of Simply Swank demonstrating her soldering kits.
The convention floor is filled with activity. From across the hall I can hear delighted screams, like a celebrity has been sighted (in reality, a giant wheel is being spun and Cricut machines are being given away). The Cat in the Hat walks by me. My arms are already overloaded with flyers, samples, and business cards. I’ve eaten about twelve mini candy bars that are in bowls throughout the hall. Everywhere, celebrity crafters are doing on-the-spot tutorials of their latest products, called “make and takes.” You make it, then take it. It’s a way to let shop owners give their products a trial run, and then they have the results to show off and take with them.
Stepping into the booth of Eastern Findings is a little oasis of neatly organized, zen calm. Steven, the company’s president, tells me that his parents started the business 75 years ago and says he is always amazed at the new waves of people discovering their company. “We specialize in ‘staples.’ The things you will always need to make something else.” Behind us is a dizzying array of every type of bracelet clasp, o-ring, and decorative dangly you could imagine. I again briefly consider giving up embroidery to start making jewelry instead.
I manage to squeeze in hellos to Kathy Cano-Murillo at iLoveToCreate.com and Vickie Howell at Caron, where they are each debuting new lines. I make plans to meet my friend Cathy Callahan, who is promoting her new book, Vintage Craft Workshop (Chronicle Books), and I meet bubbly and bright Cathie Filian. I get a text from Sarah Moore of Craft Critique, miss meeting Rosalie Gale of Unanimous Craft, and by chance, run into Megan Nicolay of Generation T. Everyone is there connecting, promoting, and catching up. My head is spinning. Plans to do podcasts, have dinner and drinks, or at least email each other soon are made.
Moving on to the Potter Craft booth, I’m curious to see what’s new. Allison is enjoying a moment of tranquility that I interrupt by asking what she thinks the next most popular craft will be and what books have been doing well. “Christine Schmidt’s book, Print Workshop has been doing extremely well, and readers are really loving Kumihimo … do you know what that is?” (I shake my head.) “It’s a traditional craft of Japanese braiding. Our book is about making jewelry with it.” I again consider giving up embroidery to begin Japanese braiding.
Before I leave the showroom floor, I make sure to stop in for a visit with my friend (and thread supplier), Doug Kreinik. Doug’s company was founded by his father some 40 years ago. Energetic and always curious about what is happening in the independent DIY movement (he attends Renegade Craft Fairs, had recently been to Bazaar Bizarre, and has been a featured speaker at Maker Faire), Doug’s attitude about indie crafting is refreshing. More than just manufacturing a quality product, Doug says, “I feel it’s my responsibility to be creative.” He tells me, “I have to think about how it will be used.” As a result, Doug’s company makes threads that are embedded with bendable wire, can be ironed on instead of sewn, and an array of metallics that are more popular with stitchers than … well, anything else. His company pride always shows, and he can’t help but repeat a recent customer compliment: “Everything Kreinik touches looks better.”
My friend Cathy asked me if I had seen the installation of knitting in the Lion Brand Yarn booth. “I don’t know who did it, but it’s huge!” She said. So, I headed that way…
I also manage to steal a few moments of CHA Vice President, Sandy Ghezzi’s time to ask her about the goals of the show. It’s clear: it’s all about connecting. She hopes to connect independent designers (“the life-blood of the industry”) with manufacturers and retailers, and vice-versa. “Innovation is the theme of the show,” Sandy says, and she makes it clear by emphasizing that she wants to see more independent designers participating at CHA. Encouragingly, I can see that she’s genuinely devoted to keeping the show fresh and accessible to independents. Sandy has actively focused her efforts on introducing the movement of “indie craft” at the show and offering education about where crafting is going and why.
For a crafter, attending CHA can really feel like being a kid in a candy store. You can suffer from inspiration-overload and leave determined to begin 50 new projects in the next week. I leave the show re-inspired to continue embroidering and continue building my own company, and also helping Sandy attract new, creative blood to the showroom floor.
For more information about CHA, visit www.craftandhobby.org.
About the Author:
Jenny Hart is an artist, author and the founder of Sublime Stitching. She also writes a blog called Embroidery As Art. A solo show of her works is scheduled for September 2011 at Galerie LJ in Paris, France.