My experience at the Cardiff Christmas Market

​Sophie creates artists' books and blank books using traditional Japanese bookbinding. 

I survived my first fair! Still work to do on displays and lighting, but I'm happy to report a really successful day. I had interested visitors, people asking questions and for demonstrations, the odd unexpected familiar friendly face and massive family support. And I made some sales! 

I've worked in retail, but I had no idea quite how nervous I'd be selling my own work to the general public for the first time. There was a hitch with my planned layout as either stall or table measurements were out of whack, so we had to improvise on the spot. It was really helpful to have experienced advice from Gill, the keyholder and all-around stall-enabler. 

I'm actually very happy with the busked set-up as it made the most of my rather minimal displays, was hopefully warm and welcoming and – most crucially – it gave me a quiet corner slightly out of the way where I could sit and stitch if the whole *being out there* thing got a bit much. Once I'd settled in a little I came out of my corner and did my stitching in public :D

Since we started in the Inc. Space we've had it drummed into us that those of us who make gift items had to have Christmas firmly in our thoughts from September onwards. I think pretty much every blank book I've sold so far was a gift, so that's me right there. This advice, along with the "Pimp your Stall" workshop echoed research I've been doing on Etsy - my main sales platform.

4 dos and 4 don'ts I've picked up so far:


  • ​Flat table display: the closer to eye-level you can bring your work, the more visible it is. Build up from tables. Work that won't hang on booth walls? What else can you use to take its place and create the atmosphere you're after?

  • Lighting too dim or badly placed: if you have any plans to take a stall independently, effective lighting should be at the front of your mind. And second, and probably third too. Especially in a Christmas market that gets dark at 4pm. You don't want to dazzle your visitors, but equally they shouldn't cast shadows when they're viewing your product.

  • Not enough/too much product: this is a delicate balancing act - on my first test trading day I started with too little, and gradually added to the display. But there's a fine line between showing range and a confusing number of products. Less is more if you can whip out several variations of the work you're showing front and centre, without crowding that display.

  • No consistent theme or style. If your display is cohesive in some way, it will help your customer navigate the work, and identify which they might want to buy. Showing distinctly different products may be successful as a stall-share arrangement, or if carefully curated. But it instantly makes your merchandising and display work much harder.

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  • Props: consider all functional items in your display in terms of presenting the overall image you're looking for. E.g. my use of vintage textiles and outmoded technologies leans my studio/stall towards vintage fixtures/fittings and traditional specialist tools. The more you can bring your personality and your values into a stall the better it reflects your product, and the more "at home" you feel in it. 

  • Signage: how obvious is the purpose of your product? If it can't be seen *at a distance* - bearing in mind the Cardiff Market stalls have bifold doors that constrain traffic - how can you explain it in a picture and/or a few words? How can you present this professionally? With the trial stalls we were under a Hub Creations banner - with this fixed, the doors really are the ideal place for hanging branding/signage. Also, try not to lose one of two matching banners :/ Oops :D

  • Bring change: whatever your smallest multiple is make sure you have the 50ps or 20ps or whatever to cover those. plenty of pound coins and £5s for the first shoppers of the morning with their crispy £20s :D If you don't take card payments be sure that you know the directions to the nearest cash machine.

  • Stay warm! Layer up - natural fibres esp. wool, leather, alpaca and modern thermals, faux furs and shearlings. Fluffy at-least-some-wool socks, fingerless gloves, earmuffs, and rope anyone you even vaguely know into bringing regular hot drinks :D If you're warm enough to be able to relax you can present your work well, if it's blowing a gale or not.

On which note, I'm hoping "come on in out of the rain!" might serve me well tomorrow…