How Midwest Craft Con Started

During the 2010 holiday craft show season, I was in the beautiful and historic Fillmore Auditorium in downtown Detroit, ready to sell my soaps at Handmade Detroit. Next to me was Olivera Bratich, the owner of the best handmade retail shop in the universe, Wholly Craft. The fact that we were seated next to one another was no coincidence: She and I have the kind of Thelma and Louise friendship that only makers have. We handle each other’s sales while the other is taking a break, always request tables next to each other, and can even Tetris both of our show setups into one vehicle. We spend those precious hours in the car and at shows talking business, upcoming projects, strategies for growth, life, family, babies and general nonsense.

midwest craft caucus 2011 program
The program for the Midwest Craft Caucus of 2011. Photo courtesy of Esther Hall

While selling the hours away in Detroit, dancing to crafty tunes, Olivera shared with me the idea of creating a craft conference for the Midwest. Now to call it an “idea” is an oversimplification. Like all things Olivera has ever touched, she had methodically mapped out a plan of attack before ever speaking a word of it to anyone, so I had no doubt in her abilities to put on a killer event. We spent sometime chewing on ideas, and she eventually chose Midwest Craft Caucus as the title.

midwest craft caucus, 2011
Learning in one of the sessions at Midwest Craft Caucus. Photo courtesy of Esther Hall

It was also the perfect time to bring together all this craftiness: 2011 was an important year for craft. Etsy had not yet become the household name it is today (and some outsiders still weren’t sure how to pronounce it). Square had just come out, but most of us were still using knuckle busters to take credit card payments (if we did at all). Social media was starting to connect makers with their audiences on more personal levels. And while creative conferences were common on the East and West coasts, nothing existed for us in the Midwest.

danielle maveal of etsy at midwest craft con, 2011
Keynote speaker Danielle Maveal addressing the sold-out conference. Photo credit Esther Hall.

If you got to attend Midwest Craft Caucus in the summer of 2011, you’ll remember staircases and rooms filled with fellow makers, all wanting to start their handmade business or grow their existing enterprises. Makers just starting out could learn from craft pioneers who had figured things out the hard way. Panelists discussed craft shows, social media, street teams and blogging. Breakout sessions dived into how to hire employees, craft etiquette, getting published and building a website. Danielle Maveal, then the seller education coordinator at Etsy, presented the keynote address, speaking to the sold-out crowd of 100 attendees about ways to grow in the Etsy marketplace and the concerns makers faced.

The conference also had a craft show offsite at Wild Goose Creative. Speakers sold their handmade goods, and it was open to attendees, as well as the public. During the event, Craftin’ Outlaws provided our crass version of Craft Corner Deathmatch, where teams of two could battle it craft royale style against other makers for bragging rights and heavyweight craft belts.

craft corner deathmatch at midwest craft caucus
Craft Corner Deathmatch in full swing. Photo by Patrice Lehocky.
books for sale at midwest craft caucus
Photo courtesy of Esther Hall

Olivera’s goal was to sell 100 passes, a feat easily attained. She did the bulk of the work herself, with members of The Columbus Crafty Cotillion lending a hand as needed. This was Olivera’s pet project for eight months. She coordinated the schedules, the lunches, she physically shopped and supplied breakfast treats each morning. As I am sure you can imagine, it was an all-consuming affair that took time away from other things, like running her super successful retail shop. While Midwest Craft Caucus was a success in every way, she was very open about her wish to step down after the event, and pass along the info she had to anyone who wanted to continue it.

So after one great event, the idea sat for several years. The Midwest Craft Caucus still inspires nostalgia in those who were able to attend. You’d talk to your crafty neighbors about that two-day awesome conference back in the day, always wondering “When is someone going to bring it back?”

On yet another one of our holiday road trips in 2013, I shared with Olivera the idea of getting the band back together. I was fresh off a trip in Chicago where my husband and I had attended Adepticon, a four-day gaming convention. Attendees all stayed in the hotel and could play games and discuss their beloved hobby until the wee hours of the morning. The hotel lobby spilled over with sponsors and entrepreneurs selling kits and supplies. You would step off the elevator and be surrounded by new and old friends. The event-planning wheels in my head were turning. Midwest Craft Caucus would rise again.

craft corner deathmatch winners at midwest craft caucus
Craft Champions! Photo by Patrice Lehocky.

Me, Brit and Grace are continuing what Olivera started, with her blessing, and a small name change. We think Midwest Craft Con better represents the grandness of the event. Midwest Craft Con will resemble its predecessor in spirit, and our keynote speakers, Lisa Congdon and Abby Glassenberg, will surely pack the house and inspire us. We plan to add more time for attendees to meet and engage with one another, and add more hometown spirit, regardless of where you call home. Midwest Craft Con will be a place to build lasting friendships among makers. It will reinspire you and help you take your creative business to the next level. It will create new craft bonds that cross state lines.

Megan and Olivera at Midwest Craft Caucus
Craftersexual booth mates. Photo courtesy of my phone.

It will also be a place to see those friends you normally only see across the aisle at shows. It will be like an all-night road trip with your best friend to an out-of-state craft event. If you want to join us, be on the look out for our early bird tickets, which go on sale August 10. Sign up for our email newsletter to get notified!

Did you attend the 2011 Midwest Craft Caucus? Write about your experience in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “How Midwest Craft Con Started

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