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Full 2020 schedule + a special opening ceremonies!

Welcome to 2020, the year of Midwest Craft Con! We’ve just put up the full schedule of our creative business conference for your perusal. It is three days of business workshops with incredible speakers, hands-on crafting sessions and inspiring keynotes. If you haven’t gotten your ticket yet, those are available right here — and day passes are now available if you can only join us for part of the weekend. 

To help kick things off we are hosting a creative art show with our friends at Blockfort Galleries.  wohl_whiteamerica - Jessica Wohl

Statements crocheted in yarn. Manifestos in embroidery. Quilted declarations.

In a season of heated political discussion, Midwest Craft Con has partnered with the Blocfort to host an exhibition of craft as activism. Selected from a call-for-entries, these works cross traditional craft with topics political and social justice, showing just how loudly modern craft can speak as an art form.

Artists featured in the exhibition include Bonnie Peterson, Alyson Toone, Jessica Wohl, Al Hoff, Rachel Baker, Zak Foster, Jen Edwards, and Letitia Kenemer.


Full 2018 schedule, day passes and an important change!

vickie howell, the knit showWelcome to 2018, the year of Midwest Craft Con! We’ve just put up the full schedule of our creative business conference for your perusal. It is three days of business workshops with incredible speakers, hands-on crafting sessions and inspiring keynotes. If you haven’t gotten your ticket yet, those are available right here — and day passes are now available if you can only join us for part of the weekend.

And speaking of keynotes: We’ve got an important lineup change! The Breeders’ tour schedule is sadly taking Kelley Deal away from Ohio next month, and we will miss her. But we have found a fabulous replacement: Vickie Howell!

Vickie Howell is a broadcast personality, producer, author, designer, and instructor in the DIY world with a penchant for motivational speaking, and social media marketing. Vickie is well-known as the Host of TV shows such as DIY Network’s Knitty Gritty and Stylelicious, her best selling knitting, crochet, and craft books. Vickie strives to motivate and inspire people to both live creatively and make a living being creative — most recently reaching out to people via her Facebook Live series, Ask Me Monday, her online courses for CreativeLive and Brit+Co., her podcast, Craft*ish, and her latest project, the first studio-quality, community funded, internationally accessible knitting and crochet episodic series: The Knit Show with Vickie Howell. You’ll see her keynote talk Friday evening at the Con, and she’ll be giving a talk about running a successful Kickstarter campaign. Get your ticket here!


The Introvert Life with Gemma Correll

gemma correll, cartoonist,When we asked our Conners who they’d most like to see speak at a future con, Gemma Correll’s name came up more than once. We live to serve the craft community, and we made it happen!

Originally from England, Gemma is a writer, artist and cartoonist residing in Oakland, Calif., with her trusty pug sidekicks, Mr. Pickles and Bella. Gemma’s published works include The Worrier’s Guide to Life, The Feminist Activity Book and A Pug’s Guide to Etiquette, as well as her award-winning eponymous series of quirky, humorous greeting cards and gift products that are sold all over the world. Gemma is particularly well known for her comics about mental health in collaboration with charities including Mental Health America.

Gemma will be giving a keynote talk at Midwest Craft Con 2018 in Columbus, Ohio, but until then you can learn more about her below:

How would you describe your work to someone who isn’t familiar with it?

My work is narrative-based illustration with an emphasis on simple linework, humor in the form of wordplay … and pugs.

You are so huge on social media — how do you manage your big following and still get work done?

The things I post on social media are the things that I’d be making anyway. I spend as much time as I can on personal work — it only takes a couple of minutes to post.

Have you ever been to the Midwest before? Any thoughts, questions or concerns?

I have been to Lincoln, Neb., and Milwaukee, Wis. At first, I was very overwhelmed by the amount of space in the Midwest. I grew up in England and now live in the Bay Area in California — neither of which are known for being spacious. But I actually enjoy the feeling of freedom that comes with having more space and the more relaxed pace. I also find people in the Midwest to be very friendly. I’ve been to Louisville, Ky., a few times, and I know that’s technically the South, but it’s one of my favorite US cities.

What would you be if you weren’t an artist?

I’d be a teacher, a social worker or a psychologist, I think.

What will you talk about in your keynote?

I am planning to talk about where ideas come from, how to get through a creative block and then show you some photos of my pugs (because that’s what y’all really want to see!)

What three things would you recommend to makers?

Yoga (to help with posture and general mental health), animal companions and a good coffee maker.

What are your tips for introverts who are going to a conference?

Conferences can be a little overwhelming, especially if you’re an introvert but you feel like you have to be “on” all the time. I take frequent breaks — if I don’t, I get very tired and overstimulated. Just having a short walk outside to grab a coffee really helps.

What are you looking forward to most about Midwest Craft Con?

I find it really inspiring to be around like-minded people. I work at home by myself and it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. I really enjoy learning new crafts, too — especially when it’s just for fun (rather than for “work”). I’m also looking forward to visiting Columbus — I’ve heard good things about it, and there’s a tiki bar there that I’m dying to visit!

You can meet Gemma Correll at Midwest Craft Con in Columbus, Ohio! The event is Feb. 16-18, 2018, and early bird tickets are on sale now!


Cool as Kelley Deal, the Rockstar Knitter

kelley deal breeders, crafter, keynote speaker, interview

I’m beyond stoked that Kelley Deal is one of our keynote speakers for Midwest Craft Con in 2018! I’ve been trying to get this multihyphenate Midwesterner to join us since we started, and I have finally succeeded! Even if you don’t immediately recognize Kelley’s name, if you were conscious in the 1990s, you will recognize this bass line:

(That’s Kelley and her twin sister Kim Deal playing “Cannonball” as The Breeders.) In addition to being a rock star, Kelley Deal is an accomplished knitter who wrote a book and sells her upcycled scarves. Plus she’s still touring with the Breeders and R.Ring, and has a zillion other projects. She’s Midwestern and proud of it, living in her hometown of Dayton, Ohio, again to take care of her mom. She also happens to be good friends with both past conner keynote Chris Glass and famous internet cat Lil Bub. Here’s what it’s like living the dream:

How did you get started crafting?

My mom and father are both born and bred West Virginians. I remember my mom always sewing, our clothes, our curtains. It wasn’t considered hokey or kitschy, it was highly respected and an art form that was passed down. That’s how I got introduced to it.

Now my mother has full-blown Alzheimers. But recently I pulled out the quilt that she and I made when we went to Ben Franklin’s in the 1980s and took quilting classes because she wanted to learn how to make quilts better, and I didn’t know how at all. So I laid this quilt on her lap, and I knelt in front of her, and we were looking together, talking about the different parts of the quilt we made together. It’s just such a wonderful gift to share that. There’s something about this crafting thing that brings people together in a way that I don’t fully understand.

I was in Amsterdam in the mid-’90s, and I was sober at the time, and nothing was good on TV and I couldn’t read anymore. I had to have something to do with my hands. And the girlfriend of the drummer of the band we were touring with taught me how to knit. I made this really weird sweater, and I never really finished it, but it got me hooked. It was comforting. It was something my brain could deal with when I was starting to overthink. And then later when I was living in Minnesota, a roommate of mine was having a birthday, and I thought I’d make her a felted bag. Obssessed again! Later I met Vickie Howell, and she invited me to do her show, Knitty Gritty, and my project was this purse I knit and felted. And after that we kept in touch and she helped me work on a book that got picked up by Lark Books. Now it’s coming full circle, and I’m going to be on Vickie Howell’s new knitting show!

What’s your favorite thing about the Midwest?

The people. They’re good at work. Less talk, more work.

What would you be if you weren’t a musician?

I would be an artist. I’d have a studio and an easel looking over a river and covered in paint. I say that as a dreamscape — I can’t draw. Or I’d be a forensic coroner.

What’s it like being a rock star?

Serendipitous. It’s weird, because I don’t know. People say, “What’s it like being a twin?” And I’m like, “What’s it like not being a twin?” It’s hard to answer. I remember when MTV was playing Cannonball all the time, it was very different being a rock star on MTV then, with Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins. People came up and said hi. You were in the public awareness. Rock stars today are sports people or real housewives.

What three things would you recommend to makers?

  • I really like the Sartorialist because he makes me rethink texture and color should be.
  • The artist Paul Klee. His color work is breathtaking.
  • I love podcasts, especially one called American Fashion. I love hearing about other people’s processes and learning about fashion and how it’s changing. It makes me think about things differently. I also love The Conversation, this guy who talks to fine artists about process and the art economy.

What will you talk about in your keynote session?

Chris Glass said the crowd at Midwest Craft Con was amazing, and that you were so receptive. I’ll be talking about me and my journey — music and crafting and selling stuff online. I’m looking forward to it!

Rock out with Kelley Deal at Midwest Craft Con in Columbus, Ohio! The event is Feb. 16-18, 2018, and early bird tickets go on sale August 1!


Featured Speaker: Jen Hewett

jen hewettJen Hewett is a printmaker, surface designer, textile artist and teacher. A lifelong Californian, Jen combines her love of loud prints and saturated colors with the textures and light of the landscapes she grew up with to create printed textiles that are both highly tactile and visually layered.

When she’s not creating in her tiny (54 square feet!) San Francisco studio or teaching her popular block printing on fabric classes, she can be found cycling around San Francisco on her pink bike, chatting with her neighbors at the local wine bar, walking her tiny rescue dog Gus, gossiping with her friends, redecorating her apartment or noodling on her couch. And she is going to be one of our featured speakers at Midwest Craft Con 2017.

How would you describe your work to someone who isn’t familiar with it?

I create hand-printed textiles and textile art that are both highly tactile and visually layered.

What inspires you?

Aside from six months in Paris when I was in college, I’ve lived in California my entire life, and this place has been my biggest influence. It’s a state of great contrasts — a dry, desert landscape next to the ocean, suburban sprawl two hours away from pristine national parks, industrialized farms nestled among mountain preserves.

What one thing in your life could you absolutely get rid of?

The impulse to constantly check social media.

What is your favorite thing about the Midwest?

I don’t have one yet — the Midwest is the one part of the country I’ve never been to!

What are your pro tips for people going to a creative conference?

Know what you want to get out of the conference, but also go with an open mind.

What would you be if you weren’t an artist?  

Miserable. (Or, maybe, a landscape architect.)

What will you talk about in your keynote?

Making mistakes, feeling like an outsider, being an artist on your own terms.

What three things would you recommend to fellow makers?

  • Reading the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown, especially if you constantly feel overworked.
  • Keeping a notebook with you at all times.
  • Going for long walks as often as possible.

You can meet Jen and many other creative entrepreneurs at Midwest Craft Con in February 2017 — tickets are on sale now!


Featured Speaker: Chris Glass

chris glass designerIn the design world, sometimes the big names have big egos to match. But that is so not the case with Chris Glass, one of our featured speakers at Midwest Craft Con 2017.

You might be familiar with the shirts he’s designed for Wire and Twine, a design firm that happens to own screen-printing equipment. He is currently on a year-long civic sabbatical with People’s Liberty to explore photography as encouragement for being a tourist in your own city — the new project is called PhotoCorps. He shares a sunny loft apartment in an old factory in Cincinnati with his sassy cat, Edie.

How would you describe your work to someone who isn’t familiar with it?

Simple designs with a bit of tongue in cheek. I’ve made things from websites to T-shirts and logos and records and a bunch of other corporate stuff like banner stands for trade shows. I also take photographs from time to time, mostly for fun, but sometimes they end up in books for cats on the internet. I like to think it all comes from the same hand.

What inspires you?

Everything that Jim Henson did. Mister Rogers philosophy on life. Ed Emberley’s drawing books for kids that work great for adults. Charley Harper’s geometric awesomeness. I love the joy magnet that is Tina Roth Eisenberg (aka SwissMiss) and her ability to bring people together in the name of creativity. Finding new music to play while working or relaxing. Traveling to new places, revisiting favorites. Going off the grid.

What one thing in your life could you absolutely get rid of?

Links in my social media feeds. Especially 30-second recipe videos that showcase how you can make dishes with canned refrigerated biscuits.

What is your favorite thing about the Midwest?

Not being a slave to the cost of living. The four seasons. Elbow room. Wait, that’s three things…

What are your pro tips for people going to a creative conference?

Say Hi. Pace yourself: Have a water between each stiff drink.

What would you be if you weren’t an artist?

I’d love to understand programming better. To develop things that work and rely on stuff like databases.

What will you (likely) talk about in your keynote?

How design can fix your life.

What three things would you recommend to makers?

You can meet Chris and many other creative entrepreneurs at Midwest Craft Con in February 2017 — tickets are on sale now!


Featured Speaker: Yao Cheng

yao-chengWe’re excited that watercolor artist and designer Yao Cheng, one of our featured speakers at Midwest Craft Con 2017, doesn’t have to travel very far to speak at our creative business conference. That’s because Yao calls Columbus, Ohio, home!

Located in downtown Columbus, Yao Cheng Design is an online retail shop and design studio where Yao’s modern and bright watercolors come to life on products and clientele work. The retail side focuses on a range of products for the home, such as art prints, textiles and paper goods, while the design studio focuses on creating specialty wedding stationery and larger client projects. Let’s meet Yao!

How would you describe your work to someone who isn’t familiar with it?

I love combining my background of fine art with my loves for color, patterns and geometry, and translate them into various products ranging from art prints to home-decor textiles and wedding stationeries. My work is a modern interpretation of watercolor, and they tend to be very fluid and expressive, which is influenced from my experience with Chinese calligraphy.

What inspires you?

I find inspiration in a lot of different things. I’ve always loved geometry and nature, so the two combined is always fascinating to me. Color is also a big part of my inspiration board, I love collecting color palettes that have a sense of balance and complexity. Photography and calligraphy are other inspirations that push me to seek out images that are dramatic and emotional. I use my Pinterest boards pretty consistently for all of these different kinds of visuals.

What one thing in your life could you absolutely get rid of?

Going through airport security. I always find it to be an unnecessary stress for me and really ruins the flying experience!

What is your favorite thing about the Midwest?

How friendly and supportive the community is! Everyone here in Columbus have been really supportive and encouraging of me embarking on this path from the beginning. I really treasure the camaraderie. The mid-size creative community here is also something I value. I love that it is still small enough that everyone knows of everyone’s work, but big enough also that we have a real diversity! Outside of the creative community, I love the nature that we are surrounded by and the tempo of life feels very fitting for me.

What are your pro tips for people going to a creative conference?

It’s a time to enjoy soaking up all of the different types of creatives and ideas that are floating around! Chat, mingle and be curious about what others are doing, even if it’s totally different from what you do. I find that ideas will spark with my own work when I least expect it.

What would you be if you weren’t an artist?

I think a lot of different things, but in the order of realistic possibilities, probably a therapist, a pianist and an astronaut! I think it would be absolutely fascinating to travel out in space and see all of the spectacles of our planets.

What will you talk about in your keynote?

How to strike a balance between making products that are both artistically fulfilling but can also make a profit in terms on running a business.

What three things would you recommend to makers?

I would recommend Design Matters with Debbie Millman for a design podcast, connecting with local creatives in your community and to try something new every year (either in terms of business strategy or an ambitious project). I’ve learned that one of the biggest ways that I’ve grown as an entrepreneur and business owner is to take risks and try projects that I have no idea how to do but still feel really excited about!

You can meet Yao and many other creative entrepreneurs at Midwest Craft Con in February 2017 — tickets are on sale now!


A Q&A with Lisa Congdon

Lisa CongdonIf I had to describe Lisa Congdon in one word it would be badass. She proves that it’s never too late to pursue a creative career, and that to make your dreams happen, you have to put in the work. (Just look at her Instagram to see her many projects in progress.) I’m lucky to call her a friend, and we’re lucky to have her as a keynote speaker at Midwest Craft Con!

Grace: How would you describe your work to someone who isn’t familiar with it?

Lisa: I am a fine artist and illustrator, mostly. That means that I create both original works of art that sell in galleries and also illustrations — artwork that goes on published things like books and magazines or decorative things like wallpaper or fabric or practical things like journals and note cards. I am also an author, and now have created (written or illustrated) seven books, including Art Inc.: The Essential Guide to Building Your Career as an Artist. I teach lots of classes online, including both art classes, professional practice classes, and business classes.

How does it feel to be so successful after starting your art career relatively late in your life?

I didn’t start drawing or painting until I was 31 years old, and for many years it was all just a hobby — a way to relieve stress outside my job. I never went to school to study art, either. When I began to make a full time career of it around the time I was 40, it actually felt scary and mysterious! I had no idea what being a professional artist entailed or what was expected of me. I still hadn’t really fully developed my voice as an artist, either. But I didn’t let my fear or ignorance stop me, and I tried to figure out as much as I could on my own and asked a lot of advice of more experienced artists and illustrators. Eventually, I forged a path for myself, and all my hard work paid off. I started to make a decent living as an artist, and my career took off. At first I felt like an imposter in the art world. I felt like I didn’t belong and that eventually I would get kicked out for not being a “real” artist. (I think I felt this way because I was self-taught.) But then I sort of eased into it and began to embrace my new identity and career. I realized most people didn’t care if I had gone to school or not! In fact, I learned that many people who did go to school to study art didn’t know how to make a living at it, either. Now I have a good sense of accomplishment about where I have gone over the past 16 years. I eventually wrote a book about everything I learned, because I found out that many other people, some young and some older like me, also were confused and overwhelmed by the thought of making a living from their art or craft.

Have you been to the Midwest? What do you think of it and the makers who live there?

I have been to the Midwest quite a bit, and I love it! My father is from Indiana, and I used to go there regularly as a kid. I’ve spent lots of time in Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Chicago too. Three years ago I spoke at Moxie Con in Chicago, and two years ago I spoke at Weapons of Mass Creation in Cleveland. I have a love for every part of the country and for people in general — and the Midwest and its people are no different. One of my first great experiences as a maker and artist back in 2008 was showing my work at the former Paper Boat Gallery in Milwaukee, which was curated and run by artist, maker and writer Faythe Levine, who wrote Handmade Nation (and created the film of the same name). Faythe became a mentor and friend to me as well. Several years later, I was in a show at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee curated by Andrea Avery (who learned of my work through Faythe), and who now works at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan. At that show at the University of Wisconsin, I met sculptor Liz Miller (who was also in the show) who teaches at the Minnesota State University Mankato. We became friends, and in 2015 I did a teaching residency in Mankato! I have found that the connections I’ve made in the Midwest have led to really amazing opportunities! There is a spirit of generosity there that is unparalleled.

What are your favorite things about traveling to conferences? 

Mostly I love seeing different parts of the country and world. I also love meeting new people, learning about what people are making, how they approach promoting and selling their work, what they are struggling with, what they are excited about, what inspires them.

Can you give us a little preview of your keynote talk? 

I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about this idea that there are messages we tell ourselves about why something won’t work or why we might never be successful at what we do. Most of these messages come from decades of deeply ingrained cultural beliefs about what it means to be an artist or maker: that we are destined to be poor or that we aren’t smart business people. I believe those messages hold us back and prevent many people from even attempting to make a living at what they do. My goal right now is the turn those preconceived notions on their heads, and to help people, women in particular, to embrace not only their craft, but their aspirations for success — in whatever way they define it. And I also want to inspire women to begin to redefine what success can look like for them. Of course, none of that comes easily or without hard work, organization, strategic decision making. But reframing our mindsets about who we are and what we are capable of is where I like to start.

What three books would you recommend to makers who need some business inspiration?

Of course, I would be remiss not to recommend my own business book: Art Inc.! I also love Show Your Work by Austin Kleon and Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance by Jonathan Fields.

You can meet Lisa and many other creative entrepreneurs at Midwest Craft Con in February 2016 — tickets are on sale now!


A Q&A with Abby Glassenberg

Abby Glassenberg SewingAbby Glassenberg began her crafty career as a sewing pattern designer, but I’d describe her now as a crafts industry watchdog. Her blog dives deep into the craft industry, calling out bad actors and getting real answers about contracts and money. She and I have played Siskel and Ebert on the Etsy issue this year, and I’m so excited to finally meet her in person when she’s a keynote speaker at Midwest Craft Con!

Grace: Your career includes so many hyphens: What all do you do? 

Abby: I want creative people, and creative women in particular, to have the tools and information they need to succeed in the craft and sewing industry. That’s my mission statement and I use it to guide me as I make choices about which projects to take on.

I began in the crafts industry as a sewing pattern designer and blogger. I’ve written several craft books, but the one that I hold dearest is called Stuffed Animals: From Concept to Construction. My goal with that book was to help home sewists to design their own patterns for dolls and toys, patterns that they could then use to start small businesses or to make unique things for family and friends.

On my blog, While She Naps, I write about entrepreneurship from the perspective of someone who has a creative business right now. I share income reports, productivity tips, legal issues that affect crafters, and more. I try to shine a light in dark corners and explain how big companies work so that independent artists can make good decisions based on full information.

My podcast is also focused on this same mission. I talk with people from all sectors of the craft industry about how they built their businesses. Sharing their experiences in an audio format is another way for crafters to learn how the parts of industry work and make the best choices for themselves going forward.

I also teach sewing and write a popular newsletter. Whew! That’s a lot of things, but really I’ve found that keeping my mission at the center helps all of the seemingly disparate pieces come together.

Social media is a huge part of your business. Did it take time to get so good at it or did you find it comes naturally?

I have a different relationship with each of the social media channels and some definitely took more time to learn to love. I’ve been a blogger for a decade now and in a way blogging was the first form of social media so I think I was primed to like it!

I really loved Twitter right from the start because for me Twitter serves two important purposes: a way to connect with colleagues and a way to keep on top of industry news. I love the fast pace and water cooler like atmosphere on Twitter. Facebook for business has never been my passion although I’m there interacting every day. I do really value Facebook groups and having one for my business has been excellent. As Instagram has become increasingly important for businesses, especially businesses with art or craft or other visually-focused content, I have focused more energies there. Although I will admit to being a late adopter, now I love it.

No matter what the social media channel, I try to enjoy it and use it for my business in a way that feeds my creativity and curiosity so that it’s not a chore. I see it as a way to develop relationships, get inspired, and have fun.

Have you been to the Midwest? What do you think of it and the makers who live there?

My father grew up in Chicago and much of his family still lives in the Midwest. We spent several summers when I was a child visiting my great aunt, Becky, who lived on Lake Michigan and used to run a resort for Jewish families who summered there. Aunt Becky taught me how to make a four-legged animal out of a single lump of clay, a skill I now use to impress my own children. She also made an incredible beef stroganoff.

I think when makers anywhere gather all kinds of fantastic connections and collaborations are formed. I’m so excited about the rebirth of Midwest Craft Con so that there’s a new and vibrant place to gather!

What are you looking forward to most about Midwest Craft Con? 

I’m looking forward to learning, laughing and feeling supported and uplifted, and hopefully doing my part to teach and uplift a bit as well while I’m there. Most of us work alone, often in our home studios, and it can feel a bit isolating. Coming together to hear each others voices and see one another’s faces and learn together is the absolute best!

Can you give us a little preview of your keynote talk? 

Oh geez, the pressure is on! I plan to talk about the importance of following your own interests as though it was your job. When I first started out in 2005 I had been a middle school social studies teacher. Building a craft business had never crossed my mind. I knew that I love to sew dolls and toys and that I loved to write and read and research and so I began doing all of those things, but not in a casual sorta way. In a committed way. In a “this is my job” sorta way.

By designing and writing every day as though it were my job it became my job! I really feel like this idea can apply to whatever you’re interested in. If you pursue it with discipline and you’re not afraid to share it, even in it’s raw and early stages, you can make the thing you love doing most into a career. That’s what I’m going to explore in my talk.

What three books would you recommend to makers who need some business inspiration?

For an inspiring memoir of a maker, I loved Heather Ross’ book How to Catch a Frog. For true business advice, I like Jonah Berger’s book Contagious: Why Things Catch On. And for a mix of the two, I recommend Tony Hsieh’s book about starting Zappos, Delivering Happiness.

You can meet Abby and many other creative entrepreneurs at Midwest Craft Con in February 2016 — tickets are on sale now!