Event Report: Made in Nerdwaukee Tent Sale

Back in March I vended at TINY HANDS craft show to benefit Planned Parenthood.  It was a great experience, not only for the money I made, but because I had forgotten how empowering it can be to spend time with artists and crafters who are passionate about their work.  Most conventions I vend at I’m often stuck in the booth, so I don’t get much time to chat with other vendors, and often the other vendors are reselling mass produced items.  So there’s not a lot of opportunities for me to soak in the creative vibes that come from being surrounded by makers.

I made a note in my journal that I wanted to find more geek-friendly craft fairs to vend at.  This led me to the Made in Nerdwaukee Tent Sale hosted by 42 Ale House.  This is the third Made in Nerwaukee event 42 Ale House has hosted.  Last year they had the tent sale and then a Christmas event, all featuring crafters from the area.  From what I had heard from the grapevine, it was a good, low-key craft fair with the added benefit of being hosted by a bar so one had accesses to alcoholic refreshment.

While I love travelling to Milwaukee because I get to hang out with fellow crafter and friend, Moira, this trip was special.  For the first time I allowed myself to get excited about vending.  Where before I was always riddled with guilt about either dragging my family along with me, or leaving them behind, I had finally decided to embrace the fact that this is my job.  Not only that, but this is a job I enjoy and having fun with what I do is not something to be ashamed about.

I spent the three days before heading out on prep work instead of my usual frantic hustle to get one last skirt or bag done.  I made signage and worked on displays and crafted little sewing gnomes and skull carrying unicorns.  Most importantly, I actively worked on keeping my anxiety levels low, and my anticipation of having a good time high.

Cross Stitch Signs
An example of the signage I worked up for Nerdwaukee. I really like the simplicity of the sign, and it does go along with my evolving booth aesthetic.

Come Saturday I was up, showered and dressed, and had the Jeep packed by 7:45 am, a minor miracle around these parts.  A quick stop for caffeine and breakfast saw me on the road by 8:00.  I headed up to Milwaukee blasting Electric Six, and letting my phone’s GPS guide my way.

I love road trips.  I grew up in Wyoming where they are necessary for everything from visiting relatives to getting groceries.  Driving I-94 from Chicago to Milwaukee isn’t the same as a stretch of US-20 between Worland and Cody.  It’s not without it’s charms, though.

Made in Nerdwaukee was thoroughly charming.  Moira’s booth was to the right of me.  To the left was Copper Chicken run by Nichole, who makes wonderfully geeky pillows.  I also finally met Michelle of Crafted in the flesh after a year or more of knowing about her through Moira.  Sitting in shady tent, sipping on a cider and chatting with customers was the perfect way to spend a Saturday.  I was even introduced to a Wisconsin staple—cheese curds—making this event peak Milwaukee for me.

Made in Nerdwaukee Display
A pared down set up at Nerdwaukee. I still managed to fit pouches, wallets, usb holders, keychains, dice bags, skirts and scarves into a 5″ x 5″ space.

One of the highlights of the day was chatting with a lesbian couple about making some pieces for their wedding.  They are planning costumed nuptials with one dressing as Morticia Addams.  The more I say I am not a wedding sewist, the more the Universe keeps challenging me on that, it seems.

Mildred at Nerdwaukee
MIldred donned a scarf, bag and skirt for the day. I’m considering making a belt to hang bags off here at future events.

In between sales patter and actual sales, I worked on an embroider project.  This piece isn’t for anything, it was just something to keep me occupied when traffic was slow.  I find working on a project is better than screwing around on my phone; it saves on the battery, too.

Embroidered Project
Had some fabric, needle and floss, and a hoop in my booth bin (as you do) so I worked on this creature between chatting with customers.

As I have for the last few events, I made slightly more than my goal.  Since I changed the way I calculate what my target is I have met and/or exceeded it every time*.  So I take that to mean I am doing something right.

This was my first event since April and I’ve realized I have to have one every four to six weeks.  Longer gaps between shows means I end up with very lean weeks.  The nice thing about Nerdwaukee was that I didn’t spend any money on creating inventory.  I took only what I had on hand.  That plus the low cost of the booth meant it was a good filler event between major ones.  If I can find more of these kinds of craft fairs, it would mean greater financial stability.

At the end of the day Moira introduced me to a Polish buffet.  We ate potato pancakes and perogies and plotted our next adventures.  I headed home full and happy and singing till I was hoarse to “Improper Dancing.”  The night ended with a glass of blackberry whiskey before bed.

This is it: the contentment that I have been fighting for for years.  A day of happiness with what I do.  I still have issues: financial, mental and emotional. There is so much more work I have to do, this is just a pit stop on the road.


*My old calculation for events was Number of Expected Attendees × Number of Cents Per Attendee.  Both numbers were volatile, dependent upon my ability to accurately estimate how many people would be at an event and then adjusting the cents/attendee to the kind of event I was vending at.

My new calculation is Event Expenses (booth fee, travel expenses, etc.) + (# of hours of the event × $20).

Convention Report: Midwest Gaming Classic

There are many things I like: the color purple, unicorns, turtles, wine, fuzzy socks, working in my pjs.  Over the past few months I’ve added two new items to that list: the way women’s faces light up when I tell them the skirts I make have pockets, and when a woman pulls on a skirt, hands me cash, and dances out of the booth, headed for adventure.  I got to experience those Christmas morning grins and twirling happiness many times over this past weekend at the Midwest Gaming Classic.

Held outside of Milwaukee, MGC encompasses a spectrum of gaming: from arcade to console to tabletop.  My booth was in the outdoor tent they erect in the parking lot of the hotel.  That plus the corner stage that saw a rotation of various bands, and the whole event had a flea market, county fair feel where cosplay, jazz renditions of the Mario Brothers theme, and air hockey all came together.  It attracts around 10,000 attendees, and hosts various rooms with arcade games free to play.

The stage part was equal parts fun and annoying.  The booth was right across from the stage and every hour for an hour there was an act.  Most of the time it was loud to the point of headache inducing.  It also made it hard to talk with customers.

And there were lots of customers.  The foot traffic was steady for all of Saturday and most of Sunday.  Men with backpacks, ball caps and shuffled the aisles, their mouths pulled into frowns of concentration as they scanned the boxes of game cartridges, computer parts and vintage ephemera.  Kids and teens skipped from one booth to another, touching everything, all thrown limbs and tripping feet.  The women strolled, weaving their way through the crowd, here dipping into a booth and then lighting out, carrying a plushy, a signed print, or some other prize of geekery.

I shared the booth with Moira of Memento Moria.  By our crafty powers combined we are Awesome Geek Girl Wearables!  Splitting a booth with someone not only helps with keeping costs down, but it means you both will have back up for bathroom breaks and food runs.  I was reminded why this is so important by our booth neighbor: a sweet guy selling anime fan staples like Pocky, along with candy, drinks and bookmarks.  He did steady business, and was on his own for the entire weekend.  We helped out when we could, keeping an eye on things so he could run to the restroom.  By the second day my anxiety was triggered by worry that someone would walk off with something.  Thankfully I had medication with me and I have gotten much better at taking it when I need it, rather than trying to tough the anxiety out.

The only low part came in the morning of Sunday while I was watching our neighbor’s booth.  A man looking at the bookmarks caught my eye, pointed at me, and then beckoned me with his finger.  The gesture was so dismissive, so patronizing, I had the instant urge to bite the digit off.  Instead I just told him curtly that it wasn’t my booth and the owner would be back soon.  Finger Man slithered his way down the aisle, never to be seen again.

Over all, it was a really good convention.  I made a little more than my goal*, handed out lots of business cards, and even had someone follow me on Instagram as we talked in the booth.

And now I am back.  I took Monday off to recuperate, because working conventions is hard work, no matter what my Jerk Brain would have me believe.  And now I am ready to head back into the workshop to work on the commissions I took at the show and to get ready for the next event which will likely be in June.

As for Midwest Gaming Classic, I’ve already made plans to return next year.


*I reworked how I calculated my sales goals this year.  Before I would take the number of expected attendees and multiply that by the amount per person I usually make at similar events.  The problem, though, is that different kinds of events have wildly different amount per person: Anime conventions, for example, tend to bring in a little under a dollar per person, whereas general science fiction conventions is more in the .25-.50 cent range.  This difference made for lots of variation and guesswork, and if an anime convention had a bad year, it cast doubt on the numbers.

Instead, I decided to figure out the number of hours I would be at an event and multiply that by how much per hour I charge for labor.  The resulting number is lower than the previous calculation, however I have hit that goal and exceeded it each time.  At this point I will take a more realistic, if lower, sales goal.

SLCC: The Good, The Bad & the Ugly

I headed back to Salt Lake City this last weekend for the Salt Lake Comic Con.  It was me, Stephan, our kids, two checked duffel bags of inventory, and a determination to sell handmade geekery to the masses.

So how did that work out?

Let’s start with the good.  Despite a mishap that saw myself, the kids and luggage on the train to the hotel and Stephan left behind at the station, the trip there was relatively uneventful*.  Ben managed to keep his chaotic energy to a minimum while Charlotte played numerous games of Solitaire on her phone.

We got to our spot in the Salt Palace Convention Center with little difficulty and got set up in record time.  Stephan provided extra lung power to get Johanns Rex inflated and ready for his convention debut.  I forgot to pack clothes pins so I had to improvise a hanging solution for the skirts with binder clips.  All in all, I think the set up was good.  Especially later when I raided the empty space next to me for another table for the dice bags.

Stephan inflating the giant T-rex.
You know what they say about a man with big lung capacity, don’t you?
When not modeling bustles in the booth, Johanns T-Rex pilots an airship crewed by raptors called The Clever Girl.
When not modeling bustles in the booth, Johanns T-Rex pilots an airship crewed by raptors called The Clever Girl.

The good came in many different forms: Several friends stopped by the booth to offer support via food runs, helping to hock wares, and entertaining children.  Charlotte spent a lot of time in the booth drawing and running the Square.  Everyone who heard the refrain, “All the skirts have pockets” squealed with joy.  At least three men picked up a business card because their wives weren’t at the convention but they were certain to be interested in the skirts.  At one point, a woman pulled a skirt on over her leggings, paid and then twirled out of the booth.

Skirts and bustles ready to cover some geeky butts.
Skirts and bustles ready to cover some geeky butts.

The bad, though, was pretty bad.  At the end of the con I joked with myself that the awesome thing about capitalism is that it could enumerate just how much of a failure a person is in dollars and cents.  I had come out to the convention with the optimistic goal of $10,000 in sales.  That number would be really hard to make, but I had twelve grand in inventory, plus I expected to get lots of commissions for the skirts.  Based on what I made at SLC FanX in March (almost $1,500 with half the number of attendees) I could reasonably expect to make $3,000.

Readers, I pulled in a whopping $915.

Saturday night, as I broke down the booth, I had a hard time keeping Jerk Brain at bay.  Every single horrible thing he has ever said to me felt true.  I was a worthless loser, a dumbass who chose the wrong thing every time.  I was stupid and irresponsible and lazy and a burden to my family.  Why did I keep deluding myself into thinking I could support myself and my family by sewing?  If anyone could do it we wouldn’t be buying cheap T-shirts from sweatshops.

Sunday wasn’t much better.  I became intimately acquainted with the hotel bed while Stephan and the kids spent time with friends.  I deactivated my Facebook account because I couldn’t face people with the weight of my failure.  Monday we flew back to Chicago with me dragging behind my family every step of the way.

I kept thinking about how I had proven myself a failure, how I would have to give up the sewing and the idea that I could make a living from home.  I was convinced that the only thing I was good for was taking up space.  Back home, once I was sure that Trixie still loved me, we had unpacked and gotten the kids off to bed, Stephan poured me a glass of wine and we talked.  And he pointed out that really, all I proved was that I shouldn’t do conventions right now.  The benefit of a host of potential customers in a small space wasn’t actually manifesting.  I handed out a lot of business cards and got people signed up to my mailing list, but that was something I could do from home.

Stephan talked me off of the ledge of giving up on everything.  We came up with a new game plan that focuses on non-event related sales and marketing.  And this morning I started listing those skirts that didn’t sell on my Etsy.

You would think making a tenth of what I was expecting would fall under the category “Ugly” and, yet, this isn’t the case.  One of the things that I like about Salt Lake City is that people are very nice.  When the train fiasco happened people were kind to help me get luggage off the train at the next station to wait for Stephan.  A man stopped by and checked up on us when he saw me and the kids sitting out on our own late at night.  That friendliness was in attendance for the most part at the convention.  The flip side, however, was a level of bad behavior I’ve never experienced at another convention.

I learned when I started vending not to use the line “Everything here is meant to be touched.”  While most people would understand that I meant the stock in my booth, there was always one or more men who would cock an eyebrow and say “Anything?” in that gross aren’t-I-so-clever way.  On Friday, I learned that the behavior cannot be stopped by using the right words, or is even limited to just men.  My friend Kyra was helping a lady and said “You are welcome to touch things in the booth.”

The woman reached out and touched Kyra’s face!

This … this is not appropriate behavior for life, let alone a convention.  I didn’t see it happen, else there would have been a body shoved under the table.  The woman fled when Kyra told her firmly, “Not me!”  Good thing I’m not going to do conventions for a while, else I’d have to make up a sign that read, “Please do not pet the staff.”

Poor Kyra bore the brunt of the bad behavior that weekend.  At one point a guy walking past yelled at her, “I’m in the need of some discipline, will you discipline me?”  Again, something that won’t be an issue if I don’t vend at conventions, however I am now imagining how I can weaponize my belly fat so I can just start whapping such dude bros.

Because this kind of thing always happens in threes, I overheard a man yelling that he only wanted the two hottest girls from a group cosplay in his photo.  Chalk one more person up for a hit a run by my thunder thighs.

So now it is back home time.  Ben is now in full day kindergarten, which means I now have dedicated hours to sew.  And that’s what I’m going to do.  I have a few commissions from SLCC to work on.  That should also mean there will be more posting here.  First up, I’ll get a tutorial for the skirts posted in the next few days.


*We flew from Chicago to SLC.  The train I mention was from the SLC airport to the hotel.  At $10 for a one way trip for four people, it was well worth the late night Griswold-esque adventure.

True Tales From Conventions: Touching Myself

The first convention I vended at was ICC 2008.  I had driven out to Detroit with a box full of scarves and bags.  I was nervous as hell: I was getting divorced, I had been out of the job market for four years, 2008 was … well 2008, and I was unsure how I was going to support myself and my daughter.

I spent the weekend sitting at a table with my friend Sarah B, taking a crash course in how to vend.  I learned first hand about the weird, frantic energy that comes with interacting with a lot of people in a small space.  Add in not enough food, not enough rest, not enough breaks and you get the following:

roach (talking to a customer about a scarf): Yes, I love the tactile nature of the material.  You just can’t help but touch yourself when you wear it.

Sarah B: roach!  (Sarah B physically inserts herself between roach and the customer and sends roach to the corner to sew beads on bags.)

The moral of the story is: always have a friend who is willing to intervene when your filter comes loose.

At the Pr0n Show: Vending at Exxxotica

The man in my booth is serenading his Real Doll.  It’s hard to hear him over the music from the dance floor/strip show next to us, but I can make out the lyrics to “Something Good“.  He strokes the doll’s cheek, and his voice falters with emotion. I’m smiling as politely as I can.  When he looks up at me at the end of the song, I can see he recognizes my discomfort.  I get the feeling he’s used to this: people disturbed by the affection he shows an inanimate object.  “Thank you,” he tells me, and then he gingerly maneuvers the wheelchair his doll rests in out of the booth.

I want to tell him that I get it; that I understand passions that aren’t mainstream.  I come from science fiction fandom and I know the isolation that singular interests can bring.  But my feet ache from seven hours standing on a concrete floor.  And my kindness has withered under the disappointment of only twenty-eight dollars in sales.  It is 11:45 PM Friday night at Exxxotica, a three-day “adult” event, and I’m six hours into the realization that I made a big mistake.


A week ago I got a text from Steve, asking if I was interested in a booth at an event the following weekend.  I’d met Steve back in March at Fan Fest, where he had said my custom corsetry work would be popular at Exxxotica.  I had been non-committal,  he had taken my card, and I had completely forgotten about him.  After the Fan Fest fiasco, I was leery of committing to another event I had no experience with, so I did some research before calling him.  According to Wikipedia, the events had been running since 2006 and the first Chicago show drew 26,500 attendees.  So, not a brand new show, and seemingly good attendance.  On the phone I asked Steve how many attendees they expected and he said twenty thousand was their average.  Even if I did less than the fifty cents per attendee that I can usually expect from shows, it would be a good chunk of change.

Steve also offered to charge me $400 for the booth rather than the usual $1000 for a small vendor booth.  He was willing to cut me a deal, he said, since he knew I was a small, commission-based seamstress.  “By the way,” he added once I had agreed, “don’t tell the other vendors what you paid.  It’s a special deal for you and they’d be upset for paying full price.”


Friday morning Stephan dropped me off at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center to set up.  We’d decided he would take the day off to stay with the kids.  Unwilling to pay for a baby-sitter and unable to get help* I’d be working this event alone.  I whittled the booth accouterments to a bare minimum.  I had a rack of bustles, some bags and chainmail jewelry.  The main thrust of the booth, however, was going to be Mildred and Alphonse modelling corsets.

Never having attended an “adult” convention, I had no idea what to expect in terms of other vendors.  Some met my, admittedly limited, imaginings: sex toy booths, lingerie, a couple of other corset vendors.  Some were surprising but understandable: vape vendors, a cigar booth, several destination vacation booths.  And some of the vendors were confusing: a scented candle booth, a tent selling shoe inserts, an artist selling glass blown vases.  The floor had a flea market feel.

My neighbors were a gay couple selling vintage porn (which included several boxes of VHS tapes with hand-written labels).  Across the way was a booth for a gentleman’s club as well as the performer RubberDoll.  During set up I listened to a playlist I had put together for the event.  I was a bit keyed up, a bit stressed by being out and about and alone in a completely unfamiliar environment.  On the other side of me they tested the sound system for the stage, which involved cranking the volume on the music to eleven every thirty seconds.

By the time Mr. Serenade makes his impromptu performance, I have hit full-blown disappointment mode.  The traffic all night has been underwhelming, nowhere near the crush I would expect for an even that draws more than twenty thousand visitors.  This is supposed to be the busiest time, as well, since Friday night is “Ladies Get In Free”.  By then I’ve gotten used to the sight of nipple-less breasts**.  My throat hurt from shouting over the music.  A drunk woman grabbed my phone, got onto Facebook and sent herself a friend request from me.  I quickly cancelled the request once she had left the booth.

I headed home at 12:30 AM, exhausted, in pain and near tears.  Jerk Brain was having a field day letting me know what a horrible mistake I had made.  My usual tactic of dealing with it wasn’t working.  It hammered on and on about all the ways I was stupid and lazy and inadequate.  I may have given up if I hadn’t come home to find that Stephan and set out a glass of wine and chocolate for me.  I hadn’t texted him all day, not wanting to dump my disappointment on him, but somehow he knew and he had done what he could for me.  I told myself that Saturday would be better and went to bed.


If Friday had been a tragedy, Saturday was a comedy of errors.  Forty-five minutes after opening, on of the A.C. units caught fire, sending us out of the building.  Standing in the roundabout, I watched the crowd, about a couple hundred strong, most of them vendors, talent and event workers.  The talent, women in costume, had taken to posing for pictures.  Vloggers walked around with cellphones on selfie-sticks, video cameras, even laptops, taking video of the crowd and reporting.  The rest of us sweated in the muggy heat.

Eventually we were let back in.  Saturday traffic was even slower than the night before.  I broke out my cross-stitch and answered questions from passersby like “Where is the bathroom?” and “Do you know where Ron Jeremy is?”  An hour after coming back in the roof sprung a leak, sending a cascade of rain water into my booth and the neighbors.  All of my work escaped unshowered, the vintage porn was not so lucky.

Steve stopped by to check in on me.  “There is no way there are twenty thousand people here,” I said in an uncharacteristic moment of confrontation.

“Well, that’s over three days …” Steve launched into a meandering list of excuses why attendance might be down, including:

  • The fire alarm scaring people off
  • the rain
  • all the other events going on that weekend
  • that the twenty thousand number always includes vendors and talent

What he never once mentioned, and what I wouldn’t find out until Sunday,w as the main reason for the lack of people: the event had been moved up a month.  eventually he wound down and finished with “I can’t make people buy things.”

“You sure as hell can’t when there aren’t any people around to begin with.” (I have no idea where this new found ability to call people out on their shit to their face, but if was scary and awesome at once.)

“Well, I don’t know what we could do, maybe offer you a free booth for next year.”  I think I actually laughed at him at this point.  I did tell him that I wouldn’t be coming back based on my experience this year.  He left then, never to be seen again, at least by me.

At this point I felt comfortable enough asking what the other vendors paid for their space.  Every single one of them had the same answer: $400, a special deal for them that wasn’t offered to anyone else.  The vendors and attendees who had been at previous years all said the same thing: this was the smallest, sparsest Exxxotica any of them had seen.  Most of the vendors admitted they’d be lucky if they broke even.

Driving home Jerk Brain wasn’t content with the fact that everyone was having a horrible convention.  I should have known that something was up when Steve offered me such a deal on the booth so close to the show date.  Once again I had taken a chance and I had failed.


Sunday dawned overcast and humid.  I got more work done on my cross-stitch.  A guy yelled at me to “Smile” and I imagined turning him into a corset.  I talked to more vendors where I learned about the date change.  To save money on the event space they had moved Exxxotica from July to June.  When the move was done, I don’t know, but clearly it had a negative effect on the entire show.

If I had known about the date change I would not have gotten a booth. In the end I made back half of my costs.  It’s better than nothing, but it feels like failure and Jerk Brain is now working overtime.

I was planning on Wizard World Chicago, but after Fan Fest and after talking to other vendors, I don’t think it would be a good event for me.  Which means I am done for 2015.  I will start looking at 2016 now.  Perhaps C2E2 or ACEN will answer e-mails if I contact them.  Maybe I’ll apply for an artist booth at GenCon.  And there’s always Midwinter.  That’s for next week, though.  This week is recovery, cleaning up the workshop, and resisting the temptation to eat all the Pop Tarts in the house.


*I had a couple of friends who considered helping, but eventually couldn’t because they were worried about pictures being posted online.  Another friend was okay with that, but I ended up telling him I’d do it on my own because I didn’t feel comfortable exposing him to the risk.  I don’t care what pictures of me are out there, and I understand that others have different levels of comfort for where their image shows up, so I was prepared to be on my own this time.

**The irony that nipples have to be covered at the adult show is only eclipsed by the fact that guys could walk around nipples out all weekend long.  Some women had fancy, glittery pasties.  Others used bandages or even flesh colored coverings which brought to mind mastectomy scars.  By the end of the weekend I was boobed out.

Convention Report: Wizard World Fan Fest

I want to be able to report that we headed into Wizard World Fan Fest like gangbusters and came out swaddled in a warm Snuggie made out of cash.  Alas, that is not the case.

The weekend started off great.  Stephan and I headed into the city Friday morning to set up.  We were hyped up on caffeine and sugar (and no sleep on my part).  Set up was super easy.  We got there before most of the other artists and got to drive right into the show floor.  Between the two of us we got everything ready in a couple of hours and we headed back home in good spirits.  It was pretty much all down hill from there.

Viking Dad hard at work
The Viking Dad hard at work at Fan Fest. He had a few on site commissions Saturday.

When deciding on shows to vend at, you look at a lot of factors: attendance, timing, who is running the show, cost.  With Fan Fest, I knew I was going into a brand new show—it was originally supposed to be the Bruce Campbell Horror Fest, but Bruce Campbell had to pull out—but I figured that Wizard World wouldn’t have gone ahead with the show if they didn’t think people were going to come.  And with it being in Rosemont, it meant we wouldn’t have to travel, pay for a hotel, etc.  With all that in mind (and after looking up the average attendance for other Wizard World shows) I went into the weekend with what I figured was a respectable expected sales figure in mind.

We didn’t even make a tenth of that.  In fact we lost money on this show.  It’s been years since I’ve lost money on an event.  I’ve broken even, or made less than I was expecting in gross sales.  But to lose money?  On a local show?  The attendance just wasn’t there.  I was assured by both our booth neighbors that the Wizard World Comic Con in August sees ten times as many attendees, and has four times as many vendors.  But I also heard that Wizard world has expanded their events so much over the last couple of years that vendors are feeling the effects and sales are down.

Rich Kunz
One of our booth neighbors, Rich Kunz, from www.diligentvisual.com, was upbeat and helpful all weekend long.
Brian E. Baity
Brian E. Baity, of The Creation Crib, our other booth neighbor had very positive energy.

None of that is really helpful knowledge now.

It’s hard not to feel discouraged.  I spent so much of my energy trying to remain positive leading up to Fan Fest that I don’t have much energy to combat the disappointment.  I am back to questioning the feasibility of my plan.  Jerk Brain keeps telling me that if I were smarter I would have anticipated this; if I weren’t lazy I would have researched more.

In struggling to find some sort of silver lining, I look to the time Stephan and I spent in the booth.  We had a good time with each other.  And when things started to get really bleak on Sunday, he made me a necklace in hopes of cheering me up.  Our booth neighbors were awesome and had lots of encouragement for us.  I saw some very cool and clever cosplay.  And I did have really cute convention hair on Saturday.

Also on the plus side, we won’t have to make up as much inventory for the next show in a couple of months.  Well, I won’t.  So far nearly every piece of chainmail jewelry Stephan has made has been bought.  So he might have to slave over some cold aluminum links for the next few weeks.

Cute Convention Hair
The best part of the convention was spending time with Stephan. Second best was my hair on Saturday.

The Viking Dad Midwinter Gaming Convention Re-cap

So, you’ve seen the shield-maiden’s report of the Midwinter Gaming Convention held this past weekend in Milwaukee.  Now it’s my turn.

First things first, I recall attending this convention 4 years ago, a few weeks before Benjamin was born.  In fact, we incorporated that into the characters we played since the shield-maiden was very obviously pregnant.  It was a great time and even though we were utterly new, we were greeted warmly and treated to a warm welcome.  That first experience, four years ago, is the main reason we continue to return.  It’s how conventions should be run and they hit it on the head.

As the name suggests, this is a gaming oriented convention and that said, I did get to partake of one of the LARP events.  It was a great deal of fun and is one of the past times that I fully enjoy, but was only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to why this convention rocked!

I mentioned above the welcoming and accepting atmosphere at the convention.  No matter what your flavor of gaming, all were welcomed.  The convention and volunteer staff was helpful and friendly, there were a ton of things to do from video gaming to table top role-playing  to board gaming to collectible card gaming.  From live action to full contact immersion, there was something for everyone.  I can’t count the number of “Wows” I felt and uttered at this convention.

Ben versus the Bustle
Ben wanted to try on one of the bustles, but without a booty or hips, it didn’t really stay on.

I spent some time in the booth, but with the addition of two booth helpers, I got to spend time off on my own for a bit, or with Benjamin (trying on various wares to model as seen in the picture above), or (most importantly) with the shield-maiden, enjoying the convention.

The shield-maiden and I in costume, ready for Changeling: the Lost
The shield-maiden and I in costume, ready for Changeling: the Lost

I can’t stress enough the importance of having an accepting or welcoming atmosphere.  In relation to other conventions, and I’ve been to quite a few gaming conventions, this one is the best by far.  Let me show you an example of comparison:

October of 2009, the shield-maiden and I went to a convention (as our honeymoon) in Atlanta.  It was a national convention for the then titled Camarilla (now known as the Mind’s Eye Society).  We vended at that one as well and the first thing we noticed was that the vendor’s hall was tucked far away from any of the “action”.  This really limited foot traffic and for the number of attendees, the space was a fraction of the size that Midwinter had for its Vendor’s Hall.

I mean, the gaming track wasn’t that bad… I just wasn’t “wowed”, until the night game of Changeling: the Lost, which was the main thing both the shield-maiden and I were looking forward to playing. We were both very excited about it and she had spent the entire day working in the cramped vendor’s room on her feet with the hopeful expectation of the both of us getting to play this game together.

We get food, we eat, we change and then head down to the room that the game is being held at to find the doors locked. We knock, we hear people inside, but no one is coming to open it.  We knock louder and then an ST from a different game comes to us and says we can’t go in.  When asked why, he says that the doors locked at a particular time and after than no one else was allowed to enter.

Now, I should preface this with that the locking of the doors was not mentioned anywhere in the programming guide (because if it had, we would have been there at that time). It was something that, apparently, they had just decided upon.

So there we were, in full costume (which by the way, the shield-maiden glued sea shells to her face, so you know that our costuming was extensive) being told that we were out of luck.  We voiced our concern that this wasn’t right, but he said that there’s nothing he could do.

Needless to say we were very put off by this.  Not ones to sit idly by, we voiced our concerns to the Event Staff.   We were blown off with the words (paraphrasing), “Not my problem”.

That is an example of how NOT to do a convention.  Midwinter Gaming Convention was on the complete other side of the spectrum.  They have grown, steadily, each year and by being inclusive of all aspects of gaming, I believe, will see that trend continue.

So, to the staff of the Midwinter Gaming Convention, I salute you.  Well done and I look forward to many happy returns.

The shield-maiden and I in costume, ready for Changeling: the Lost
Awesome venue, awesome game, awesome job Midwinter Gaming Convention!

 

 

Convention Report: Midwinter Gaming Convention

Last week we headed up to Milwaukee for the Midwinter Gaming Convention.  We had a booth there, and had plans to get some gaming in.  This is Midwinter’s fifteenth year, and our third, and it has grown larger and better every year we’ve been.  This was the first year both Stephan and I had wares to peddle, and the first year I had so many booth helpers.  It all added up to a lot of fun.

What made the biggest difference, I think, is that I had two booth helpers throughout the convention.  Our friends Denis and Chrissy came along, and with them on hand, we had four adults to cover the booth the entire weekend.  That meant Stephan wasn’t stuck on Ben patrol the entire time.  It meant we both got to go to lunch together one day.  It meant I got to spend time with my son outside of the vendor’s hall for the first time ever.  I can’t thank the two of them enough for their help the entire weekend.

SCA costuming at Midwinter.
SCA costuming at Midwinter.

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed gaming cons.  Midwinter’s focus is on LARP, but it has programming dedicated to board and video games, as well as a strong reenactment presence thanks to the SCA.  So while there is a costuming contingent, it isn’t a costume heavy convention.  And the convention has a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere.  I found myself joking and laughing, things I hadn’t done in a long time.  I managed to deal with the little anxiety that cropped up throughout the weekend, which means that medication and therapy is working for my mental health issues.

The Milwaukee Hilton is a beautiful hotel, with lots of ornate staircases and decor, as well as hallways and seating areas for hangouts.  I spent most of my time in the vendor hall, which was placed in a baroque fantasy of a ballroom with chandeliers and gold molding on the ceiling.  The hotel staff was super friendly and helpful, a big plus when you are attending a convention where there can be tension between fans and non-fans.

That same weekend there was a girl’s volleyball conference in the hotel.  This led to lots of interactions with non-gaming people.  I witnessed an abundance of stares and whispered comments, but I was never the target of them.  In fact I had several women approach me to ask about what was going on.  I think the pink hair establishes me as part of the “weird people” but that my size and gender makes me non-threatening enough to be approachable.  This isn’t the first time I’ve played ambassador for the geek community.  Back in 2002 at ConJose in San Jose, I fielded questions from people on the street who saw me wearing a badge, but not a costume (no pink hair back in those days).   And the fan side of things gave as good as they got on the passive aggressive front.  I overheard one LARPer bragging about having invented “Trolling: the LARP” where he and his friends paraded past groups of volleyball players and parents in their costumes and played their characters to an exaggerated degree.

Creeper
This was Ben’s favorite costume, by far. “Next year I want to be a creeper, too. And then we can creep together!”

I only ran into one instance of bad customer behavior: a woman incredulously demanding to know if “that ruffle thing” truly was $75.  When I confirmed that, yes, I do charge $75 for my bustles, she huffed off.  I know that prior to her asking she had snapped a shot of the bustle (the flash is a dead giveaway) and suspect she’ll show the picture to a sewing friend and ask if said friend will make one for her.  I wish her good luck with that.

I did overhear another customer ask the vendor next to me if they would get a discount on a $20 item if they carried it around the convention and told people where they would get it from.  There seems to be this belief among a certain set of attendees that vendors are starving for marketing and will give away their wares for word of mouth advertising.  I have never once met a vendor who has done such.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there is one or two who have, I just have never encountered them.

The only other annoyance was the number of times people congregated in front of my booth and blocked access to it.  That is easily dealt with.  I whip out my phone and ask the people if they could move because I want to get a shot of my set up.  Nine times out of ten the people realize they were blocking the way and move on apologetically.  The tenth time, the people move, but with resentment at having been asked to move.  Either way, it’s not skin off my nose, I got them to clear the way.

The final attendance count was just shy of 1100 members.  Not a bad showing.  I made just over 50 cents per attendee (which is about what I plan on making at any convention).  It was less than I had hoped, but I didn’t have any big items with me this time around.  There’s time before the next convention to get plenty of coats made up for off the rack purchases.

roach and the orc
I found an orc!

According to those we talked to, Midwinter has seen an average of 10 percent growth in attendance each year.  It’s clear that they do a lot of work not only in planning great programming, but also in advertising their presence.  They do a lot of social media work, have a strong Facebook page, and got the convention covered by local TV press.  It is a lot of work, but it is paying off for them.

I mention this because over the course of the weekend I was approached by two different conventions about vending.  Both are brand new, both are asking for $200 for booth space.  One mentioned on its website that they expect anywhere between 350 to 2,400 attendees at their first con.  Think about that for a moment.  Presuming that they reach their minimum number, and that I make 50 cents per attendee, I will lose money attending that convention.  The other is one  could see slightly better numbers, but it is still the first year, still untested, and still not worth paying that much for a space.  When conventions charge that much for a space, with such low numbers, it is clear they are looking to cover their costs on the backs of their vendors rather than through ticket sales.

We’ll be back to Midwinter next year for sure.