A Behind the Scenes Look at a Fan Convention: Sewing and Set Up

By Martha Michaela Hutchman Brown
aka Marf


The final MarfDaze set up at Heroes & Villains Fan Fest.

Over the next few days, I’m going to give you a backstage peek at one of the more exciting aspects of my job: selling my handmade bags and pillows at conventions.

This weekend, I’m at the Heroes & Villains Fan Fest in Secaucus, N.J., right outside of Manhattan. It’s a new convention, but it’s run by the same folks who do Walker Stalker Conventions, so I know that it will be well-organized and entertaining. I’m also very familiar with the venue. This is my fourth convention at the Meadowlands Expo Center in 13 months.

I’ve stayed in this hotel so often, I have a favorite parking spot.

That having been said, there are always surprises. This weekend’s surprise: an epic blizzard. I just got an email that announced that Saturday has been cancelled. Sunday will go on as planned.

That means I’ll be spending my snowy Saturday in my hotel room. I’ve got plenty of food, a new book to read and Netflix. Folks at the various hotels are connecting on Facebook, organizing impromptu events. There are worse ways to spend a day.

The Road to the Road

Before I pack up my car to go to a convention, I need stuff to actually sell.

Between online sales and in-person events, MarfDaze had a very busy holiday season in the past few months and I was running out of bags fast. I’m not complaining. It’s a wonderful problem to have, but it did mean that I had to take a hard look at how I could use my time more wisely in the slow months so I wasn’t scrambling in the peak times.

I set a goal for myself. I make at least five bags a day (more when I sold more) for my online shops and then 15 bags a day for my convention inventory. And I can accomplish this. Usually.

It takes discipline. And three desks, four chairs, a cutting table and an ironing board.

Here’s what a typical day looks like for me. After I brew up some coffee, I pack up the bags that need to be shipped out to my online customers.


Desk number 1: The mailing station. Every package gets a ribbon and a thank you note.

When I’m done packing, I check to see which of my podcasts have new episodes. I love Cast of Thrones, The Verity Podcast, Stuff You Missed in History Class, Stuff You Should Know, Stuff to Blow Your Mind, Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know, The Black Tapes Podcast, Limetown, Tanis, The Walking Deadcast, Radio Free Skaro, Lore, The Tin Dog Podcast and the BBC History Extra Podcast.

Then it’s time to do a little ironing.


This is my Laundry Monster. I wash all my fabric before I work with it and no matter how many yards of fabric I iron and cut up or put away, this pile is always exactly this size.

Next I head over to the cutting table.


No fabric-cutting toolkit is complete without a Willow Rosenberg action figure and a TARDIS fascinator with a working light.

Then I lay out the day’s fabrics, threads, interfacing and zippers on my tidy sewing desk.



I sew. My tidy sewing desk becomes increasingly untidy.


Desk number 2. This is what my sewing desk looks like at 2:38 p.m. every day.

If you’re appalled by the mess, be appeased by the gorgeousness of my fabric library.


By this point, you may have noticed that a certain little moose is nowhere to be seen in my studio when I make bags. Irving lives in the kitchen because he’s afraid of the Laundry Monster.

After I take pictures of bags for my online shops and post them, it’s time for everyone’s favorite part of any job: Paperwork! Whee-eeee!


Desk number 3. Paperwork. Frankly, I have a separate desk for the boring stuff, because if I didn’t have a cute, clean and dedicated spot for receipt filing, tax paying and inventory-tracking, I would find ways of avoiding them until the last possible minute.

As a traveling vendor, I have to file sales tax in all the places I sell, whether or not I’ve been there in any given month or quarter. I have to keep track of several states’ tax schedules. You’d need a sweet drawing of Clara and the Twelfth Doctor snuggling in their jammies just to get you through it, too. Don’t judge me.

Finally, if there’s time after that, I make pillows.


My PILOH MAEKËRS chair from IKEA is perfect for hand sewing and audiobook listening.

Setting Up

Every two or three weeks, it’s time for Irving to put on his scarf and for us to hit the road again. My wonderful husband David usually packs my car because he’s a whiz at getting everything to fit perfectly, no matter what new and exciting configuration of bags, bins, tubs, tables and shelves I leave piled up in our hallway overnight.


This is a load from one of four trips I took from my itty bitty car to my booth at Heroes & Villains Fan Fest. When David is with me, he can usually MacGyver everything into one trip using a knowledge of ancient alchemy and three bungee cords.

Unpacking the car and dropping off everything at my booth takes me several trips using my convertible hand truck. I love my hand truck. Indoors it’s quiet, but it rattles on the pavement and you can hear me coming a mile away and I don’t care. It makes everything so much easier.

Once I’ve dropped off everything in my booth, it’s time to assemble the Cubes of Patience.


You must face this task with courage and mindfulness.

These assembly-required wire racks may look like a convenient and attractive way to display merchandise while saving you valuable storage space, but they are actually a gift from the Zen masters. You cannot build them with haste or fear in your heart. You must be careful and deliberate, or you will crush your finger tips and send the expensive connector doohickeys flying into space.

I find this task very focusing and therefore calming. These cubes are very popular among vendors and I’ve seen more than one fight erupt between friends and co-workers who got frustrated when they couldn’t get everything to fit and then pinched their fingers trying to smash the joints together. The more frustrated you get, the harder the it is to get the pieces to fit together.

As you can see, I leave the tops off. Tranquility will only take me so far and I need to save up my energy for the most time consuming part of set-up: organizing my two tubs of bags into 10 bins.


My collection of bags is both deep and wide. I offer over a hundred styles and I have multiples of each style on hand. I need to be able to restock my display bins quickly, so I have several bins of bags tucked off to the side, ready to replace sold items.

Going through each of my bags like this is fun for me. I like to organize stuff. Perhaps you noticed my thread display. And fabric shelves. And my nail polish rack. (Not so much my laundry monster.)

IMG_1392Then I pull one of each bag to fill my display bins and fill my racks with pillows.

Et voilà:


This took 2 1/2 hours from car to completion.

We’re all ready for Sunday, whatever it may bring. I suspect that it will be interesting even if the weather means that only a handful of folks show up. More time to sew and visit with the neighbors.


Irving is rather fond of Ms. Amy Pond.


One thought on “A Behind the Scenes Look at a Fan Convention: Sewing and Set Up

  1. Pingback: Day 2: Snowed in at a Fan Convention | marfdaze

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