FYFFH Goes to Maker Faire: A Report and Some Lessons Learned

[This post is being written later than I expected, because immediately after Maker Faire, I came down with strep throat and couldn’t do much for about a week. But I’m much better now and ready to report!]

A Report On FYFFH at Maker Faire

Julia making flags at the booth

Julia busy helping freaks make flags at the FYFFH booth at Maker Faire

The FYFFH booth at Maker Faire was awesome, and a smashing success (she says modestly). I learned a LOT from running this booth, which I’ll detail below for anyone who cares. This was the largest version of the FYFFH project that I’ve ever done, and for the most part it came off pretty smoothly, considering. Although I didn’t get an exact count, my estimate is that over the two days of the Faire we had about 350 people come through the booth and make freak flags with us. If we’d had a larger booth space, we’d have been able to make more flags—as it was, we could only accommodate about 15 people at a time. We were slammed pretty much all day both days and I often had to tell people to wait until a table space opened up so they could come play with us. Some people really “got” the project, and created beautiful personalized expressions of their unique freaky bits, and some people just had fun playing with the craft supplies, but everyone who came by and made flags with us seemed to have a great time. Please take a look at the newly updated Freak Flag Galleryto see examples of the awesome flags that were created!

People making flags at the FYFFH booth at the Maker Faire

Freaks making flags at the FYFFH booth at the Maker Faire

And if you were one of the freaks who made a flag and you don’t see yours there (and you’d like to), feel free to submit a picture of your flag and I’ll gladly put it up in the Gallery.

We had a few parades on Saturday, which were fun and freaky (I cancelled the parades on Sunday because I was already feeling sick by then and didn’t have enough volunteers). I’ve posted a totally unedited video on our FYFFH YouTube channel, so you can see what it was like. I hope and encourage you to bring your flag other places and have your own parades too!

People making flags at the FYFFH booth at Maker Faire

More freaks making flags at the FYFFH booth at the Maker Faire

One thing that was especially clear at this event was how attractive this project was to kids. We probably had twice as many kids as adults make flags with us at this event. Largely I think that was due to the nature of the event itself—Maker Faire is billed as “family friendly” and there were lots of kids there, plus I was told that we were one of the few maker activities that was free. It was also probably due to the fact that we had so many kid-attractive craft materials (sparkly pipe cleaners, pom-poms, beads, buttons, googly eyes, etc) and that we had chairs for people to sit down (the Faire was incredibly crowded the whole weekend). But it’s also true that making flags and flying them is purposely designed as a humorous, playful activity in order to take adults “off guard”—and of course kids respond well to humorous and playful (as they should!)

Anjanette hanging up freak flags at the FYFFH booth at Maker Faire

Anjanette hanging up freak flags at the FYFFH booth at Maker Faire

I can’t go any further without saying a huge and heartfelt THANK YOU to my amazing volunteers: Eileen, Terry and Matthew Barker, Emily Dvorin, Anjanette Hill-Mendoza, Brandi Gomes, Rachael Patrascu, John Starr and of course my loving husband Joshua Archer and my kids Eli and Isaac. I literally couldn’t have done this without you. You are all extraordinarily generous, fabulous freaks and I was very grateful to have had your help!

Next event will be a smaller, more informal Freak Flag Making Party for Independence Day, and then after that I’m going to “up the ante” yet again and bring FYFFH to Burning Man. I’m planning to bring about 500 flag blanks with me to Burning Man, and lead several official make-a-freak-flag workshops as well as doing some guerrilla flag-making as the spirit moves me. But more on that later. For now, let me set down some of the lessons learned from Maker Faire that might help me in the future at other events. [This next part is really more for me and my helpers than anyone else, so feel free to skip this part and go look at the pretty flags.]

Lessons Learned at Maker Faire

I learned a lot from the experience of putting together the FYFFH booth and running it at the Maker Faire over the weekend. This was the largest booth at the largest event I’ve dealt with so far, and there were some challenges that were unique to this event. Some lessons were about logistics, and some were more philosophical. Here’s a list, in no particular order:

-       “Make One, Take One” sounded like a good idea before the show, but in reality it didn’t work out. People were kind of unclear on the concept of why they had to make two (it was supposed to be make one for yourself, and then make one to pass on to the next event—in this case, Burning Man), and it clogged up the process. I quickly ditched that idea after the first 10 or so people came through the booth.

-       It also proved extra time consuming and annoying to try to get people to do their own dowel-attaching. Lesson: it is easier for everyone involved for me to hand a participant a flag blank (complete with dowel) and let them get straight to decorating it.

-       Hot glue. Hot glue! Why didn’t I think about hot glue? Such an easier, more secure way to fasten flags to dowels than the staples I was using previously. Duh! All flags from now on will be hot-glued on to the dowels. And I will do that before the show (because I don’t want participants, especially children, handling hot glue. Too risky.

Freak Flags drying at the FYFFH booth at Maker Faire

Freak Flags drying at the FYFFH booth at Maker Faire

-       DON’T USE PAINT. Well, not slow-drying, difficult-to-use-in-small-amounts, puffy fabric paint, anyway. People didn’t really get how long it would take to dry, and often used way too much of it. Then we had to hang their flags to dry (and we quickly ran out of room on the umbrella dryer), and often people didn’t come back for their flags. So on Sunday I removed all the puffy paints, and we were able to manage the flag drying time much, much better. I also added a lot more “quick dry” glue on Sunday, and I think that helped as well. Overall I want to remember that next time I should provide materials that dry quickly and easily enough so that people can take their flags with them, because so many left their flags to dry and then didn’t come back. And the point of this is to get people to take what they make.

Emily holding up a paint-covered "FREAK" stencil

Emily holding up a paint-covered "FREAK" stencil

-       People loved using the spray paint with the stencils. Even though I kept suggesting using Sharpies for the stencils, pretty much everyone used the spray paint for as long as it lasted (we ran out both days towards the end of the day. It did make a cool effect, and I think I’d still use it next time (though I won’t for Burning Man, it’s too messy and moopy and hard to clean up from), but I might consider having a separate “spray station” that people could start at to do the stenciling, and then go sit at the gluing/crafting stations. I also liked being able to “reverse print” other blank flags off of the paint-y stencils. (These will look cool for Burning Man.)

-       I probably could have gotten away with fewer types of craft materials. The tables were a bit too crowded because the flags took up a lot of space but also because I had laid out so many different kinds of craft materials. Of course, if I had more space, this might not have been a problem. If I had more space, I also could have maybe set up a different flow through the booth, where people first stop and get a flag blank, then get a bowl where they can put in as many ingredients as they want (which they pick from a central materials station) and bring it back to their spot. Then the only things that have to be on the tables are glue, scissors, stapler, etc. This would only work if there were enough room for people to get up and down though, because inevitably people are going to forget something or need more of something.

-       I think I got over-enthusiastic and tried to jam too many people into too little space. If I get to do this again next year at the Maker Faire, I will definitely request more space (I had originally asked for a booth twice the size of the one they gave me, but they were tight on space and asked me to take a smaller booth). We were constantly slammed, and could have definitely accommodated more people if we’d had the space. This would also mean that I need more committed volunteers, though.

-       I need to build and train my volunteer team ahead of time, and make specific plans for who will be doing what, when. I thought I had been relatively organized ahead of time, but apparently I was not organized enough. Sometimes I had too many volunteers and didn’t have the breathing room to tell them what to do; sometimes I didn’t have enough volunteers (and a few had to cancel due to illness or other issues). I think it would work more smoothly and be more fun for everyone involved if we met at least once ahead of the event and talked through the workflow of the booth and decided who could do what when. Consciously building a team of people who all have specific roles to play and get to feel like they’re contributing in their own most helpful way will be more satisfying for everyone, I think. Specific volunteer roles for next time could include: intake (explaining project and process, handing out flyers and flag blanks), stencil wiping, table cleaning/rearranging, picture/video taking, parade marshal, and outtake (hanging flags to dry, encouraging donations and newsletter/community signups, handing out flyers/cards).

-       On a related note, I have GOT to build in some breaks for myself. I loved being there and talking to people and spreading the freak flag love, but I really overwhelmed myself and I never did get to go see anything else in the Faire except the things I walked by on my way to the bathroom.

-       I think I need to limit the participation at the booth for kids under a certain age, because they really don’t “get” the point of the project, they just want to play with the shiny craft materials. To a certain extent that’s ok, and I think that parents get the lesson even if the kids don’t, but I did observe that I handled way more little kids (under eight) than I’d expected, and that was a strain. It was difficult both because it was hard (or impossible) for me to explain what we were doing to the little ones, and because every little kid had at least one parent with them in the booth, that took up extra space. I’d like to make the project more explicitly for older kids and adults, but given that I’m using kid-friendly and kid-familiar craft materials, I will always attract younger kids. I think maybe my best bet is to set up a separate kids’ table next time, so that I don’t have to turn them away, but I can at least minimize the number of kids under eight that come to play with the glitter pom-poms.

-       The umbrella dryer worked well as both a drying rack and as a display of freak flags. It worked best when I clipped the flag (not the dowel) to the wires.

-       People really liked and seemed to respond to the Freak Flag Manifesto poster that I had posted on the wall. Many people stopped and took pictures of it, at which point I usually handed them a flyer and said “look! Here it is printed out for you!” People also seemed to like the little “FREAK” moo cards. I didn’t use up nearly as many of either of those as I thought I would, though—I’ve got probably 1500 flyers left and around 900 or so moo cards. Again, I could have been more aggressive about handing these out, I suppose.

-       I need to be braver/more obvious about encouraging people to donate to the project, especially parents whose kids get the benefit of doing a long elaborate project without having to pay for a workshop. Ideally this would be a specific volunteer’s job, and that volunteer would ask people as they finished if they’d like to make a donation. (Perhaps around the same time as the people who finish get their picture taken with their flags.

-       Parades did not seem to be a huge draw. It was crazy and chaotic and kind of overwhelming at the Maker Faire in general, so maybe parades were just too much for most people. I had a couple of kids who were into them on Saturday, but the biggest parade I had was only about 8 people. I didn’t do any parades on Sunday because I was feeling too sick and I didn’t have enough help in the booth. If I had a volunteer team member whose job it was to be parade marshal, that might work better overall.

-       Paper flags were decidedly unpopular compared to fabric flags. When given a choice, most everyone picked fabric over paper. Fabric flags just feel more like flags, I guess. They *are* more fun to fly, I’ll agree with that. Now I just need to figure out what to do with a couple of hundred paper flag blanks…maybe they’ll be appropriate for a specific workshop or event.

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