Designing Displays for a Craft Show – Display Boards – Part 3

My display boards are a work in progress. Most of my boards are actually made as a sandwich – a piece of foam insulation with a layer of 1/4″ plywood on each side. I like the three dimensional look that this gives, along with relatively light weight and excellent warp resistance. The pieces of the “sandwich” are glued together with an industrial cement.

I have also used several boards over the years that are made from plain plywood, with varying degrees of “success”. I usually use 3/4 inch plywood, for strength and stability without too much weight – one of my current display boards is made of plywood. (Thin plywood warps with changes in moisture and eventually can warp quite badly.)

All of the display boards that I am currently using are covered with Velcro cloth. This fabric comes in many different colors and allows me to use “male” Velcro dots and strips to hold display hangers in place. These hangers can be put anywhere that I want to put them, allowing me to change the design of the display whenever I want to.

Before I discovered Velcro cloth I used to covered all of my boards with a neutral gray linen weave fabric. I liked the way the fabric showed off my jewelry – it was almost like having a model wear the piece. The linen looks nice but it isn’t as flexible, or durable, as Velcro cloth.

In addition to Velcro cloth I sometimes add short nails, called linoleum tacks, to the plywood boards to support items that are always placed in the same locations, and are fairly heavy. Before I switched to Velcro cloth all of my boards were made out of plywood and had permanent hangers made from linoleum tacks. For larger items some people also use cup hooks.

In order to work properly, Velcro cloth needs to be glued to the surface of the board. This is really not as difficult as it sounds, just use a spray adhesive like 3M 77. Be sure to follow the instructions on the can. Don’t forget to clean the spray nozzle by inverting the can and spraying to remove the adhesive in the nozzle. The Velcro cloth needs to be stretched gently to help it retain its shape. I use staples to fasten the cloth as it wraps around the display board.

OK, so now we have some sort of board, covered with fabric, to use as a display board. How do we keep the board vertical, and anchored to the table? The red boards that are shown in the graphic show the basic principle of my system. The boards are clamped to the table, preventing them from falling over in a wind, or being knocked over by a clumsy customer.

Basic display board set-upHere is a picture of an actual wooden support. You can see how the hinges are used to connect the boards and allow them to create a support.

back support on Display board fixed

The hasps used on the boards consists of a metal fastening that uses a hinged strap with a slot that fits over a staple and is secured by a pin. The picture shows the hinged strap. You can buy them at any hardware shop.

The next picture shows the top of the board, where the hasp on the support board is located. I use an inexpensive keychain karabiner to lock the hasp together through both the hinged strap and the staple. Using the karabiner allows the board to be set up and broken down very quickly.

top hasp of support

And a side view of the same support. All of these pictures are from one of my short boards, and were taken in the back of my box truck. The only difference between the tall and short boards is the size of the boards and support structure. A karabiner is put through the staple (loop in the picture) to secure the hasp. This creates a triangular structure that is sturdy and does not deform easily.

You can see how I use staples to permanently fasten the Velcro cloth to the board. I use a power staple gun (it’s pneumatic and is very helpful). The staples have to go through several thicknesses of cloth on the display board corners, and must pass through the ¼” plywood facing. You can do this with a manual stapler, but it will be some real work to complete. I usually put a staple about every 4” all the way around the back of the display board. The Velcro corners are folded like a hospital corner for sheets. As you see, there is a little tension on the Velcro cloth – this is important to keep the cloth from sagging when you put heavier items on hangers. It’s very helpful to have an assistant to help stretch the fabric and fold the cloth, holding it while you staple it.

side view of support cropped

I hope that seeing how I build my display boards will give you some ideas about how to build your own!

Designing Displays for a Craft Show – Display Boards Part 1

Last time we talked about some of the challenges that we can face running a craft booth at an outdoor event. One of the very important issues outside, is how to build display boards that will not blow over in a gusty breeze. Clumsy or careless customers knocking over displays can be an issue at indoor events, too. One of the things that I learned quickly was that if one display board falls over most customers will run for the hills, whether it was their fault or not.

When I started selling jewelry at outdoor craft fairs, I used the small necklace display boards that are often used in mall jewelry shops. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that I needed to make better use of vertical space. “Going up” lets you show more items in the space. From that first outdoor event I learned that my display boards needed to be very sturdy to withstand whatever the weather could throw at me.

Before you build your display boards you need to consider what size they should be, how you will hang your items on the boards, and whether you want to always hang the same things on the same boards. Alternately, you could have more flexibility in terms of board layout. Once you think you understand these facts, then you need to choose the display board materials and what it will be covered with.

Whenever I think of display design, I remember a very wise teacher that I had once in a class on booth design. He basically said “Ladies, don’t ask a male friend to build your displays. We will build it. We will use two by fours and 1″ plywood, it will weigh a ton, and require a large team of sturdy men to set it up.” He then recounted a story where he and some friends used recycled solid antique doors to create a display space for a friend’s paintings. It looked awesome and worked very well. BUT, with each door weighing 80 to 100 pounds and eight doors in the display, it took a small army of sturdy men to set it up and a truck to haul all of pieces.

Consider whether you’ll set up the display by yourself, how far you may need to transport it, and what sort of vehicle you will need to hold all of the pieces and any tools needed to set it up. Most convention center environments have strict regulations about what you are allowed to bring in yourself and what you have to pay someone to haul for you. These contractors are often hired by the convention center and can be quite expensive. Make sure that you investigate what the rules are about you bringing in displays. How far away will you have to park? Will you be allowed to use a dolly or wagon to bring in your displays and products? Most, but not all, outside venues allow you to drive to your booth to do set-up. When you are considering applying for a show, READ the rules first. Most will tell you when you are allowed to set up, and how you can do it. If you have questions, contact someone at the show to make sure that you understand the rules. Violating the terms for set up, especially at large convention centers (even if it’s a small show) can delay your setup significantly.

Next time: More on building display boards and other display issues.