Word gets out fast, and it isn’t always accurate.
So first, let me say that I’m not giving up teaching. I like to teach, I adore my students and I’m looking forward to developing new patterns and new techniques for them.
What I don’t want to do anymore are conferences. And not because I can’t deal with another conference tote bag, I probably have about 100…
Let me explain.
This was the Pearls Before Swine comic in yesterday’s paper when I sat down to have my breakfast yesterday morning. It really explains where my head is at…
I just returned from the Mid Atlantic Fiber Association Conference in Millersville, PA. Typically regional conferences are held at college campuses, mostly for cost reasons. And typically they work well for a venue like this. The MAFA conference was a large success from what I’ve seen, and the feedback I heard, and the posts on social media I’ve seen. It came on the heels of Midwest, which was held in Iowa, and ANWG which was held the week before that in Prince George, BC. There were instructors who taught at all three. And I understand that NEWS, the regional conference in NE is right around the corner. I have done all of these conferences, though this year, I only applied and was accepted to teach at MAFA. Thank God.
As I was sitting in traffic for the long three plus hour drive there, (actually it was short compared to what many of the participants had to endure) I thought hard about what I was feeling and why. 30 years ago this coming December I remember feeling extreme burnout, my attitude about everything was in the toilet, I was cranky and tired and I was also 8 months pregnant. I struggled to get through my last craft fair. After an amazing ten year run, in 1989 I had decided I’d had enough, and I stopped applying to craft fairs. Actually I had made this decision in 1988, but when you book a year or two in advance, once you make the decision not to apply anymore, you have to see through everything you’ve already promised to do. Because that’s how I work. I made the commitment and I only ever had to cancel twice in my life, once when I went in to have a mastectomy, and the second time when my husband died. I’ve taught through the flu, chemo, my husband in intensive care, I’ve taught through a ruptured ovarian cyst, and back pain issues. I’ve had fevers, I’ve had missing bags and stomach viruses, but the show must go on.
Guild work, or small venues like Harrisville or Sievers allows more personal attention to the instructor. I know I sound like a diva, and maybe at this point in my life I’ve earned that right, but I left craft fairs 30 years ago, and though I missed the camaraderie of the other artists, I never once regretted the decision. My attitude had gotten so bad I no longer wanted to weave. I don’t want that to happen again, but see the writing on the wall. I am in demand more than ever, and looking at my in box and all the request for guild venues while I was at the MAFA conference, starting in 2021 just made me scared.
Conferences themselves are hard on the instructors. Yes, the participants are often dragging looms, and disabled attendees have to navigate buildings that are accessible but often require traveling around campus in very convoluted routes to find ramps and elevators. There is always a lot of walking, to the dorms, to the dining hall, to the classroom and back. MAFA was one of the easier conferences to navigate, it wasn’t very hilly. But walk and haul I did. I carry a lot of baggage, and it is quite different backing up to a building where you are teaching and having the staff help you unload, when you are the only teacher vs 400 conference participants and 50 – 75 instructors. Everyone needs help. The volunteers who help with loading in and loading out are saints. And of course there is also the vendor hall. And the installation of exhibits. Conference coordinators have a reserved place in heaven, it is a thankless job, they are pushed beyond limits and there is always someone who isn’t happy. I remember attending Convergence Rhode Island a few years ago with my daughter in tow. I wasn’t teaching. I drove around the state looking at all the fibery exhibits and got a one day pass to the conference. It was amazing and non stressful and inspiring but I was so grateful I wasn’t participating.
All of my teacher friends’ social media sites are lighting up with the news that they have been accepted to teach at the next Convergence in Knoxville. There are new faces just breaking into the scene, and many seasoned veterans. I never applied. I looked at all their enthusiasm and was so pleased for all of them but so grateful I didn’t apply. I was hugely relieved.
Saturday night, towards the end of the conference, I woke up on my plastic covered dorm mattress and felt that dreaded twinge, my sciatic was acting up again. I had a restless night and it went downhill from there. That’s twice in the last month and a half. It is hard to stand upright and hard to haul stuff. It is hard to sit in a car for three plus hours home, and hard to sit at the computer answering all the email requests for future work. And I also came home to more than $500 worth of orders for books and interfacings from my eShop. So I painfully sat at the computer all day yesterday printing and binding and packing. Typically my wonderful office assistant would do this, but she closed on her home yesterday and has moved away. I am alone. And missing her terribly. But I carried on…
I only have two weeks before the next venue, a five day yardage class at Peters Valley. I love the Valley and am looking forward to teaching in the new weaving studio, but I need the full two weeks of prep. Right now I work an hour, rest an hour and work another hour. The animals never leave my side.
So the bottom line is I’m done with conferences. I recognize burn out, I’ve been down this road before. I will really miss sitting on a plastic dorm mattress with my fellow instructors talking about the things that are important to us, plastic water bottles full of wine, just like I really missed getting together with the other exhibiting artists in craft fairs after I stopped. I have made some life long friends in this business, but my life has changed drastically since my husband’s death three years ago, and I’m now responsible for all of it. I want to weave and paint and play music and write articles and teach on my terms.
My beloved suitcase didn’t survive the trip, actually it didn’t survive the Boise debacle, which I think I talked about a couple of posts ago, and so, as I was packing to go, I researched replacement suitcases and what I needed just isn’t made anymore. I refuse to use suitcases with spinney wheels. The best I could do was a 29″ Pullman from REI. It is narrower than the one it is replacing, but well made and guaranteed. I’m hoping I can still fit 70 pounds of clothing into it.
I only took one photo while I was on the road. I took a quick snapshot of the class, there were sixteen of them, and they were all wonderfully incredible and enthusiastic. The class was called Custom Fit and Fabulous. They learned how to fit their bodies and particular fit issues, while trying on my loaded suitcase full of samples in all sizes. They traced patterns until they were cross eyed. With an aching back, I lectured for a couple hours on Sunday morning and there were really wonderful responses from what they learned. It is a terrific class for a 2 1/2 day format, typical of a conference.
On of the conference attendees walked around the studio walk through Saturday night where all the instructors in their classrooms talked about what they were teaching, she got this shot of me selling my little heart out! Thanks Alison!
And I debuted my new silhouette, the swing dress, which is now out in the latest Threads Magazine, I believe issue 204, mine was waiting at the post office when I went in today to get my mail. I drafted the dress in all sizes, wrote the handout, and crossed my fingers. Everyone who tried it on seemed to love the fit, minor tweaks for some, but I’m so happy I nailed it.
I know I keep getting letters as to why I don’t offer my patterns for sale. And I keep trying to explain that it isn’t that simple. The venue for me to offer digital downloadable patterns doesn’t yet exist for me. It will take me a couple of years to scan everything, and convert to vector drawings and then convert to a downloadable size PDF. That is a huge goal, but not possible while I’m on the road all the time. And I’d love to have a video archive. I had so much fun shooting videos for Threads Insider last fall, I’d love to have a group of my own, short videos on weaving and sewing techniques for weavers. But I can’t do that while I’m on the road teaching all the time.
And so, yes, I’ll continue to teach, to go where I’m asked, but no, I’m not doing conferences anymore and yes, I’m in talks with Montana about their short gathering next summer, because it is still easy to twist my arm…