This is a very long post, but I promise you it has a point, and one I’m very excited about.
Last month, my husband and I made our annual pilgrimage to South By Southwest and the live music city of the world, Austin, Texas. For five non-stop days, we wandered from music tent to backyard parties to storied music venues to listen to musicians, and the people who surround them, do their thing.
Songwriting has always fascinated me. Songwriters are storytellers that hone their narratives into small packages like poets. Their work transports you to a different time and place. A good song leaves you feeling like you’ve really been somewhere. I feel the same way about weaving—it fills me with so much richness. A good yarn has many meanings for me.
As I watched the acts set up their instruments, run though the sound checks, and work with roadies, I thought, “Yep, that looks familiar.” Being a road musician is not unlike the lifestyle of a weaving teacher. You hone your craft in private, then take it on the road to test out new ideas, fine-tune your skills, and build relationships with venues.
To prepare, you have to order supplies, create and design handouts, take photos, get pages proofed, and make updates as the inevitable “better way to say it” occurs to you. You either have to haul looms (which I do frequently since my speciality is teaching beginners) or coordinate with the venue to have looms available with all the stuff necessary for a successful class—tables with lips that will fit loom clamps, enough space to warp, and good light.
Hayes Carll says, “It’s all for the sake of the song.” For me, it’s for the sake of the cloth. You do it because that’s what you do. If you are a writer, you write. If you are a weaver, you weave. If you are a teacher, you teach. If you are a performer, you perform. In my case, I do all of these things.
Yarn, like music, doesn’t require an audience, but something extraordinary happens when there is one—virtual or real. Teaching is as close as I get to being a performer. It’s just me and the audience. Every single session is different and we all grow together. I relish this life because it is the balance between creativity and performance art that suits me. It provides me solitude and social outlets.
Teaching Is My Thing
I’m not sure why being a weaving teacher became my thing. Perhaps it’s because I’m not super interested in showing you what I can do; I want to show you what you can do. I keep my patterns fairly simple and straightforward so that you can riff on them and make them spectacular.
To be a working weaving teacher, you need a lot of flexibility in your schedule to travel. This requires good family support, and you either need a lot of teaching gigs or a decent amount of side gigs to keep yourself flush. Some teachers are close to a shop or other venue and that is their regular gig. Others, like me, travel frequently to a variety of places.
I support my teaching habit by taking on other flexible freelance jobs for yarn companies and organizations; through my royalties; writing articles for other publications; and selling my own patterns, books, and few specialized tools on my website. It’s a constant hustle to keep the cashflow coming in. It’s a glorious life, but it’s not a glamorous one. It’s all for the sake of the cloth.
The Times They Are A-Changin’
During the last century, magazines, conferences, and fiber events were largely dependent on teachers who were not full-time professionals. Many of the teachers were vendors at the show or passionate craftsmen and women who took their vacation days to teach. They wrote books and magazine articles in their spare time. They depended on the publishers and conferences for a forum to present their take on the craft.
Through changes in technology, there is now a professional class of teachers, designers, and bloggers. The new century has given rise to an entire class of creative business professionals that aren’t reliant on other venues to get their message out. It allows those of us with highly specialized skills—rigid-heddle weaving is a niche within a niche—to reach an audience directly.
This change in technology, and the rise of a professional class of artisans and authors able to reach their own audiences, has also wrought havoc on the publishing industry, no matter the content, music or craft. Publishers grew from small independent labels to huge corporations and now it is returning back to small independent labels, and even micro-labels, such as myself. I’ve become a one-woman band.
Life is paradoxically very simple and incredibly complicated. Find something you love to do and do it. I firmly believe in the Big Magic philosophy that your creative outlet does not have to be how you derive your income, but it certainly is a way you can determine your own outcome.
Let’s Create Our Own Venue
The small weave-along community that we have built has some big magic for all of us. I’ve found a comfortable classroom that doesn’t require me to leave my home every few weeks to reach a teaching audience. That, for me , is a magic formula. I’m experimenting with some ways to cultivate that little plot we’ve created.
My big idea is to create an online school for rigid-heddle weavers. To that end, I’ve launched a Patreon campaign.
With a little seed money, I’d like to keep creating the kind of content that makes us both happy. If you enjoy my new crop of YouTube videos, weave-along support, my style of teaching, this blog, my newsletter, publishing projects, Knitty column, and other weaving endeavors, this is one way you can keep me in my seat doing more, and maybe make that big idea happen. I could load up my channels with ads and affiliate links, but that really isn’t my style. I’d rather ask you directly if this is something you are interested in and, if so, let’s build it together. I’d be honored if you would join me in creating a new space for those of us that love making stuff on the rigid-heddle loom.
As John Lennon wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”