Friday, July 28, 2017


There has been conversation on one of the internet groups I belong to about what it takes to be a professional in the leisure/hobby textile profession.  An oxymoron, of sorts, but not really.  

Because there are many people who follow the profession of teaching or producing textiles to a greater or lesser extent.

There are people who practice the craft, designing and making textiles for sale.  There are people who research and write about the creation of textiles.  There are people who teach the craft.  And mostly?  There are people who do all of the above.

There are also people who provide the supplies for the crafts, from growing the fibre, to importing it from other countries, to dyeing unique colours, to having local yarn shops, to selling supplies on line.

For me, I did all of that including weaving cloth for others.  I made a great deal of my income for 9 years weaving for a fashion designer, which I discussed previously, but also for other textile artists.  Sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn't.  Sometimes an international border stood in the way, like the time I wove 'samples' for a designer in New York.  Getting materials across the border and back again was a pain - for both of us.

Right from the beginning I taught.  My very first workshop was a (gasp!) spinning workshop.  No, I wasn't very good at it.  But I was better than those people who came who knew nothing at all - and wanted to.

Right from the beginning I wrote - first the local guild newsletter, then bravely sending articles off to magazines.  The very first one that accepted one of my articles was The Weaver's Journal.  

As soon as I could create enough inventory I took a booth at the local craft fair, plus I sold my textiles on consignment at a local shop.

And I learned.  Boy howdy, did I learn!  I knew very little about retails sales, but I did know how to set up a double entry ledger and how to balance it, reconciling it to my chequebook.  I knew enough that I'd rather pay an accountant than do my year end and file my taxes, so I wove enough to pay for those services.

Eventually we were both working in the studio - Doug was my studio assistant, winding warps on a 'spare' beam while I wove, doing the wet finishing, hitting the road and selling what we were making.  At one point I was weaving 240 yards per month - 200 for the fashion designer, 40 of my own design.  We had 28 shops in western Canada buying place mats, table runners, napkins.

Then everything came crashing to a halt.  Instead of 28 shops, suddenly there were three.  There wasn't enough work for two so Doug got a job elsewhere while I tried to figure out how to continue.

I worked on the Guild of Canadian Weavers master weaver certificate, writing, teaching, scrambling to bring in enough money to keep going.  And I saw the need for a book on wet finishing, so I worked on that, eventually self-publishing so I could include before and after samples.

The book launched in time for Convergence in Vancouver 2002, but taking a booth to just sell a book wasn't going to pay for the booth, let alone anything else so I had started importing yarns and selling them.  From there I started selling yarns at other fibre events, but most of the vendors were all pretty much selling the same things so I started importing yarns from China and dyeing them so sell.

And in between, I wrote and taught, and wove.

I gave up weaving for the fashion designer when I spent more time away teaching one year than I was home.

But that sort of teaching schedule wasn't sustainable, especially when I started having health issues.  Something had to give and I pared back on the teaching.  And then the dyeing.  Because dyeing is actually harder physically than weaving (for me).  And of course I never seemed to have the 'right' colour in the right yarn in the right quantity.  Eventually I just wove up whatever yarn was left over from those days.

Because I had essentially three stashes - the yarn I actually used for weaving my textiles, my teaching yarn stash, and my re-sale yarn stash...

I've been in this business for 40+ years now.  I have pretty much tried everything.  I have pretty much enjoyed a lot of it - some of it not so much.

Bottom line?  If you want to be a professional in this line of work?  It's hard.  You have to show up.  Every day.  You have to be self-motivated.  You have to either do it yourself, or make enough money to hire someone else to do it.  But most of all?  You have to just do it.  Nike got that part right.


Peg Cherre said...

I can only imagine that the truth of what you say would equally apply to anyone trying to run a one-person (or two people) business, regardless of the 'products' of that business. It is undoubtedly much 'easier' to work for someone else, for a paycheck. Owning your own business isn't for everyone, that's for sure, but there's really no comparison to working for that paycheck in terms of creativity, self-determination, flexibility, adaptability, satisfaction...oh yeah, and WORK. :-)

Laura Fry said...

It is work. It is hard. But I'd rather do what I do than anything else. ;)

Cheryl Moreo said...

I found your blog to be very truthful. I'm learning that just because something is profitable this year doesn't mean it will be next year. One has to be constantly aware of trends and be willing to evolve. I agree that teaching can be both mentally and physically exhausting. Traveling to teach sounds exciting but I think it would soon become "work".

Cheryl Moreo said...
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