When the Spinning and Weaving Association (SWA) asked whether I’d help run a SWA booth at the Seattle Green Festival, I had no idea what I was in for. I’d never been to a Green Festival. The concept, an event highlighting environmentally conscious businesses and causes, seemed interesting, my schedule was clear, and bribed by the prospect of a free box lunch, parking validation, and the chance to hang out with Cindy Howard-Gibbon (of Foxglove Fiberarts) I said, “Sure, why not?”
Later they told me that in 2009, the festival drew 30,000 attendees. Yikes!
Irene Schmoller (Cotton Clouds), Liz Gipson (Schacht Handspindle Inc.) and Melissa Ludden Hankens (SWA Associate Director) sent us a booth banner, free CD spindles and pocket looms to hand out. I brought woven samples, warped a loom, and contacted a local wool co-op for fiber samples and bookmarks to hand out, because supporting local shepherds is important to me and I wanted to have them represented. (Several folks actually ran up and asked where to buy raw wool locally, so having that info at hand was great.)
Since Cindy is the Ashford wholesale rep in the US, we were able to get a 4-shaft table/treadle loom to use for the demo, as well as a rigid-heddle loom and a spinning wheel.
I think our booth was the most photogenic one there, as Green Festival volunteers kept sliding over with pro camera gear and taking candid shots…and they didn’t seem to be doing that at the other booths. Our booth was generally packed with people, especially kids, trying out spinning and weaving. I found out later that the keynote speech was on how to get young people involved with the environmental movement, and we were certainly drawing in the kids.
People seemed to like the fact that we weren’t there to sell them anything. Rather, we were there just to give them a taste of spinning and weaving. Most of the surrounding booths were trying to market something, and I think our approach “Hey, want to give weaving a try?” seemed fresh and resonated with them. The ones who got excited about weaving after playing for a bit on the loom, we gave a flyer with pointer to local weaving shops and teachers, and pointed to web resources.
The demo was long hours, and had a lot of repetition (I can now walk people through a 2/2 twill in my sleep) but what made it worth the money SWA spent for the booth, and the two days Cindy and I devoted to the festival, was the people.
The green festival brought out a hugely diverse crowd. I met people from at least a dozen countries, of all ages. I taught both a deaf woman and a blind woman to weave (thank goodness I sign a bit and have sightless friends.) A group of exhibitors from India working on fostering rural industry stopped by and we chatted and bonded over weaving. I admired her khadi-cloth shirt and she gave us a coloring page of Indian textile arts to hand out. Weaving seems to draw people together across all boundaries. I think because, like cooking, it’s such an old and primal craft, something all cultures share in one form or another.
There were the shy kids, and the brave kids. (A note to demoers, Waldorf-educated children will jump on your loom and weave off a whack of warp before you can blink. No craft intimidates them, so put on lots and lots of warp. I put on 7 yards, and it barely lasted through two days.)
My favorite were the folks who, when asked if they wanted to weave, answered in tones enthusiastic, timid, or desperately reverent, “Oh yes. I’ve wanted to learn how to weave my entire life.” These people were the reason I was there. They made giving up a weekend to teach weaving to the public worth it.
The most touching encounter I had was with a 50-something Hispanic woman. While I was walking her through the twill, I slipped into Spanish “uno y dos, dos y tres, etc.” She was delighted, and we chatted a bit in both Spanish and English (her English was much better than my Spanish, but I did my best.) She told me that her mother had been an South American indian (I didn’t write down the tribal name, but it sounded like it started with a ‘Q’) and that her mother had woven on a backstrap loom. This woman, now living in highly urban Seattle, wanted to weave on the demo loom because it made her feel a connection to her mother. She teared up while telling me this, and taught me how to say ‘Thank You’ in her mother’s native tongue.
The cutest weaver was a young woman in a black, white, and red floral dress who looked liked a toffed-to-the-nines housewife from the 1950s. Her hair was coiffed in a flip, and she was even wearing red pumps with roses on the toe. She stood out like a shiny buckle on an Ethiope’s Birkenstock among the standard Seattle-hippy-geek couture. When I asked if she’d like to give weaving a try she squealed and bounced on her heels, “Yes!”
I was proud of the guys at the Green Festival. Usually, when I give a demo, guys will be drawn to the mechanics of the loom. They can’t help themselves, all those shafts and heddles creating patterns are mesmerizing. But usually, at most demos, those guys that are drawn to the loom are too image-conscious (*cough* chicken) to try something in public that they may not succeed at right away. (U.S. culture, unfortunately, makes guys pay a high price for their dignity.) But not so with the Green Festival crowd, a whopping 80-90% of guys I invited to try weaving dove right in and wove plain weave and twill. Which was great, because there’s a lot of untapped weaving talent in our fiber brothers.
The second day many African Americans stopped by the booth, which heartened me, since people of color often seem underrepresented to me at fiber festivals and guilds. It wasn’t until the end of the day, when a gorgeous man with dreads down to his waist came over and said, “I was admiring your top,” that I realized I’d been wearing my Pacific Northwest Kente top all day. Was the fact I was wearing Kente-inspired cloth a factor? I don’t know, only one man mentioned it, but I like to imagine so.
The attractiveness of the demo to kids was both a joy and somewhat worrisome. A joy because of children’s fearless enthusiasm for learning something new, and it’s great to train up the next generation of weavers. (Hey, I’m going to need someone to leave my looms to one day.) But worrisome because we noticed that some parents started drifting away, leaving their kids with us unattended. This was exacerbated by a “free massage” booth across the way. (A note to demoers, the cure for this was simple, a gentle “I’m so sorry, but we’re not licensed to provide childcare” to any parent who glanced at the massage booth and began the “Why don’t you stay here while I…” sidle.)
The kids by and large were wonderful to work with, attentive and eager, and open to instruction. The one exception was a boy who seemed determined to hurt himself or the gear. After begging for a spinning demo he tried to insert his hand into the spokes. When discouraged from that, and asked to step back and not touch the wheel, he immediately grabbed the hooks of the moving flyer. Thank goodness they were the “safety” hooks of a modern Ashford wheel and not the open hooks of my old Traditional, which would have flayed the flesh from his fingers. We moved on to a less kinetic subject, where I showed him fiber samples and discouraged him from ripping open the silk cocoons to see the bugs inside. He and his harried mom left not long after that. I tried to cut him some slack; for all I knew he’d had one too many free honey-stick samples.
One kid seemed to have overbearing parents. Her mom and the guy I assumed was her dad were taking numerous pictures as she tried out weaving, and the guy leaned in with a video camera on a monopod, getting closeups of her hands as she worked the loom. She seemed really excited about weaving, however, so I teased her about “the paparazzi” and got on with the demo, giving her the usual spiel. Her mom told me that the girl, Adora, was like a “little grandma” interested in all the old arts like knitting and crocheting and had always wanted to try out spinning and weaving. I thought that was heart-warming and forgave her parents their wacky over-documentation of her childhood, and then…the girl pulls out a pro microphone and asks if she can interview me for a spot her show is doing on the Green Festival. Oh and by the way, her show is going out on SchoolTube, a video site for students and teachers all over the world. Things start to click into place and I notice that “dad” has higher-end camera gear than you’d expect from even the most video-happy parent. I also notice the kid is wearing a “Speaker” badge. Her mother, as she watches gears click into place in my head, leans over and with quiet pride says, “Adora was the keynote speaker.”
If you want to see how I answer questions when I’m flustered, unprepared, and have had my voice run ragged by two days of non-stop talking, check out the YouTube video below.
I did fairly well, thanks to my previous video experience with Kate (But Adora, I wish I had half of your on-camera poise.) I did a nice plug for SWA, but completely forgot to mention WeaveZine. *sigh* I have the marketing instincts of a cross-eyed wombat.
If anyone wants to take over as the WeaveZine marketing director, just let me know, I’ll pay you the same salary I get (a bit of a joke there, so far all the income the site generates has been rolled back into production costs and gear, I’ve not yet gotten a paycheck from either WeaveCast or WeaveZine.)
But anyway, I was pleased to be interviewed and have an opportunity to get spinning and weaving out to a large audience of school kids. It was a delightful surprise bonus for SWA, and wouldn’t have happened if the organization hadn’t taken a chance on having a booth at a non-weaving event.
Which brings me to the moral of my story. Demoing at weaving events is lovely and wonderful; we can learn from each other and share techniques. Demoing at knitting events is great, because those people have already proven susceptible to the fiber arts. But demoing at non-fiber events, taking spinning and weaving to the folks who would never otherwise come across these ancient crafts, who might not even realize that they’re still a vibrant artform…that’s where new weavers come from.
I’m a relatively new member of SWA, and I’m not exactly sure what its mission is. But boy, if it were up to me, I’d encourage SWA, and local weaving and spinning guilds, to take weaving and spinning to the masses.
Weave at your local coffee shop, spin in the park: enduring dozens of curious glances and off-putting remarks (“You could buy that at Walmart!”) is worth it for that one person who stands and watches over your shoulder, eyes aglow, and asks, “Could you show me how? I’ve always wanted to learn how to weave.”