Hello you. Yes, you. On the high horse.

This post is in response to a post written by Abby Franquemont that you can find here. This post may not make much sense unless you have read Abby’s post first, although it will be fairly evident from the beginning that I take umbrage at some of her comments, and at her attitude, and have a few words to say about it…...

Okay, Abby, now you’ve just downright pissed me off. Warning: I’m going to use the dreaded “d” word in this response and, just for you, I’m going to capitalize the D.

You really ARE a Diva who has totally lost sight of the fact that there are other talented fiber arts teachers out there! Give me a minute to step down to the barn so I can put my boots on because I’m totally gobsmacked by the amount of haughtiness oozing out of your post.

The crux of my indignation stems from what you call Option #2 in your models of common fiber festival organizational strategies. Your clearly suffering from either misinformation or delusion.

Let’s replace your Option #2 with something a little more realistic, shall we? Here is my version:

2. Encourage Your Vendors to Teach.

In this model, vendors who have been selected by the jury to vend at an event are offered the opportunity to submit one or more class proposals which, if accepted, will afford them a teaching position at the festival. These class proposals are typically reviewed and discussed by the show organizers, and final class offerings are selected based on much the same criteria as those used to select a national headliner. Some of these characteristics include whether the vendor is considered a subject matter expert in the subject which s/he proposes to teach. [Examples, the vendor who sells drop dead gorgeous mohair curls proposing to teach a class on dyeing mohair; the vendor whose promotional pictures and blog depict gorgeous cotton yarns and woven items proposing to teach a class on spinning cotton; the vendor who is locally known to operate a large, successful, fiber operation proposing to teach a class on blending and carding fiber.]

The thinking here is that vendors are already traveling to the show to vend and as such the festival will not have to bear the expense of their transportation, lodging, meals, etc. Additionally, since many of these vendors have a product following from other shows, an Etsy shop, or otherwise, hiring them to teach may bring new people to the show.

Teaching fees in this model range from a per student fee based on the number of students in the class (most prevalent at shows where students buy X number of classes for a set fee, no matter whose classes they choose), to fees for classes that are set by the individual teacher with a portion of each teacher’s fee being retained by the show to help cover operating costs (letting the student “vote with their dollars” so to speak, and choose classes based on the student’s perceived value of both the subject matter of the class and the instructor teaching it).

Pros for the organizer: The show is able to take advantage of available expertise without incurring the additional travel, meals, lodging etc. expenses of a national headliner. In fact, if the fees for all classes are the same, the money collected by the show for a popular class taught by a vendor can actually subsidize not only the cost of the venue, but also the cost of a headliner who may be teaching a class with fewer students.

Pros for the vendor/teacher: Teaching a class can make the vendor’s trip more financially viable, particularly at an event where the market attendance turns out to be weak. After all, the vendor is going to be there anyway. Additionally, teaching in a venue away from “home” expands the vendor’s market reach.

Cons for the organizer: Hmmmmmm.

Cons for the vendor/teacher: The vendor will need a knowledgeable person to cover his/her booth when s/he is teaching. If the vendor does much traveling to fiber festivals, s/he probably has such a person already, so this is not generally much of a problem. If the vendor is one of the the crazy people who does shows alone, it is generally not to much trouble to find someone to hold down the booth for 3 hours. In fact, a good show will help you arrange for booth coverage and will often provide a selection of volunteers for such a task. They may not be able to answer customers’ questions, but they are generally competent enough to tell people that the vendor is teaching a class and will be back later.

Another potential “con” is that the vendor might have to bring teaching tools and materials to the show that s/he might not otherwise have to haul around. This also merits little consideration. Since the vendor is already bringing a trailer full of tables, tablecloths, extension cords, lights, shelving, products, bags, baling wire and bobby pins anyway, what’s one more plastic tub?[Note to vendors: If you’re smart, you’ll sell the goods and equipment that support your class in your booth, so those 6 sets of 2-pitch fiber combs that you purchased to teach the class will be sold before you’ve packed up to go home.] Good shows will copy the handouts for the class in advance, so the vendor won’t even need a printer.

Now Abby, this may just be the way we do it in Texas (and Oklahoma, and Arkansas, and Kentucky, and Kansas, and Tennessee — those are the places where I have taught personally based on this model), but I doubt it.

Conversely, your Option #2 is based on a number of erroneous assumptions, some of which definitely earn you Diva status with a capital “D”. I will elaborate.

Abby: 2. Make the Vendors Teach.

Mary: Nobody makes vendors do anything. Vendors typically go through a class proposal process where the classes that are ultimately chosen for them to teach are selected by the show organizers. Smart vendors propose classes that will showcase their talents as subject matter experts, will lead to the sale of products in their booths, are relevant to the target market, and that introduce something different, new, and exciting to the body of existing work on a subject.

Abby: you’re not likely to get a truly professional teacher (you might, but it’s not likely); teacher won’t likely have “draw” of their own to help your event; classes often don’t pay for themselves; hard to justify promoting classes. Another gotcha is that people will agree to this because they really want to make it work — but they don’t know yet what it will take to actually make it work. So your risk of problem classes and dissatisfied students is much higher.

Mary: I don’t even know where to start with this paragraph except to pick up my dropped bottom jaw. The amount of hubris it took to write this speaks to just how far up in the ozone your ivory tower really is. The fact is that nothing could be farther from the truth. You are AT LEAST AS LIKELY if not MORE likely to get a professional teacher AND a subject matter expert when you hire a vendor who teaches what they do best. [As an aside, clearly your definition of a “professional teacher” and mine differ. While you teach for pay, I do not consider you to be a “professional teacher.” ] Although these vendors may be teaching in a different market, they are most often teaching the subjects and skills that they teach in their home markets on a regular basis.

…. In fact, you may actually be MORE likely to have a draw for these classes because vendors who sell at festivals and also via the internet have a product-based fan club that they can, and will, bring into the classroom. This has proven itself time and again in shows where I can personally attest to the success of classes taught by vendors. Need examples? Peggy Doney dyes for Treenway Silks as well as for her own vendor booth. You can bet your silver spindle that her dyeing classes sell out. Then there are Galina A. Khmeleva’s classes on spinning with a Russian spindle, and Denise Bell’s classes on some of the most intricate lace knitting I’ve ever seen. All vendors, and all Very Talented People with their own fan base.

… Also contrary to your assertion, their classes generally DO pay for themselves. Why? Because these teachers are paid on a per student model rather than being paid the hourly wage demanded by the exalted national teacher.

Abby: Cons for a teacher/vendor: What you hope to do is make up for either having to close your booth to teach the class, or pay someone to watch your booth while you teach. Few professionals who specialize as a teacher are able to make this work for them — and for folks who specialize as vendors, it doesn’t tend to be worth it for anything other than very short (an hour or so) sessions. Both vending and teaching are huge commitments. Some industry powerhouses are able to pull it off, generally by having a team they can count on — but having staff adds to the cost of what you’re doing, and you can probably make a better return on their time from producing goods for sale.

Mary: This paragraph at best is based on bad math, and at worse doesn’t even make sense. A person who specializes as a teacher isn’t going to have a vendor booth. For the combination vendor/teacher, teaching a class can make a substantial difference in net income for the show. Let’s say I teach a 3 hour class with 22 people in it (which I do in real life) and get paid $200 (not as good as your pay, I know, but we vendor/teachers sometimes have to take the crumbs they offer us). In that 3 hours, I’ve paid my helper $30 ($10 per hour which is what she’s paid anyway, so I would be paying her whether I was teaching or not). While I was gone, she sold six 4-ounce braids of roving which is a net profit to me of $45. She’s also handed out about 50 postcard sized cards that advertise my business, participated in the stitch marker swap which means she’s made a favorable impression on about 60 more people, and talked to another person about the pros and cons of a particular spinning wheel they were interested in. Frankly, this sounds like it’s working out just fine for me so far. Three or four of my personal friends who know me from other shows or from past years at the same show have stopped by to say hello, and she’s told them when I’ll be back. As I see it, I still haven’t lost a dime.

Abby: I work with all of these except for #2, “Make the Vendors Do It,” because I usually can’t find a way to make those models cover my costs — but also because I’m a specialist teacher with 40 years of experience in doing the stuff I’m teaching, the author of a popular book on the subject, and someone who’s out here working and publishing in the field constantly. In other words, I have a brand — and brands are worth something.

Mary: Oh goody. Now we can finally cut to the chase. This paragraph is what puts the Diamond in your Diva crown. You have a brand, and brands are worth something. Yes they are, to a point. The bald fact is that your 40 years of experience, your authorship, and your video fame are largely irrelevant to the classes you teach at a typical fiber festival, *especially* to the beginning level classes. You’ve got 3 hours and 18 students. Exactly how much of that 40 years of experience do you think you can cram into those 3 hours? Here is your description of your Beginning Spindling class (from your website): For all skill levels including absolutely none; suitable for any age group. Even if you already spin, or already spin with spindles in particular, there’s something for you in this class which covers multiple methods of starting out, pros and cons of various types of spindles, finger spinning, thigh spinning, plying your yarn, and directions for how to finish your yarn and get it ready to use in the project of your choice. A basic low whorl spindle and a sampling of fibers will be supplied. You’ve taught this class so many times I’m betting you have it practically scripted. In fact, I’d wager that your students pretty much follow the same learning curve in every class, to the point that you could predict the bumps you’ll run into along the way with 99% accuracy. I can name 10 people that can teach this class at least as well as you can, so why is it again that you’re so special?

When you come to teach at a fiber festival in 3 hour increments where every class is a different subject and/or a different skill, it is not 40 years of skill building that you are demonstrating. It’s 5 or 6 or maybe even 10 little nuggets of information that aren’t already in your books or videos or that may be new to a person who hasn’t reached that skill level quite yet. It doesn’t even really matter what class it is; the limitations of time allotted for the class and the stated subject matter — the scope of what you have contracted to teach in that class — are the great levelers of all teachers. The cold hard fact is that you will meet those 18 students where they are and take them as far they will let you in the time allowed to you, and you will only be drawing on a fraction of your 40 years of experience and gazillion books and videos.

Yes, you have a brand, a recognizable name. You have chosen to travel, to make videos, to write books, all of which have contributed to your name recognition and the making of your brand. But that doesn’t make you a better teacher and it doesn’t make you more worth more than the teachers who have not followed the same career path to build a name for themselves. In fact, the way I see it, at your rates, it wouldn’t take very many empty seats in your classes to turn you into a liability. Just sayin’.

In summary, in case I haven’t made my point crystal clear, I’m all for paying a fair wage to fiber arts teachers. I would not have found the contract put forward by F+W for Yarn Fest 2017 acceptable either. Without knowing the class schedule and the competition, it is impossible to make an appropriate assessment of the potential financial success or failure of teaching at the festival. F+W has clearly failed to factor in the number of people who attend festivals expressly for the purpose of taking classes, people for whom shopping is a secondary reason and who will choose not to attend without compelling class offerings. [After all, you can buy damn near anything on the internet nowadays.]

However, your post gave me the distinct impression that you think you are more special than you really are so here’s my message: Come on back down to Earth. You’re good, but in the context of fiber festival classes, you’re not that good.

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