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Stick & Stone Fiberarts

Let's Produce A Major Fiber Arts Festival.
It'll Only Take A Year (or Two) to Do It.

One weekend. Over thirty classes offered by master teachers, ranging from Spinning Ancient Sheep Breeds to Card Weaving. Lots of vendors selling fabulous fiber things. Door prizes donated by major yarn companies. Goody bags for each participant. Lunch. And logistics galore.

We all love to go to these events. We dream and obsess about these events. But do we ever think about what it takes it get it done?

Producing an event of this magnitude requires a mighty effort on the part of the organizers and dozens of volunteers. This year's Plying the Arts, held at the Lyndon House Arts Center in Athens, Georgia, featured over 70 participants from 6 states; 14 teachers; and 20 volunteers. The planning process began nearly two years before the event, which was held August 5-6, 2006.

Margaret Heathman is an author, designer, teacher, yarn shop owner, mentor, and creativity coach. Her book, Knitting Languages, is sold around the world, and her designs can be found in craft stores throughout the US. Margaret has taught at Plying the Arts, Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair (Asheville, NC), Southeast Fiber Forum Association conferences, at guilds and private organizations throughout the southeast.

Paula J. Vester has been spinning for 25 years, but has been interested in history and the collection of information all her life. As a teacher, storyteller, and demonstrator, she shares not only the skills of spinning, dyeing, crochet, and simple weaving, but also the folklore and history of the people who worked in textiles. Through her company, World in A Spin, she publishes her own books, as well as those of other artists.

Margaret and Paula outlined the basic stages of the process. Both are authors, as well as gifted practitioners and teachers of multiple fiber arts disciplines. These unique abilities contributed to their success with planning and executing an event for fiber aficionados.

Margaret Heathman and Paula Vester, two leading lights of the Peachtree Handspinners Guild of Atlanta, Georgia, are veteran fiber event organizers. Margaret has masterminded two previous Plying the Arts weekends, and agreed to do it one more time if organizational-wizard Paula would pitch in.

Step 1: Schedule the date . Paula and Margaret carefully identified the dates of other major fiber national and regional events in order to avoid conflicts. Other considerations: school start date, the weather.

Step 2: Find the perfect location . This took some research. The regular venue for monthly guild meetings was unsuitable due to lack of air conditioning in parts of the building (a critical consideration during Georgia summers!) The Lyndon House Arts Center, built in 1850, has gallery space, vendor area, class rooms, and excellent air conditioning! The Arts Center also hosts the Athens Fiber Craft Guild, and was delighted to offer the facility for Plying the Arts.

Step 3: Figure out the budget . First, Paula did income projections based on class fees, vendor fees, and lunch purchases. There were no monetary donations or sponsorships. After calculating projected income, Paula came up with a cost per class for members and nonmembers of the guild.

Expenses included teacher fees, lunch costs, postage, paper and printing, and a donation to the Arts Center for use of the facility. Also, canvas project bags (with the Plying the Arts logo) were purchased to give to each participant along with donated products (goody bags).

Margaret's hope for that the event would produce enough funds after expenses for the guild to have seed money for a special workshop were realized. Her dream is to bring Judith McKenzie McCuin to Atlanta for a weekend seminar.

Step 4: Find the teachers/plan the classes. Rule of the game for Plying the Arts: all teachers MUST be guild members. When asked why she agreed to produce the event, Margaret said, "We have an astonishing number of true masters of many fiber arts in our own guild. There isn't enough time at our monthly meetings for them to share their knowledge. Plying the Arts offers intensive classes as an additional opportunity to learn from our members."

To determine what classes to offer, Paula and Margaret identified general categories, such as spinning, beading, knitting, weaving, dyeing. They considered previous Plying the Arts class evaluations, as well as guild member requests. Then they matched the topics with teacher abilities. They approached guild member/teachers and asked them to submit proposals to offer a class.

Then she began the exacting task of matching teachers' schedules and classes

Step 5: Find the sponsors and vendors. Write a lot of letters to "everyone you can think of." Surprise large donations included an Incredible Sweater Machine from Caron Yarns and a week-long class at the John C. Campbell Folk School.

Vendors were asked to donate one item for a door prize. This is a popular feature of Plying the Arts. Each registrant gets one door prize ticket and can purchase more. Drawings are held both days.

I Feel Like a Number

Number of people who work to make this happen: About 20 plus the two organizers

Number of hours it takes to make it happen:
An average of 20 hours/week for one year; about 1040 hours

A quote from Paula: "...and then for the last month I obsess about it 24 hours/day." That equals another 720 hours.

Number of people that come to take classes and shop:72 registered students
100+ more come to just shop

Number of class sessions: 180

Number of class hours: approximately 84

Number of gallons of beverages consumed:
14 gallons of coffee, tea, or lemonade

Step 6: Get the paperwork done. This means registration brochures, letters to vendors, thank you notes, maps, hotel information, tent cards, and instructions for vendors.

Step 7: Get the word out. Brochures have to be printed and mailed. The guild and Paula's website were updated with class and registration information.

Step 8: Registrations roll in. Paula devised a system to process them and began to create the class schedule. Brochures went out the first week in May; registration was closed by July 6!

Step 9: Recruit the volunteers. Jobs for volunteers include parking cars, lunch service and cleanup, and working the registration desk. Most are guild members.

Step 10: Show up and stay on your feet for two days to make sure everything goes as planned!

Step 11: Spend a few days recovering. Then the organizers produce final reports, thank you notes, and financial reports to the guild that include payments to teachers and the facility. This is the time to wrap up all the details and review the class evaluations to see what can be done better next time!



Michele Ritan is a member of the Peachtree Handspinners Guild. She's been knitting and crocheting since childhood, and is now playing at spinning, dyeing, and weaving.

Her website is