Demo Season

So your organization/guild have been invited to demonstrate spinning and weaving! Congratulations! Now the work begins.

For the organizer: you need to find out more about this demo. Consider the event:

  • County or state fair
  • Historical reenactment or renaissance fair
  • Art festival
  • Summer camp
  • Local festival (fourth of July, etc)

What does the event want? This is an area you need to define ahead of time, to set expectations for the event staff and for your volunteers.

  • Are you part of the entertainment? (Silly question – you are the entertainment no matter what else the event person says)
  • Are you there to educate?
  • Does that mean you have to know the history of spinning/weaving for your area (historical events usually)?
  • Do you have to provide a children’s activity or let children use your wheels or looms?
  • Do the volunteers have to dress up? If they have to dress up, will costumes be provided?
  • Are there any fibers requested to be used (if you are demonstrating at the wool building at a fair, then, chances are good, they would like you to work with wool)

What does your guild hope to get out of this demonstration:

  • Publicity
  • People entering the craft of spinning and weaving and other fiber arts
  • Gaining memberships (preferably, paid)
  • Positive image
  • Sales

What perks can the event offer the guild/volunteers? 99.9% of the time, demonstrations are volunteer and are in no way paid. However, it is worth asking for free parking and admission for the volunteers, water, mention in publicity and on maps, etc.

For the Volunteers

Consider this: no matter the purpose of the demonstration, whether educating, being there for local color, whatever – you are the entertainment. You are on display like a fish in a fish bowl. This is not meant to scare you, but to let you know the reality. Think in terms of being on the sales associate side of a department store.

Stop your conversation with your friend in the booth when someone walks up. You get angry when you see two clerks talking, even if they are talking about getting someone to clean up aisle two. Visitors feel the same way when they see two demonstrators talking. Do not resume the conversation until the visitor has left the area. This is really, really important.

Acknowledge the visitor. Say hello with a smile. Don’t force it – if you have to force it, take a break. Instead of saying, “Can I answer any questions for you?” ask “Would you like to feel this wool? It is so soft!” or “Would you believe I got this color from Kool-aid?”. Asking questions like the latter two increases your chance of interaction with the visitor and gives them a positive image of you. While they are walking past, talk about what you are doing or what you are going to make with the yarn or what you are weaving.

You do not have to let strangers or other spinners use your wheel or loom. Wheels start at $350 and go up from there. They are expensive pieces of machinery. You have the right to say no. I suggest when you take a break, that you bring a cozy to put over your equipment. I have a cozy for one of my wheels, just like a big pillowcase, because my cats try to protect me from my drive bands. A cozy on your wheel says don’t touch. In addition, do not bring a light wheel or loom. Bring a workhorse that can get kicked, tripped over and muddy/dusty. The weather is never certain.

Working with children. If you want to teach kids to spin or weave, that is great. Keep in mind, many parents think of demonstrators as education and entertainment and that every child must have his or her turn, even if they are not interested, so the parents can have a photo op. And it draws a crowd or other parents with children in tow. That can get exhausting. Do not start teaching kids like this alone – you need a buddy to handle the questions from the adults.  If you do not want to teach, you can have a basket of colored roving and let the kids pick out a color or two. Spin a yard or two, ply it and tie it to the child’s wrist (with the parent’s permission).

Experiencing technical difficulties. The warp snaps just as the crowd forms. The flyer cracks on your wheel. A child dumps her Slurpee into your fiber basket. Be ready for these events. If you are spinning, bring spindles. Also bring oil, extra bobbins, an extra orifice hook and other fiber. If you are weaving, bring extra warp yarn, hooks, weights, duct tape. Tell the crowd that these things happen and the loom should be repaired in the next 15 minutes or pull out other fiber, grit your teeth and think about how the food coloring may actually add a pretty pink cast to the fiber, if you can get all the sugar out.

If you are NOT a people person, that’s okay. There is a special place in heaven for the folks who help set up, tear down and provide samples, bookmarks, publicity.

Also, drink water and take care of yourself!!!

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