While president D. Joel Weber was away recently, he invited guild member Beth Poirier to fill in with a guest column. Thanks, Beth!
Weaving for a Living
Let me introduce myself! I'm Beth Poirier and I make my living selling my weaving, the fruit of my looms if you will. I want to talk to you about how being a full time weaver is a life of interacting with others about handwoven cloth.
You may not see me at the monthly meetings or in a workshop or study group, but I'm an avid supporter of all things PHG and the fiber art world in general. Along with Chris Rossi, I'm co-chair of the Spring Sale, with two years in that position under my belt and a third one coming up. I've been a member of PHG for over 25 years. Before I got fully involved with my weaving and moved away from the Portland area, I was a familiar face at the monthly meetings, belonged to a study group, worked on a couple committees, and I made lifelong weaving friends. My very first experience with selling my weaving was at a PHG sale! I eventually found my niche with towels and napkins, and the occasional table runner and scarf. I'm not independently wealthy and I'm single so my weaving makes my house payment, buys groceries, etc. I live very simply to make ends meet on my modest income. I live about 2.5 hours east of Portland, near the small town of Goldendale, WA.
I'll tell you about a recent day in my life.
My day begins. I let Zed (my non-shedding Maltese mix)) out and back in, make coffee, read my emails. My emails mark the beginning of my business day. In addition to the usual personal emails, I have several business emails requiring my attention. The first is from LOCAL 14. I'm a member of this group of artists who put on an art show each fall and the next one is September 29 - October 2nd. Next I have an order for two towels from my Etsy shop! I have a moment of anxiety about my Etsy shop which now has only one listing. I decide to postpone adding new listings until after Local 14. I need inventory for the show.
I read an email from the Gathering of the Guilds Steering Committee scheduling an upcoming meeting which my co-chair Chris Rossi will attend (thank you, Chris!). My next email is from Ladella asking me if I'd renewed my PHG membership (I'd forgotten - oops!). I reply to an email from a customer who bought towels at the Bellevue Art Museum ArtsFair at the end of July and is asking about getting six (!) more. She's doing her Christmas shopping early and will give these as gifts to her family.
I start a load of laundry to wash towels and napkins that I'd recently hemmed. I try to print a postage label for the Etsy order. The black ink runs out so I change the printer cartridge. Label successfully printed.
I purchase and try to print two more postage labels via PayPal to send towels to customers from Art in the Pearl. They saw me hemming one at the show and loved it. I had extras of that particular towel in my hemming bag so I promised them I would mail them after I got them hemmed. The power goes out just as I send the labels to the printer. It comes back on a moment later and the labels have disappeared! I track them down in the history section of my account and use the reprint function. Whew!
Zed wants out again. I let him out but a deer strolls by and The Barking starts. Got him (the dog) in the house, the deer leaves, and Zed goes back out.
With the postage labels finally done, I pack the towels to mail. I wrap them in tissue, use long thrums to wrap around the package like ribbon and tie my business card to one of the thrums. Then they go into a clear protective bag, then a large envelope. I tape the mailing label in place and they're ready to go.
Switch the towels and napkins to the dryer.
I order some yarn from Webs via their revised website launched just a few hours previously. Well, try to order. Every time I complete the online form and move to the next step, I get an error message. When I return to the form, everything I've input is gone. After trying this four or five times, I give up and call customer service. What should have taken 20 minutes, takes about an hour and a half! Argh. Then my credit card company contacts me about unusual activity on my card. It's the Webs order. I confirm that the activity was legit. I wonder if the unusual activity was the customer service person manually entering my card info?
Check my emails again and there is an enquiry from another Art in the Pearl customer asking about bath towels in a longer length. Also an mail from Webs advising me to set a new password for their new website. I phone the customer, reset my password, and hope that I don't have any more technical issues to deal with today.
I ready a number of the towels that I've just taken from the dryer to take to my helper who does some of my hand hemming for me. I mark the wrong side for her with a large safety pin and pick out thread that's the same colour as the weft. I save the napkins for myself to hem along with the rest of the towels.
I eat my lunch quickly because it's time to go into town. Bring Zed back in the house. I live about 20 minutes north of Goldendale and run errands in town 3 or 4 times a week. On this trip, I pick up my neighbour who is disabled and sometimes needs a ride when her occasionally unreliable vehicle is being, well, unreliable. After short stops at the grocery store and the post office to mail my 3 packages of towels, we deliver the towels to be hemmed to the home of my helper. Our last stop is the hardware store where my neighbour is to pick up some items. Unfortunately, things don't go smoothly and we're there a long time. A very long time. It looks like I won't get much done in the studio today. Wasp spray is on sale and I buy a can to try to convince myself that something productive came out of this. I try to be patient but I have on my mind how much weaving I have to get done. I'd had very strong sales at the two art fairs I did this summer. I have only 17 of the small towels left and they're my most popular item. Local 14 is coming right up (set up is September 28). I'll be going out of town in a couple days for a family wedding and I'll be gone 4 or 5 days. How can I possibly get enough weaving done???
We finally get out of the hardware store and head home. My studio is about half a mile from home in an outbuilding on a friend's property. She's a painter and lets me share part of the space. I have my own loom room which houses my two looms and we share a small kitchen area. Usually I enjoy walking Zed to the studio but because of my late start, I load him in the car.
At last, at 3:30, I'm in the studio and at the loom! I cut off the napkins I had finished weaving the day before. I get everything tied back on and weave one towel. I do some necessary fiddly work around the studio and get home at 6:30. Check my emails and the customer interested in six towels decides to go for it! I prepare and send an invoice via Square. Now I have only 11 small towels left. Oh dear. I read another Local 14 email.
I finally eat supper then zigzag what I'd cut off the loom that day. It's time to brush off the lint and hang up my weaving hat for the night. I browse the internet for a while then Zed and I head to bed. I fall asleep hoping that I'll have more time at the loom tomorrow.Full time textile artists like myself are advocates for the fiber world whether it's talking to someone face-to-face at an art fair, making sales via Etsy, talking with potential customers via email, or helping to organize an event to sell my weaving and other artists' work. Yes, we earn money from our work but we give back a lot. For example, some of us are on the Spring Sale committee and dedicate many volunteer hours to it. Others, being the professionals they are, promote the event through their websites, social media, emails, word-of-mouth at other art fairs, and so on. Every time we're at an art fair we're educating the public about looms, yarns, fibers, and the exceptional nature of what we do. I'm very lucky to have customers who come to art fairs just to buy my work! Then they explore what the other artists and artisans have. Do you know the expression, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?"
I feel a little like Johnny Appleseed only I'm planting the appreciation of weaving! One towel at a time.
What have I learned from my thirty-five years of being a weaver? Fiber people find each other whether they're makers or "civilians" who appreciate the world of fiber. It's about community, connection, and the diversity of the textiles we make, the people who make them, and the people who appreciate them.