Weaving Woes Part 2: Why I Don’t Think I’ll Ever Attend Maryland Sheep & Wool Again

Part of why I wanted to start this blog beyond documenting my progress is to share my journey into the world of weaving. I truly enjoy all types of weaving! I’ve loved trying out pin looms, my new giant rug loom, my rigid heddle after making about 20 frame loom tapestries of various sizes in Winter-Spring 2021 inspired by reading about this loom in the Strategist. I am sad I didn’t find weaving sooner!

I really thought this would be a fun time. I finally am in a place where I have some time and money (unfortunately thanks to my mother’s death and my fee from handling her estate and a slow down of work due to a global pandemic) to try out a new craft.

However, I have been unpleasantly surprised at how oddly difficult the process of getting into weaving has been as a beginner. I don’t want to come across as whiny or bitter but it has been bizarre how at nearly every turn I have run into some strange, unforeseeable issue that was completely out of my control.

As I’ve said before, I don’t know any who does any sort of weaving. I live in Baltimore City. There are no weaving stores here which is a little surprising because we have an arts college, MICA, where you can literally major in fiber. We have some yarn stores in the general metro area and some carry some very basic supplies like shuttles and cone yarn and one offers occasional rigid heddle classes but that’s about it. I know there are weavers here because I see weaving equipment sold on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace all the time. I’ve even bought some!

We do have a weavers guild, the Weavers Guild of Greater Baltimore which apparently, during non-Covid times meets about an hour outside of Baltimore. I have contacted them multiple times over months for help and asking about membership and do not get a response. I’ve emailed and called the local yarn stores for advice about learning to weave, looking for other weavers, and asking about ordering supplies, and was either ignored or brushed off. I also reached out to various community members and groups about getting a t-shirt loom made was ignored by two places, ghosted another and then finally got lucky on Facebook Marketplace by cold messaging people until one answered.

But I keep going!

I have been on the Maryland Arts email list for years and have attended some of their folklife programs in years past. I knew they do a grant for Maryland Folklife Traditions each year where a novice apprentice pairs up with a “master” to learn a new skill. I thought that might be a great way to learn to weave. Back in early November 2021 after being ignored by the yarn stores, the guild and not finding anyone via Facebook weaving groups, I contacted the Folklife committee directly and asked if they had any suggestions on how to find a “master” weaver. They put me in touch with a woman who was helping another woman learn about fiber arts as a recipient of the 2021 grant.

She got right in touch and I visited her in her studio about an hour and 15 minutes from my home. Her apprentice arrived a few hours late for our meeting but the “master” showed us how to use a reel. She told me to get a floor loom, specifically the Baby Wolf. She said she would be the “master” for the grant (for which she would receive $3000, I would get about $1000 and we’d share an amount for travel) if I was willing to do the written portion of that application. She told me that she would help me learn how to weave even if we decided not to apply for the grant or we weren’t chosen. She wasn’t interested in helping me with the rigid heddle and told me to buy a floor loom as soon as possible and that I could either travel with it to and from my house or leave it in her studio for lessons. I ordered my Baby Wolf right away from the Woolery. When I heard about the Red Stone Glen sale, I drove the 90 minutes there to buy yarn and supplies, saw and bought a used Wolf Pup for $800 which I felt would be easier to transport to her farm studio for weaving lessons than the Wolf. The Wolf, as I’ve shared, was back-ordered so I thought it would help speed along learning to weave.

This woman is the chairperson of Maryland Sheep and Wool, the massive fiber and lamb festival we have in central Maryland each year. While we were talking about weaving and killing time until her apprentice arrived she asked what I did for a living and I told her that I develop recipes and write cookbooks. She was very excited about this and right away said to come to the Sheep & Wool meeting the next week (about an hour from my home) to introduce myself. She really wanted to put together a cookbook for the 50th anniversary of Sheep and Wool in 2023. I was very upfront that I can’t work for free and that this would be paid work for me. She readily agreed. I attended the three plus hour meeting and was introduced.

I was invited back out to her rural farm/studio to meet with the general manager of the festival and the committee chair for the 50th anniversary. They were all very nice and excited about the cookbook. We talked for hours. They agreed to my fee (an extremely discounted friends and family rate with no royalties for one year’s worth of creating, editing, testing, and writing the book) and we went over what the book would look like. We talked about getting a grant they had received in the past from the Lamb Board to help with costs. They assured me they would handle it and to get started on the project.

They had me send them a contract they said they would return when I saw them next. I got started on the project and provided them with regular updates in writing. As the new year began I really had made some headway and even had a historical/local interest press interested in publishing the book vs self-publishing it. This is a huge coup! Countless hours of work. I had not started developing the recipes yet as it wasn’t yet lamb season (the committee was going to help me source lamb from local farms) but I kept in touch.

I wanted to update them as to what was going on and to get the go-ahead to work with the publisher so I asked if we could have a Zoom meeting because the Covid rates were high again. They set one up. I spent hours creating slides and a presentation. Then when I logged into the meeting, they informed me that the meeting was over, they didn’t want me to present, and that they decided that “no one buys cookbooks anymore” and that they didn’t want to do the project.

This was after I worked on it, with their full knowledge for two months. I had turned down another project to do this because they promised this project was going forward. I didn’t apply for or pitch other work in December and January (when you pitch work for the spring/early summer) because I was ready to work full time on this cookbook. They knew all of this. At no point did they tell me they were having second thoughts about the cookbook.

Of course, people do buy cookbooks,  the NYT is reporting a 17% total increase in cookbook sales since 2019 and a 127%  increase in sales for “general cookbooks” like the Sheep & Wool cookbook we planned. I’m not sure where they got their data about cookbook sales or why they felt the need to tell me that no one wants to cook or make recipes anymore as that is literally how I make my living.

They said it was not a reflection of me and I know it wasn’t because they didn’t see any of my actual work or let me speak at the meeting I asked for but it was incredibly unprofessional of them to waste so much of my time if they weren’t serious about the project.

What seemed to have happened was that they didn’t loop in the rest of the festival board about the cookbook and made me promises they couldn’t keep.

They ultimately were sort of apologetic about how they handled it but again, they approached me. After they pulled the plug on the cookbook they asked if I wanted to work for free in some other capacity for the festival (and potentially contribute free recipes to their history book) instead. It’s clear they don’t want to pay people for their labor and I got the impression that they felt like I should want to work for free.

I was very upfront from day one that while I was giving them a steep discount but that I can’t work for free and why.

Recipe development and cookbook writing is incredibly costly (ingredients!) and time-consuming. I did ask them to pay a fraction of my discounted rate for the months of work I already did. They did give me a small amount of money but I am truly appalled at how they handled all of this. I have done freelance work for the last 15+ years and I’ve never dealt with a more poorly organized, unprofessional group than Maryland Sheep and Wool.

Now I am out of a job, never got the weaving help I actually was looking for when I first met them, the deadline for the grant I wanted has passed and I am still unable to find anyone to teach me how to weave or even troubleshoot with. The chairperson never contacted me after to help me with my weaving or to offer any sort of apology for dragging me into this mess. Maryland Sheep and Wool still sends me regular emails asking me to volunteer for the festival.

Even if this didn’t affect me personally, I truly do think they are making a mistake. They could have sold that lamb cookbook for literally decades both in person, online and as an ebook and kept all the profits and instead decided to cobble together a 50th-anniversary history that has a shelf life of one year and is written by volunteers.

I am really left with the impression that weavers in my are very clique-y and uninterested in welcoming new weavers into a community. I am always polite, friendly, responsive, and respectful but I have been ignored and mistreated at nearly every turn. It is really disappointing because I feel like these organizations and businesses give a lot of lip service to being inclusive and wanting to attract younger weavers and members. That came up every time I saw or talked to anyone from Sheep and Wool–the need to attract younger and new members (the “younger” ones were still largely at least in their 50s) and get new interest in the festival. I’m in my early 40s but decades younger than these people and willing to work at less than minimum wage to help them bring back more food content to Sheep and Wool just because I thought it would be a fun project and they treated me like dirt.

I am slightly hesitant to post this but it is the truth. I am not only out of a job because they couldn’t bother to be honest with me about the project or go through their own proper channels to hire me but I’ve also spent thousands on looms that I wouldn’t have invested in now if I didn’t think I had a willing teacher. Obviously, some of this is on me, I shouldn’t have done anything without the signed contract but they told me many times they were 100% invested and would return it to me when we met again. They knew I was already working on the project. Time was of the essence as I needed to secure a printer and format before doing any written work on the book and publishers were citing a 4-6 month lag time for printing. They wanted the book out before May 2023. I was very clear and upfront about what I was doing and they just strung me along. I feel like I have to put this out there just in case anyone else wants to work with the organization in the future. I’d feel sick if they did this to anyone else. I’m tired of this sort of thing happening to creatives who put their faith in these organizations. I had googled them looking for this kind of issue before I met with them and couldn’t find anything.

I’m not sorry that I have the looms but now I’m back to teaching myself from a book and old DVDs from the library. Stay tuned!

3 thoughts on “Weaving Woes Part 2: Why I Don’t Think I’ll Ever Attend Maryland Sheep & Wool Again

  1. Pingback: Spotted at the Library | Rya Knot

  2. Pingback: Finally Warping! | Rya Knot

  3. Pingback: Weaving Class! | Rya Knot

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