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!

A Baby-sized Baby Wolf Update!

My new Schacht Baby Wolf did finally arrive! It has taken me forever to actually set it up because when it arrived it came direct from the factory and smelled like raw lumber.

Lumber is a major migraine trigger for me and I really couldn’t get close enough to it to fully even unbox it. The only room it fits in is the living room so that has been challenging.

Someone told me that got wood smell out of a new dresser by filling the drawers with coffee beans. That’s not really an option with the loom so I instead filled a cotton produce bag with beans and hung it from the top beam. The smell started to go away pretty quickly but it took over a month to be faint enough I could actually handle it.

I never dreamed it would be so stinky! Even unfinished IKEA furniture doesn’t smell this strongly. I guess since it shipped here straight from the warehouse it never aired out?

The directions were pretty easy to follow. I do wish they were a little more detailed and gave some more reasoning behind what you are doing. One end of the heddles were red and greasy so I assumed that meant they went on top but I don’t know. They were on tiny thin threads and one set wasn’t connected so that was a little tedious to thread on. There does seem to be a tiny difference between the “front” and “back” of each heddle but all the directions was to slide them on the bar. The video they direct you to is 10 years old and the heddles are not packaged the same. The video for the apron rod they tell you to watch is for the Cricket rigid heddle. How hard is it to update the videos or film 5 minutes on one of the Wolf looms? I just wanted to make sure it didn’t matter which way you looped them on.

One of the fold knobs arrived really loose and fell off. In the directions they just tell you to be careful with them or the whole loom will collapse. Not how to reattach them. Let’s just say it involved using a key to hook the hole the screw was supposed to go in and some mild panic to hold it all together.

I think it comes with an extra apron rod? I have three. The packing slip included rubber o-rings but there weren’t any in the box and I never found instructions that included them so I’m going to assume they weren’t actually needed. They said discard some from the jack pins so maybe they were supposed to replace them if you wanted to secure it again for transport? Or something? I don’t see anywhere on the loom they’d go.

I’m excited to finally get weaving! It really has been a more stressful and drawn out process than I’d expect. It does still smell a little bit it’s manageable.

A Story About a (Schacht) Baby Wolf

I talked a little about this in my weaving woes post but I had ordered the Schacht 26 Baby Wolf Loom from the Woolery back in November with an estimated 6 week delivery time. That would have put it at just post-Hanukkah but pre-Christmas. I was a little worried where it would fit as my Kromski harp forte rigid heddle, my sewing machine, and a narrow wooden table were in the spot where we put our food-themed tree. I folded up the Kromski with a warp on it, moved my sewing machine to my bedroom (blocking my dresser!), and moved the table to another spot in my living room. Then I got the Wolf Pup and was pleased with how small it folded up. I was able to fit it in our small living room at the same time as the tree was up. Still, the tree takes up some space so I wasn’t too disappointed when I was told the Baby Wolf would ship out directly from Schacht and would arrive before the new year but post-Christmas.

Since we had the tree up and I knew the Baby Wolf was coming, I watched my DVD and sort of casually thought about trying out my Wolf Pup but thought I’d wait for the Baby Wolf because it would be brand new and presumably come with instructions and everything in 100% working order. I know the two looms are very similar and I really got the (used, deeply discounted) Wolf Pup because it would be easy to travel with.

Then I was told that the Baby Wolf wouldn’t arrive until the last days of January so I thought I’d just get started with the Pup. I realized the Pup was missing apron rods so I ordered them and put together my new warping reel. I ordered a bobbin winder that’s on it’s way.

Then last week I got an update from the Woolery that the Baby Wolf had shipped via freight from Schacht and that they often use drop shippers to get it to our door. I eagerly checked the tracking each day. There was a delay due to weather in the midwest. Then on the day it said it would be delivered, I got an error saying that it couldn’t be delivered and to call FedEx. I was on my way out the door but I contacted FedEx and got transferred around and apparently, you need to schedule freight deliveries? Why didn’t anyone tell me this? I’m still not sure why an 80 lb item I ordered from a craft store is being delivered via freight.

Apparently, there are addresses in my city freight that won’t even deliver to so for a few minutes it looked like I’d have to go to some depot somewhere and get it. After some panic, I was able to set up a delivery for tomorrow! They told me between 12-4 pm but now the tracking says 4pm so who knows. It was supposed to snow today but we only got rain. Fingers crossed it actually arrives and we can get it in our front door.

I wrote to the Woolery to tell them the freight issue as sort of an FYI to help other customers because it was so unexpected and although they had been so good at updating me, they never said anything about having to schedule a delivery or the possibility of it being shipped but undeliverable to your address. I was disappointed they sent me back a condescending “I’m sorry for the confusion on Fedex’s end” and “freight is like this so they can make sure someone is home to sign for it and they don’t just leave it on the street” response. Okay. I have had many UPS and non-freight FedEx deliveries where I had to sign for to accept delivery (even for items much larger than this) and never have I had to call to make an appointment. I’m told the date via tracking or better yet, the company who is sending me the package tells me, I make sure I am there and that’s it.

I responded that I was trying to be helpful and thought that perhaps they would want to tell customers to make an appointment proactively or know it might not actually be able to be delivered to their address and they said they’d tell the direct shipping team. No good deed! I don’t think FedEx freight deliveries are very common for non-businesses and why would you expect something you ordered from a craft store that weighs under 80 lbs would arrive at your home via freight? I’m not a business or warehouse.

Not the biggest deal but when is the best response condescension and apologizing for “confusion”? I spent a massive amount of money and have been pleasant about repeated delays and was clearly trying to just give them a heads up in case this affected other customers. When I placed the order it didn’t seem like the loom always shipped out directly from the factory or via freight so I thought it would have been helpful info to have. A pleasant “thanks” would have been enough.

Now my latest woe is that I’m watching these Youtube videos about warping the loom and they are all starting with using a raddle. Is this something else I need that I wasn’t told? I don’t think Knisley uses it in his video so this is throwing me for a loop. From some googling, it looks like the “front to back” method doesn’t require it? Where are the videos about that? Sob.

Weaving Woes

One thing I’ve noticed about weaving is how few really complete resources there are out there. I’m working on one myself as I get started on this adventure but I thought I’d share some observations.

Even lists or blog posts that are headlined “what do you need to get weaving?” are bizarrely incomplete. Why is this? Why don’t stores that sell weaving equipment have a handy list posted? They would sell more items. I ended up buying from a few different stores but would have happy to have bought it all at once and been done with it. Weaving is a very expensive hobby and if you are already going all in and buying a new loom, maybe make it easy so when it arrives, the person 100% knows that they have everything to get started.

Every step of the way in my weaving journey when I’ve thought I was ready something else popped up.

I ordered a Baby Wolf back in mid-November and was told it would arrive in early December. That got pushed to almost the new year and then again to the end of January. Totally understandable.

I went to the Red Stone Glen sale the day after Thanksgiving to get some yarn and supplies because I was expecting the Baby Wolf to arrive any day. While there I ended up buying an used older model Wolf Pup at an extreme discount because I figured the smaller size would be good for hauling in my car for lessons or events or to share with a friend or my husband. I had hoped for a used reel (the real reason I drove the hour and half there) but they didn’t have any used, just new.

I told them I was new to weaving and had ordered a Baby Wolf and wanted to get a reel after seeing someone use one instead of a warping board, a shuttle, some bobbins for the shuttle, yarn and a beginning weaving DVD. Did anyone suggest I get a bobbin winder? No! Did any list of what to get a new weaver include one? No! Did I realize I needed one when I went to wind the yarn onto my new bobbin? Yes! They aren’t cheap! But I would have bought one right then.

I did ask if the Wolf Pup needed anything that wasn’t with it and they very nicely did throw in a reed for it. But why not suggest something else a beginning weaver might not know about?

I was hoping to get my Baby Wolf and we had put up our Christmas tree where the looms would go so I basically unloaded the Wolf Pup and put it out of the way. When I was told the Baby Wolf wasn’t going to arrive until almost February, I pulled out the Wolf Pup and rewatched the DVD. In the DVD they used apron rods to warp the loom that I realized I didn’t have but normally come standard with the pup. I ordered them online.

I decided to wind some bobbins for my new shuttle and realized that…I really need a bobbin winder! Unlike my rigid heddle shuttles, I can’t really do it by hand very well. So I had to place another order from the only place I could find them in stock, an Etsy shop that makes their own. Waiting for that now. But I only realized I needed one after googling “winding bobbin for weaving tips”.

I decided to put together the reel and chain some yarn while I waited. Then I ran into the same problem I had when I was shopping for rigid heddle looms—the reel was unfinished. Now this is a $300+ reel. Why can’t it be finished? It was sold to me in person, in a generic box sight unseen so I didn’t know until I opened it up.

I live in a city and it’s winter. I can’t be using mineral spirits in my bedroom. I’m just going to put it together now and finish it in the spring. Fingers crossed that’s fine. The directions for the reel are a little vague and again, seem to assume some sort of familiarity with using a reel or assembling one. It required a lot of sanding! Someone at a weaving store could really make some extra cash if they would offer to assemble and sand all these things before they they sell them. Or for online stores to offer it as an extra service (and shipping) fee. Or you know, the companies that make them could sell them finished like every other piece of furniture I own.

I get that many people get into weaving because they have family or friends who weave. But I can’t be the only person who is doing this basically on their own or who doesn’t have a woodshop in their backyard.

I don’t think it’s gatekeeping exactly but even the “beginning” instructions and guides really expect you to be pretty familiar with what to do or have other resources. Meanwhile I can’t get the Greater Baltimore Weavers Guild to respond to my basic, polite emails.

I found this to be true even in “easier” weaving circles like the pin loom. It is assumed you know and are proficient in other yarn crafts like crochet in patterns or in videos they don’t show all the steps, just the first few and expect you to extrapolate from there. I don’t see the point in posting these patterns and videos if you aren’t going to do a good, complete job of explaining things. Luckily my husband is willing to watch the videos and try along with me which is a big help. But uploading a video on YouTube where you are blocking the loom half the time or speed up after step one is helping no one but those who already know what they are doing.

Should I have to have a woodshop or 20 year old film canisters to use as weights in order to get started weaving? I say no.

These sorts of impediments are why it is going to be difficult to continue to attract new and urban weavers.