I have a question for you. Why do so many of us put so much thought and effort into buying free range chicken, eco-friendly yarn and fair trade coffee? (Insert your favorite product of choice into these, by the way, if you’re not a chicken or coffee person). I think the answer most people would give is that it’s the better choice, in the same way recycling bottles is better than throwing them on the side of the road. True?
Ok, then. How much thought do you give to where you spend your knitting dollars? Obviously, on the eco-friendly front and recycled front, we’ve got a lot to choose from yarnwise — yummy recycled sari silk yarns, anyone? But what about fair trade? Annie Modesitt’s recent post about changes in the Interweave online pattern sales situation and on teaching at big fiber shows has me thinking.
Personally, I don’t do a lot of design work for magazines, at least not right now. Tight deadlines generally preclude me from doing that and book work, too. Compared to Annie, the issue was not as high on my priority list, although I’m thrilled to death they’ve altered the rights and compensation structure to an even more designer-friendly model. It’s what I would expect from Interweave. They are wonderful to work with as an author. It’s just that the digital world is a whole new thing for many traditional media companies and I think a few missteps here and there are not entirely unexpected.
What does catch in my throat a little is what Annie’s said about teaching. I love teaching. I really do. But I’m not going to be able to do it anymore if the payment structures continue to devolve at the major shows. Call me crazy, but I think that if a small yarn store or fiber show can afford to pay me fairly to teach and cover my travel expenses, a large show should be able to as well. More so, even.
As the knitting teachers you know and love are choosing not to teach at big events, ask yourself why. What brought this boiling over with me today is this: I got the evaluation sheets back from the show I taught at in January where my luggage went missing…with all my class supplies in it. Although I got high marks across the board for the actual class itself, someone commented that I was frazzled from my luggage situation, and someone else commented I should’ve sent it all FedEx.
Harmless comments? Sure, I could just blow them off, but here’s the thing. There’s this assumption that we can afford to do something like that. I earned no pay from the cancelled class (that I crammed a quick-and-dirty version of into the half-hour before my next class for the people who came back), and a flat fee for the other one, the show only paid for half my travel expenses, and by the time you add it all up, I’ve either barely broken even or I’ve lost money. Add on shipping a bunch of boxes to the convention center or hotel (where, mind you, you’ll get charged a per-box fee for picking them up, too) when you could just put the items in your two free checked bags and…you do the math. I’d definitely have lost money on the teaching engagement as a whole.
If you care about quality teachers being able to earn a living — or at least not end up having to pay for the privilege of teaching you — then you should care. We all make choices for how we allocate our income, whether it’s on a can of Folger’s or a $5 latte. You can’t expect good teachers to keep teaching if they’re losing money doing it. I point you to all the comments on Annie’s post, but most particularly this one:
What would happen if a group of us got together and paid you your regular fee and had you come out to our city? Would something like that be possible? I have talked to several people about doing just that. Having designers that teach class come and teach a group of us. We would pay all of the expenses and then your fee.
Big shows? That’s your competition right there. One beautiful thing about the internet age is that it’s made it so easy to reach out and ask something like this, then get it done! All that commenter would have to do is round up fifteen or twenty of her friends and I can pretty much guarantee you they’d be able to afford just about any professional knitting teacher’s fee you can name, plus reasonable expenses.
I’m not railing against any particular shows here, but I do hear a lot behind the scenes from other knitting teachers all over the place and I’ll tell you this: many are fed up. And it’s sad, because we love teaching. We love getting out and seeing, hands-on, what you’re doing so we can design new projects you’ll like or write better instructional materials for you. We enjoy interacting with students who ask awesome questions and push us to be better as well. But unless you’re married to a lotto winner, it’s not possible to keep doing it if it’s going to cost us money. I suppose my very tricksy accountant could write it off as research and development fees, but that doesn’t pay the mortgage, you know?
I write this, of course, on the verge of leaving on a 10-day teaching trip (ah, irony). Discuss amongst yourselves, I’ll pop in as I’m able.