The Quilt Scout
by Mary Fons
An Erstwhile Teacher-Lecturer Shares Tips from the Road
A large part of my quilt industry career portfolio for the past eight years has been my work as a teacher-lecturer on the guild/shop circuit. My heart is in the writing, editing, and quilt history stuff these days, so awhile back I stopped taking gigs. It was a scary moment when I decided to start saying no, but it was time.
On a trip to Baltimore to complete one of the last few jobs I have on the books, I reflected on a few things I have learned over the years. Here are just a few of those nuggets of wisdom from a gal who is ready for the next phase, but full of good memories from her time on the open road.
ABC Rule: ‘Always Be Continuously’ (Getting Along with Folks)
The programming chairperson is freaking out because there was a problem with registration. The students are freaking out because your supply list was confusing.* The secretary is freaking out because the last secretary…Well, the current secretary can’t even talk about it.
The moment you book a gig/shop, you enter into the guild or shop’s ecosystem. Sometimes that ecosystem is healthy and drama-free. Other times, you step into deadly mix of politics and disorganization that (hopefully) has nothing to do with you.
In either scenario, the rules are the same: Be kind. Be understanding. Be patient. Provide another supply list, clarify info about merch, email your technical requirements (again), etc. Basically, do whatever you can to help make heroes out of the people who have moved mountains to get you into a room where you can earn at least part of your living teaching patchwork and giving lectures about quilts.
BONUS TIP! Be prepared to teach in any kind of room. You’ll be in church basements a lot and many are chilly. Bring a sweater! Image: Wikipedia.
When in Doubt, Call (Don’t Email)
Talking on the phone is anxiety-provoking for me for reasons that my therapist and I are discussing. But I have accepted that if there are lots of logistical details to consider, if people are confused about X or Y or Z, if you or your host perceives weirdness of any kind as you schedule an event, stop with the emails! Pick up the phone and talk to each other. Unless you’re a really good writer emailing with a really good writer, emails can become a disaster of the interpersonal and efficiency kind. Look at it this way: I’m at least slightly decent at writing at this point and I still know better than to email a programming chair after more than three emails.
Don’t Forget Your Syllabi, Demo Materials, Kits, Etc.
Forgetting your class stuff is maybe worse than missing your flight — and that’s really bad. But if you miss your flight, you’ll have several hours of stress; if you forget your class materials, you have to face a classroom of sad/mad students for an entire day (or longer). Discovering you’ve left materials at home is pretty much a worst-case scenario. Don’t. Forget. Your. Stuff.
Give It Absolutely Everything You’ve Got
BONUS TIP! Don’t these fresh veggies look healthy and tasty? You will likely not eat such things on the road. Pack a granola bar, honey. Image: Wikipedia.I tell the people who hire me that I intend
to give them the best event they’ve ever
had. It’s a tall promise. But stating that desire is a bond I make with myself and
my host that I’ll bust my hump for them
for the next 24-48 hours.
After all, the guild or shop has put time, money, and resources into the event and they have expectations. No matter how many TV shows you’ve filmed, no matter how many blue ribbons you’ve won, no matter how many groovy quilters you’re friends with, when you’ve been hired to come teach/lecture for a shop or guild, you are an employee and you need to deliver. (And believe me: If you’re a slacker, word travels fast). Be dependable, responsible, and give ‘em a great show.
But Also Remember: You Are a Person
I have had to cancel three gigs in eight years. Each time was agonizing — and each time I had to do it.
I had to cancel a gig in Canada because of illness. Several years ago, I had to back out of a gig because I double-booked myself. (You get exactly ONE of those in your entire career, by the way; more than that and you’re a goner). I canceled a gig this year because I got a new job and was in grad school and had what I believe was an actual nervous breakdown when I looked at my calendar. The guild was about as happy with me as you’d expect, and I deserved the ire I received. Canceling is extremely uncool and unprofessional if you don’t have a very, very, very good reason to make the call.
But the thing is, teacher-lecturers are people, and people do get sick. People make scheduling mistakes. People get jobs. They have babies, they move, they have panic attacks.
If you do this kind of work, it’s likely you will complete a job even if you’re half dead — take it from me — and you must do everything you can to fulfill your commitment. But for all the shops/guilds out there, remember: A teacher is flying solo. She has no health benefits with this job, no 401(k). She has no HR department, no one who can cover for her. A quilt teacher should be able to call in sick, sometimes. If she can’t, if her entire career is over when something doesn’t go perfectly, the industry is not doing this the right way.
But seriously, don’t cancel. And remember your supplies.
BONUS TIP! Invest in good luggage. Not pictured: Good luggage.
If you get paid to teach people how to quilt; if you give a lecture/seminar on technique or quilt history and afterward someone gives you a check, you are fortunate. The work is far from cushy, but coming from a gal who waited tables, worked retail, and did a lot of grunt-work freelance writing for most of her twenties, believe me: Working the guild/shop circuit is a very good gig. Keep gratitude front-of-mind and you’ll find it way easier to sweat the small stuff — and you know what they say about the small stuff.
Always Send a Thank-You Note
*(Was it? That’s on you: Fix it before your next gig.)