Weaving a Life: Economic Reality (TMI?)

promotional material done for the gift show we used to do

Yesterday I posted about the fact that my weaving income would not qualify as a ‘living’ and someone asked if it had ever been our ‘living’.

The fact is that technically, for about 9 years, we had no other income than weaving.

Would I call it a ‘living’? I suppose so. Except that for that entire 9 years of our combined income was below the Canadian level of poverty.

So living? Technically yes.

BUT.

We had no children. When the dog died we did not replace it. Because we couldn’t afford the vet bills and food. We have universal health care, which meant we didn’t have to worry too much if one of us got sick or needed health care. We did still have to pay for medications, but not the doctor or any hospital stay.

We had both grown up in low income families and knew how to pinch a penny multiple times before spending it. We stopped buying season tickets to the local playhouse. Stopped going to concerts. Talk no holidays. ALL of the trips we did in that 9 years (and before and after) were business related. And hardly ‘vacations’. (Except for the year Doug’s mom was dying. He went down to see her and talk with his sister about what needed to be done for their mother on several occasions. But those weren’t ‘vacations’, either.)

My work day would generally begin at 1 pm (I took care of personal errands and appointments in the mornings), and continued until 9 pm – or later depending on deadlines – with breaks for dinner and to rest my aching muscles.

Doug did much the same.

He wound 100 yard beams on a second warp beam while I wove down the one on the loom. He did an inspection on my work, marking any issues that needed to be repaired. He wound pirns on the industrial pirn winder. He did pretty much all the wet finishing of my product including the pressing. He repaired my equipment, made improvements, built small tools or other things, like craft fair booth structures. He traveled all over BC and Alberta to sell to gift shops and did the craft fair circuit – Prince George, Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, while I stayed home, wove, shipped him inventory as things sold. Then he would come home, do laundry, pick me up and we’d do Edmonton together. By the time we got home mid-December we were exhausted. Only to begin again. Then we added in the biggest gift show in western Canada, where he would go, write orders and I would begin planning my production schedule based on what he’d sold. We promised six week delivery and then we had to scramble to fulfill those orders. He nagged customers to remind them payment was due.

In my ‘spare’ time I wrote for publication. I worked on the GCW tests. I even taught workshops, at first ‘locally’ where I drove, then flying, which meant 6 am flights going, midnight returns.

For at least 8 months out of the year I was weaving approximately 240 yards of fabric, at 20 or 24 epi, ranging between 14 to 24 ppi. My minimum daily goal was 10 yards of fabric woven. With the next beam ready to go when the current warp was woven, my turn around time on a 49 or 60″ wide warp at 24 or 20 epi was 24 hours. We would swap out the empty beam for a full one, I would thread (60 inches at 20 epi or 49 inches at 24 epi), sley, tie on and be weaving again.

I took care of scheduling, inventory control, ordering yarn in advance of needing it (mail order from Quebec to here was about 10-14 days). Doug took care of pulling orders and boxing them up for shipping while I did the invoicing.

Doug repaired the washing machine and dryer several times because we couldn’t afford a repair person and he had the skills. He maintained the loom and other equipment, made sure the vehicle was in working order for the regular 500+ mile trips he made while I borrowed a vehicle to get to the bus depot to deliver the latest shipment to the fashion designer. Eventually my mother pretty much just handed me the keys to her car when she knew Doug would be out of town. And she took to taking us out for a meal once a week and then I would drive her to her medical appointments and shopping, in the morning on my ‘personal’ time.

I had to budget very tightly because income was not guaranteed. It varied according to the season and how many people bought my stuff at the craft fairs. So at the end of the year, I’d have money and then I had to figure out how to make it last until June when we started getting income from the orders we wrote at the spring gift show. And of course all those shows we did in the autumn? Wanted their money/down payments by April. With zero income until Oct/Nov/Dec.

I tried to book teaching gigs between Jan-June as a way to keep a little money coming in, submitted articles to magazines. And if I had a few days, working on the GCW tests. Which also required a financial outlay of yarns for the test samples.

Until I had to ‘fire’ Doug and told him to go find a job where he could actually cash his paycheque. Because by that point the market for my line of place mats and table textiles had collapsed and there simply wasn’t enough money coming in to pay him a ‘wage’ and cover the costs of running the business.

I kept going for as long as I could but in the end had to take time off to recover from burn out. And reassess my life and work as a weaver.

In the end I decided that I had to keep weaving. After about 20 years being self-employed I was pretty much useless as someone else’s employee. And I slowly began re-building my life – and business.

We are now in our 70s and due to some good luck (so to speak) and good planning we are in a position where we are managing, even on our tiny state pensions. We still pinch pennies several times before we spend them. We don’t buy season tickets, but before covid had been splurging on concert tickets – usually as birthday or Xmas gifts to each other. We no longer go out for meals because of covid, but will bring a meal in once a month.

And through it all, I was able to weave. Good health. Bad health. Chronic pain (from injuries prior to taking up weaving, then repetitive motion stress *from* weaving).

For me, weaving was never a hobby that morphed into a job. It was my profession from day one. Only now can I say that it’s a ‘side hustle’. Because I have multiple stashes to use up – my teaching stash, my writing stash, my production stash, my ‘ooo – I want that yarn to experiment with’ stash.

I am facing up to the fact that while I can still weave, the writing is on the wall. There will come a time when I will no longer be able to. My body has been rode hard, put away wet, far too many times.

In the meantime, my goal is to teach as many people who want to know what I know as I can. So I gear myself up for the stress of teaching a very intense 5 day class where I will be on my feet far too long. And recognize that it may well be my last time. And then I will focus on teaching online in hopes that people will learn and be able to go forward in the direction they want to go with fewer problems. Because weaving is full of physics and if you don’t understand the physics, you will constantly run into problems. I don’t usually use the word ‘physics’ though, just talk about principles. Somehow people seem less reluctant to learn principles than physics.

But understanding is what I hope to help people achieve. And where they go beyond me, I will watch and support.

So yes, weaving has been my life. But economically? Not so much a living, but a passion that, once found, I could not deny. And that is why I never stopped but kept finding new ways to earn an income, keep going, pay the bills, pinch the pennies. Weaving a Life.

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