Give-away: What do you think of PLY Magazine?

Hi everyone!

PLY Magazine has been around for almost 4 years now and it’s going pretty well, I think. We’ve spent some time learning how to make a magazine and then we spent some more time learning how to make it great, but we haven’t focused much on marketing and now it’s time!

The short of it is, our low-ad/good-quality paper/fair wages model relies on subscribers to pay the bills so we need more subscribers. Since people are doing more and more research before they commit to buy or subscribe to something, we need to show them this magazine is worth it! That’s where you come in.

We’re building a review page on the website. If you have a few minutes and would write what you think of PLY, either as a spinner, a teacher, a contributor, or any combination, that’d be so great!  

Feel free to post your reviews and endorsements here (with a name we can attribute it to) and I”ll extract them and build the page soon. 

Next Friday (11-11), I’ll randomly draw 2 people that gave reviews and send them 1 of 2 wonderful prizes. The first is the fiber from Melissa at Wild Hare Fiber Studio that we used in the gorgeous Traveling Hood designed by Jolene Mosley for the latest issue of PLY.  You’ll get 4 ounces of the colorway and 4 ounces of the solid so if you want, you can recreate this exact pattern, all you’ll need is a mysterious cloak and a wandering road.

The second random winner will get something secret, something from the PLY Magazine studio. I can’t say what it’ll be but if you’re a spinner, you’ll want it!

Thanks for all your support and we promise we’ll keep getting better and better

DIY Community

Today we have the pleasure of visiting with Rachel Anne MacGillivray, who is here to remind us of the importance of community and how to start your own if you haven’t got a fiber community nearby.

I have a friend, Anna, who’s a lovely and talented woman and, like me, has the Fiber Fever.  We recently spent a Sunday afternoon working together in her studio because  I had a project I wanted to make that called for some extremely chunky corespun.  The jumbo bobbin on my spinning wheel wasn’t up for the job, but Anna has a Country Spinner that she was all too happy to let me use.

img_3211She felted and I spun, and while we worked away we chatted, shared stories and happy silences, and all around enjoyed the satisfaction of being with someone who really, really gets what you do.  Oh, and tea.  We drank lots of that.

While I was there I got thinking about all the different people in my life who are also into fiber and the various groups I belong to, and how they all enrich my experience of making.  I don’t know about you, but often, after a long week, I have the urge to hole myself up in the house and just spin or fiber all of the hours away (ok, yes, occasionally I do this and love it).  But, just as important is getting out there and being with people while you make – building up and taking part in your personal fiber community.


rachel-country-spinningThere are the obvious benefits of course: talking, laughing, having fun, and the joy that comes with sharing.  Here are some other great reasons for building your own fiber community:

  • Resources: Have a question about a technique? Looking for just the right book? Odds are someone else has suggestions, tips, and lots of ideas for you.  More bodies = more heads = more knowledge!
  • Encouragement & inspiration: This is my favourite. ‘Nuff said.
  • Support: Be it emotional, moral, learning, or even financial (lots of guilds & groups have awards/ grants), having the support of a community goes a long way.
  • Sharing: Being part of a group can mean access to resources and events you wouldn’t otherwise have had by sharing things such as equipment, space, or booth fees at a sale. I belong to a fiber group that has a loom for any of us to use (in lives at one member’s house).  How cool is that?
  • More strengths & interests: Do you love to spin, but don’t dye? Maybe someone in your groups lives for wild carding but doesn’t spin.   Support each other’s businesses, or trade fiber for fiber/casseroles/craft beer.  A vibrant community is good for everyone! (I often trade handspun for knit socks, which my toes love!)
  • A reason to Make and push yourself: Days get busy & sometimes it’s hard to squeeze in making, but I love that when I have a meeting coming up it motivates me to sit and spin & try new things.  Sometimes that’s before my meeting and sometimes just during.
  • Laughter & companionship: I know I said it at the beginning, but it’s just such a great part of the whole thing! It’s wonderful to share the thing you love with people you love, but to share the thing you love with people who love it to, and grow to love those people?  Well… That’s just rosy.


anna-feltingNeed some help finding YOUR community?  Here’re some ideas to get you started:

  • Local: Look for guilds in your area (try spinning, fiber arts, knitting, etc).  Check out yarn shops and libraries to see if they have groups that meet.  Keep your eye open for “makerspaces” or other community centers and comb your local craft sales and fairs for spinners.  Don’t be afraid to ask where they hang out.
  • Regional: find regional retreats, seminars, festivals, fairs, and workshops with google, facebook, and magazines.  There are at least 7 annual fiber arts retreats in the Canadian Maritimes, and some have spawned smaller get-togethers for those who just can’t wait a year!
  • Internet: Get involved with an online community like Ravelry, Craftsy, or Reddit ( has spinning) or look for groups on Facebook.  Want a more localized one? Start a Facebook group for spinning in your region.  Instagram is also a great resource!

Don’t be afraid to start your own group; you may be surprised to see where it goes and who you meet.


Further Resources:

Interweave guild directory

Handweavers Guild of America, Inc local guilds directory
Have some other suggestions or ideas for finding community? I’d love for you to share them in the comments!



In love with all things Textiley, Rachel Ann MacGillivray teaches spinning & other things at the New Brunswick College of Craft & Design in Fredericton, Canada.  A farm kid, spinning and wool are in her bones (well, not literally in her bones, that would be just a bit too wobbly).  Oh yeah, and she loves drinking tea.  Like, a lot.

Where Did My Mojo Go?

Lucinda Williams - Yee Haw Industries

Lucinda Williams by Yee Haw Industries

In the words of Lucinda Williams,

” I think I lost it
Let me know if you come across it
Let me know if I let it fall
Along a back road somewhere…”

My spinning, knitting and fiber mojo has left the building. I think about doing things, I make plans to do things, I get things out and even fiddle with them, I pack things to do on my trips but I am not feeling it at all. The only fiber work that gets done is for deadlines, for paycheck work.

I’m not worried, just bummed. I’ve been here before and I know it usually means something is going to break out of my brain soon and I ‘ll know my next creative direction. I’ve watched other people do the same thing. It’s that tick, tick, tick, upward ride on a roller coaster before that first big drop.

My problem is, I am not a patient person. I want to know what’s next. Even as a process person and knowing this is part of my creative process, it’s hard to sink into it. But that’s what I have to do. Here’s what I do when I drop my mojo along a back road somewhere.

Don’t stop. I never stop trying, I don’t give up. For one I still have work to do which means I’m always spinning, knitting, weaving, fibering and writing and talking about it.

Dream. I’m a daydreamer and I like to dream outside. I watch bugs and wonder. I stare at horizons and fly. I float by on clouds or ride leaf down a stream.

Look and listen. I read, I watch, I listen. Books, movies, magazines, tv, videos, exhibits, music, plays, podcasts, I mainline input pretty randomly until my brain relaxes, then I start getting interested in specific things, wanting to revisit something I saw or heard or seeking out something new.

Follow my nose. I follow anything that interests me, anything. I research and try anything that causes the tiniest spark of curiosity in me. This is great fun and how I make connections to things that I’d never thought about putting together.

I get things out. I walk, dance, sing, cook, sweat, talk, laugh, play whenever the mood strikes me and sometimes when it doesn’t. Walking especially unhooks my brain.

Write it all down. I love to write. The physical act of writing soothes me, not to mention all of the pens and paper I have to play with. I keep track of every idea no matter how weird or stale, I have to get it out of my head before new things can pop in.

Stop fighting. Inside my head it sounds like this, “Now!”, “No, not yet”, “Now”, “No”, “Now?” “Nope”. On and on, until I stop fighting it and just give in to the ride.

What do you do to find your mojo?


Boucle cover autumn issue

What’s inside the Bouclé issue?

The Autumn 2016 “Bouclé” issue is busy making its way to various destinations around the world. Whether you’re a subscriber waiting for your copy to arrive, or you’ve been thinking of subscribing and you’d like a preview before you buy, today’s post is here to give you a sneak peek inside the issue!


Boucle cover autumn issueThe word bouclé is French for “buckled,” which makes sense because a bouclé yarn is bent back on itself, creating loops of yarn along the strand. This technique takes time to create and even more to master, but we think it’s a worthwhile endeavor! This textured yarn can be light, airy, big and bulky – all at the same time! Dig into this issue and brush up on your bouclé making skills with us!

Great Articles!

We’ve rounded up the a talented group of spinners and asked them to share their insights and experiments with us, and as always we’ve got a tip jar full of helpful hints from our readers, new information on the spinning SCENE, and how to keep your spinning body happy by Carson Demers! Take a look at what you’ll get:

  • Basic Boucle, by Jacey Boggs Faulkner  – Jacey’s introduction to this loopy, fun technique.
  • Boucle by Breed, by Michelle Boyd – Michelle experimented with 5 different breeds of wool to create a bouclé yarn from each and explain how the characteristics of the wool affected the outcome.
  • Binder and Core, by Amanda Hartrich – Choosing the main fiber for a bouclé yarn is just the beginning – in this article, Amanda explores the options with mixing and matching 4 different types of materials as binders and cores for bouclé.
  • faulkner12-webOffended Fiber: Woolen Prep for Bouclé, by Jillian Moreno – What happens when you deviate from the standards? Jillian finds out in her exploration of building a bouclé using woolen-spun wool instead of worsted-spun mohair.
  • The Convoluted History of Bouclé Yarn, by Patsy Zawistoski – How are telephone wire and horsehair connected to bouclé yarn? Find out in this article!
  • 2-Step Bouclé, by Melissa Yoder Ricks – Traditional bouclé is a 3-step process, and it involves the use of mohair. Melissa has found a way to modify the traditional technique and create a 2-step bouclé using other types of yarn & fiber; and now she’s teaching it to the rest of us!
  • Spin It! Pseudo Bouclé, by Amy Tyler – There’s more than one way to spin a bouclé, and in this article Amy puts a cable-plied twist on the topic.
  • Spin It! Differential Shrinkage Bouclé, by Maggie Casey – Differential shrinkage happens when some fibers shrink more than others when washed; it’s an especially large problem if you’re going to knit, crochet, or weave with two different fibers as it can warp the finished fabric of your piece. Abby has found a way to work around this problem, and she’s sharing it with us in her piece.
  • Spin It! Cloud Bouclé, by Sylvia French – Sylvia explains her technique for using mohair clouds to create a light and airy corespun bouclé.
  • Which Longwool?, by Beth Smith – Maybe you want to try spinning a bouclé but you’re fresh out of mohair (or it just isn’t your favorite fiber). So which wool should you choose? A Longwool breed is a natural choice, and in this article Beth gives us some options to consider.
  • nimetz5-webSpin It! Silk Bouclé, by Coleen Nimetz – Silk is often used as a core or binder for bouclé, but it might surprise you to learn that it makes a pretty interesting wrapper, too.
  • Spin It! Hemp Bouclé, by Kara Perpelitz – Inspired by a soap bag she purchased in a farm shop, Kara set out to spin a hemp bouclé yarn to create exfoliating texture for this handy accessory.
  • Spin It! Loopy Horsehair, by Maja Siska – After receiving a gift of horse tails, Maja decided to embark on two brand-new-to-her concepts: spinning horsehair and spinning bouclé.
  • Spin-D’Lay (Spindle Bouclé), by Amelia Garripoli – Yes, you can spin bouclé on a spindle. You can also climb Mt. Everest – but is it really worth it? Amelia offers an alternative that’s more fun to spin and still provides that loopy structure.
  • Spin It! True Spindle Bouclé, by Tracy Hudson – Still wanna try spinning a traditional bouclé on a spindle? OK, we’ve got you covered for that, too!
  • You Can Weave with That!, by Amy King – You can absolutely weave with bouclé – Amy’s got two different examples to show you!

Fantastic Projects

In every issue of PLY, you’ll find a handful of projects for knitting, weaving, crocheting and more – along with instructions for how to best spin the yarns you’ll use in those projects. Here are the projects from the Autumn issue:

  • mosley5-webSieve Cowl, by Brittany Wilson – This cowl is business in the back and a party up front – perfect for wearing with a jacket to keep you warm without a lot of bunching at the back of your neck.
  • Traveling Hood, by Jolene Mosley – You’re ready to go anywhere with this two-color, two-texture project.
  • Hemp Bouclé Soap Bag, by Kara Perpelitz – Exfoliate your skin and practice your spinning skills with this easily-giftable project.
  • Woven Bouclé Blanket, by Sara Lamb – A simple design showcases stunning yarns and optimal warmth.
  • Faux Astrakhan Winter Hat, by Patsy Zawistowski – Weave up a bouclé fabric and use it to sew into a warm winter hat.

Everything Else!

random1-webWe know that bouclé is a tricky technique to master, so in Tip Jar we’re rounding up the best tips from our readers to help you spin with success.  Scene is full of things on the spinning scene that you’ll want to know about including new books from Beth and Jillian, fiber festivals and fantastical retreats, and a brand-new magazine for men. And don’t forget to check out our Independent Spinner page to find all the details on the products featured in this issue!

If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that right here on our website! And be sure to pick up a copy of this issue if you don’t already have one (or it isn’t on its way to you)!

Rhinebeck Sweater?

I’m leaving for New York in less than a week. It’s the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival. I’m excited to see the festival. I haven’t been able to see the festival on my own terms for years and I’ve written myself a little schedule. I did leave some open spaces in case somebody wants to meet up with me for a snack or something.


Anyway, I’ve been thinking for many months that my favorite sweaters are looking a little ratty. My two favorites have been repaired several times. The one called Hiro has ripped at the neck a coouple of times and I just do a bit of a crocheted edge and put her back together. The one that I made from a Jacob fleece has gotten several holes and so I have started embroidering flowers over the holes; a sort of visible mending.20161006_080641_001

Those repairs are working but for crying out loud I need a new sweater. Yes I have other sweaters…but another one of my favorites, Tappan Zee, also has a hole that I have yet to repair. Hiro is about 3 years old, the Jacob is probably 4 years old and Tappan Zee is maybe 5 or 6 years old. Even without the holes and things I would still need a new sweater. And it’s not like I haven;t been spinning! Lots! But that’s all for weaving the next skirt.

So, anyway, I was digging around in my stash and I came across a cotton project bg from Cooperative Press. When I looked inside there was a handspun sweater that was well under way! I totally forgot about it. I immediatley remembered why I had put it aside. I was looking for a sweater with certain attributes a couple of years ago and my friend, Amy King, offered to design a sweater just for me. And she did! And so I started knitting but then I was a bit confused about an instruction on the left front…and I stopped.

20161006_081022I called Amy! She found her electronic copy! She answered my question. Now I’m moving forward. The body of the sweater is finished and I’m working on the first sleeve. But I have another issue. The yarn is made from BFL/Silk that was specially dyed for me – also by Amy King (Spunky Eclectic) I have no more to spin and I think the sleeves are going to be tight and I still have edgings to do…

After all of that explanation, here’s the question, if I knit faster, will it make the yarn go further?

Twist – A Fiber Festival with a Little je ne sais quoi

Guest blogger Sarah Jean Harrison returns to take us on a trip to the Twist Fiber Festival in Canada! This event is Quebec’s only fiber (fibre, if we’re being precise!) festival, and the only bilingual fibre festival in the whole country.

Are you planning on visiting Rhinebeck’s New York State Sheep and Wool Festival this year? Or perhaps you made the trip to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival in the spring? Did you spin your heart out at Ply Away?

The rug hooking workshop at Twist gets underway. Credit: Sébastien Lavallée

The rug hooking workshop at Twist gets underway.
Credit: Sébastien Lavallée

If you’ve been to a fiber festival, you can imagine the intense of amount of work that goes into delivering a successful event. From organization to location, from logistics to communications, from vendors to visitors, all of these pieces must be pulled together into one, cohesive whole. And ideally that cohesive whole comes with a particular je ne sais quoi, a little extra something that gives a festival its personality.

How does a festival acquire a personality? The answer, I have discovered, often comes from a festival’s creator.

Twist – Quebec’s Only Fibre Festival

This August I visited Twist Festival de la Fibre/Fibre Festival, Canada’s only bilingual fiber festival, in St-André-Avellin, Québec.  Launched in 2011 by Amélie Blanchard, a hand-spinner and farmer raising cashmere goats on a small farm outside of St-André-Avellin, Twist is quickly gaining a dedicated following of fiber artists, vendors and attendees.

Amélie Blanchard the other woman is Fiber Artist, Heather Gwah Lightbody Credit: Sarah Jean Harrison

Amélie Blanchard with Fiber Artist, Heather Gwah Lightbody Credit: Sarah Jean Harrison

After a couple of years on her farm, Amélie looked around Québec and discovered precisely zero fiber events available within her province. While festivals were growing in popularity in Ontario and certainly in the USA, there was nothing available in Québec.

Amélie, like so many entrepreneurial fiber artists today, was unwilling to simply bemoan this hole in her local fiber universe – she had to do something. Her answer was Twist, a festival reflecting today’s modern taste in fiber and feeding the growing desire in Québec (and the world) for access to local fiber and the pursuit of textile and fiber education.

Starting a fiber festival, as Amélie discovered, was not as simple as it sounded. Launching the first Twist took a year and a half of research, planning and organization. At first, says Amélie, local business owners and potential sponsors were skeptical. “They looked at me like ‘who is this crazy yarn woman with this crazy idea?’”, she recalls. But her persistence and her solid research were undeniable.

: Many of Twist’s workshops and seminars are provided in French and English. Credit: Sébastien Lavallée

: Many of Twist’s workshops and seminars are provided in French and English.
Credit: Sébastien Lavallée

Eventually, the Twist team took shape, bringing Amélie’s friends and neighbors on board and drawing upon local businesses and resources to fill the multitude of roles and tasks needed to get the festival off the ground. Volunteer committees were struck, sponsorships were secured and quality vendors were chosen. In August of 2011 the inaugural Twist opened its doors with a foot-fall of 4,000 people over the weekend.

A Bilingual Festival

Amélie, who was born in Ontario to a French-speaking family, is a francophone with one foot in the English-speaking world. While some might see the challenges of holding a festival in two languages as a problem, Amélie has deftly turned this challenge into the festival’s defining characteristic.

Her vision for Twist was a festival that pulled French and English speakers together over their shared passion for fiber. All written materials, from programs to signage, are provided in both languages. Classes and workshops are often offered in a bilingual format, either with a bilingual instructor or via English and French sessions.

Two knitters working on the fly at Twist. Credit: Sarah Jean Harrison

Two knitters working on the fly at Twist.
Credit: Sarah Jean Harrison

Although St-André -Avellin is a francophone community, being only an hour north-west of Ottawa near the Ontario-Quebec boarder means that both languages are regularly heard in the streets and cafes. As an English-speaker with rudimentary French capabilities, I was welcomed warmly by the community and found the language barrier to be easily navigated. In fact, I left the festival with new francophone fiber friends, a handful of new French fiber-related vocabulary, and the feeling of being excited and inspired to learn more.

That je ne sais quoi

Wander around the booths and workshops and it quickly becomes clear that Amélie’s bilingual perspective is what gives Twist its je ne sais quoi. Her enthusiasm for bringing people from French and English backgrounds together over a mutual love for fiber makes for a lively and fun atmosphere that attracted 20,000 people this year.

Where else can you see folks acting out the word “soft” or clapping their hands with excitement when they discover they are both speaking about the same type of mouton?  Because ultimately, when it comes to fiber, we’re all speaking the same language.



Raised on a farm and living in the big city, Sarah Jean Harrison is a digital artisan who specializes in translating rural realities for urban audiences. Through storytelling, photography and web design, Sarah Jean supports farmers and makers in sharing their unique story with an online audience. Sarah Jean loves to connect and can be found on Instagram and Twitter at @peaceflaghouse and at

It’s time for Spinzilla!

Amy Ross Manko is here to kick off one of the biggest events of the year for spinners: Spinzilla!

What are your plans for the first full week of October? My plan, and the plans of 77 teams of up to 25 spinners each, is participation in a fun event called Spinzilla. Spinzilla is a week of spinning for fun, challenging yourself and friendly competition. Last year’s teams were made up of spinners representing fourteen countries from all over the world, who come together for this annual event to raise money to support The National Needlearts Association’s initiative to bring the fiber arts to youth through the Needle Arts Mentoring Program. Spinners of all levels celebrate the joy of spinning yarn by hand, support local small businesses and aim to “spin enough yarn to reach around the world,” according to the Spinzilla website.  Spinning begins at 12:01am Monday, October 3rd and ends at 11:59pm on Sunday, October 9th in whatever time zone you are in. This week has traditionally been known as Spinning and Weaving Week, and Spinzilla is a great way to celebrate it!

This will be my fourth year on a Spinzilla team. Year one, I spun for a local yarn shop’s team and had no idea what I was doing as a new spinner. I made some yarn and had some fun, but didn’t really understand what I was doing (or why!) so I just kept spinning all week and felt pretty good about myself at the end of the week.

The second year, I joined Team KnitGirllls and spun my personal record of over 5000 yards in a week, and had a blast doing it, too. I was PUMPED and we were sure that we would win. At the end of the week when the final tallies were announced, we had lost to Team Fancy Tiger Crafts by about 800 yards of yarn. Literally one skein separated us from the first place team. We were devastated. We all felt we could have spun just one more braid and changed the outcome. We all vowed to increase our production by one braid for next year and try again. After all, it’s all in good fun and for a good cause, right?

The third year, Team KnitGirllls was determined to spin more than ever and finally win the coveted Golden Niddy Noddy (yes, that’s a thing… I’ve seen it and it’s MAGNIFICENT) for Leslie and Laura. We got to work spinning more yardage than ever and keeping our eyes on the prize! At the end of the week, I’d spun a new personal record: over 6000 yards of yarn. This HAD to be good enough for victory, right? Nope. Team Louet North America blew us completely out of the water with 271,607 yards! One of their team members spun over 48,000 yards herself. We finished in third place with just over 183,000 yards. This was definitely nothing to feel badly about, but nearly 90,000 yards less than the winner.

After that, I vowed that this year would be different. I’d remember what Spinzilla is all about and spin for fun and fellowship. No pressure. No numbers. No drive to win. I formed my own team here in our hometown and partnered with a local maker-space to host a registration party with a batt-making bar, spin-ins, wheel tune-up parties, “closing ceremonies” and a plan to just enjoy each other’s company and share our love of spinning with others.  This is what I’d been missing most alone in my living room, binge-watching reality television and spinning away. This is what Spinzilla is all about: sharing our love of fiber with other fibery folk.  Our team boasts both seasoned veterans and newbies, wheel spinners and spindlers and even a sixteen year old young woman!

Whether you spin “rogue” alone in your room, join a team (virtual or in real life) or watch from the sidelines, I can tell you one thing: Spinzilla is the most fun you’ll ever have making yarn and raising money to support the youth-mentoring programming of TNNA. Last year they raised $17,700 while spinning 5,246,497 yards of yarn.

Please visit for more information or to register for a team. (Team PLY is full already, but there are plenty of other great teams to join!)

Amy Ross Manko is the Chief Executive Farmer of The Ross Farm and with her husband, “Scooterpie the Shepherd Guy,” and their son, lives on a 170 acre sheep farm in Southwestern Pennsylvania that’s been in her family over 120 years and is on the National Register of Historic Places. They raise ten breeds of Heritage and Rare breed sheep and produce natural, breed-specific yarns and roving from the flock.

Spinning at the Hardware Store


I love a good hardware store as much as I love a good book store. I can wander for hours exclaiming over all the doodads.  There are so many things that can be used for other purposes, including spinning tools.

I have four hardware store tools that I use for spinning that I wouldn’t want to do without, all of them suggestions from other spinners.

Tool Bags – I remember sitting waiting for a class to start and another spinner walked in with a hardware store tool bag filled with all of her spinning tools. Watching her pull out all of the things like Mary Poppins, I knew I had to have one. They are really durable, have a ton of pockets for organizing, come in a lot of sizes and have sturdy handles. I went out that week and bought one. Now I have several. My husband steals them.

Chalk Line – This is a genius suggestion from super spinner Beth Smith – use cotton chalk line for a drive band. It’s sturdy, smooth and cheap, 100 yards for less than $2.50.

Sink Plunger – I only had to watch Judith Mackenzie wet finish bison yarn using plunger-tape a sink plunger once to know I found finishing nirvana. I use it mostly when I want wool yarns more than just fulled.

Surveyor’s Tape – Deb Menz uses this magical tape when she dyes. I used it in a dyeing class with her years ago to mark samples. Cut it to any length, tie it on your skein and write on it with a Sharpie – the info stays on through dye and rise, hot and cold. I can still read the dye notes on my skeins from 5 years ago.

What spinning treasures have you found at the hardware store?






Link to PLY Away

Fair Fiber Wage, a look from the other side

You can’t pay people what they’ll take, you have to pay them what they’re worth. This simple premise becomes difficult for a myriad of reasons. The first and most confusing for some is that often people don’t know what they’re worth. That not knowing comes from a culture of silence, a lack of transparency, and as usual, the relentless pursuit of the almighty buck by people in power.

This is a huge issue in all areas of creation, and it’s hard for anybody to get a fair shake (or even to know what a fair shake is, what with all the shushing that goes on about money), but where it concerns craft, artists, fiber-work, and women is the one I’m most familiar with and the one I’m specifically talking about here. Those are a lot of areas that historically don’t get a lot of respect, right? Craft. Artists. Fiber-work. Women. Geez, it’s like a stacked deck, and I’m thrilled that Mary Beth and Abby are willing to show their cards, if you will, and get the conversation rolling.

I taught for 10 years before I started PLY Magazine and then PLY Away. I supported a family of 3, then 4, then 5 with teaching and writing, and it wasn’t easy. I could talk about that, but the truth is, I don’t teach very often now, so that’s no longer my reality and there are people with strong voices who can (and are) speaking to that. What I can speak to is the position I’m in now, which is overwhelmingly informed by my previous position as a teacher trying to eke a living out of the thing I was good at and loved doing. Now I run a magazine and put on an annual fiber retreat, and I try to do it fairly and with transparency.

I want to talk about the financials of a retreat, of a big retreat. I want to assure you that anyone who says it’s just not financially viable to pay teachers fairly (they wouldn’t use that word, of course; they’d say “pay teachers more than the industry standard” or something that makes it easier to swallow) is wrong. The key is not expecting a huge profit. Why should that be my (the organizer, underwriter, parent company, corporation) right? I believe that. The first thing you have to be willing to do is pay people what they are worth, and shockingly, that must include yourself (what I mean here is that I should get paid fairly and not expect huge profits and large salaries).

Before I get into the actual nitty-gritty numbers of PLY Away, let me give you the bottom line, in case financials bore you like they bore me (unless they’re my own). With all the outgoing and incoming money, the bottom line is it can be done. When I started this retreat, I told myself that if I could run a first-time retreat the way I wanted it to be run, treat everyone fairly, have it be enjoyable for teachers, vendors, and students alike, and break even, then I’d do it again.

I did and I am. It wasn’t hugely profitable, but that’s okay, I don’t need it to be. I don’t know when we started needing things to bring in huge profits to be worth our while. We don’t need to be rich to be happy, and this industry is not about getting rich, right? It’s about making things with our hands, about community, about who we are and who we want to be. If any aspect of this industry suffers (the farmers, the shepherds, the dyers, the teachers, the designers, the writers), the community is less. What I’m trying to say is that I didn’t need PLY Away to make a million; I just needed it to be sustainable and good. It is both those things.

Here’s our bottom line. If we sell all of our classes ¾ of the way out, there is a profit of $12k. If we sell all of the classes all the way out, there is a profit of $42k. And if we only fill the classes half full, we’ll lose about $17k. The truth is we’ll probably hit around the ¾ mark. That’s the hope anyway. And if we don’t, if we can’t do this, do it well and fairly, we shouldn’t be doing it. That’s that. You don’t sacrifice people and their livelihoods for profit. I won’t ever do that, and that’s not just for them, it’s for me.

So if you’re interested, let’s run through the numbers of what PLY Away’s actual debits and credits are, shall we?

Money Out

First, the venue. And it’s a nice venue. Really nice. You’ve gotta have a nice venue because as much as people say that they’d travel to a shack in the middle of nowhere to take a class with X, you can’t really expect them to, at least not more than once. So you pay for a venue in a nice location with good rooms, well-lit and roomy classes, and lots of food choices that is walkable to interesting things and is generally nice to be in. For me, there’s only one such place within 2 hours and that’s the Westin at Crown Center. Next year a new venue is opening, and that may give me some bargaining room, but for now, this is what I have. I tell you all this so you don’t get it in your head that I must get off cheap and other retreats surely pay more.

Here’s what I pay for the venue: $20,000 (that’s for the classrooms and marketplace for 5 days)

Then there’s food. No venue will rent to you if you don’t sign a food and beverage guarantee. And it’s a lot. I have to agree to use $10,000 worth of food and beverages. At first I thought that’d be easy because it’d include what our attendees use – wrong. It’s just what I order for the event. Things that can and are included in that 10k: the coffee and tea cart open to all in the marketplace, the coffee and tea cart in the spinners’ lobby, the break time snacks in the spinners’ lobby, and the banquet.

And about the banquet, I chose the most inexpensive meal available, which is $50/plate, but because there is a 25% tax on top of it, it’s really about $65, which is what I charged for each banquet ticket. A straight wash, the banquet, but it’s worth it because it adds to the experience, gets everyone together, and is fun!

So that’s the main venue costs. But wait! It’s 20k and 10k, but like I said, there’s a 25% tax on each of those (and annoyingly, the tax doesn’t count towards the 10k food and beverage agreement; it’s added after I reach 10k). So that means the venue’s total cost to me is $37,500. About 50 people bought tickets to the banquet (the other 60 people booked a full schedule of classes, so I paid for their banquet), so that means you can take $3250 off that total. So my new check to the Westin is more like $34,250.

The next major expense is the teachers. Here’s what I pay (and here’s a link if you want to see more about this).

  • $650 per full day of teaching, $325 per half day of teaching, paid before departure for first-time teachers.
  • $700 per full day of teaching, $350 per half day of teaching, paid before departure for returning teachers.
  • $40 per diem for food, personal expenses, etc. (keep in mind we do cover at least 2 dinners too)
  • $25 per day for shipping expenses (no receipts needed)
  • travel (airfare or current IRS rate for car mileage up to price of airfare)
  • single room at PLY Away venue from the night before teaching begins until morning after teaching ends
  • optional teachers’ dinner
  • optional banquet ticket
  • optional last night dinner and teacher wind-down

When I break that down for the teachers we have, it looks like this:

15 teachers (9 new teachers, 6 returning teachers) teaching a total of 5 days (some teach 1, 2, 3, or 4 days; anyone with 3 days or more gets a half or full day break in the middle if they want it) for a total of:

New teachers total: $17,000

Returning teachers total: $15,500

Total teacher salaries: $32,500

But that’s not all it takes to bring a teacher. There’s the per diem, which for 15 at $40 each day they’re here comes out to $2000. There’s shipping at $25 per day for each teaching day, which equals $1300. There’s airfare and travel, which comes out to about $6700. All of those things together come to another 10k even. And of course we have hotel rooms, which come to $15,000 if you include my own room too.

So far that’s

$34,250 for the venue

$32,500 for teacher salary

$10,000 for per diems, shipping, and travel

$15,000 for hotel rooms

$91,750: total

But that’s not really all it costs. There’s the teachers’ dinner: $600.

I like to buy each teacher a pretty good assortment of snacks for their rooms because I know how sick I get of eating out each meal and it’s sometimes hard to find good, healthy stuff. I find out which teachers are GF, Veg, Vegan, etc. and I hit Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods and each teacher gets a goodie bag that I hope will last them the entire time they’re at PLY Away: a bunch of bananas, apples, oranges, muffins, trail mix, granola and cereal bars, nuts, chocolate, and a large bag of popcorn or something like it. This doesn’t cost a lot, but I can tell you it’s really appreciated. $300.

I also want the vendors to be happy and taken care of so I hire a couple of people to help unload their goods: $1600.

We also do a big $500 giveaway to one spinner who fills up his/her punch card in the marketplace. In an attempt to support the vendors, we run a contest; anyone who purchases from 10 different vendors in the marketplace is entered and the winner gets $500 to be spent in the marketplace. There’s also a *no purchase option, but to be honest, it’s super annoying and nobody did it last year, but we had over 100 cards in the drawing: $500.

Then there are the little things like banners, shirts, programs, buttons, goodie bags, advertising, website stuff, etc.: $2000.

So the total for those extra things is $5000.

Which brings our grand total outgoing money to $96,750.


Money In

Okay, now what about what we bring in? Here’s hoping it’s more than that, right?

I struggled with class fees. I want them to be fair, but they also have to cover that huge number up there, right? I looked at lots of different retreats and festivals, and in the end, what we needed to bring in to make it all work falls just below the the middle of retreat class prices, which I’m okay with. It’s a good chunk of change, for sure, but there’s a range and I feel like each class is worth it.

Here are the classes we offer and the money each brings in if it sells ½, ¾, or 100% out. The number is () is the cost and the other number is how many we’re holding of that type of class.

Class length                       ½ sold              ¾ sold                   sold out

3-day classes ($380): 3        $9,120            $13,680                      $18,240

2-day classes ($275): 6         $13,200          $19,800                      $26,400

1-day classes ($165): 17        $22,440          $33,660                      $44,880

1/2-day  ($90): 26                   $18,720         $28,080                      $37,440


Total class intake                   $63,480          $95,220                      $126,960


Of course, the event registration company takes a percentage of that so we have to adjust those numbers down a bit.

Total intake after reg fees  $60,306          $90,459               $120,612

But that’s not all we take in. We’d be in trouble if it was, right?

We have sponsors who help immensely and when I say we couldn’t do it without them, I truly mean it (to check out our sponsors, go here), to the tune of about $12,000.

We have vendors, and each booth space is $350 so that brings in about $7,000.

T-shirts are a wash because we sell them at cost, and we give away the goodie bags and the buttons.

So, here’s where we are:

Total intake if we sell all of our classes ¾ out, which I feel is a reasonable goal:

$90,459 class intake after fees

$12,000 from sponsors

$7,000 from marketplace booth sales

$109,459 total income with classes 3/4 filled

And with our output at $96,750, that stands to make PLY Away about $12,000 profit.

If we sell only half out, it’s a total intake of $60,306 plus sponsors and marketplace (total $79,306) and minus the total output for a total loss of  $17,453. Yes, that’s a loss. Scary stuff, but that won’t happen.

Of course, the ideal situation is that every class sells out totally and PLY Away makes a huge profit of 42k! But that’s a little much to ask, isn’t it? All I want is to keep going, make and pay a fair wage, and be and spread happiness. It’s what I got into this to do, and when I can’t do that anymore, either via the magazine or the event, it’ll be time to do something else. I don’t see that time around any corner though.

I want to note here that I could make more. I don’t have to have the extras like the give-a-ways, the vendor help, the teacher snack bags, and the teacher dinner. I could charge more for classes — if you look around at like-retreats, we’re a little below the middle. But I like the choices I’ve made and will keep making them as long as it works for PLY Away. I mostly want to point this out to point out that this type of model is viable even if you need to make more than I do. There’s a higher profit margin possible without paying people unfairly, you just have to want to make it work.

So that’s it. If you made it this far, I applaud your stick-to-it-ness and perhaps you’d like a job. Someday we’ll be hiring. You’re not going to get rich, but you will be treated fairly.