As I excitedly added the link to the Request for Workshop Proposals application to the front page of our website today, I got to thinking about how every year I tweak the process just a bit (thanks to the great feedback from our teachers!) and just how far we have come since our first show in October of 2007. That’s right, for those of you who have not been with us since the beginning, we used to be a one day show in October. Although you won’t really see it if you attend YarnCon, there have been some big changes recently behind the scenes. I want to tell you about those changes and where we are heading, but I feel like talking about how we got started should come first. I can get really chatty when it comes to talking about the past, (just ask my adviser about my Master’s thesis! Yikes!) so I will try to not overdo it.
In the Summer of 2007, Sara came to me with an idea. Let’s start a yarn craft fair, like Renegade, but just for yarn. She already had a name for it: YarnCon, like the comic-cons, but again, for yarn. I thought it was just crazy enough to work, and said yes. That summer we started an LLC called Yarny Goodness to be YarnCon’s parent company, and to give us room to grow. I think that before we even had the first show under our belts, we were already looking ahead for what else we could do with this idea of gathering fiber artists. We talked about magazines, online market places, other events throughout the year, and dreamed while we got our first show up and running. That October, we held our first YarnCon at the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse, with 25 vendors, a couple of free workshops run by friends who volunteered, and a photography project in the corner which was the idea of a local knitter and blogger named Franklin Habit. It was the 1000 Knitters Project, and we gave him a corner to set up his photobooth. We also had a book signing (Susan Strawn’s Knitting America) and the author sold out of her books before the day was over. At least 2 of our vendors were yarn stores, one of which has since closed, and the other has changed hands. We broke even, and in our minds it was a huge success, and the reviews were very positive. I think we had almost 300 shoppers that day.
With the exception of 2012, we’ve hosted YarnCon every year since 2007. First in October, then in April after the move to the new location. It has grown from a one day show in a park district auditorium to a two-day affair in the Plumber’s Union Hall, with a large parking lot and loading docks and elevators. We quickly brought on one of our first volunteers, Lindy, to help us run the show (she was already helping so much it only made sense to make it official!)
But, we never stopped thinking about what else we could do.
Still with me? Excellent! As I mentioned earlier, we had created an LLC to manage the show. But, we still had this desire to do more throughout the year. YarnCon does a good job of paying for itself, but not much more, since we try hard to make it affordable for both our vendors and our community (what other yarn show has free admission?) So, what to do? Last Summer, Sara and I started looking for a location to work out of, and hopefully share with other fiber artists. A place where we could hold workshops and events all year long. In the process of figuring this out, we came to the conclusion that the best way to approach this is as a not for profit. We talked to Lindy and some other very smart yarny people in our community and decided to create a new non-profit: The Society for the Lost Arts (or SLA for short.) Now we can use this new organization to raise funds not only to host more programming during the rest of the year, but also to host YarnCon! After so many years of being first a 2 person and then a 3 person team, we now have a Board of people who care about the fiber arts community in Chicago as much as we do, and who love learning and teaching about some of the older art forms we all love. Let’s face it, knitting, crochet, weaving, spinning, this stuff is not new. And if we don’t keep sharing it, learning about it, doing it out where people can see us and get excited, it can be forgotten. Right now the fiber arts are hot, and we love it! We want to contribute with shared knowledge, and a shared space to spread the knowledge, and to share the tools we need to make the things we love.
Exciting, right? How can you help? One way to is share this (lengthy) post and spread the word. The other is by contributing to the Society for the Lost Arts. We want to keep YarnCon as it is, an affordable venue for talented fiber artists, so in order to add programming and a shared space we need to make money in other ways. We will soon be sharing all kinds of sponsorship opportunities, and upcoming programs. But, in the meantime, if you can, please head over to http://societyforthelostarts.org/support-our-work/ and contribute whatever you can. We have a tiny space now to hold our looms, spinning wheel, sewing machines, and even antique printing presses, but we want to move into a space that we can share with all of you. Please help make this a reality for all of us. Thanks!