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A Profitable Fiber Guild

Beginning & Growing Your Own


By Linda Koeppel


Sales are brisk at the Spinners Flock Fleece Fair's room full of roving.
Sales are brisk at the Spinners Flock Fleece Fair’s room full of roving.
The Spinners Flock's first Fleece Fair in September, 1984 wasn't very glamorous, but led to continued and growing sales each year.
The Spinners Flock’s first Fleece Fair in September, 1984 wasn’t very glamorous, but led to continued and growing sales each year.
In addition to wool, rovings, yarn and tanned pelts, the guild helps producers sell spinning and knitting tools, wool dyes, etc., all of which help customers use up more wool.
In addition to wool, rovings, yarn and tanned pelts, the guild helps producers sell spinning and knitting tools, wool dyes, etc., all of which help customers use up more wool.
Even a rural location can draw curious folks. Teaching and showing wool crafts gets more people started using your wool.
Even a rural location can draw curious folks. Teaching and showing wool crafts gets more people started using your wool.
Variously dyed rovings - always popular with handspinners - clearly identify sellers, sometimes show grower details and (always) the price.
Variously dyed rovings—always popular with handspinners—clearly identify sellers, sometimes show grower details and (always) the price.

How many fiber producers, hand spinners, and general fiber artists lament “…I have too much wool, or yarn, or roving…?” One great way to create space in your storage areas and add some cash to your bank account is to start your own fiber guild. If you already meet with other handspinners on even a somewhat regular basis you have all you need to begin.

For 25 years the Spinners Flock of Chelsea, Michigan has been meeting the needs of fiber enthusiasts throughout Michigan, northwest Ohio and northeast Indiana. As a twenty-three year member I can tell you that we started small—very small—with one woman on a quest for raw wool.

At the Jackson County Fair (80 miles west of Detroit) she met a few sheep owners interested in learning to spin their own wool. Today our group has over 160 dues-paying members, meets monthly, sponsors classes and demonstrations, and holds three major public sales a year supported by a mailing list of thousands of names. Looking back at the Spinners Flock beginnings and growth, I would offer the following suggestions.

Our sale is an amazing gathering—an example of what is possible for those who wish to sell their products. Typically about 50 sellers (sometimes less) make between $20,000 to $30,000 in our one-day sale. Our February, 2007 sale made $32,000 for about 40 members! It is truly amazing.

Begin!

Choose a day, time and place and try to meet at least once a month. Have each person bring a friend, if possible. We began by meeting at each other’s homes. Today we meet in the cafeteria of a middle school. Libraries and churches will also sometimes have meeting rooms available.

Educate

If you know how to knit, spin, weave, make felt, dye or any other fiber-related skill, you have a skill that others would like to learn—offer to demonstrate and teach.

If you meet at a school or library, let them know that you are willing to demonstrate your craft. This will not only mesh with the purpose of the school or library, but it is a great way to attract new members.

Let your local newspaper know what you are doing and when. Go so far as to write a short article for them.

If you meet at a farm where there are sheep, llamas, goats, etc., suggest the newspaper send a photographer to cover the event or provide photos to them.

Hand-made banners welcome new members as well as buyers and sellers, to the guild.
Hand-made banners welcome new members as well as buyers and sellers, to the guild.

Youth

If agriculture and fiber arts are to survive and prosper—not disappear—we must create enthusiasm among our youngsters.

I remember one of our meetings where a 14-year-old girl brought two of her Angora rabbits and proceeded to teach a large group assembled around her all aspects of raising them. She discussed buying, housing, feeding, slipping the wool and spinning it into yarn. She brought samples of her work and answered questions.

While 4-H and FFA do a great job in teaching our youth about animals and agriculture, I have found that many young people have no access to 4-H and FFA programs and/or have interest not covered by 4-H and FFA. Your group could have just the teachers these young people need.

It's a good marketing idea to show buyers how finished products may appear - as with this hank of spun yarn atop a bundle of roving.
It’s a good marketing idea to show buyers how finished products may appear—as with this hank of spun yarn atop a bundle of roving.
Here are some naturally colored rovings, displayed with 'beginner spinner' kits, near the 'Yarn Wall.'
Here are some naturally colored rovings, displayed with “beginner spinner” kits, near the “Yarn Wall.”
Look carefully, and you'll see whimsical wool head-figurines built on metal springs, and behind, hand made hats and other articles.
Look carefully, and you’ll see whimsical wool head-figurines built on metal springs, and behind, hand made hats and other articles.
Hand made wool rugs are popular furnishings, as are the wool felted dragons and other dolls displayed behind them.
Hand made wool rugs are popular furnishings, as are the wool felted dragons and other dolls displayed behind them.
Artistry in wool of every description is welcome and finds a ready market in a fiber guild sale.
Artistry in wool of every description is welcome and finds a ready market in a fiber guild sale.

Sales

This is an area that can be very challenging. Initially, most sales will be of raw materials (fleece, roving, etc.) to other members at your regular meetings. As things progress you will sell each other more finished products (yarns, felt, pelts) or even completed products (sweaters, blankets, etc.). In our group some members market dyes, spinning wheels and equipment, knitting and felting supplies, etc.

A more ambitious undertaking is to organize and advertise a sale to the general public. This can be a very challenging effort, but over time each member figures out who can best handle what at a sale. You won’t know until you try.

We held our first “Fleece Fair” in 1984 in one of the members’ barns. We put ads in the local papers and had a bake sale for customers and bicyclists who happened by. Items for sale included fleeces, handspun yarns, and items knitted from our yarns.

One of the fundamental initial decisions of our group that has set us apart is that we sell almost exclusively Michigan fiber and fiber products (mill spun yarn, even if made from our own wool, is not permitted at the sale).

We do not attempt to compete with yarn shops who carry low-cost mill spun imported yarns. In today’s world we have found that customers are not only willing, but would prefer to buy locally grown fibers and products.

Yarns must be at least one-ply handspun to be sold at our sales. All raw fleeces must be clean, high quality and heavily skirted—several non-selling members are designated as “fleece police” to enforce our quality standards. Some members sell spinning wheels of various makes, dyes, knitting needles and other tools and accessories related to fiber arts.

Money Matters

Each member of the group is assigned a unique membership number. All items offered at our Fleece Fairs are tagged with a standard red tag containing price, inventory number and membership number. All sellers complete inventory sheets listing each item for sale.

Customers pass through a number of “check-out” tables. The group collects all sale proceeds, pays sales taxes, sorts each seller’s proceeds based on membership number from price tags, and makes disbursements to sellers after deducting their pro-rated portion of the sale expenses. (All sale expenses are borne by the sellers; the general funds of the group do not support sales).

One key to the growth of our Fleece Fairs over the years is the creation of a mailing list. All attendees at our sales are invited to ad their names to this list, and members submit additional names as they come in contact with potential customers. Access to the list is closely held. It is only to advise people of our Fleece Fairs. Individual members cannot use the list to separately advertise their own products.

There are many more aspects associated with starting and growing a successful fiber guild. However, in my mind the most important is: Those who give the most receive the most.

My knowledge today exists only because of the many people who generously took the time to share their knowledge with me. From my first lumpy, bumpy yarn, to the first sheep show ribbon we brought home, I will be forever grateful to the many who took the time and had the patience to teach me what they knew. Today we have the Internet, websites, and e-Bay, but I hope that technology will never replace the personal touch of someone caring enough to sit with a beginner handspinner and help them discover the wonderful felling of wool slipping through their fingers.

So…why wait? Gather some people together and begin. Tell them why you love your sheep. Your life will never be the same.


Linda & Bill Koeppel raise registered Border Leicester sheep at 4808 Warren Rd., Ann Arbor, MI 48105 (313) 747-8112 E-mail: koeppels@peoplepc.com.





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