In the last week, I had the awesome experience of attending both a weaving convention and a Star Trek convention. If the zipper bag pictured above gives you any clue, you can see that these are both things that I enjoy.
The weaving convention was the annual Handweavers Guild of America conference, which was held in Milwaukee. I was a “leader” which means I was there to teach 5 classes on everything from social media to fabric design and to participate in their runway show. The Star Trek convention was held a downtown hotel in Minneapolis and had actors from all of the Star Trek series in attendance, doing Q&As and photo ops.
Surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly) these two “cons” had a lot of things in common.
A conference is a conference.
There were panel discussions, seminars, cocktail parties, VIP areas and volunteers with clipboards and headsets. There was “conference center food”: numerous forms of bread and cheese (pizza, nachos, pretzels) under heat lamps. There were bored-looking spouses on their cell phones holding bags. There was a registration table staffed by volunteers trying to keep track of 6 things at once. The air-conditioning was cranked to ice age levels. I am pretty sure you could get dropped in to any conference anywhere on any topic and know you were at a conference.
There are costumes.
I am sure this doesn’t surprise you about the Star Trek con. Sci-fi gatherings are famous for this. I saw Klingons, Vulcans and a baby Trill. There were exquisite reproductions of Bajorans and swords made from tinfoil-coated cardboard. As a lover of costumes, I was delighted with all of the things made by hand.
We didn’t go in costume, but this was Halloween a few years ago. I get it.
Weavers also wear costumes. It is a given that you wear your favorite handmade stuff when you are at a fiber art conference. I made a tank top with my weaving themed fabric specifically to wear to this conference. I saw handwoven shawls and jackets, handmade shoe laces and a pair of amazing sprang leggings. (Sprang is finger-weaving technique.)
You can ask anyone about what they are wearing and they will tell you all about it: how they researched it, how they learned how to do it, why they love it, where they struggled. And if you ask them about it, you will be rewarded with a smile that lights up the room. They do it because they love it.
There are celebrities.
I said hi to the brilliant John DeLancie (aka Q). It was quiet when we were there and it was a tiny room, so I was standing just a few feet away from him when I walked in the room. I know I had a huge smile on my face when he looked up, so I said hi and he said hi back. It was neat to make that little connection. We enjoyed the Q&A sessions we listened to. Marina Sirtis (Troi) was really funny and Gates McFadden (Crusher) so genuine and geeky.
I wouldn’t rank myself up in the “celebrity” status, but the very first afternoon I was at the weaving conference I felt like a celebrity. Someone recognized the fabric my shirt was made from (one of my designs) from Instagram photos. A student from a workshop I taught last summer came over and told me how much she had loved that class and how glad she was that I was there. An Etsy customer that I did a big custom order for came and found me in my classroom to show me the loom she made with her tiny weaving loom kit. One student handed me a handwritten thank you note at the end of class to say thanks for teaching her. I felt like a rock star. It was awesome.
I felt some awkward empathy with the Star Trek actors. The conference was small and not very busy and many of them were sitting at tables covered in glossy photos, surfing Twitter on their phones and waiting for people to come over and chat. I have sat at art shows and smiled at streams of people who walk right by. My art might not be your thing, but imagine what it’s like to have your art be yourself (as an actor) and have people just walk by. That must be SO hard. I know that watching someone pick up one of my scarves and smile at the fabric design is the best feeling; I can just see the connection. It felt weird to me to go over and chat with strangers about a show they made 30 years ago, so I hope that my big smile as I walked by conveyed a little how much I appreciate their work.
There is geeky stuff to buy.
It’s a vendor’s dream: an audience that is guaranteed to love what you are selling. There are things to collect. There are things you can’t get anywhere else. There are people selling things because they love what they do and are just as big a geek as you are. There are t-shirts if you want to proclaim your geeky-love to the world and there are things that you know you will be the only one at your workplace that knows what that thing is sitting on your desk because it belongs to a special level of geekiness. There are always silver jewelry charms that are made in the shape of something thematic (drop spindles, Star Fleet communicators) and coffee mugs with the conference logo. There are always large unisex t-shirts that are big and baggy on me. (That’s a personal pet-peeve.)
There are people who love what you love.
When I thought about writing this post, I immediately thought of that quote by Wil Wheaton (coincidentally a Star Trek actor) which I posted above. Cons are where you find those people who love the same stuff that you do and you all are there celebrating the way that you love it. It’s pretty cool to be able to wear a shirt that has weaving shuttles all over it and have someone stop dead in the hallway and say “That’s so awesome!” and not “What the $%# is on your shirt?” It’s fun to be a part of a tribe.
That’s kind of the whole philosophy behind my Etsy shop, honestly. I am a fiber art geek and I make things for other fiber art geeks. That’s what makes it fun. I don’t do it because it is fun sewing dozens of zipper bags (that is super boring, I will be honest). My job is making things that help people celebrate the things that they love. That’s fun.
Have you ever been to a conference focused on a particular theme that is near-and-dear to your heart? I had a great time at both places and it was great to be a geek along with all of the other geeks. It wouldn’t be as much fun if we weren’t all there together.