Giving Doesn’t Always = $


I originally posted this in June 2013, but I thought of it again the other day.  I got my first “annual appeal” email today, so it seems very apropos.  I no longer work full time at the non-profit I mention in this piece, but I do still teach there and I have joined the board of directors/advisory committees of two other non-profits in the past year. For every organization I have worked for or volunteered with, these things are still true.

Many of you know I work for a non-profit arts center and I have for 9 years now.  I have worked for and volunteered for and advocated for a number of non-profits throughout my entire life and all of them have been pretty amazing creatures that do pretty amazing things.  So, I have had a couple of conversations lately with a number of different people about “I love this organization, but I can’t afford to donate anything and I feel bad about that and so I don’t know what else I can do.” and I wanted to say that there are TONS of things that you can do that don’t cost you anything, but can be enormously valuable to a non-profit.  So here’s my list of 8 simple things you can do that will cost you very little and can add up to a lot.

1.  Participate.  A lot of grants that non-profits write to help support their free concerts and exhibitions and make and take programs are all about the number of people served.  There are whole sections of grant applications that require the organization to talk very specifically about the audience and who will be participating.  So, everybody who shows up gets counted and the more people attend a concert or sign their name in the guest book, the bigger the impact the organization can show.  So just by showing up and seeing the art in the gallery and then signing your name in the guestbook, you are saying to that funder or sponsor “I think this is valuable” and that makes a big impact.  Downloading the email, clicking the link, or showing up at the event are all ways for you to be counted.

2.  Comment.  Good or bad, take the time to write a comment or complete an evaluation:  “I really loved seing this work in person because it was so amazing to be able to see the detail up close.  I will come back again for your next exhibition.” or “My kids and I attended the concert in the park and they spent the rest of the afternoon pretending to play violins and conducting their own imaginary orchestra.  What a great afternoon!”  One of my very favorite REAL quotes from a teacher that brought a field trip to my art center:  “The second grade says weaving is better than recess!”  (We named our annual youth programs exhibit after this quote.)  Quotes are also a valuable way for non-profits to communicate with sponsors and funders as a way to say “We know this project is successful because we have this feedback from people who participated.”  Evaluations are required by many program funders and feedback good (or not so good) is all really important.

3.  Like it or tweet it.  Every non-profit would like to reach more people.  If you see something on your favorite organization’s website and you hit the “like” button, you become part of the magic algorithm that networks like Google and Facebook use to rank search results.  Very simply put, the more people “like” something, the more the search engine thinks that it must be “important” or “relevant” to whatever it is looking for.  So something as simple as clicking “Like” on a post about an upcoming class about shibori silk scarves can mean that more people will discover that art center you think is really cool when they are searching around on Google.

4.  Link it.  Have a facebook page or a website or a blog?  Post a link to your favorite non-profit’s website.  Links to organizations work the same way as likes and tweets.  The more connections to the site, the more important the search engines think it is and the bigger the potential reach for your favorite organization.

5.  Spread the word.  The next time you are at your art center or a concert in the park, take an extra postcard or flyer about an upcoming event and stick it up on the bulletin board at work.  Or at your favorite coffee shop.  Or at your church.  Let me tell you from experience that getting those beautiful postcards out into the world is one of the hardest jobs ever.  There is just never enough time in the day (or postage money in the budget) to get everywhere you would like to get them.  If you get an email about an event, pass it on to a friend or post it on your Facebook page.  (Or print it out and put it on the bulletin board).  Even just talking about it is great!  Word of mouth is a really powerful tool, especially if you tell your story.

6.  Donate stuff, but ask first.  Speaking for my own non-profit program, I am delighted to get donations of stuff, but I have about zero square feet of storage space to put it in.  So although I would LOVE to have your yarn, I might have to store it on my desk until I can make room to put it. Which isn’t really ideal.  But there are really goofy things that I need (that you might not even think of) that I could put to good use right now.  Like a gallon or two of vinegar or a salad spinner or some empty yogurt containers.  We used all of those items at summer camp today and we could have used a few more.  Other useful stuff?  Rulers, sticky nametags, tablets of white scratch paper, flexible tape measures, a crock pot, a wall clock, a really big color wheel…  Many organizations have a “wish list” that might contain something you have collecting dust at your house.  Win win.

7.  Time.  Do you have an hour?  Would you be willing to hand out programs at a concert?  Or stuff envelopes for a mailing?  Or weed the garden around our building? Or help clean up after an event?  Volunteering seems like an obvious one, but sometimes the hardest jobs to fill are the ones that sound boring.  Everyone wants to attend the XYZ Event for free in exchange for some volunteer hours, but maybe you would be just as content to listen to the radio in your car and deliver these concert flyers to all the public library branches in Minneapolis.  Or maybe you would be happy to look up the address and contact info for all of the afterschool programs in the metro area and address some envelopes for me so I could send out some field trip applications?  Also if you have special skills, tell someone.  Are you a lawyer and would be willing to read over contracts for me, just to point out anything I should be concerned about?  What a great resource!

8.  Photos.  Do you love to take photos? As staff at an event, I am lucky to have a minute to snap a few pictures because I am busy making the event happen and although I wouldlove to hire a photographer for every event, that is just not in the budget.  But I would LOVE to have your photos if you are willing to share them.  Photos are another great tool for spreading the word and showing the impact of a program or event.  They are a handy way for us to document who was there and what happened so we can refer to it next year when we start to plan the next one.


I hope this inspires you and maybe gives you a few ideas as this “annual fund” season rolls around.  This week I mailed a piece of art off to a fundraiser as a silent auction item, I spent 2 hours at a board meeting (as a volunteer) and I picked up a book of proposals to review for a grant panel in November.  Donating dollars is hugely important to these organizations too, but I hope these are ways you can maybe make the $ you are able to donate add up to a whole lot more.

Upcoming Class: Handpainted Skeins


These are snapshots of the student’s work in progress from the last time I taught this class (plus some finished yarn balls).  On Sunday October 25, I am teaching “Handpainted Skeins” for the Weavers Guild of MN.  We are going to focus on dyeing yarns made from animal fibers: wool, alpaca etc and some nylon. I teach how to dye several styles of skeins in this class.  Semi-solids are basically one color but have variations of light and dark.  Self-striping are divided up and dyed in sections so that you can get a striped effect when you knit it up.  Confetti skeins have lots of different colors but can read as one color from a distance.  We will also talk about some techniques for overdyeing, both starting with yarns that aren’t white and learning to overdye as a way of creating a cohesive colorway.  It is a fun fun class and you will leave with several mini-skeins (which we use to practice technique and test out colors) and then you will have time to dye 1-2 of your own skeins.  Class will be held at the Weavers Guild.  (It’s past the deadline to register online, but you can call and still get in!)


Upcoming Class: Fabric Labels


On Monday October 19, I am teaching a class called “Digital Fabric Labels” at the lovely shop, Darn Knit Anyway.  It is a quick-and-dirty hands-on class focused especially on making labels for your handmade items.  This is great just in time for the holidays!  Make a quilt label with the name and date that you can stitch to your quilt; a care instructions label for your hand-knit sweater or even hangtags for when you want to sell your work.  You will learn the digital design skills to set up the file you need and then we will talk about ways to get it printed on fabric, paper, sticky vinyl and more.  This is a “beyond the book” class, based on a project from the Spoonflower Handbook.  We show a basic quilt label in the book and this class will show you variations and ways to adapt that idea to work for many different projects.  You need to bring your laptop for the hands on part, but otherwise there are no other materials you need to bring.

Class projects & collaborating

I taught a really great class last night which was an intro to digital fabric design.  We talked resolution, we talked pixels, we talked formats & file sizes.  It’s basically a class to make you brave enough to go dabble and try something on your own.  My goal is to empower and inspire: to give you enough information that you feel confident enough to try and to give you some idea that is exciting enough to make you take the step and do it.  I hope that’s what happened for my students last night.  (It felt like a pretty inspiring and empowering night to me.)

Once we got through all of the vocabulary, we did a couple of hands on projects.  In this class, I like to do a collaborative fabric design where everyone contributes a piece and then we put it together, create a design, I order a yard and I mail everyone a swatch after class.  So you get a piece of fabric you worked on.  Sometimes I do a grid where everyone draws in a square.


Sometimes we do a collage like this one with speech bubble shaped sticky notes and our favorite “clean” swear words.

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This time I decided to play with the Spoonflower weekly contest theme: microorganisms.  My class was skeptical.  I prepped a little ahead of time: I cut vellum paper to be microscope slides, we drew organisms, we added a sticker label to our “samples”.  I like to keep it small and simple so we don’t take up a lot of class time or trigger any “i can’t draw” anxiety.  Someone suggested a herringbone arrangement, which I thought was really fun.

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I think it’s adorable.  And funny.  And it got us many great lessons – how to scan, how to touch up & crop, how to upload and so on.  We did all the steps in class, looked at different repeats, discussed negative space and made a great cohesive design.  Score!

But one thing that made me think.  One student said: Do I have to?  What if I don’t want to make a microorganism on a slide?

I get it.

I totally get it.  Part of the joy of making things is that you get to do it your way.  That’s the bonus of making it through so many elementary school art classes (at least the ones I was exposed to). If you learn the skills of working with a paintbrush or using the scissors by making all of the “cookie cutter” projects, then you can take those skills and run with it.

I told her she had to make a microscope slide along with the rest of us.  And not because I needed everyone to be doing the same thing, but my goal was different.  I encouraged everyone to try things that they were interested in seeing the results of: use colored pencil if you want to see how that texture looks as you print it on fabric; outline in pen (or not) if you want to see what ink lines look like; try shading.  You have 1 inch to do your experiment.  We talked about ways to make a design cohesive.  Sometimes I limit the colored pencil colors so we have a specific colorway (the hearts design above), sometimes we have a theme like the post it notes.  These design elements all had the “slide” and the sticker shapes to tie them together, so we let that be the cohesive element.  We talked about how to arrange them (and the drawbacks to the pattern we chose), we looked at all of the repeat styles and the pros and cons of those as well.

On a personal level, I loathe group projects. (Who doesn’t?  Have you ever met anyone who says:  I sure love working on group projects?)  But as a teacher, we got to have a deeper discussion because we were all working on the same design and not 10 different designs.  We didn’t compare whose was better or more clever because it was ours, together and we were all equal contributors.

I once sat in on a seminar with awesome feltmaker Lisa Klakulak.  She was teaching a really basic wet felting technique and we each started a 3 inch square of felt, laying it out and getting the first steps done.  A few minutes in to the process, she had us pick up the piece and pass it to the person on our left.  The clamour!  No one wanted to hand over their precious piece and she made us do it anyway.  By giving away the ownership, we could focus on the technique.  The new piece that was handed to you was different.  You had to look and feel and analyze and think about what it needed next and think about what she had taught us.  After a few minutes, we picked them up and passed them again. Once that first shock had passed, the grumbling got much less.  At the end, we all ended up with a random swatch, made by many hands, but I learned so much.  I saw so many different versions and variations, successes and challenges. And there was no talk of “I’m not good at this” or “Mine looks dumb” or “Look at how pretty Lucy’s is”.  The discussion was instead about the process: “Look at how much smaller this one was, I wonder if it started with less fiber or those were just aggressive felters.”  The discussion moved away from “me” and on to the art technique.  I haven’t been brave enough to pull Lisa’s kind of a “trick” on a class, but I still think about it and how effective it was.



Upcoming Classes: Intro to Digital Fabric Design

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I forgot to do a little plug for this class earlier, but it’s coming up this week! Wednesday October 7 at 6 pm. You should still be able to register if you call Textile Center (online registration is closed).

Intro to Digital Design is just what it sounds like: a crash course in printing your own fabric.  We will make a collaborative design in class, scan and upload it and then you will get a swatch of that fabric later in the mail.  We will troubleshoot, talk about color matching, review some vocabulary (pixels, resolution, scale) and more.  It is the class to take if you’ve never designed your own fabric OR if you have dabbled a little but have questions.  I hope to see you there!

Thank you!


It was a great party.  Thank you to all of you who came, who listened to me talk about it, and who sent me notes wishing you could come.  I am truly delighted to be a part of this great community.