On December 2nd and 3rd, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh invited the BMDL Fiber Guild back for the Wool Weekend. This was our fifth demo for the museum, and our biggest – we were there for two days and had demonstrators in the MAKESHOP as well as in the Studio art space. (MAKESHOP is a partnership between the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) and the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments (UPCLOSE). It is a space dedicated to making, reusing and designing things, using everyday materials and real tools. It has regular programs and special guests.)
This time, the museum guests and staff were able to learn how to use hand cards and drop spindles, spin with a distaff and on a great wheel, knitting, inkle weaving, weaving on a warp weighted loom, and wet felting. To complement these activities, the museum had finger knitting and needle felting stations set up as well.
Display of various materials and products
Woolen items on display by the guild, including materials and clothing.
We also had a display of woolen items and different types of wool for the kids to explore. The display had woolen garments and items spanning from Anglo-Saxon England to late period German. Most of the items were made by Lady Beatrix of Anglesey, who, though she couldn’t be there herself, graciously lent us her work, and by Mistress Irene von Schmetterling. (There was also a cloak made by Mistress Rowena of Coppertree, and a lined hood with oak-leaf dags by Lady Madelaine de Mortaigne of Carolingia)
The demo a great success. By the end of the demo, dozens of kids took home the wet felted potholder squares (one 8 year old lady made several, because, she explained, potholders make great gifts for grandparents). The cloth woven by the kids was gifted to the museum, and the yarn spun on the great wheel was given to the MAKESHOP for future projects!
It was wonderful to be back at the Museum, and we are looking forward to more skill demos at this location. Thanks go out to the Museum staff for inviting us and sharing their MAKESHOP and Studio space and to all the demonstrators: Mistress Mahin banu Tabrizi of Sunderoak and Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope who demonstrated weaving techniques, Mistress Irene von Schmetterling who taught the wet felting and spinning, Lady Kattera Doplerin and Lady Rivka bat Daniyel taught and demonstrated felting, spinning, and knitting, and Medea who did finger knitting, and spinning.
Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope demonstrating weaving.
This demo marks a year of our partnership with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. We feel privileged to have this amazing opportunity to introduce kids to the skills and crafts of the middle ages, show off the amazing artisans of the SCA, and to provide quality programming to our local museum, while fulfilling the educational mission of the SCA. We are looking forward to going back!
Lady Rivka bat Daniyel surrounded by a fascinated group of children.
In the SCA, we need to stay focused not only on retention of our membership but also on recruiting new people. Sometimes in group dynamics, we think “Well, hey… we have 15 people, I have played this game with them for the last five years… why do we need anyone new?” Without new people, a group becomes stagnant and members tire of trading officer positions and autocratting duties between such a small number. This leads to people being overloaded, and suddenly you find older members fading away.
By having demonstrations (“demos”) and recruiting new members, the work can be passed around, resulting in less burned-out veteran SCAdians. As a former canton chatelaine, I will share what I have learned about doing SCA demos.
Before you schedule your first demo, look at your group. What is your SCA group’s composition? Is it mostly people working 9-to-5 and/or over three dozen people with small children? Or is it a lot of college-age people with variable schedules? The reason why you need to ask yourself this question is that you probably should not attempt scheduling a demo at 1 pm in an elementary school if 99% of your populace is at work and won’t be able to get time off.
Questions to ask your group
The best way to avoid having to cancel a demo is to ask these questions at an SCA meeting:
How many people can do a demo during the day or evening?
What is an impossible time to have a demo on a weekday?
Which times are best?
How often should we hold demos?
In this busy world where there can be an event every weekend, plus sewing circles, dance practices, heavy fighting and archery practices, people will burn out quickly if they have three or four demos a month. Some groups only wish to demo once a month; others twice or three times. It’s also best to agree on bad dates, such as Pennsic war week, the week between the holidays of Christmas and New Year’s, etc. It is also a good idea to ask how on short a notice can your group organize a demo? A week? A month? Twenty-four hours?
Should we charge for the demo?
That is a question best decided by your group. I know that in my canton, if we do a demo at a movie theater, it usually gave us free tickets. That was pretty cool, very visible, and got us media coverage. It made for a great exchange of services. We did demos for some non-profit organizations where we opted for either a greatly reduced fee or none at all. If the event is for the sole purpose of making money (such as a Renaissance fair), or a wedding coordinator or event planner wants to hire your group, then you should receive some compensation for your services. Once again, this sliding fee scale is best determined by your officers and populace.
How to get demo requests?
How do we get demos if no one requests one? Well, most likely no one knows about you. The best way to solve this problem is to find out who is the event coordinators at the local library. If you have a small library, it’s properly the librarian. Send a letter, maybe a few pictures and let them know your group is a non-profit organization dedicated teaching people about the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods. They will put the information on file and the next time they have an event such as Chaucer’s birthday party or a Shakespeare week, you may well get a call.
You will want to do the same for local theaters, colleges, and schools. Your letter has to be simple, to the point, and able to give them the basics. It’s also advisable to send informational letters to bookstores and fabric stores. Some fabric stores offer classes on how to make things, so they may want a person to come in chat about what clothing of the Middle Ages looked like, how to work with what patterns are out there, how to select fabrics. Most of the time, people will just want basic Renaissance fair stuff, but occasionally you will encounter some one who genuinely wants to learn how to make good period clothes… that person could be a potential SCA member. Remember, in sending those letters, be very careful you never sell your group as a “Renaissance-fair-in-a-box.”
What is a “Renaissance-fair-in-a-box?”
If you use this phrase, people will assume you are promising your group as entertainment. Many people think we are an extension of a Renaissance fair, with fire-eaters, jugglers, and jousting with horses. If not corrected, this misconception can lead to misunderstanding and a unsatisfactory demo for both parties. In order to avoid this, keep a pad of paper by the telephone and when you are called, ask these questions:
Who are you? If they don’t identify themselves, how can they be reached later?
What is the organization, the date of the desired demo, and amount of time you’re expected to be there? You might want to repeat this back to the caller to verify everything.
What is the location (with cross streets or identifying markers) in order to direct people there? This is important because if the demo falls in another SCA group’s lands, you should direct the person to that group as a matter of courtesy.
What do they expect? If they just want a few craftspeople and a display of fighting weapons, then don’t talk them into fencing, fighting, and dancing. A simple, well-organized demo is better than an elaborate one requiring a ton of people.
Indoors or out? Don’t go into the demo blind; ask ahead of time whether it will be indoors or outside. What will the fighters be expected to fight on? If it’s July and will most likely be 90 degrees out, I suggest talking to the fighters first to see if they are willing to do a demo on asphalt. If it’s a location with a wooden floor, you may have to ask that no one falls over dramatically or goes to their knees in armor.
What facilities will be available? Will we have tables for arts and sciences displays, or does our group need to bring them? Are there showers on-site that the fighter can use after battle?
Use SCA terms they will not understand without also providing an explanation. Words like: garb, seneschal, gold key, chatelaine. Say, “I will need to talk to our seneschal, which is what we call our chapter president.” Or “I am called a chatelaine, it’s our term for the event coordinator or welcome wagon.”
Say derogatory things about other groups, even if they are not SCA. If the person adores the Renaissance fair, reply that while those are a lot of fun, we are not entertainment performers. We recreate or demonstrate. Never let your personal bias creep in to make you sound negative. Be firm on what you can do but never slam roleplaying groups or Renaissance fairs. This person may interpret you as a snob and you may lose an opportunity to hold a demo.
Never commit your group to something right off the bat. Take the information and tell the person you will get back to them.
What if what they want is not what we do?
If they ask for something outside your group’s scope, then politely tell them what your group can offer: a display of medieval arts & sciences crafts, fencing, or heavy fighters. If no one in your group dances, then don’t mention it. Also, if the demo is supposed to occur over several hours, make sure you discuss how long the fighters can fight and how often they’ll need rest breaks.
During the first contact, repeat what you have been told and make sure you understand the person correctly. Let’s say our fictional demo is a Shakespeare week kick-off party at the main library on a Saturday that doesn’t conflict with a major event. They want people in Elizabethan clothes and fencers to do a fighting display in the main entrance with 20-foot tall ceilings and a 25-foot-square roped-off area with a marble floor. Hopefully, they would like someone to talk about life in the age of Queen Elizabeth for children between the ages of eight and 12.
At this time, tell the person you need to talk to your group and you will call them back in a given time frame (week, day, whatever) to confirm. This gives you the time to get on your group’s discussion list/Facebook group/etc. or go to a business meeting to present the demo and ask whether there is interest, how many people can participate, etc. You will need a marshal, authorized fencers, and people with Elizabethan clothes. Does anyone want to do the children’s class? Hopefully, there is a show of hands, and the date is good, and you call the person back and commit.
What to do if there’s no interest
What if the group is lukewarm at best and no one wants to do the demo? To put it simply, call back the person and say you cannot do the demo.
If the demo is just too good to pass up, you might want to check with the baronial chatelaine (if you’re in a canton or shire) or with the chatelaines from nearby baronies to see if recruiting people from those groups will make it possible.
What if they are asking for nothing like what we agreed on?
This why you have your notes of your group’s decision. Refer to what was agreed upon — the time of day, what activities you’re providing. If you arrive at the demo and the person says, “But where’s the live steel demonstration?” you can reply, “I talked to Joan on July 7th and I told her at that time we use rattan in combat. We agreed to three 15-minute displays over a three-hour period.” In the years I organized demos, I rarely had a complaint because when you have your notes as reference, it tends to help people remember things more correctly.
I also suggest that when doing a demo for a Renaissance fair or an event planner, send them a copy in writing. An example would be:
October 3, 2016
Weddings ‘R’ Us
Attn: Tara Lyn Colby
123 Main Street
Anyplace, NY 13902
Thank you for allowing the Society for Creative Anachronism, Shire of Sterlynge Vayle, to organize a demonstration at the Broome County Renaissance Fair. We will be on site by 10:00 am as agreed on February 8, 2016.
We will have two period pavilions in place. From the hours of 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, we will hold one 15-minute set of fighting either with rattan weapons or fencing. We will take an hour lunch break at 12:00 noon. We will have people wandering the fair in clothes of the Middle Ages to contribute ambiance, and we will have a tent with our crafts displayed.
We appreciate your offer of room to camp overnight and use of the gymnasium showers. We understand that there are no ground fires allowed, and we must be careful when setting up our tents to protect the sprinkler system. A groundskeeper will be on-hand to help us.
We also agreed on a fee of $50 to be delivered in a check made out to “SCA – Canton of Edgewater,” to be given to me at the end of the demo on the February 9.
Event Coordinator for the SCA Shire of Sterlynge Vayle (Chatelaine)
SCA Name: Peg the Alewife
123 Bythway Road
Anyplace, NY 13902
When it’s time for the check, there should be no misunderstanding of amount, time commitments, or just what you agreed to provide.
It’s the day of the demo – now what?
Try to get there ahead of the participants. That way, you can be a traffic manager and get people set up the way they need to go.
It’s also important to interact with whomever you’re doing the demo for and make sure you’re still on the right page. Contact them before, during, and after the demo. If they’re happy, they will tell a few people; if they’re seriously unhappy, they will tell a lot more people.
You also will want to set up a table with SCA information for interested people to take home with them. You also will want a sign-up board so you can e-mail or send information to those folks who sign up on it.
There’s a guy here from the TV or the press
You or the seneschal should talk to them to give them the basic information about the SCA and why you’re there. If people are interested in you, tell them how to contact the SCA. Remember that any time you face coverage by the media, the seneschal needs to be informed (and your media officer, if you have one).
At the end of the demo, be sure to thank all the people who helped, and stick it out to clean up if needed. Follow up with the person who requested the demo to make sure they are happy. Then go home… and hopefully you have made new contacts for your group.