Thursday, March 26, 2009

How to host a succesful SAGA workshop (Long)

I have had several comments, email and phone conversations about the workshop that my local chapter puts on. I was asked from more than three different people to write about it. So I figured as my mother would have said, "Forty thousand Frenchman can't be wrong." If I am being asked this much about it, then maybe it does warrant a post.

First of all, don't for one minute think that I am smarter than the average bear, or any craftier or handier than anyone else. Are you reading this on the internet? (That is a rhetorical question.) Then you have at your fingertips the same information that I do. I admit that I am blessed to belong to a great SAGA chapter. But I think any chapter has the potential to be a great one. It just takes consistent enthusiasm and a genuine desire to be there to make a change. The only other experience I have under my belt is marrying off two daughters and what is known as an excessive personality.

  • Of course first of all is securing a teacher, a date and a class project. No mystery there. You do have to get out of the mindset of choosing the perfect teacher, the perfect date or the perfect class. It doesn't happen. You choose the best you can and work with the rest. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. In other words, "Do SOMETHING! Don't just talk about it."
  • Advertise your workshop within your chapter and any other chapters in your area and members at large. Don't forget chapters and members that are within a reasonable driving distance to you. (Be sure to include hotel information for out of town visitors.) SAGA's website and your region rep are both good sources of chapter and MAL information. Other types of chapters, EGA and ASG for example are also good places to advertise.
  • A venue can be a bit trickier. Our chapter has a great place now, a community room in a bank. Has lots of windows, a full kitchen and a bathroom right across the hall. But we have used rooms at churches, basements, community centers and our regular meeting place. You need enough space for your projected number of students, it helps if you have a kitchen or kitchenette type space where you can prepare drinks, coffee, hopefully a fridge. Our room is also large enough for us to eat in as well.
  • That brings up another aspect. Meals. We have done catered box lunches and included that (approx $10) in the price of the class. We have done pot lucks or had members sign up to bring meals. There is something to breaking bread together that brings a group together and allows new people and visitors to get to know one another. After you have spent the morning together, to pack up get in the car and go somewhere to me just seems intrusive. So we eat in. We have class from 9-12, break for lunch from 12-1 and resume class from 1-4. Also would you invite someone to your home during a meal time and not offer them something to eat? I am not in the habit of saying to a friend, "Oh I would love to have you but make sure you bring your own snack." I call that rude.

My best friend and I always ascribed to one thing in most things, "Presentation is everything." I want it to look good. I want the Norman Rockwell, Martha Stewart kind of atmosphere. Does it matter that you can't look in one closet in my home? That the dirty laundry is piled high on the other side of the bed when company comes to dinner? No! I'm not inviting them to my closets or my bedroom. Well I might but that is a different story. So for a workshop I want it too look good. That means tablecloths, centerpieces and table favors. "oh but that is so much trouble." I hate that word. No, perhaps it is more effort but that does not mean it is more trouble. So it is more effort, I want to give those that come to our workshops the things that I would want. So what if it is more effort? We already know I don't do it on a daily basis, so I can muster the energy to do it occasionally. So exactly how much effort does it take?

  • Tablecloths/table settings - almost everyone has a Party City, a Michael's or a Hobby Lobby nearby. To drive there and purchase some pretty disposable tablecloths and fun paper products is not trouble.

  • Centerpieces - My girlfriend and I who usually do this together and have gone to varying degrees of effort for this. Once it was themed centerpieces to look like snowflakes, this time it was inexpensive ($1.50 each) glass bowls filled with Gerbera daisies. Not much effort there. Or the one above, a large mason type jar with some artificial Easter Eggs and a couple of bunches of spring blooms bought at the grocery store. I think most of you can muster that.
  • Table favors - I love me some table favors. Margot likes to shop and make phone calls, I like to make table favors; so therefore we make a good team. Again if you have searched the internet and found yourself here, then you have searched other blogs and sites and have seen some of the cute things that people are making. That is how I found the ones I posted a week or so ago. They are just a little happy for attendees to take with them. They took some time but not tons of time. I made most of the pincushion tops in a couple of evenings in front of the TV, then Margot and I assembled them over a weekend. The pattern weights took an afternoon and evening.
  • Be respectful of the teacher's time and efforts. Don't be the student who is talking in the back of the room when she is trying to explain something to the group. Refrain from letting everyone know how YOU would do it, or even worse "when I went to so and so's class, she taught it this way." There is not one way to do anything, but you have contracted with this teacher to hear about her way. Let her tell it and at least try it. Then decide if you like this new method or not.
  • Pricing. Oh is this a touchy subject. Our chapter does not put on workshops to make money. We put on workshop to live out the mission statement of SAGA:

"Our purpose is to preserve and foster the art of smocking and related needlework for future generations, through education, communication, and quality workmanship."

That being said, we use a simple way to price our workshop. We add up the costs incurred to bring in the teacher:

Teacher fee
Teacher travel
Teacher accomadations, (usually a member hosts the teacher)
Meals (if we do the box lunch)
Materials costs for room rent, party supplies, snacks, drinks, table favors and door prizes
TOTAL divided by number of students we expect (project lower than you think) = cost per person. Then we add the kit cost to that.

We don't set kit prices, the teacher usually does. If a class has a more expensive kit, work with the teacher to economize if you think it will be a problem for your attendees. You can also offset the class cost with your chapter's fundraisers and SAGA sponsored grants as well.

The number one thing about the atmosphere is making people feel welcome. Be glad they are there. Introduce yourself. Have name tags ready and make sure people wear them. Then no one, including the teacher, is put on the spot of remembering a name and can concentrate of what is being said instead. THANK people for spending their oft too little time and hard earned money with you. They could have stayed home. Have a generous spirit. If you are inwardly pissing and moaning your guests will know it. Just ask my kids, "Happy Heart!" And don't think about the extra effort as a burden, think of it as a gift you give to your members and guests.

I hope this edition of War and Peace has been helpful.


  1. hmmmm, I think a certain editor could use this for a certain smocking related magazine. Great article!

  2. I would love to go to wone of your workshops. So much thought put into them!!! Love the info. This would be helpful when planning all kinds of events. There isn;t a SAGA chapter near me I don't think. I guess I could go on line and find the closest one.

  3. OOps Not "wone" ,but "one" and not "isn;t", but "isn't"

  4. These are wonderful ideas and I can see why your workshops would be a success.

  5. Thanks guys, Julia I can't find the typos. I know it is because I am used to looking at it. Help?

  6. I think she was correcting her comments...not your post! We have never met, in fact, I am in VA...but I think we are cut from the same cloth, so to speak. I have enjoyed your blog and been inspired. Thank you for sharing your experience. Warmly, Stacey

  7. well written martha - thank you. i agree would make a great article in any of our wonderful magazines that support saga....

    you and your blog are a wonderful inspiration.

  8. This subject should definitely become part of a SAGA notebook on how and WHY to host teachers. At the very least published in our magazine!! Great write up and please keep are so talented...Karin


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