ELAINE QUEHL, Quilt Artist, Teacher, Dyer, Designer

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The (Not So) Glamorous Life of a Travelling Quilt Instructor

This year I would have loved to travel to the Houston Quilt Festival, but I had already been booked to teach well in advance. When my colleagues and friends go off to the SAQA/SDA Conference in March 2012, I will be on the road teaching. The teaching dates were booked well before the conference dates were advertised. I have this fantastic facility in my community called the Shenkman Arts Centre. A satellite of the Ottawa School of Art is housed inside and so there are wonderful art classes only 5 minutes from my home. I'd like to take an art class this winter, but discovered that I will miss at least half the classes due to my teaching/travel schedule.

Recently it was suggested to me by a colleague that I might consider cashing in some of my air miles and travelling around the country to promote SAQA. First of all, I have only begun to have teaching engagements that require flying so I don't have any airmiles. But perhaps the biggest point I want to make here is that I CAN and DO promote SAQA on nearly every teaching trip I take. In addition, I provide brochures and back issues of SAQA Journals in my Art Quilt Series classes and my classes at the Haliburton School of the Arts. I've noticed that there is a certain attitude among some of my colleagues (fortunately not many of them) that I am being selfish in pursuing my teaching career, and that I only do things that benefit me. If I had a full time career in any other field, no one would expect me to book trips to promote SAQA, nor expect me to curtail my career for volunteer work. Isn't it just possible I can do more to promote SAQA by being out there being a living, breathing example of someone who has made a career with her quilts?

I recently heard a story about a west coast teacher who came to Ontario to teach for several guilds. At the end of one engagement she waited for the next group she was booked with to pick her up. No one did. I found this a strange story ... that is, until recently.

I have lectures and workshops scheduled in the Greater Toronto Area over a two week period in March 2012. There are gaps between some of these engagements. Since I have no place to stay during many of these gaps I have arranged to drive an hour to Waterloo where my sister lives. Some teachers would have asked all groups to share in paying for or providing accommodations during these gaps, but I did not do so because some of these groups are small guilds and the cost would have been prohibitive. However, in some cases I am charging for mileage to bring me back to Toronto from Waterloo.

Recently I received an email from a group about an hour and a half outside Toronto. They were interested in having me come to their city to deliver a trunk show and lecture. The timing was such that I would be coming to them from Waterloo, but would have had a one night gap after my lecture and before my next engagement in the Toronto area. I asked that this group accommodate me for that one night. In response I received an email telling me that this guild's policy is to not provide accommodations for trunk shows, and that the next group on the trip should be providing this. Well the next group in this engagement had also only hired me to do a trunk show and was already providing me with a billet on the night after the trunk show. There was no way on earth they should have been responsible for a billet on the night before the trunk show as well. So because I had no place to sleep that night the booking didn't happen. It seems to me a bit unreasonable, and even downright unhospitable, to expect a teacher to travel hours from her home in winter and not even provide a bed and pillow. If your policy is to not provide accommodations for trunk shows, then you can expect to only have trunk shows by local people.

In addition, this group expected the next group to pay the mileage to get me back to Toronto. I could maybe see that point, except that the contracts had all been signed with the groups in the Greater Toronto Area, and at this point I cannot add additional charges. However, the guild in question was not even being charged for any portion of the mileage to get me to Toronto, something that the Toronto might have legitimately protested.

So there you have it. I write this email not as a general WHINE, but so you can get a glimpse behind the scenes of a travelling quilt instructor. The reality is that I delivered 71 workshops this year, travelled a total of 14 days to get to and from these workshops, meaning a total of 85 days away from home, not including days where I had gaps between bookings. That means I was away from my home for 3.5 months of this year. It does affect whether or not I can do a lot of other things (including housework ;-)), but I wouldn't trade it for any of the mind-numbing and soul-destroying office jobs I worked at. It is still the best option for me.


  1. AAGGGHHH!!! I know that instructor... it wasn't us=))) just so you know! We treat our guests very well. And we have a great rapport with our neighbouring guilds.
    That does suck though... but can't say I am totally surprised.
    R u working on anything for the NJS?

  2. I hope lots of guilds and groups who so enjoy your presentations, trunkshows and workshops see this and respond in an appropriate manner. What has happened to decent , mannerly dealings with our fellow man/woman? Good luck Elaine. Hope you maintain your enthusiasm for what you do even with all of the drawbacks.

  3. I love your statement about mind-numbing and soul destroying office jobs--I definitely have one of those!!! But I need to keep it because of health insurance, so that's my only option right now. Sounds like too many guilds tend to think that quilting is just your "hobby", not your profession. And you're right, in any other career field, you wouldn't be expected to pay your own travel-related expenses or do promotional work on the road for free.

  4. Elaine, your teaching work is not "selfish" at all, but exactly the opposite ... the ability to teach is a great gift to others, especially to your students and all fans of quilt art!


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