True Story: I was sitting on the floor, taping together a PDF pattern, listening to Love To Sew Podcast. Sound familiar? It was the Caz Adams episode. When they got to the part about planning the Sydney Frocktails, I actually stopped cutting because I was bummed my city didn’t have a Frocktails. I had seen the pretty pictures from Manhattan’s Frocktails on Marcy’s IG, I’d watched Chuleenan plan the Bay Area Sewists events, but my little uber-creative town of Portland didn’t have one.
Boohoo me. “Buuuuuut wait…,” I thought, “I know how to do this…I know how to plan events. Hell, I’ve planned massive events. My partner is still in events…”
So, I got my tush off the floor, went over to my desk, and bought the domain before I could talk myself out of it.
This is where I’m going to tell you the secret to being “Sewcial IRL (in real life.)” It isn’t the experience in event planning. It isn’t the ability to buy a domain name, or make a website, or even have a flashy Instagram (IG) account with a bazillion followers. NOPE.
It’s getting up, and just doing it. If you wish you had a local sewing community, then you have to start somewhere. There’s truth in “If you build it, they will come!” Do you need to do a 100+ person catered Frocktail event? Nah. Do you need to have a planning committee? LOL NO. Do you need much of anything other than a dream? Nope.
Let’s talk options.
Types of Meetups:
- Fabric Store Crawl: Call up your local fabric stores (LFS.) Ask them if you make a Fabric Store Crawl (like a pub crawl but better), and if you post about it on Instagram, will they re-gram you? That way you get their customers, they get your audience and planning – it’s a win/win. No catering necessary. Make a Canva post with places/times/date, and bam! Bob’s your uncle. Bring sticky nametags and washable markers for people to be able to identify each other, making sure to wear yours at all times. Include IG handles. NOTE: If you only have 1 LFS, even easier, maybe add in a pre-funk coffee or after-party happy hour.
- Coffee date: This one is easier to pull off once you’ve had a few Fabric Store Crawls or to make in combo with Fabric Store Crawls. If you have a large hand-sewing group in your area (Are you down with EPP?), it’s easier.
- Museum trip: Keep an eye out for traveling fashion, costume, textile, & historical garment exhibits. Laika is in my hometown and you wouldn’t believe how popular their exhibit was… the costume design was amazing.
- Picnic: Seattle Frocktails is now planning their second year, and they’ve planned a auxiliary lakeside picnic meetup.
- Sewing Afternoon: Everyone brings their sewing machines and projects to a community space. If you’re in the US, Joann’s fabrics often has free spaces. Try your local library, grange, church spaces, etc.
- Happy Hour: This one is a bit easier to pull off than coffee because, well, let’s be honest: booze. In fact, when I called one city for advice on my Frocktails, they suggested to try just doing a happy hour in case I didn’t get the numbers for a ticketed event (my city being larger and full of creatives, I just went for broke.) Seattle has Sewing Trivia Happy Hours year-round (I know I keep mentioning them, they’re 3 hours north of me, so I know some of those amazing folks.)
- Frocktails/High Tea/Dinner: Not gonna lie. When you’re putting your rear end on the line by putting down deposits, learning your local liquor laws and catering rules…This is an undertaking. You are committing a lot of time and financial risk. Make no bones about it. AND IT IS AWESOME. Scary at first, even for this vet, but awesome.
- Outside the Box: Do you have an online only fabric store that you happen to know is in your town like shoplamercerie or pdxsewingstudio? Ask them to do a private pop-up and open to your group for a tour & shop day. Work with someone like RachelSeesSnailShoes or KlumHouse or AHappyStitch to have a private workshop party.
- Chose a date, place, and type of meetup – keeping it simple is a good way to start! Be sure to check local event calendars so that you aren’t up against a big textile show, or a QuiltCon, etc.
- Publicize on your social media, ask friends to share. Pick and use your hashtags religiously. Encourage following and using hashtags – it’s the only real way, currently, to beat social media algorithms. #atlantasews #atlantafrocktails are examples. do #yourcitysews #yourcityfrocktails
- Canva and/or Adobe Spark are your friend. Take it from a long time designer/illustrator: Cheat. It’s quick, easy, cute, fun…there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel. Get an app.
- Decide if you need to have a ticketed affair to count attendees. Is it free or for a price to cover expenses? Do you use EventBrite? Evite? Meetup? Other? With so many leaving/not using some social media options, we recommend a 3rd party like Eventbrite or Evite that can tie into social media options.
- Spread the word through any community groups you belong to, through work, school, or any other avenue. Make it clear that all ages are welcome! As for reposts! Don’t be shy about asking. The worst anyone can say is no.
- Put up a poster in any local sewing stores, and invite the employees. Ask them to mention it to their customers in their email newsletters.
- Nametags – you can prep them before or have them ready for people to fill out at the event. Helpful information includes name, pronouns, and social media handles (i.e. Jane, she/her, @JaneSews)
- Post reminders and details as the event approaches. Put date/time/location in your Instagram profile information.
- Consider food allergies, dietary restrictions, and the accessibility of your location. Invite people to let you know if they need accommodations.
- Seating… This is a tough one. Too much seating, and the more introverted sit and don’t socialize; not enough seating and those that need seats sometimes don’t get them…it can be a Catch-22. As MC and host, you must set the tone to keep people moving, social, and be able to read a room & make decisions about seating. This is one of those things where not everyone will be happy.
- Make everyone feel welcome! Have social prompts. Listen to the Love To Sew podcast with Jennifer of Workroom Social or read our Sewcialists interview with Jennifer. Portland Frocktails is shamelessly modeled after Jennifer’s spirit.
- Share out nametags.
- Encourage people to connect online. Use your hashtag for the event and your local hashtag.
- Consider gathering email addresses if you’d rather organize your next event by email.
- Ask for ideas on what kind of event to do next and when.
- Take pictures, or even better yet, hire a photographer so you can enjoy the event and everyone has pro photos as a takeaway gift.
- Have fun!
- Thank everyone for coming and share photos on social media. Encourage attendees to tag themselves. Make sure you have a hashtag for everyone to search.
- Share ideas for the next event, and encourage people to spread the word!
A few final words.
You can do this; you really can. Sometimes it’s not a question of who, but a question of why not? And if at some point you find you don’t want to do it anymore, you will have created a community that will take over for you, so you can sit back and be an attendee. This is all about Community Over Competition. We here at Sewcialists strongly believe in community, and we believe in you.
A tiny smidge of advice.
- This is for fun, sure, but we all need to feel community bonding, and buy into it or not, this is crucial for our very humanity. It may look frivolous on the outside, however, the more we bond with fellow humans in real life, the better we empathize, the more likely we are to vote, the more likely we are to volunteer, help, care…the list goes on.
- If you don’t know, ask. There are a lot of event planners in the sewing world, and I have found the majority to be authentic, kind, and generous. And this will also go for asking for sponsors: The worst anyone can say is no.
- Use Survey Monkey after the event to gather constructive feedback. No one lives in a bubble, and while I’m personally not a fan of “design by committee,” I absolutely cannot read minds, and either can you. Not every response is super tactful or kind, and remember it’s impossible to assume cadence in text, so steel yourself before you read the responses. 98% will be very lovely and helpful, but you will have 1 or 2% you may read incorrectly, or maybe someone responded in a rush, or maybe they’re just not your people, or on the very rare occasion there are those that confuse the “critique process” for carte blanche to be rude. It happens. Best practices for surveys and feedback, as you will get completely contradictory feedback or some that may seem odd: If more than 3 people make the same suggestion, it is definitely something to take under advisement. Let all feedback simmer and digest in your mind, if you will, before you act or make decisions. It takes time to absorb perspectives other than your own. You may get a comment that seems like a bizarre idea, but after a few weeks or even months, it will click, and you’ll get it. One of my best points of feedback came in as a very out-of-left-field comment. It took me almost 6 months to interpret what she meant, but when I did, I was so very grateful. Or, you won’t and you’ll let it go. Either way, time is key, and feedback is imperative.
- Even if you do it once or twice, you’re not married to it. You can change it up, pass it on, let it go. Don’t make it an all or nothing idea if that overwhelms you. Keep it light, fun, and chill.
So, tell us! What do YOU do to be sewcial IRL? Will you plan an event? Will you put yourself out there? What did we miss? Use #sewcialIRL so we can encourage each other.
This was co-written by the dynamic team of Becky Jo, Gillian, and the Sewcialists, although the overtly opinionated points and Americanism can all be blamed on Becky Jo. Please add your comments, questions, and “critique process” points below.