Whether you knit, sew, crochet, quilt, or something else, it can, more often than not, be a solitary activity. That’s why the encouragement of creating together is such a wonderful thing. Group therapy for creative acts—such is the premise behind an “along.” That is, a knit/quilt/sew/craft-along.
In a craft-along a host picks a project or type of project. She then shares directions, photos, or additional details on making the project. Quite often what she shares is a step-by-step breakdown of the project. Participants then make along with the host. It means you have a group of people making the same thing at the same time—shared community around a shared process. Indeed, it is this shared community that brings most people to a craft-along. Including the hosts.
Shannon Cook is a knitwear designer and author. She’s hosted numerous knit-alongs through her blog and Ravelry. When asked what the greatest benefit to hosting knit-alongs is, she definitively answers that it is community and friendships.
“There aren’t even words to describe how much joy it brings me to see so many women form long-term friendships and have such a fun place to chat, share their knitting projects, but also share what’s going on in their lives. It’s a warm and loving group of people we have.”
Craft-alongs may start with a marketing idea – have people buy your pattern and by sharing the making process publicly, help promote it further – but people seem to agree that it quickly becomes more than that. “It’s such fun to have a group exploring and sewing together. And seeing so many folks appreciate and enjoy your design is very gratifying. Having participants really make it their own and take the design or technique somewhere new is really terrific,” says Debbie Jeske, host of popular improv quilt-alongs like the Cross Cut Quilt Along.
A recent knit-along for one of Shannon Cook’s patterns.
Photo courtesy of Shannon Cook
Knitwear designer and author Shannon Cook.
Photo courtesy of Shannon Cook
Hosting a Craft-along
There are different ways to host a craft-along. The two most common ways are via a dedicated website, blog, or forum like Ravelry, or through social media platforms like Instagram or Facebook. Recently, the use of Patreon is growing as an option, albeit a pay-for-participation option.
Regardless of how you host the craft-along, make sure you have it branded or easily identifiable. These days this means that you need to have a clear, unique hashtag. On Ravelry, this also means a dedicated forum. As the host, you need to see what people are doing. And you want, for the participants, a way to capture the community around the shared goal; for everyone to see each other and what they are doing.
Pick a Project
After you decide on hosting, it’s time to pick the project. You can be as broad as simply saying tops or cowls or bags. You can be as narrow as a specific quilt or pattern. A craft-along can be a great way to have people work through a difficult pattern together, for example. There is strength in numbers.
Colette Patterns, a clothing company, hosts sew-alongs on a dedicated site. They break down the construction step-by-step which puts the pattern into visual, detailed instructions. “After publishing sewing patterns and running a sewing blog, it became clear that everyone has more fun (and learns better) when they sew together. Sew-alongs provide a place for everyone to sew together, ask questions, and share techniques and advice. Having a dedicated space for sew-alongs means that the lessons remain accessible to anyone who might need them in the future,” says Meg Stively from Colette.
Create a Schedule
Even if you leave the information up indefinitely, there is also an advantage in working through the craft-along in a specific time frame. It provides both immediate marketing and a focus on getting people to act. That does take time and work though. “The biggest challenge is keeping up, as I like a fairly fast-paced process, and I need to sew a step ahead of the group so I can post my own progress for them. On top of keeping up with sewing and posting, I really like to see everyone’s progress every day if I can, which includes commenting, and encouraging them along,” says Jeske.
Set up a regular posting schedule. Once a week, every few days, whatever works for you. It should make sense for the project—make sure it provides enough time to get that part of the process done. While considering timelines also think about an ultimate deadline. The reason this may matter is if you have prizes or sponsorships tied to participating. You can have your craft-along sponsored and offer prizes for the finished projects or for participation.
Keep in mind, however, that a final deadline can be intimidating to some interested participants. Anne Weil, author and teacher of fiber techniques, recently completed her first knit-along. “Usually, I don’t participate in knit-alongs because I hate feeling behind. Fun knitting always comes last in my world, so I am eternally behind.”
Jeske suggests that you, as the participant, keep yourself going by participating at whatever scale works for you. Even if it means scaling down the project or ignoring the deadlines.
Debbie Jeske, host of popular improv quilt-alongs like the Cross Cut Quilt Along.
Photo courtesy of Debbie Jeske
Beyond deadlines, keeping the community aspect of the craft-along can encourage continued participation. Cook says she hires people to help with that aspect. “There’s no way I can now run our two largest annual knit-alongs alone so I have now hired helpers during those knit-alongs to help run and moderate the chat thread.”
All the hosts I spoke to agree though, staying on top of the project – rather, one step ahead – is important. As is staying involved in the groups of participants, one way or another. The community doesn’t just exist because you put the project and the posts out there. Think of yourself as the host of the party and it is up to you to keep the conversation going. Finally, be cognizant of the fact that there are multiple projects out there demanding people’s attention and time. You can’t always predict what will catch on and be a social media sensation.
Sharon McConnell from Color Girl Quilts is currently running a quilt-along and expressed some frustration at this challenge. “I think there are just so many things going on that it’s really hard to break through the noise.”
The contradiction then becomes that you have to market your craft-along, yet the craft-along is, in essence, a marketing tool. But all hosts agree, the community-building aspect is worth the time and the effort. Cook sums it up: “This will never equate to the amount of my time in a dollar value that goes into the knit-along. I don’t think that will ever happen in reality and I’ve made peace with that. It’s never been something that was intended to bring in income or immediate financial return. It was always simply a place for me to meet new women and share our knitting and I think that’s where it will remain.”
Cheryl is a quilter, writer, and teacher. She enjoys her Morning Make in the tiny sewing room in her Calgary, Alberta basement.
Ebony Love, of Love Bug Studios does quilt alongs, she’s done a number of them using the fabric for Downton Abbey. Her quilt alongs are profitable because she sells kits for them, I think the kits are precut fabric and fabric bundles. So it is possible to have them be profitable, as well as marketing and community building. Ebony is a brilliant business woman and I strive to be more like her!
I have hosted quite a few QALs, from the “traditional” short-term quilt along focused on a specific pattern, to year-long beginner-friendly sampler quilt alongs to develop a particular skill. The shorter QALs are definitely more a marketing tool – a great way to get a boost in sales and excitement (and publicity) about your latest pattern. But I have found that the longer term are the best by far for developing a community, who then remain emotionally invested in your brand, and are more likely to purchase further products.
Either way, they are a lot of work, and definitely requires a commitment as the host to stay on top of everything.