Kitting for Needlework Classes

This isn't as easy as it sounds! You don't just buy the stuff and divvy it up into separate bags! Here's what I've learned so far regarding kitting for commercial needlework festivals/shows.

What Do You Need?

If you are teaching more than one class, you'll need a summary of kit items so you can place orders for all similar items (floss, beads, fabric, etc.) at once and thereby save on shipping costs.

For each class, excise the kit materials list from the handout. (This should square with the kit materials on your proposal.) Then compile an overall list of what you need. Transfer this into a giant table in a word-processing program, keeping like items together. List threads by type and by color number within type. List fabric by type and thread count and then color number within each larger group; list the cut size of each as a further breakdown.

Don't forget to list bags for putting the kits in. There are needles. There may be beads, charms, stuffing, ribbons, pins, and so on. List all little extras.

Free/Discounted Product

The show personnel can tell you which companies are supporting the endeavor with free product and which, if any, are offering a discount off wholesale and/or waiving minimum purchases.

If you are using free product, such as cotton floss, do put full skeins in your kits. Students will wonder why you're being so chintzy in giving them a yard or two when it's free of cost to you, but most important, it's not ethical to take free product meant for needlework shows and use it later for kits you sell on the open market.

Ordering

Order early. Expect at least 4 weeks for delivery. If you haven't received your shipment 4 weeks after your order, follow up actively. You are one of many teachers.

For free product, shipping is generally also free. If you buy product, shipping costs may or may not be billed.

If you are new to this sort of thing, expect to pay in advance by check or credit card before a company will send your order. After you have demonstrated credit-worthiness, you -may- rate being invoiced after your order is shipped. Usually you will have to fill in a credit application.

Within **no longer than 2 days** after your order arrives, open the box to see that everything is there. Check against your summary. You want to leave yourself time for a second shipment in case something is incorrect or missing.

**Count everything!** Do not trust the shipper's count.

**Measure yardage!** If you ordered yard goods, measure the shortest distances, as cutting lines are sometimes not exactly straight and perhaps the yardage was measured along the shortest length.

**Check fabric cuts to be sure they are on the straight of grain!**

What if you're kitting on a fine Sunday afternoon, when your local shopkeepers are all at home stitching, and you find you need another yard of fabric or three more skeins of rayon floss? You're stuck, that's what! Avoid this by looking over your order carefully and thoroughly as *soon as it arrives*. Don't wait until it's time to kit!

Take an "emergency pack" to the show with at least one of every cut of fabric and every thread, etc. for each class. (If the unbelievable happens, arrange to mail the student the missing item. If the student must share with another, mail both of them the item one student was missing, along with appropriate letters.) You may have items for your emergency pack in the house or you may need to buy some/all of them.

Threads

Generally, threads are packed 12 to a box. This is true of DMC products (which is what I use)...except for pearl cotton, which comes 10 to a box. (I do not know how Anchor or JP Coats threads are packed from the factory. If anyone knows and would like to e-mail me, I'll update here.)

Specialty threads generally come loose (however many of a specific length you want are counted out and put in one bag; you twist them into hanks if desired). Kreinik can custom-make spools of thread in smaller put-ups than their retail spools. This can reduce your kit costs, as these are expensive threads. Contact them for specifics.

Caron threads come in hanks which are larger versions (10- and 40-yard hanks) of the skeins from your local shop. If you don't need to give each student a full "shop hank," should allow time to separate large hanks into smaller ones for kits.

Here's how I do it. Cut hanks clear through at the knot; this creates one-yard lengths. Decide how many you need for the kit. Fold the group of them in half and tie them in an overhand knot. Or, put the folded end through a hole in a piece of cardboard and fasten the group of strands onto the cardboard with a lark's head knot. As far as how much of this kind of thread to put in the kit if you don't want to put in a whole "shop hank" because it will drive kit price up: keep track of what you used as you stitched the model and double this amount for the kit.

Treat silk and rayon threads with extra care; don't snag them. Consider putting them in a smaller bag within the kit, especially if there are a lot of them (ex.: the piece is stitched all in silks).

Needles

DMC needles are packed 6 to a package, except for #13 needles, which are 2 per, and #28 needles, which are 5 per. Expect quite a bit of breakage in class with #28s; they're fragile. I've even had them break as I'm putting them in kits! Take 24 extra #28s. Also, people will lose needles or bend them; take 12extras of each size, except #13 (6 of these should do the trick).

Most projects will be stitched with a #24 needle. A lot of people like a #28 for knot stitches because the eye is doesn't bulge so much (relative to the shaft of the needle), disrupting the knots as it is pushed through. A #28 also can be used for beading.

Where are you going to put the needle(s) in the kit? You cannot stick them through the project cloth, as this is bad form! We are not to store our needles in our project cloths, as this risks rust on the fabric. Even though everyone does it from time to time, we teachers must set a good example by not doing this in our kits! We have other options, though:

Lois Norford has a "matchbook" fashioned from a business card. Instead of matches, a piece of aida is stapled inside, and needles are mounted in that. Clever Lois!

Fabrics

Take great pains to keep fabrics flat in the kit. You may have to iron some or all of them before kitting. After kits are made, be sure to store them flat so the fabric stays nice.

If the project cloth is too big for the bag, carry all of them separately rather than fold them to get them in the kit bags. Your students will appreciate this. (And tell them why their project cloths are not in their bags, in case there are a couple who didn't notice your sensitivity!)

Zweigart will cut fabric to your specifications at no extra charge, which is a real blessing for someone with RSI! I do not know what other companies do. (If you do, e-mail me so I can update here.)

I am a big fan of doodlecloths. Not only are they a good place to park the kit needles and pins, but they give the student something other than the project cloth on which to try out new stitches.

A doodlecloth should be no smaller than 4x4". If you have many stitches and techniques in your kit, it might need to be larger. Do -not- assume your student knows anything beyond cross stitch and backstitch (and some may not know that, either!). Many times students select classes that are beyond their ability because they like the project or have heard good things about the teacher or they simply underestimate their skills, so you'll have a mixture of ability levels in any class you teach. (What to do about this, vis a vis teaching, is a separate essay!)

Bags

Most projects will require a plastic bag to keep everything together. I've heard tell of kits that arrive in metallic paper totes with carrying handles: the fabric is rolled and tied up with a ribbon and the other materials are similarly "presented," as though Martha Stewart were in on the job.

Stoney Creek does many of their kits in "department store-type" shirt boxes, done up with a ribbon.

Zipper-top bags are the standard. Especially if you are shipping your kits, an extravagant kit presentation really is not feasible. You certainly cannot ship the kits in this format. And you probably will not have time in your hotel room the night before to arrange kit materials and tie pretty bows!

I think an open-ended bag is an invitation to disaster. Everything will fall out during shipping -and- your students will lose pieces of the kit between class and their homes. You definitely need something with a closure.

Bags with zipper locks are thing to select, in my estimation.

A regular gallon Zip-Loc bag from the grocery store is tall enough for a sheet or two of paper, but it won't hold very many of them. If your kit has only 3 sheets of paper and few skeins of floss, a grocery store zipper bag -may- be big enough, but do a mock-up before you buy 300 of them!

Most teachers use bags that are designed for holding a sheaf of paper. I prefer a 9x12" bag.

You also may need some small bags to isolate tiny items, such as pins or beads. I like 2x2" or 2x3" bags for this purpose.

I also have used quart-size zipper bags from the grocery store, particularly for notebook classes, where the handout itself is in a 3-ring binder but where a 9x12" bag for the doodlecloths, floss, and needle is overkill. (An over-large bag also makes it hard to pack the kits so they arrive on site looking pristine rather than like they wrestled a sheepdog and lost.)

Bags come in various thicknesses. The thicker the stronger. I use 2-mil bags and find them perfectly adequate in strength.

You may encounter a problem with ordering bags, as many plastics manufacturers have a large minimum order (number of units and/or money!). I have dealt with BagsPlus and have been very happy. They are willing to sell small amounts (100s), and their minimum order is $15. I have found the quality of these bags to be excellent (no damaged ones among the group), and the count to be accurate. If you need 100 and you order 100, inspect your order **when it arrives** and see that you actually have 100, as having no extras is "cutting it too close."

Another place you may be able to find bags is at your local needlework shop. The owner may sell you some if you don't need very many, or you may be able to piggy-back your order on the shop's next order (of course, this means you must plan quite far ahead!).

Bags may be available on the open market, too. In my area, there's a store called TAP Plastics, which sells all kinds of plastic things, including bags. There may be a similar store near where you live, too. Call around to packaging stores if you can't find something like TAP in the phone directory.

If you have leftover kits, it's unlikely that the bag can be reused next year, as it's "traveled" quite a big and looks shopworn. Keep it to bag stuff from your studio or stash. Students deserve brand new bags.

Paper Handout

Your handout is -you- when the student goes home. Make it a good one.

If you think writing a handout is easy, wait until you try it!

Here are some suggestions about how to write a class handout:

When doing layout for your handout, be generous with the margins so students have somewhere to write notes and make sketches.

Draw large diagrams. Be consistent with numbering systems for stitch construction, etc. Ask your proofer to check for this, too.

Include a master chart, even if there are some/many subsidiary charts within the handout. The students need to know relationships between one small area and the others, as well as one small area and the whole. Put the master chart on the last page so it can be ripped off without dismembering the handout.

Some teachers place all stitch diagrams together. Others place stitch diagrams in the handout as they will be needed in the project (my preference).

You may need to produce special stitch diagrams for left-handed stitchers, particularly knot stitches or edge-finish stitches (nun's stitch, hemstitching). A short-cut option is to photocopy the handout only on one side of the page. Left-handers can turn the page over for a left-handed diagram.

There should be a color image of your project somewhere on the handout; on the front cover is the most common place. In the past, this has been a photograph, but a scanned image also will work. I like this option a lot since I'm a lousy photographer (we have scrapbooks full of people with their heads cut off). Also, a scanned image can be made larger or smaller, as suits the page layout. Of course, a photo is sharper. But a photo must be copied (this isn't cheap) and then you must glue it in place and make sure it is parallel to the edges of the paper. For a scan, you need (or need access to) a scanner and a color printer. You decide.

Ask your copy center to make a "copy master" from your original. Sometimes the machine "eats" the papers being passed through it. If there is a lot of "handwork" on your handout, such as hand-drawn arrows or numbers in stitch diagrams, if your original is damaged, you will have to make a fresh copy and re-do the handwork. With a copy master, the shop can just make another copy master from your original.

Find out when it's a slow day/time at the copy shop. Go then. You'll get better attention to your job.

Don't forget to ask if you qualify for a volume discount!

You might qualify for a teacher's discount, too. Take some business cards.

Try to work with the same person(s) every time, as they will understand your special needs.

I bought an electric stapler, and boy, is it great! The hand stapler put a real strain on my RSI. The copy shop will staple the handouts if I want them to, but if I have to put on a colored first page, then I have to staple at home. If you do a lot of handouts, do consider an electric stapler. (And it's deductible.)

Note: another digression. I also bought a paper cutter, and I have used it numerous times: creating needlepapers, trimming pages to size, etc.

On my the front page of my handouts, I also put my mailing address, phone/fax numbers, e-mail addy and URL so students can contact me if they have questions. Some teachers glue their business card somewhere on the handout or give it out as part of the kit; others photocopy the business card as part of a page of the handout. It's up to you if you want to put contact information on your handout; not all teachers do.

Actually Kitting

Here's where you thought the party started!

Do not underestimate the time it takes to kit. You can easily spend an afternoon doing one class. I like to kit all my classes in one glorious flowering of activity; I leave the mess spread out in the dining room rather than clean up and put it out the next day.

Where you kit and whether you can walk away from it depends on your and your family's tolerance for clutter, whether you have an alternate location for whatever activity was displaced, or whether you have a studio on which you can just close the door and walk away!

Ok, so spread out the items for one class on a large table or long counter. Check the list of kit contents to make sure -everything- is there. Check the printed materials summary table for all classes, this class's handout, and the proposal to make sure you didn't leave anything out. Kitting is like fixing Chinese food: -everything- must be ready ahead of time.

Many needlework classes are designed for 12 or 24 students. This is convenient because threads are packed in 12s (except for DMC pearl cotton, of course!). I'm going to use a class for 24 students as the example here.

Put every -type- of thing in one pile. Place threads in one area. Put fabric in another. A third will be a round-up of your miscellaneous goods, such as beads, needles, etc.

Now spread each type into "pick up piles," keeping like things in adjacent groups (ex.: all threads together).

Decide what you want on the "bottom" of the kit (that is, next to the paper handout in the bag). Usually this will be the fabric, as you want to keep it as flat as possible.

Now divide each pile in half. You'll have 12s in each pile. Place the second set of 12s aside so you are working with only one set of 12. Doing this creates a half-way point, as well as a checkpoint. Without a checkpoint, if you end up with one skein of floss left when you're finished kitting, you'll have to paw through all 24 kits to find out which one is missing #500. By having a checkpoint, you will have to paw through only 12.

Count and re-count and re-count your piles to make sure you have 12 of everything in each. You can be sure you've kitted correctly -only- if you are absolutely sure you have 12s in all piles. All this counting must go on before a single item is placed in a bag.

If your kit is very complex, or you're new at this, you might want to work in 6s as a checkpoint.

See if you can devise some sort of mantra to say aloud while kitting, such as "1-2-3 fabrics, 1-2-3-4-5 flosses, 2 balls [such as balls of pearl cotton], and 2 smalls [such as little bags of beads]."

Always work from the same side of the piles to the other. Be as methodical as you can.

Kit while the house is quiet. You don't want kids underfoot or visitors. Turn off the TV. Put the answering machine on the phone. If you want music, make it a soothing instrumental (words from lyrics will get muddled up in your mantra); I like Mozart a lot when I kit!

Some teachers have folks help them kit, but I prefer to do it myself because I know it's done correctly and if there's a problem I know it's a difficulty that's my fault. Some teachers pay their local shops to assemble kits for them. I know if I did either of these things that I'd take the kits all apart and re-count everything, so this doesn't make sense for me because the worst possible scenario is to have a kit that is missing something!

Squeeze air out of each bag before sealing it. This will reduce bulk in shipping cartons. Do it at the kitting point, rather than having to go back and "handle" each kit again to add this step at the packing point.

All right, let's say I've done up 6 kits. At this point, I do a check to see that I have 6s left in all piles. If not, I have to inspect only 6 kits instead of 12. (Once you have to go through all your kits to check which one is missing the #28 needle, you'll understand that I'm not being overly compulsive in re-counting and double-checking!)

At the end of the first 12, count for finished kits. Now do the second 12 kits. Count to make sure you have 24 complete kits.

As you make the kits, if possible, place them in the box you're going to use for shipping. This will save you the step of repacking.

Packing

Try to pack only one class per carton, as this eases things immensely on the other end, when time is short and you're under pressure.

If there is more than one carton per class, label them "1 of 2" and "2 of 2," and so on.

Good packing cartons are hard to come by! The cartons in which photocopy paper comes tend to be good and sturdy. They are also exactly the size of 8 1/2x11" paper, so two kits can fit side by side. Some paper cartons are sturdier than others. Tell your buddy at the copy shop to start setting aside some of your "favorite" boxes a week or so before you come in for the copy job. If the shop can't keep them until then or think they might be filched for some other purpose, make the effort to go down and pick them up to keep the cartons safe for the greater good of needlework!

After your carton has made a trip to and from your home, it's dead. Don't reuse it for another shipping adventure. You'll be displeased when the carton disintegrates and all your goodies go flying all over the cargo hold.

For notebook classes, order your 3-ring binders in unopened factory cartons. Make sure the cartons have no perforations on them, as these will split during shipping, even if you tape everything well. Request binders in -unopened- factory cartons with no dents. You'll have to be emphatic about this, however, to get it, but don't feel you're being "too picky." You are doing the buying, by cracky, and you want to get what you want to buy. It is often difficult for women to be firm if the items are not what they ordered but "will do." Baloney! If you saw notebooks in unsealed factory cartons on the top shelf but were given notebooks in open cartons, politely decline and state your preference again. ("Oh, dear! These are open cartons! I really do need sealed ones. I saw some on the top shelf. Up there. How may I help you get those down?")

If you have balls of pearl cotton or sewing thread, you will note that this causes the kit to be lumpy on just one end, which is where the greater weight of these items settles. These asymmetrical bags also make packing difficult. What I do is alternate ends and face-up/face-down to even out the lumps. The first layer goes face-up with the pearl cotton ball at the bottom. The next layer goes face-down with the pearl cotton ball at the top. This gives me a relatively flat surface as I fill the box.

If you cannot get everything for one class into the same carton/set of cartons, **make a note on your class teaching plan** (the notes you teach by) that says where these things are located! I learned this the hard way, working up a good sweat in my teaching clothes, trying to find one little package of things for a class. I had 19 different boxes to look through, too, and I can tell you it was very stressful, as I feared being late to class. *Your class teaching notes should say where **everything** needed for that class may be found in your shipping cartons.* Trust me: you will -not- remember that you put the small bag of beads for Class A into the carton for Class F.

You may or may not have a teachers' room, in which to store your cartons, at the festival. It may or may not be locked.

If you don't have one, borrow or purchase a wheeled luggage cart with strong bungee cords for toting your cartons to class. Make sure you can stack two cartons on the base and still have the bungee cords reach.

If you must buy a cart, it's a deductable expense.

Shipping

You probably will have to spring for an expensive shipping service such as UPS or FedEx because you need guaranteed-day delivery at the show. Be sure to include this expense (to and from) in your class costing. (I spent about $200 in 1997 to ship 11 cartons FedEx from California to Knoxville, TN. In 1999, I spent $200 to ship 14 cartons UPS from California to Des Moines, IA.)

Usually, staff arrives at the festival site on the Monday before the Festival opens on Wednesday. You want your boxes to arrive that same Monday. If there are any problems, you have a day or so to yell at the shipping service so they can find them. Be sure you are *crystal clear* with staff about delivery date and also with the carrier. Find out the number to call to check on delivery and your shipping number. (Some companies allow you to track your own packages, via their Website; make sure you have all the carton numbers.) Be diligent. You can imagine the disaster if your kits do not arrive....

Fill "headspace" in the cartons with wadded up paper. Packing peanuts are not only bad for the environment, but you'll have a terrible mess unpacking at the other end. Have you ever chased a couple dozen packing peanuts you spilled on the floor? In the classroom with students watching?

Some teachers who teach at festivals have special "trunks" for shipping their kits.

In addition to your "1 of 2" of multiple cartons for the same class, also number all your cartons in the shipment so you'll know everything reached the destination: "1 of 18," "2 of 18," etc.

Label the boxes with the destination address in a consistent way. This helps insure all your cartons make it on time because it makes the address easier for the shipping company to read. Here is what FedEx asked me to do. On the top of each carton, the label should be in the lower right corner. For each of the 4 sides (not the bottom), the label should be in the upper right corner. The shipper will tell you how it prefers labeling to be done.

UPS said I needed a label only on the box top, but they got the "full treatment," too, as I -really- want my cartons to arrive in time and at the right destination. If a little more work for me improves the odds, I do it.

Obviously, you will need a -lot- of labels (5 per carton!). How to do this:

If you do your own, you can control font and point size. Save these to reuse next year, updating as needed. Use the label from the first show as the template for the other shows. Save the files separately.

For my first festivals, I hand-carried my models in my briefcase, well padded in bubble wrap. That made for a heavy haul in the airports. Now I pack the model among the kits for the class, making sure that no kit item will gouge the mat or frame.

Another option is to pack the models together. Again, make sure that the hanging apparatus or corner of a framed model doesn't dent the mat or frame of another. Start collecting bubble wrap. If you don't have enough, you can buy it at office supply stores or packing stores.

For the return trip, you may have extra kits or other items to bring home. You might get lucky and have such a small amount that you can take it home as checked baggage. Consolidate into as few cartons as possible. Maybe some will fit in your suitcase; at this point in the adventure, it doesn't matter if your clothing is wrinkled. Put those kits in there if they'll fit! (Don't trash the kit, though! You'll want to keep it for the next time you teach the same class.)

You may have to beg the gate agent, if there is a raised eyebrow at the number of cartons you want to send as checked baggage. Usually you'll have better luck with begging the curb check-in rather than the inside agent, so try at the curb first. Some airports do not have curb check-in, alas.

In either case, if you have too many cartons, here are two options:

Shipping with a carrier from the actual show site is -extremely- expensive. You are a captive audience. I don't recommend this.

Take pre-prepared labels with your home/business address for the return trip. You'll also need a roll or two of strong shipping tape (the clear kind, so you can put it over the shipping label) and a permanent marker with a -wide- nib. I also carry a little retractable-blade cutter (Olfa Touch-Knife) that I got at the office supply store. Great for opening cartons at the other end and for cutting tape to pack stuff for the return trip.

Since your cartons have been through two trips (one from their origination point to your store and one from your home to the festival site), they have started to "sag." For the trip home, use the strong tape you brought to gird each carton *in all three directions.* You don't want to know how stuff is tossed around in shipping. It's easy for the carton to split open and spill your wedding sampler kits from here to Albuquerque. Run the tape -at least- 3 or 4 times in each direction. Yes, the carton will mostly be covered in tape. Hey! Tape is cheap. Kit supplies and your time spent kitting aren't!

And as I mentioned earlier, after that box has gone to and from a festival, it's time to retire it to the recycling bin. Do this as soon as you get home so you won't be tempted to re-use it (or forget which carton it was that made the trip).

Leftover Kits

What if you have kits left over from a festival? The ideal situation is one in which you have no leftover kits from any class. But suppose you do? Now what?

Bring them home, packed carefully so they do not become shop-worn, and use them at the next festival site. After having done several shows, you'll have a good idea about registration for this class. Make a guess about registration for it at the final festival of the year and then add a kit or two to this count.

Notify staff before the opening of registration for that final festival and say you want to cap enrollment at the final festival site at a certain number. This way you lower the odds tremendously that you will be "stuck" with a large number of leftover kits. (If this class is to be repeated exactly, you can quit reading right here.)

For example, say it's a class for a maximum of 24. Festival site #1 has 16 stitchers in your class; site #2 has 11 stitchers; and site #3 has 17. The average registration for this class this year is 14.66 stitchers. Call it 15. How many on-site registrations were there for this class at the other three festivals? Say it's one on-site registration at one festival. I'd add two kits and cap registration at 17. You might have two kits left, but you can plunder its parts for some other use or give one each to your mom and auntie.

Another use for leftover kits is to teach the class at your local shop. Make it clear when you approach the shop owner that this class was taught at XYZ Festival this year.


I welcome input here about other shows, other suppliers, and topics about kitting I have not addressed.

copyright 1998-99, Martha Beth Lewis
Contact me about reprint permission.


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