About Stitching Festivals

I went to the Spirit of Cross Stitch's Sacramento festival in October, 1994, my first one. I went alone, which seemed a bit daunting, as I'm not the type to vacation by myself. I'm very glad I did! Here's what I learned that first year.


I took along a little box with scissors, needles, a half-dozen straight pins, and a needlethreader. Had I had a Q-Snap, I'd have taken that, too, but I did fine without it. You can stitch "in hand" most of the time because often in class you're not stitching for extended periods that much (see below). I was taking the class on making twisted braids, so I also took my husband's electric drill with a piece of coathanger wire bent into a J shape. I did not take stretcher bars or a scroll frame and didn't miss them.

Light in hotel rooms is worse than abysmal, so consider taking a 100-watt bulb to convert a hotel lamp to a halfway-decent stitching lamp. If you will have classes on high-count fabrics, having an around-the-neck-rest-on-the-chest magnifier will enable you to work on these projects in the evening in your room. There's nothing worse than having all these great projects and not being able to stitch them after class is over because you can't see what you're doing!

Addendum: There's a stitchers' lounge at festivals, now, so plan to stitch there in "off hours." It's open 24 hours a day, and there's always several students and teachers there. If you want to stitch in your room, tho, take that 100-watt bulb.

I also took a sheaf of notebook paper in a file folder and a pen that wrote easily ("gliding" ink, not one I'd have to press down with; don't want to aggravate that tendinitis!) I put this all in a briefcase, along with my "purse stuff" (glasses, hairbrush, credit card (!), etc.). (A backpack or a tote with a shoulder strap is also good because your hands are free.) I didn't bother with a purse.

Don't forget your glasses.

I did not bother to take any stitching project from home, and I wasn't sorry. (If you're traveling by public transportation and just know you can't possibly endure the trip without stitching, take something really small that won't take up much room on the way back because you'll have LOTS of other stuff to take home!)

Post 9/11 note: Don't bother with a project at all if you're flying. Take a book. This is little enough of a sacrifice to avoid holding up the security check lines, put in place after this horrible tragedy.


I packed as lightly as possible, clothingwise, as I knew I'd have to carry it all. Flat shoes and elastic waistbands were the order of the day.

Took about $20 cash per day but used hardly any of it. Put everything I could on plastic; in case there was a dispute about contents or quality, I could refuse to pay that portion of the bill until things were straightened out.

Class Strategy

I planned to absorb as much knowledge as I could--take great notes--rather than allot a lot of time to actual stitching. As I registered kind of late, I didn't get all the classes I wanted--only 50% of them, actually. I could have handled more, I think, though some people spoke of getting "burned out" w/a lot of classes. Guess I have a high tolerance for classes! Or maybe they had all been there taking classes since Thursday.

In many classes, there is not really time to stitch a lot and take good notes, too, though I tried valiantly. If pushed to the wall, I'd advise you to opt for the notes so you'll remember what to do when you get home and want to finish the class project.

Some classes are purposely longer so that there is more time to stitch; these are the 4+-hour classes. The class description booklet will tell you in a general way whether there'll be time to do a lot of stitching in the class. But don't expect to complete anything in class! You might be able to complete some of the small projects in your hotel room at night, though!

Sit in the front of the class. Show up about 10 minutes early if you can so you can get a good seat. Classes in which there is stitching have long tables with each seat equipped with a Dazor lamp. If you have back trouble, you might want to pack your favorite lumbar support pillow, as the chairs are not all that wonderful.

Merchandise Mall Strategy

I had in mind a couple things I wanted to look for and buy if I found.

As I strolled around, if I saw something I liked, I asked myself my two favorite purchasing questions: (1) Can my local shop order this? (2) A year from now, will I wish I had purchased it? Regret that I spent the money? That is, will I kick myself later, if I don't purchase it now?

Consequently, the stuff I was certain I could get later I didn't bother with. Unique stuff (stuff I'd never seen advertised or in local shops), I got. I wasn't sorry with this strategy, either.

Merchandise Mall

Many of the booths had a freebie chart if you bought something. Others (fewer) had freebies stacked out for the taking. Some had no freebies. I found my briefcase VERY useful because I acquired a lot of paper! Sometimes I was able to get a second copy for my mom. Also, my purchases fit inside the briefcase and I didn't have a lot of separate shopping bags to lug around.

The mall tends to be overwhelming because it's so big and crowded. Not many children, though, thank goodness. No strollers are allowed, so you don't have to worry about tripping over a stroller.

Some of the "personalities" in cross stitch were there, doing booth duty (it's a trade show, after all!), and they seemed either ill at ease, shifting from one foot to another, waiting for someone to come up and speak to them; or outgoing and friendly, striking up conversations with those in and outside the booth.

There are also mini-classes in the mall ("Make It and Take It"). Here I had my first taste of Hardanger. It was about 30 people (others turned away), and the teacher didn't have a microphone, so it was very hard to hear her. These classes cost about $5 each, and if you can get a seat close to the teacher, it's a good bargain to try out a technique you have never tried. These don't run continuously. You have to find the booth(s) where the mini-classes are held, note the time of the next class, and be there 15 minutes before class time to get a seat. No sign-ups ahead of time, unfortunately. The Hardanger was the only one I took, though I noted one on duplicate stitch and another on stuffed animals; there were others, too.

Don't expect "special show prices" on much of anything. My impression was that everything was regular price. The exception was the cross stitch software; these folks were willing to make a deal. If you buy quite a bit at one booth (say $100), I'd ask for a discount (try for 20%); you might not get it, but you might! (I did!)

If you want to see about getting articles or designs published, the merchandise mall is the place to find someone from the editorial staff of a large number of magazines. You may have to ask when the editor is going to be in the booth and make a special trip if you want to talk to that person.

The software people will give you very nice hands-on demos. Don't be afraid to ask. You may have to wait in line, though.

The shoppers are friendly and polite. No aggression or grabbing that I noticed. You can strike up a conversation with anybody! When you're a stitcher, nobody's a stranger!

There's an area of the mall that sells snacks (and unhealthy lunches, such as hotdogs!), and you just plop down and introduce yourself to everybody at the table and join the discussion (no problem for readers of RCTN!). They'll tell you about what classes and teachers were especially good, which were a disappointment, or about the Make-It-Take-It (MITI) classes in the mall or whatever. Good place for more info.

Special Stitcher

I wasn't going to buy the special stitcher pass because I didn't care anything about the totebag or the early registration. I went to get a one-day pass to the merchandise mall and found that the line snaked around the convention center! Ugh! It was worth the $18 not to stand in line for 2 precious hours. Also, I got to thinking that early registration might be a good thing too, since I hadn't gotten all the classes I wanted. So I bought it and was glad I did it.

2001 Update: CATS calls this being a member.

Schedule of Events

The Festival started on a Wed. and ended on Sunday. The Wed. classes were all-day ones. That night was a "slumber party" ($20) with food (chocolate!!!) and a complimentary nightshirt. The idea was to come and stitch and socialize. This sounded like fun, but I didn't arrive until Sat. morning!

Thursday had all-day and partial-day classes. Thursday night was a lecture with slide presentation on historic samplers.

Friday had same class set-up. This was also the first day the merchandise mall was open, and special stitchers got in an hour early; open to public at 10 a.m. This was also the day to register your pieces for the competition. It seems that sending your work by UPS (if you're not there on Fri.) is not allowed; must register in person; or at least, that is my understanding. There were tours to Historic Sacramento and the local vineyards that afternoon for those interested (extra cost); don't know how many did this--maybe for family members who weren't into stitching! That evening was a progressive sampler ($40), which I was really sorry I missed. As I understand it, the thing opens with a buffet supper and then each person gets a kit. You visit 8 tables, each staffed by a designer or teacher, where you learn 8 specialty stitches. Imagine this makes up into a band sampler, though I don't know for sure. Each year features 8 different specialty stitches.

Saturday had same class set-up. In the morning was another one-hour head-start in the merchandise mall for special stitchers; it opened to general public at 10 a.m. Saturday evening was the big banquet ($37), which also featured a panel discussion by three married couples who work together in the cross stitch business, either as designers or as shop owners. Probably was very good, but I opted for a class and had a lovely dinner by myself, reading at the table (my mom would be appalled!) from two books I had purchased.

Sunday is more classes, which end about noon. There is a Sunday Sampler Breakfast run on the same general plan as the Friday night thing: breakfast buffet plus sampler (band sampler?) with a number of decorative stitches taught by a number of designers/teachers ($40). Results of the competition are posted in the mall, after which you pick up your pieces. Mall closed at 4 pm, but I didn't stick around that late because I had a 2-hr drive and didn't want to get bogged down in all the traffic coming back from weekend trips to the mountains

Last-Minute Changes

There was a bulletin board in the lobby for messages to other attendees and also to advertise classes wanted and classes willing to be sold. Sometimes you can find an opening by going to the registration table, but by and large, what you get back in your confirmation packet is what you'll end up with.

2001 Update: Nowadays, if you want to change classes, you go to the Class Information Desk, although some stitchers do find friends who take their places informally, working out the money between them.


This is quite variable. I don't think so much in the quality of the knowledge but in the quality of teaching skill. Is enough time allotted? How much is "wasted" in opening remarks, personal anecdotes, allowing class members to take the floor with anecdotes and thus interrupt the presentation of knowledge? How is the class paced? Too much too fast? Or a good glump and then time to absorb it? How does teacher handle distractions and control class dynamics?

You'll have a class evaluation form to fill out. Be very blunt. If the teacher was terrific but the project was the pits, say so. If the teacher was in a terrible mood and was rude to the class, say so. If there wasn't enough time allotted for the complexity of the project, say that. If the teacher was not prepared, say that. If you adored the class and the teacher, let them know. I sat next to a lady who is on the staff and she told me they DO read every comment. So if you want that teacher to return next year (or NEVER to return!), say so candidly.


Kits seemed to be complete and of good quality. Most don't come w/any real instructions, though, and since you'll be completing 98% of the kit at home, this would have been a real help. That's why it's important to take good notes! Make drawings, too.

Other Attendees

You'll find a wide range of knowledge at the festival. There were some folks who were beginners and others who were teachers and designers themselves (suspect some were model stitchers, too). I had always thought I knew pretty much about cross stitch, but I was sure wrong! I learned so much!! Go with an open attitude and humility, and you'll profit a great deal. Don't be afraid to ask questions, but limit telling anecdotes in class about yourself and your experiences (other stitchers don't want to hear it; they want to stitch and hear the teacher).

1994 Addendum: Some newsgroup readers said that the eat-and-stitch classes were not too successful. Food was not served efficiently, was cold, couldn't have been tasty when hot, etc. (This is, of course, a function of the venue rather than the festival itself.) Other readers said there was not enough time to wash up well before stitching and the bathrooms were packed. They suggested taking a packet of wet-wipes in case you can't get to the sink in time to get back for the opening of the class portion.

1995 Addendum: The quality of the written instructions in the kits changes with the teacher.

There were fewer freebies in the mall in 1995. A BIG disappointment. I don't think the booth folks understand how important these are to stitchers. I hope 1996 is better in this regard. Just CrossStitch and Cross Stitch and Country Crafts magazines did have free samples, and THAT was very nice! I hope the other magazines will follow suit in 1996.

If the title in the class booklet didn't describe what was in the class, say that. Your comments DO count.

I took 14 classes in 1995 (Wed. night through Sun.) and it wasn't too much, but some folks might not like such a heavy schedule. True, it did leave less time for shopping in the mall! Maybe this was a good thing?!

AOLers met Friday night (for some serious chocolate consumption, I understand) and RCTNers met Saturday night (ditto on the chocolate). Am sure there are similar get- togethers at other SOX sites; watch RCTN for info on this!

1996 Addendum. The Cross Stitcher Magazine had a nice "lounge" in the hotel (Sacramento venue), which I hope they continue. Comfy seats and individual lights! Also complimentary copies of their latest issue.

1997 Addendum. This year I join the participants as a teacher!

1998 Addendum. Here we go again!

1999 Addendum. Yet another year!

2000 Addendum. Still teaching!

2001 Addendum. Still teaching!

2002 Addendum. Still teaching!

2003 Addendum. Still teaching!

2004 Addendum. Still teaching!

2005 Addendum. Still teaching! See my class descriptions for this year at http://www.marthabeth.com/CATS2005.html.

Get stitching on that @ nametag! (Sarah Newberry's @ chart is on Kathy Dyer's RCTN home page.) Just remember NOT to use Tahiti!

copyright 1996-2005, Martha Beth Lewis
Contact me about reprint permission.

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