When do you go PRO?

Something that I’ve been thinking about, and would love some input on – when do you call yourself a “professional” with your avocations/hobbies?

I was filling out entry blanks for a State Fair this morning, and I had to decide whether to enter in the “Adult (Amateur)” or the “Professional/Teacher” categories. I’m having some internal conflict about how to decide – am I a pro? A teacher?

To help out, they’ve provided the following definitions: PROFESSIONAL: A person who engages in an event or activity for monetary profit (more than $2,000) per year: a person who teaches and/or instructs a particular craft or skill (i.e. sewing, baking, and so on). AMATEUR: A person who engages in an event or activity as a pastime, rather than a profession. In the latter sense, I’m definitely an amateur textile worker – I work full time in an office for a nonprofit facility, and get a salary with benefits, and I love my day job and wouldn’t want to give it up. Weaving is definitely something I do as a pastime, for enjoyment.

I haven’t made any money actually selling my textile crafts, so I know I’m safe on that count. I’m not a professional weaver/spinner/silkworker, regardless of the level of sophistication I may achieve. If we figure price-of-goods-sold ($zero) minus price-of-yarn-and-books-purchased (don’t even want to add this up) then making money is sort of the opposite of what this pastime does for me. I like the fact that they put the dollar limit on it, so that you can differentiate between someone who sells a little on the side for pin money, and somebody who puts bread on the table with their weaving. I’ve won a couple of cash prizes by exhibiting my work, so far totalling the towering sum $175. I had a nice celebratory dinner and buy some books and yarn. Definitely not quitting my day job.

The teaching is where I start to get into sticky territory. I’ve taught classes in weaving, and a couple of workshops in silkwork, and in one case actually got paid enough to cover more than just my gas for the trip. I’ve been featured as a speaker for a couple of guild meetings. I’ve published an article in a national glossy knitting magazine, and there are folks who use my wormspit.com website for classroom curriculum material. Despite all that, teaching is not something I do on a weekly or even monthly basis. All told, between the teaching, speaking, and writing, I haven’t made a thousand dollars, quite. I’d like to work this in such a way that it continues to give me a little extra cash for doing something that I love doing – but does it make me a professional teacher? I do my best to behave professionally in all my dealings, but I know that’s not the same thing.

I ended up going with the Amateur category, partly because there was no pro category for handspinning (that tells you something right there, doesn’t it?) – and although they didn’t say so, I’m applying their dollar limit to the teaching aspect in my own mind. I’m interested to hear what others think about it; I know that several of you have dealt with similar situations in your arts/crafts/handwork.

39 replies
  1. rixende
    rixende says:

    I think the $ amount applied to teaching is a good rule of thumb. If you are not teaching on a regular basis, then I would say that you are not a pro. At a certain point, you will reach pro status with their rules, but not anytime soon.

  2. badcat42077
    badcat42077 says:

    Just a couple of cents-

    When I think of someone who would fall into the teaching category, it would definitely be someone whose primary employment/vocation was teaching.

    I look forward to seeing what you send to the fair this year.

  3. admin
    admin says:

    I’m planning to enter the Orangeganzine and Philip’s Laurel Ribbon – if he gets back from Pennsic with it in time. Otherwise, it may be something else for the woven category.

  4. hatchepsut
    hatchepsut says:

    i woudl say you claim yourself as a pro when that is your main staple for income. i think their guidlines are a pretty good measure. and as far as being a teacher it would have to involve you just teaching… no office job.

    it isn’t so much that you are professional acting or proficient in the task, but that it is your profession, feeding you, sheltering you, giving you all your neccasities… or close enough to all of them.

  5. admin
    admin says:

    I think the reason that the teaching issue gives me serious pause, is that there are almost *no* full-time weaving/textile teachers – there are a few in Universities, but it’s just a handful. Pretty much anybody that I can take a class from, makes their “real money” doing something else – whether it’s pushing paper or selling sheep. I’m sure it’s similar in a lot of the categories they’re judging – textiles end up in the same big hall with everything from photography to baked goods.

    I think from their $2,000 limit on the income from your work, that they’re anticipating the fact that the majority of the folks who have to worry about the distinction (as opposed to the folks who are really sure, one way or the other) are going to be in mixed-job or multi-job situations, or pushing the line back and forth. If you make $2,575 by selling a big show one year, but then you make $308 the next year, are you a some-time professional? A “former” professional? Just interesting food for thought.

  6. sskipstress
    sskipstress says:

    I don’t think the wording of their criteria means to consider the teaching in the money earned by the craft, but I can understand why you did consider it.

    For me it would depend on how regular your paid teaching gigs are. Do you teach them through a school where you have a certain number per session? Or are they basically one-off things? If the former, I’d seriously consider considering myself “professional/teacher” if I were in your shoes. If the latter, I would definitely consider myself “amateur” in the same situation.

    Years ago I stopped selling all of my sewing and knitting because it stopped being fun once I was making money at it. And I feel uncomfortable being reimbursed for more than travel expenses when I go teaching. But not everyone is weird like I am.

  7. admin
    admin says:

    I wanted to consider “teacher” on a similar ground with how they were ranking a “professional” – which is still clearly part-time, because you just can’t make ends meet on $2,000 gross per year.

    I haven’t ever actually sold *any* weaving. I’ve traded for lots of it – but I haven’t found anybody who wanted to pay me gobs of money for the stuff I do. But, if they want to pay me to teach, I’m all for that! I don’t have any interest in making it my full-time gig, but if it lets me buy more books and silkworms and heddles…

  8. sskipstress
    sskipstress says:

    Well, they’re talking $2000 net, I think, because they say “profit”, but still, you’re right, not enough to live on. And some of that will depend on what you sell where. I’ve seen pictures of your weaving that would easily sell for $600 in some markets, but wouldn’t get you $20 in others.

    From what I’ve been offered and not accepted to teach (60% of what they make on the class at $25/head), it would take a pretty steady situation to come even close to $2000 profit.

  9. sunfell
    sunfell says:

    I piddled around with PCs as a hobby for oh…about ten years before I landed a retail job selling them. Then, I got poached by the State of AR. to actually maintain them. I officially went ‘pro’ with my little hobby when I started doing it for a living and making pretty decent money doing so.

    I write as a hobby. I also started playing with a camera last week. I haven’t earned a red cent at either of these (although I am fairly well known in the community for my writing). Should I start making decent money writing or taking photos, I’ll consider myself a professional at that, too.

    Best of luck with your entries- from what I’ve seen of your work, you are a Master Craftsman.

  10. queer_ishmael_
    queer_ishmael_ says:

    Labels can assist as much as trap. I use the word professional when referring to myself as a psychic in some circles because people are weird and have more respect for my gifts when I say that I am a professional psychic. Um, what other kind is there? LOL!

  11. fragiletender
    fragiletender says:

    I don’t think that you’re wrong to consider yourself an amateur, despite having earnt some money from teaching. Textiles are your passion (very appropriate since the word ‘amateur’ derives from the word for love) but you don’t intend your craft to be how you earn your living.

    However, I think that using money to delineate between professional and amateur can be somewhat difficult in the field of art. I absolutely consider myself to be a professional artist: I trained for years, I regularly exhibit professionally, I think about and organise my art in a professional way and art is my main activity. It’s at the centre of my life. However, I’m not yet at the stage where I make money at it. I subsidise my art career by doing other part time jobs, as does almost every single artist I know, even some that I’d consider quite well established.

    In the contemporary art scene I’d say we have the following career path: student, graduate, emerging artist, established artist, famous artist. At the moment I’d categorise myself as an emerging artist.

    I’ve considered myself an artist for many years (even when I was a young mother and had no time to make any work!) but I started considering myself a professional about 2 years ago. It was about 2 years after I graduated and I was still consistently making art, exhibiting regularly, curating shows and running an artists’ group. One day it just suddenly struck me that I was really doing it, that I was a professional artist. I’ve deliberately organised my life in order to give myself enough space and time for my art, even though that has meant not having much money. I do sometimes consider getting ‘a real job’ but I just can’t do it – I can’t turn away from my vocation, it won’t bloody let me!

    So I guess to me the definition of a professional is to do with the position that art takes in someone’s life, their attitude towards their work and to others in their field rather than the money. That said, I’ll be bloody glad when (if!) I start making some money at it. I expect that to happen in the next couple of years and it’ll probably happen in related fields like teaching or curating first.

    This is just a personal definition though and the distinctions between professional and amateur may be different in craft.

  12. greyfortholly
    greyfortholly says:

    I think you chose appropriately for this particular fair.

    Do you, however, so the professional/teacher as a goal that you are aiming towards? Would you rather stick with the adventure in the many aspects of textiles that you have you feet already into?

    I don’t think P/T needs to be a primary income to qualify, but a large second. Enough to meet the dollar amount specified on the form in that category.

    How is that shawl coming?

  13. ruddawg
    ruddawg says:

    My definition of Pro will never fit

    I have always regarded you and your work as professional. Mostly because I could attain your level of skill in weaving and spinning with countless hours of practice, practice and swearing.

    My consideration of what makes a person a professional in what their craft takes into consideration more of the learned skill than the amount of $$$ they make. Its those people who do the things they do and make it seem sooo simple, until you try it yourself.

    I’m not bashing the State Fair people, they have to come up with some way to set the boundaries. The categories seem fair enough.

    BTW – the hubby was trying his hand at raising polyphemus, so I sent him to your site. He praised your photography skill – He’s got the degree in photography. He said that it took quite a bit of skill to get the pics of the larvae so sharp and clear for how small they were. So you can add insect photographer to your list of ‘professional’ skills!

  14. admin
    admin says:

    I’m thinking the same thing, about the PT income. I think the thing that really gives me pause, is that *most* of the “professional” and “teacher” level handweavers that I know, have “real jobs” and only do it as a side. There aren’t a lot of people who, when you meet them at a party, will answer that they’re handweavers or silk spinners, etc.

    The shawl is crawling along; I finally got some time in on it tonight, after a long absense. Still in the second repeat of the pattern.

  15. admin
    admin says:

    There was a time a few years ago, when I could reasonably answer that I was a freelance professional artist; I was making enough money on art that I was putting it on my tax returns as separate business, and had business cards for it, a logo, invoicing, etc. At that point, it was mostly wall work, including paint treatments, trompe l’oeil, stencilling, etc.

    I haven’t done that with my weaving. I’m OK with the amateur classification as far as the amateur/professional aspect goes – it’s the “teacher” aspect that caused me to think. I definitely qualify as a teacher for the techniques that I’m entering, but it’s not something that I’m doing on even a moderate part-time basis.

  16. garebear
    garebear says:

    In other fields there are amateurs who have greater skills and talents than many professionals — take photography as an example. Amateurs do it because they love doing it and advance their skills because the want to, not because they have to.

    I used to be an amateur photographer, then ended up being pro and I do it not because I want to, or because I’m good, but because I have to.

  17. admin
    admin says:

    Yup. It’s the “teacher” part of the Professional/Teacher category that gives me pause. I’m mentally applying “Professional” to both aspects – that is to say, I teach it, but not at a pro level – but their definition doesn’t really indicate that the teaching has a set level.

  18. spiderfarmer
    spiderfarmer says:

    Yeah, I understand that…but really, the amount that you teach now is more for love than for profession…and that’s why I would choose to not handicap myself in the pro/teacher category yet. 🙂

  19. admin
    admin says:

    Ironically, I’ve got more, and more various, competition in the non-pro category. So far as I know (from last couple of years) there are two people who enter into the Pro category, and there are a lot of very talented amateurs. I know that the money aspect of it makes a really important difference, but I don’t think my chances are better on the amateur side of the fence.

    Which is not to say that I wouldn’t go in planning to kick butt, either way.

  20. selkie_dido
    selkie_dido says:

    This is an aside, of sorts, but at my fair, they ask us to differentiate so that professionals do not receive special awards, such as Judge’s Choice. We do not have separate divisions for pro and amateur, though. (very small county.)

  21. spiderfarmer
    spiderfarmer says:

    Yeah…but how many of them grow their own silkworms? I mean, dude…that’s amazing. 🙂

    Ah, speaking of silk pods, do you recommend a supplier for soap silk?

  22. misoranomegami
    misoranomegami says:

    State fair? Crikey I was going to try to enter it this year but I forgot! 🙁
    See what they need is a third catagory between the 2 called ‘Expert’! An expert may be called upon to impart specific knowledge without knowing everything there is to know about the subject as a whole. I wouldn’t necesarily consider someone who taught knitting at Michael’s an expert knitter though by definition they’re a professional. I’ve known of people who got the job who knew just the basics but that was all they were teaching. Just in general: bad catagory names. But if you make things for yourself and your loved ones and do it for the experience and the joy then I’ld say amatuer.

  23. cgronlund
    cgronlund says:

    Okay, this got long…

    If you make $2,575 by selling a big show one year, but then you make $308 the next year, are you a some-time professional? A “former” professional? Just interesting food for thought.

    It is an interesting thought to kick around. As heavily into silk as you are–something that’s kind of different than say something like photography–becoming a “pro” is a bit more open. I think with something defined like photography or writing, when you pay the bills with it, you’re a pro. What you do isn’t as easy to define in those terms.

    Let’s assume you write a book about silk worms and textile stuff. I may be way off base, but there are more people dreaming of making it as fulltime writers and photographers than people dreaming about making silk and weaving. But if you write “the definitive book” about silk, from raising your own worms, making your own silk, and weaving your own wares–and there’s not the demand that allows you to do it fulltime–I’d still say you are pro. (And for the record, I think you have the ability to one day make this something more if you decided to go that route.)

    There are certain fields I’m not sure can be measured simply by money. And there are fields that can be measured, but it’s kind of the way you look at things.

    I am technically a professional writer. 100% of my income comes from writing (and some editing). But working on airplane manuals isn’t my dream writing gig. The stuff I’d rather be writing is supplemental income at best. Since I’m not making the bulk of my money from the writing I’m doing, I don’t consider myself a “pro” in that sense. Technically, I am since a form of writing pays the bills, but it’s not the writing I want to be doing.

    I have a friend who works in a bookstore. He writes on the side and is currently working on what he hopes becomes the definitive biography about Robert E. Howard (the guy who wrote Conan stories). With a book deal secured, he’s totally throwing himself into what he’s doing. This is what he wants to do more than anything–it’s a dream come true for him.

    But the audience for the book isn’t huge, and he’s not going to pay off his house from the money he makes. Still, it’s what he wants to do and it’s with a decent publisher. He may only bring home a couple grand with writing he does this year, while I’ll bring home a decent-enough amount of money from writing this year. But I’d say he’s the “pro” because he’s doing what he wants to do. He may make more than he’s thinking he’ll earn, and may make only a couple hundred bucks writing next year. But he can point to a bookcase and say, “That’s one of my dream gigs; I’ve written the definitive Robert E. Howard biography…”

    I think you may one day be surprised by what you can do with your talents if you decide to give it a big push. Or you may continue along with the way things are right now. But if you make money each year (maybe $2,500 one year, and $350 the next), and more importantly, you become somebody people look to when getting into wsilk and weaving, I’d say in that case…you’re a pro.

  24. spiderfarmer
    spiderfarmer says:

    Oh, I hate to use your silk in soap…when you could be doing such fantastic things with it. I mean, to toss the silk from your little guys in lye almost seems like heresy. 😉

    That said, if you’ve got silk that isn’t usable for your textile stuff, and you’ve got more than you know what to do with, absolutely I’d take it off your hands…it would be like getting to borrow Picasso’s pencil. 😉

  25. admin
    admin says:


    I use breeder cocoons in my own soap.

    What I was offering to sell you some of, however, is Tussah silk roving from Little Barn. Nice stuff, but a LOT less work than the stuff I raise by hand. I’m happy to follow their per-pound price, by the ounce.

  26. balanceinchaos
    balanceinchaos says:

    being a fellow part-time artesian, from your descriptions I’d say you are an amateur weaver-textile person… You are, from my knowledge, a “pro” soap maker. I also would put down the teaching as “amateur” because you do not do enough of it to merit a pro standing. I have generally found that amateur and pro status has not so much to do with how skilled one is, or how beautiful the work, but whether it is a vocation or a hobby.

    yours is, at present, a hobby.

  27. tayarrow
    tayarrow says:

    Hey… this is very interesting, the weaving stuff but also how to classify. I am a writer, I teach poetry workshops sometimes, I make under $2,000 a year doing it but my BA and MA are in English Lit, so what am I?

    Gonna friend you, hope you don’t mind! Your journal looks very interesting!

  28. admin
    admin says:

    Thanks! I’ll friend you back.

    I don’t have any qualms about the fact that I’m not a professional weaver – although in my own little niche, I’m more of an *expert* than most of the folks out there. The kind of weaving that I do is archaic and limited, and there aren’t a bunch of us.

    It’s the teaching thing that had me puzzled. The form didn’t indicate that there was a dollar amount, like with the “professional” designation – but it’s just tough figuring out when I ought to tick that box.

    Ironically, in this particular competition, since I know who’s likely to show, I’ll probably get more of a run for the money in the amateur ranks – there’s only like two folks who enter the pro/teacher ranks, and they’re in different categories than what I do.

  29. admin
    admin says:

    Oh, and I have my BA in English Lit, too – I don’t have a job in teaching or writing, but I use it every day, because I’m constantly communicating, writing letters and reports, proofreading proposals, etc.

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