Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Here's to your health.....!

In a recent issue of the New York TImes is a fabulous summary of the truly miraculous health benefits of knitting and crochet.   Larry is getting the URL for me.   (I have lousy computer skills).  In the meantime, see if you can find it: 

LATER:  HERE IT IS (see just below)!    svb
7:02 PM (13 hours ago)


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Young 'uns

....noticing today that the number of young people in the shop has increased substantially since we moved to Farmington.     HURRAH.   And it's both young women and young men, which is doubly wondrous.   Men, after all, were the first knitters....made socks, sweaters, etc., for themselves and for sale, especially in northern it's time they all came home.  Hence, our wonderful Wednesday-evening group led by the fabulous fabulous fabulous Nick (one of those young 'uns).  But I wonder if many of the younger knitters/crocheters know how vital they are to the survival of these very old and venerable, healing arts.  That's one of the things we have to teach, isn't it?   There is real urgency, perhaps always, but especially now as we confront a world made less and less personal almost daily, less and less MINDFUL -- that is, living in the present world, the world at hand, and not in some cyber-world.  Now and again, I think about the Real Science that has shown knitters who do it every day are virtually immunized against the symptoms of Alzheimers.   So.  Knit.  And do it in the company of others.  Up with face-to-faceness!     svb



Thursday, January 21, 2016

Kid's Sweater???

Larry took a picture of the colorful pieces and yarn balls on my footstool -- "It's PRETTY," he said -- so I'm going to pass it along.  

What is it, you ask?  We'll see.   The wee little pictures next to the aqua-blue wool suggest a wee little kid's sweater (in worsted-weight wool) with an orange diamond in the center, front and back.  Garter ridges run horizontally in the central diamonds.  Reddish edges and seams, all picked up from pieces as I go.  Blue and yellow triangles at the corners and then (I don't yet know the color arrangement) on sleeves, with some more orange and deep red lines, probably in cuffs.   There will be an opening in the front at the top edges of the orange triangle with some durable bow-ties -- or buttons?  We'll see.  The pattern will be written in 18" or 20" chest size upward in two-inch increments.  I am in the process (under yellow cake) of trying to shape a front neckline.  If you're really keen-eyed, and especially if you tap on the picture, you'll see another adult sweater -- a modular-square cardigan tunic -- that's about half done, under the tool kit.  Sleeve has been modified in another drawing.  And the super-keen eyed viewer will note that my tool kit is covered with brassieres.  Stay tuned.   I need now to dash off to university.      svb

Saturday, December 12, 2015

I know......!

Yes, yes, don't nag.   I know it's been ages since I put fingers to keyboard -- but, until yesterday, I couldn't figure out how to access my own blog because we changed e-mail addresses/carriers, and beyond that, it's end of semester -- and here I am trying not to die.  Next term, I teach a wonderful new course for which a small but eager bunch of students have registered -- American Frontiers  (we have had many of them, and there are several continents to treat) -- so that's a lot of work.  And at the shop, we are dealing with a number of things -- good people coming in steadily, as we had hoped would happen when we moved to the west city of the Detroit Metro area, but not quite the autumn rush that we used to have.   This is happening everywhere -- the industry is doing a bit of a contraction, and the internet is hurting everyone.

Most recently, my good, good friend Kelly, owner of Knitting on the Fringe, decided to pack up her wonderful stock and sell it on line from a warehouse, along with her gorgeous, handcrafted jackets and yarns.  Kelly was a student in my university classes when I still had brown hair and she was still a law student.   We met again only a few years ago because of the two yarn shops (I had lost track of her).  She joins Sherrie and Carrie of Knit-A-Round (Ann Arbor) and the co-owners of Center Street Knits in Northville, another yarn shop to the northwest of us, and any number of small producers who just can't keep pumping money into their enterprises.   The bottom line might be that, if you don't have some kind of outside subsidizing source, it will be difficult indeed (though not impossible) to make a profit sufficient to justify a staff.  Larry works for nothing in financial terms; indeed, we both work for the satisfaction of it, not for anything like a reasonable return. 

I have said this before, and all I can do is to repeat it:   People will learn, sooner or later, that the internet, Ravelry,, Crafty, all the rest, are boons to all of us -- I send people to Patternfish, for instance, because it's refereed -- but also a major threat to all of us.  We lose the personal relationships that knitting and crochet have to be about, at least in part.  YouTube is not a reliable teacher; there are tapes out there that are just plain nonsense.  Shop owners and their experienced instructors can be relied on, at least much more often.  You can't have a social group on the internet, just virtual groups, and that's not face-to-face.   I don't like buying yarn without touching it.   I expect that more and more people are simply deciding to meet in coffee shops where they think they won't have to pay some shop owner five or ten bucks, or pay for yarns in a particular shop.  That may be right.   But it's a risk, because those same shops sooner or later will close.   It's a low-profit enterprise as it is.  It does make me sad, I have to confess, when people say they think it's unfair to charge them five or ten dollars for a two-hour knitting group.  Often, they also think it's unfair to "make" them buy yarn in house.  So I think the problem really is the retail problem generally, made worse by internet competition:  NOBODY can survive if revenue falls and overhead stays the same.   We have no choice but to ask people to help us with overhead.  

If I see one more person in the shop with a cell phone in hand taking pictures of the label on some yarn and then leave to check prices on line, I am likely to go out into the street and SCREAM. 

All of this just to get people thinking.   For now, we're fine, though we're not exactly rolling in it!   And now I am going to get dressed quickly and head to the shop.  For now, until Wed., when I have to administer and evaluate an MA exam, and then until Friday, when I get hit with drifts of final papers and exams, I'm more or less free!    So I'll be back here to talk about other things SOON.


Sunday, October 11, 2015


.....Recently, Larry and I drove to the Blue Dress Barn, an interesting old structure near Benton Harbor, Michigan-- drove to Kalamazoo, MI, on Saturday, then made the short hop to Lake Michigan on Sunday morning.   The grounds are lovely -- a delightful jumble/jungle of poorly kept and therefore very inviting shrubs, grass, flower beds, etc.   The event?   My fabulous nephew, Nicholas VanBurkleo, married Abby, now also VanBurkleo, so now they get to be happy forever after, and I think they really WILL be.   Here is the gorgeous duo:

.....also recently, I got through the nightmare of poor copy-editing and a host of other problems -- and then finished the index, which was genuinely exhausting......with luck, Cambridge U Press will actually publish my new book, Gender Remade..., on schedule....November 30 or so.  Once it's in hand, maybe I should get drunk for the first time in my life.  

.....and finally, here is a retro turban and cowl that I cooked up out of triangles.   Probably a bit TOO retro for most people.   But Sharon and I like it anyway.....out of Schoppel wool, Reggae Ombre.

and finally finally finally, here is an outrageous crocheted boa that I made yesterday out of Hairy Lala (yes, that's the right name) -- ENJOY.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Ruminations after Sally's Visit..

It's been awhile since I last sat down to talk with friends.....has to do in part with the arrival of page proofs for my new book (it may well kill me to get it through the page-proofs stage), but also with the visit of the wonderful Sally Melville, with her fabulous workshops and dinner-time presentation in downtown Farmington.   Both Larry and I, not to mention Sharon, Ellen, Nick, and the courageous server (the very pregnant Emily, who works for Cowley's Restaurant), loved every minute of it AND dropped in our tracks for two days afterward.

And then came the 24-hour coverage of Pope Francis, and soon (October 6) comes my 71st birthday, which is just plain unbelievable and also a bit scary.  These things have converged in my mind.   So let me try to sort it all out. 

Sally's wonderful talk over dinner, a week ago today, was about working with one's hands -- the way such things heal, offset the horrors and pace of modern life (the stress, the illnesses borne of stress, the ugliness and violence on all sides, the brain's ability to pass on to the body such worries and dark messages).  These things have been proved scientifically.  I have long thought, after hearing some of Sally's ruminations a number of years ago, that the resurgence of handknitting, crochet, weaving, and other fiber arts has to do with exactly that -- a need to be PRESENT in our own lives, in the world of quiet and reflection and human-paced activity.  The need to exist without worry or dread in the privacy of our own bodies -- perhaps in the company of others, but often in our own best company.

Once upon a time, I was a church organist -- began to do such things at about age 12 in Worthington, Minnesota, after having spent 8 years to that point in piano and then organ instruction.  My teacher for the piano was a lovely fellow, Prof. J. Earl Lee, at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota -- where we had lived for quite a while until we moved to Worthington.  My mother bravely drove me to Sioux Falls once a week for years -- until everyone decided that my hands were never going to sprout fingers long enough to reach 12 keys.   You need long, skinny fingers to master, say, the Russian repertoire.  So I fell back into church work and private lessons -- in Worthington at St. John's Episcopal Church and then, later, in West St. Paul, Minnesota, at Ascension Episcopal Church, where I finally got to play a pipe organ.  I did that until my late 20s, after leaving graduate school for my first professional job at the United States Supreme Court (a documentary editor).  I played that organ, in fact, for my father's funeral and, later, my mother's.  It was one way to say goodbye, very quietly, sitting on a hard, wooden bench all by myself in an organ loft.   In retrospect, I can see that I was also giving something away, but at the time, one doesn't see that.

So, when I listen to Francis, it's only a  hop-skip-jump to those early days in the Episcopal Church, which is still in many ways the Roman church done up in English and without celibate priests.  The music, the liturgy, the seductive power of ritual, are present just as surely as in Rome's St. Peter's Basilica or the Sistine Chapel -- or, in this case, the New World's Cathedral of Peter and Paul, where Francis spoke so very quietly and brilliantly of the human being's need to sit down, be quiet, help others, connect across lines of artificial division.

Francis speaks of our power to heal one another.  He urges us to find our own way, but to undertake such a thing even when it's difficult.  We do damage each and every day -- with the ratrace, the incessant looking at clocks, the violence in so many parts of life (competition with one another for no good reason at all -- as with the bizarre competition between yarn shops), rhetorical meanness and spitefulness and savaging.  My mother, Gladyce, once said that it was always easier to be nice than to be horrible to one another.  Why do we not pay attention?  And why -- this is one major point, I guess -- why do I think first of Elaine Clark when I think of my mother's words?

Attachments area
For those of you who don't know her:   Elaine is a now-retired professor of medieval history at UM Dearborn.  I have known her for 30 years.  On every day for all of those years, Elaine has made socks and little sweaters and hats and other gear for children (and, sometimes, adults) in need.  She learned to knit in early life, from nuns in a Catholic school.   Is it a coincidence that Elaine is always nice, always generous, always well-centered and kind???  That her face is completely at peace when the wooden double-points are in play?  You can sense a calming presence when she is in the same room.  The knitting is not coincidental.  Science tells us that the brain's chemistry changes when we knit.   Alpha waves smooth out; the supply of endorphins (the happy stuff) increases, as if while running or working on the treadmill.  We know, too, and Sally reminded me of it the other night, that older people with Alzheimer plaques in their brains actually can forestall the symptoms with knitting.

So let's all stop for a minute and ask why we are flailing through life like one-woman (one-man) demolition teams.  Where is the JOY?   When did joy become something we gave or experienced only at the moment of marriage, at passing the bar, at finding the perfect new coat or shoes?  How about at moments of forgiveness?   And how do our hands and handiwork advance the search for peace -- the search for alternatives to violence, dehumanization, the computers' tendency to put the mind elsewhere, no longer in the present?  

Go to your local yarn shop.  Gather some friends when you do it.  Speak only of joy-inducing things when you knit or crochet with them.  Make something for someone who has nothing.  Think of it as an homage to Sally.   Or to Francis.  Or to Elaine.  Or perhaps to my mother, Gladyce Bessie, who was the best person I've ever known.   If only she had lived forever.  Pick the one you want to memorialize, or come up with your own.... but don't fail to sit down soon and simply be mindful, present in your world, aware of the small joys that can be found every day, if we slow down and look for them.  In an E. M. Forster novel, there is a two-word chapter:   "Only connect."   That's the message, I guess.  I apologize for using so many words to say such a small thing.         


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Sally's Coming!

Be sure to check out the latest issue of the Artisan Knitworks newsletter and/or the website for full information about Sally Melville's upcoming visit -- which will include a gala dinner on Sunday night at a Farmington (MI) area restaurant -- lecture, Q and A, book signing, plus supper.     Enjoy!   svb