Monday, December 20, 2010

....being sick, with wool....

There is something about coming down with a truly vile case of gastro-intestinal distress right in the middle of a final examination that surpasses all other experiences.  This is not to recommend it -- only to identify it as one of those genuinely sui generis experiences, like driving a dark green vintage Jaguar while naked.......

....which, by the way, I add quickly but sadly, I've never done.

What do other people do when they're almost but not quite well?  I can't grade papers unless I'm in tip-top condition (not fair), and I don't usually write -- though reading is not out of the question.  The ideal activity is knitting or crochet.  The alpha waves set loose are healing.  The feel of the wool passing through the fingers is primal, soothing, next to godliness.  So now I'm ready to knit -- not yet well, but not as sick as I was four days ago.

What will I make?   Well, I have some experimental skeins of Ella Rae wool with some amazing, truly surprising color runs, so I am going to cook up a pullover with a rolled hem, a body made of garter stitch box stitch (big boxes), and a Henley neckline as wide as one line of boxes.  Might put a hood on it.  Might also make it into a tunic.     And I have this idea for a quite strict but LLLLLOOONG tunic jacket made of Trendsetter Merino 8 Shadow -- maybe in burgundy shades -- with wide front bands and an equally tall stand-up collar, hidden slit pockets, strict set-in sleeves, wide cuffs, with the cuffs and bands made out of Cha Cha.  A ribby but flat texture fabric, with traditional ribs at the sides to slightly draw it in.  Need to figure out how to make it look elegant instead of like a clown suit.  I want to make the bands horizontally so that the ruffles are short and side to side.  That means, I think, sewing the band as well as the cuffs onto the jacket.  (Yes, I know they can be knitted up the front row by row -- but the cuffs?  I'll wing it).  Off-center buttons with loops, and so on.   All of this will go up in smoke if the band is too stiff.

Then I have a coat in mind -- Prism's big-ball kid mohair in black (or maybe it's mink), mixed with a really fine ladder novelty yarn in jewel tones that a friend found for me at a dollar a ball (I think it's Karabella), which I'm going to use as a wild excuse for playing with triangles again.   Full length coat.  Wide sleeves, maybe cast on at the armholes.   We'll see.   HUGE jewel-tone mismatched vintage buttons.   Collar creeping up the neck quite high at the sides of the neck. 

All of this might indicate a fever.  Time to check the meatloaf.   Over and out.


Friday, December 10, 2010

'Growing' Flowers....

Well, the term has ended at university -- at least class sessions have ended (we set aside for the moment the inevitability of seminar papers and final examinations and smaller comparative book reviews, and so on, most of which comes home to roost a week from yesterday).  For the moment, I am at peace in my big late Victorian house, with a black-and-white not-quite-adult katten (compound word) demanding attention by rolling on the floor, digging at door bottoms when I dare to close them, mewing pathetically.....outside, snow has fallen just enough to coat the inner and lower parts of lawns, patios, steps with icing -- as if somebody spilled a big bowl of it and tried to wipe it up but couldn't get at the joints and interstices, and ....Here I am, thinking about flowers -- woolen ones especially.

As a child, flowers were one of the few pure pleasures -- alongside practicing the piano in the morning (yes, I looked forward to it....I could be alone, completely private, lost in beautiful spaces somewhere in the back of my mind); walking in woods with my big, goofy, sorely missed father; crocheting a lace curtain.  In the gardens of childhood, at my grandparents' house in South St Paul, Minnesota, or in our own (which always had vegetables and perennials), I would spend hours pulling up weeds that dared to intrude, digging up the unbelievably broad, heavy clumps of tulips and daffodils in order to split them for next season, making dolls with huge, voluptuous skirts out of the frilly, upside-down blooms of hollyhocks.  The soil was always warm; the smell was like nothing else on earth, full of promise. 

....and then there were the flowers that my brilliantly resourceful mother and I made out of felt, cloth, pinwheels, all kinds of shapes and materials, to decorate everything that seemed to need some attention.  We invented some felt tray covers, embellished them with felt flowers and beads/sequins, and then had the idea that we could sell them as kits -- So off we went to buy bolts of cheap felt, some stencil paper, bulk sequins, and we made kits with a label that said Van Bee Originals (I am NOT making this up).  Mom then took the kits to big department stores, where one buyer actually ordered three dozen (!!!!).  They didn't re-order; in retrospect, the kits were pretty amateur, with their mimeographed labels and stapled tops.  But what a joy to see our flowers and plastic-backed circles of felt in a Donaldson's department store window!

...and I think, more recently, about Val Devine, whose crocheted flowers embellished shawls and jackets and coats -- Mags Kandis, who encouraged two students at a Stitches camp in Riverside, CA, to cover over a less-than-artful section of a small handbag with ravishingly beautiful embroidered flowers -- and of course Karen Klemp.  I saw Karen recently at the annual crochet and knitting guild conference, and hauled her around to one side of our booth to show her the big tray of crocheted flowers.  She smiled and smiled -- no doubt recognizing that some of them were inspired by a class that I took with her at a TNNA meeting so that I could reconnect with some of the blooms of my own past.  I especially love the idea that we can cover over moments of pain or ugliness with beauty, simply by crocheting or knitting or embroidering shapes that originate in gardens.

....a customer came into the studio the other day in search of crocheted flowers.  She bought one of mne and then asked me if I could make a dozen more for her.  She designs scarves around individual blooms.  When I cut the price, she was astonished. bring peace, don't they?  They take us back to those long-lost gardens of childhood, where hollyhocks could be dolls.  Such joy to make flowers for her late at night, when the world is utterly still.  I can be 12 years old again.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Crawl.....!

It was a ROARING success, this latest multi-shop crawl.   We organized it over a mere two weeks' time, at the instigation of the people at Labor of Love in Romeo.  Three of us were 'urban' establishments (our Artisan Knitworks, of course, and then City Knits Mt. Clemens and Crafty Lady Trio in Macomb, MI).  What a splendid troupe were we!!!  Everyone was smiling.   I took our client Jean Engerson around for the entire 6-shop tour this past Friday, and both of us were thrilled half to death with the rush of urban and rural landscapes, the splendid sunshine for most of the trip, the crisp autumn atmosphere.

And the people!  Everyone was having a spectacular time.  In some respects, the mood seemed even more festive than during our Halloween crawl.  I arrived at the last stop in Romeo too late to take pictures -- it was only 5:30, but the sun is vanishing at a remarkably early moment these days, so no possibility of snapshots.  But we managed to get home before night was very far advanced.  All in all,  a marvelous day.

Two shops bear special notice.  They are mostly unfamiliar to Metro Detroit artisans, and so I urge all of you to take a road trip, first to Sweet Pea in St. Clair, then to Knitters' Hideaway in Armada.

Here is what the Sweet Pea shop looks like on River Drive in St. Clair -- and here is also what the river drive looked like from the car (and from the St Clair Inn's dining room, where Jean and I had lunch):

 Once inside the darling Sweet Pea, which had some wonderfully unusual yarns, we found NATHAN and his mummy.  Here is the young lad with his amazing handcrafted hat, with Penny, owner of the shop, on the right, and mummy on the left...!
....and then we got to Knitters' Hideaway, which is just the cutest thing.   Isabell and her husband have carved a darling shop out of the second floor of their shed on the farm -- which has horses as well as a vintage Sinclair gas pump. 

All in all, this was just a marvelous, marvelous event, a warming moment for new friendships, and perhaps a prelude to a much longer process by which the walls come tumbling down, one by one, beween all of the fiber-related enterprises in Metro Detroit.       svb

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dealing with Recession...

The question arises:   How do we get through the present economic emergency?  If only we could say when it would ease!  But the experts agree only that it will go on for awhile.   If only we could persuade people to begin spending some of their inactive cash!  We do know that 70% of the American economy is driven by consumption.  (Whether we like it or not!).  But.  For now, it simply IS.  So we do what we can do.   At Artisan Knitworks, we are dealing with it by making choices that are likely to succeed (though I confess to have bought some hats and super bulky yarns that I KNEW wouldn't sell right away -- there is the problem of my taste for the uncommon, the beautiful, the idiosyncratic....!

But there are other things that can be done, and some of them have unexpected consequences.  We have organized two multi-shop crawls, e.g. -- one of them over the Halloween weekend, and another upcoming on December 3-4.  The first one involved 7 shops ranging from Grosse Pointe to Plymouth, a distance of perhaps 40 miles.   The new one moves in the other direction, toward the small town of Romeo, with six shops.   There will be all of the usual benefits -- discounts, small bags with surprises. (all of which affords shops an opportunity to get rid of valuable items they haven't sold or otherwise want to eliminate -- we also give away copies of our own patterns).  The proceeds go to a charity -- in this case, a wonderful shelter for women and children in Mt Clemens, Michigan.  And of course that's one consequences -- the shelters run out of money at this time of year, just as the weather turns ugly, and at the bottom of a nasty recession, both of which increase domestic violence under the best of conditions).  We'll have another huge crawl in mid-summer, when all of us experience the summer doldrums.  And I'm trying to arrange a kind of 'visiting professor' program with friends in Ann Arbor, by which we will teach classes in each other's shops for travel expenses. 

But look at what has happened!  When the recession lifts, we will have forged links with people we barely knew, enriched our own lives, and grown as artisans through interaction with new people.  I had never met the wonderful women from Sweet Pea and Labor of Love, far to the north of us; now, we can visit and talk and compare notes.   Perhaps more important:   Everyone talks about the politics of yarn shops in Michigan (a phrase actually used by a yarn rep); we can break down walls, make it USUAL rather than unusual for owners to mix and mingle and visit and share.  This will be a lasting legacy of an economic disaster.  We will have succeeded in chipping away at those walls in ways that have not happened over 20 years of prosperity.

Second, and in some ways most important, we have been forced to fall back on The Local, our own resources -- local teachers, local resources.  I now carry a huge supply of Stonehedge yarns from East Jordan, Michigan - gorgeous medium and fine-weight woolens, including Deb McDermott's exquisite mill-end yarns, which our people have been fashioning into socks and amazing little sweaters.  No two skeins are identical.  Local talent, local materials, and local self-reliance.  Cultivating one's garden.
During World War II, there were victory gardens; we have gardens of knotted wool.

What a joy to contemplate all of this.    . svb

Monday, November 29, 2010

For those of you who've asked...!

..........Here is what she looks like.   Who, you say?  Well, Lisa James, of course, the maker of those amazing sheep-spinnings  (yes, I got a new supply at the New York Sheep and Wool Festival, for those of you who snap them up when I have them in stock!).  Her sister (in the purple hat) has one around her neck:

She's also wearing one of her astonishing hats.   We have three of them in the place right now -- a red one (like the one she's wearing, though not identical, of course), plus two other warm colors.  There is a story here:   Lisa has a friend who makes felt constructions (I don't know exactly what kind) and she takes the voluminous leftovers and sews them into hats -- It takes amazing creativity, because the leftovers have been cut into a myriad of shapes.   Pick one up and look at it.  And imagine the spinnings on cuffs, lapels (they can be both knitted and crocheted, though with big tools), handbags, or needle-felted into hangings.   How about handles?  Or just do what Lisa has done.   She's a force of nature -- someone who reminds me of the region from which she comes (the southwest).   svb

Friday, November 26, 2010

Copyright violations and resistant women...

...and today I had another jolting encounter with yet another woman who doesn't REALLLLY believe that pattern writers have copyright.   Or so I gather.   I will describe this briefly because it really annoys me.  A couple of weeks ago, a woman came into the studio and was rifling through "the stash," which is what I call the discounted yarn supply in the middle room.   I asked her how I could help, and she explained that she had bought my pattern for a slouchy beret (one of the patterns in our own line of patterns) and now wanted to get a number of different kinds of yarn so she could make a whole lot of them for sale.   I said, Well, you know, that design is under copyright, and you can't make copies for commercial purposes -- have a look at the back of the leaflet, and so on and so forth.  She said that all of this was news to her and looked annoyed.   But she bought a small supply of yarn and disappeared.   Today, she reappeared with yarn and the pattern and prouldy explained that she had made a lot of the hats for sale.   At that point, I hardly knew what to say, so I simply said, Why would you do that?  And she said, quite remarkably, that nobody else paid attention to this copyright thing, so why should she?   And she was smiling!!!!!!    I'd like advice from others as to how to deal with this persistent problem.  There may be no answer, so long as women continue to think that copyright applies to everything except things that fall within 'women's sphere,' where everything is supposed to be shared (otherwise we're selfish), and where women continue to starve to death -- Remember that women continue to make 60 cents for every dollar that men earn for the very same work.   Selfish indeed.     svb

Thursday, November 25, 2010

On Thanksgiving

......a day for contemplation of riches, past and present, including pumpkin pies and dressing.  In the deep past, I can see my father's mother's  face clearly today, as if she were here, the Jewish grandmother from Stillwater, Minnesota, who hid her Jewishness under a thick layer of denial.  Lillian had married the love of her life, whose first name really was Orange, at the cost of complete alienation from her family.  It is hard to imagine, at this remove, the cost of being the only Jewish family in Stillwater, Minnesota, in the first half of the 20th century.   But there she was, in love with an Episcopalian with a big white house on Elm Street and little else.  During the prohibition era, in fact, Orange converted his auto repair shop into a rum-runner conversion shop (to make pots of money!).  There, he and Francis, my father (who had dropped out of high school for the purpose), installed heavy springs in the undercarriages of vehicles that were carrying illicit alcohol between Somerset, Wisconsin, and the Twin Cities (Minnesota).  Dad, who had a naughty twinkle in his eye, once showed my brothers and I the night club along the main highway where he used to hide out under a trap door to evade the feds.   I don't think he was making it up.  

In any case:  the Stillwater grandparents were the most serene and insular of the two sets of forebears -- I now think because they had been cut off from Lillian's family (they sat shiva when she got married) and because she was ill most of the time (psoriasis and a host of other maladies).  But could she cook!  I wish I had tumbled at the time to the cabbage rolls and other dishes that smacked of Jewish family cooking....but I really had no idea.   Only later did I learn what kind of questions I should have been asking the sad woman who spent so many hours in a big chair in the living room.  And of course by then it was too late.   Orange and Lillian, however, remained in love, perfectly content to spend time mainly with one another:  In their late 90s, they'd pile into the big old Oldsmobile every Sunday, weather permitting, and drive slowly to the A and W root beer stand to "watch the kids."

It was the other grandmother, the one I didn't like as much, but to whom I owed the very most, who joined us for Thanksgiving, to whose house we migrated almost every year, once we moved back to Minnesota from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.   I was about 10 when we made that penultimate move -- Dad's partner, Dick Erhardt, had literally walked off with the checking account in South Dakota, so .... time to relocate.  In Worthington, Minnesota, we were just close enough to St. Paul (it was across the state, but not impossibly far) to make the drive once in awhile.  When Thanksgiving was held in South St. Paul, we could at least have fun with Swift and Company foreman Toolie (nickname for the wonderful grandfather, besmirched only by his youthful dalliance with the Ku Klux Klan -- which, in South St. Paul, could ride its motorcyles to Lilydale and harass Jewish blacks in town, so you pick on what's available).   I have always wondered how such a gorgeously funny, genuinely nice man could have been hateful.  I can't ask him -- he died thirty-odd years ago, leaving his unpleasant wife behind.  As with Lillian, I didn't know what I ought to have been asking him.  When he died of kidney failure, a little bit of me died with him -- what a hoot that man was.  The dark underside was nowhere to be seen when we were young.  

His wife, my  mother's mother Carrie Beedle, was not a nice woman.   She paced up and down in front of the local church waiting for Toolie to cease all the annoying chatter and socializing.  She flicked the porch light up and down to let her 30-year old daughter, my mother, know that she was watching every move on the porch swing when she brought a boyfriend home.  In old age, she moved into our final resting place in West St. Paul, criticizing everything my mother and father did.  I was actually glad when she died, and didn't have to say so.  One of my fears, in fact, is that life will end that way for me as well, with everyone smiling at the funeral.   Perhaps we all entertain that fear. 

Yet it was Carrie -- the tyrannical, unloveable Carrie -- who taught me everything I once knew about thread crochet, the one thing she loved to the point of devotion, more than her children and husband, more than anything I ever noticed in her household.  I think now that she used her doilies, tablecloths, edgings, bedskirts, curtains, on and on, as places to live, when the real world became intolerable.  She made afghans too, and quilts, but her real love was thread lace -- and so, together, this awful woman and I 'spoke' to one another in the language of pineapple, filet, Irish crochet.   When I was taking Ph.D. written exams, I made over 200 lace doilies and used them for years afterward to wrap little gifts -- all because of her.  I made dozens and dozens of things as a young woman, all in ecru, white, sometime mixtures......and I owe it to her, don't I, that when I want to relax and find sanity, I escape into crochet, the one that's most natural.  There is a very rich irony here somewhere, because I really hated the way she lived. 

Carrie -- the same Carrie -- could cook up a storm.  When my parents joined forces at Thanksgiving to cook dinner, the results were spectacular.  Nobody had any money.  And, when Carrie finally did have enough money to be comfortable, she continued for the rest of her life to patch her clothes with flour sack patches, to buy everything on sale, to raise chickens, as if the Great Depression were still afoot.  But the old ways led to groaning tables and a week of leftovers.  Yams.  Whipped rutabagas.  Home-cooked cranberry relish.  Overcooked brussel sprouts or carrots, or both.  The apple pies were tall and tender.  The whipped cream dolloped onto pumpkin pie had been 40% butterfat, and so it stood tall as vanilla-flavored Minnesota snowbanks.  Turkeys with savory bread stuffing called to mind past turkeys.  One of the men, grandfather or father, stood proudly at the end spot at dining room tables and exercised the mysterious male art of carving.  The women, of course, feigned ignorance of carving, even though they probably had shown them how to do it when they were boys.  Tradition reigned.  Women cooked, men carved and took credit for the success or failure of The Bird, and everyone else sat there (it was always mid-day, an echo of the days when farmhands ate their big meal at noon) for the entire afternoon, unable to move, unwilling to make an end.

Even in adulthood, when I was living in Washington, D.C., for example, I often drove home (I was supposed to think of St. Paul, Minnesota, as "home" even after decades of living elsewhere) to share that same Thanksgiving dinner in my parents' West St. Paul house.  The dressing (the one I still make, that my brother David still makes) is Lillian's dressing.  The gravy is my mother's gravy.  The pie ingredients and method that I still use originated, when I was in my teens, with Elvira Ballou of Round Lake, Minnesota, who was a Paris-trained chef marooned in the middle of corn fields, who taught my mother to make to-die-for pastry, who in turn taught me.  So when I make pies, I self-consciously conjure up Elvira's amazing face, her carved nose, her loose bun on top of her head.  She had a big old house filled with antiques, and struck me, then as now, as an exotic creature victimized by some kind of time or space warp.....I never did learn how this fascinating, well-travelled woman came to live in that town, where everyone except Elvira made Campbell Soup hotdishes and ate Wonder Bread in the name of Progress.  Nobody made their own bread anymore -- except Lillian and Elvira -- because Progress had given them store-bought bread.  When we were kids, we made little objects at mealtime from the horrible, white, doughy center of those bread slices -- we'd remove the crusts and squeeze it into shapes as if it were Play-Dough.

So tonight, when Larry and Katherine and I migrate to a restaurant for our repast, I will be thinking about those meals, those family gatherings, and maybe I'll silently apologize to Lillian and Carrie and Gladyce and Elvira for not celebrating their ways this year.....for not making that wonderful sage dressing that Mom used to run through a manual food mill (an improvement on Lillian's original method).  I will do it next year.   This year, we need to rest.  I need to spend the time making hats and scarves for sale at the studio, and I need to plan classes for the rest of the semester.  But memory survives.  It will happen again.


Saturday, November 20, 2010


Is there such a word?   I have been laggardly with this blog.   I am SO tired -- it's near the end of the semester at Wayne State, students are doing what they do at term's end, particularly in the lower division class ("What??? You mean we have to write more than one paper?  Is that on the syllabus???" or "How do you expect us to read that whole book by next week?  I don't remember you telling us that....")  and so on and so forth.   This term, I learned many things I didn't know before.   On midterms, for instance, I learned that "slaves were entirely destroyed during Reconstruction" (!!!) and, no doubt less shockingly, that William Jennings Bryant was a famous black reformer.  Not to mention this:  "The sixteenth amendment gave women the vote, except for Indian women, who were reserved."   I couldn't make this stuff up, folks.

More later, when I can think clearly.      svb       

Monday, November 8, 2010

and a fabric to die for...

Finally:   I need to get some work done SOMETIME today......Here are two images of one of our visitors during the recent Yarn Crawl............Her coat was made of such an intriguing woolen fabric that I forced Larry to take pictures.  This could be replicated in knitting with black woolen tweed (or plain black with a carry-along) and a row of fair-isle birds-eye done with variegated handpainted wool.  Or maybe with a row of stockinette deliberately done on the wrong side to create some 'bleed.'  I love it.  One of the best ways to devise new knitted fabrics is always to remember that fabric is fabric, fiber is fiber, and all we have to do, really, is to translate one 'language' into the other.  When time appears, I'll find the yarn.


Alex's triumph.....

I am thrilled to report that the splendid Alex Peabody, age 12, has finished his first garment -- a wondrous sweater vest made out of Green Mountain Spinnery Mountain Mohair in a great, heathery shade of teal.  He began with a Knitting Pure and Simple pattern, but soon began adding things -- like pockets, a wider neckband, and then some buttons made of handblown glass in the shape of fish.  So it's truly an original.  So is he.  And don't miss his equally splendid friend Dierdre, shown at the table in the studio (second image), working diligently on HER first sweater, a pullover of my design made of Trendsetter's Tonalita.  Alex now has in mind making a Henley pullover...........stay tuned.      svb

Middle America: Larry's Pictures

So here are some of the things we saw in Ohio and Indiana.   We hang out in coffee shops whenever we can find them, and one of the true signs that midwesterners are gaining ground, perhaps advancing on the rest of us, is the proliferation of espresso houses -- NOT Starbucks and other big-box chains, but independent shops, like the ones we photographed here.  Wonderful places.  One of them, in Indiana, featured amazing (and amusing) images and icons from Florida -- where one of the owners apparently preferred to live. 

We also went to a restaurant in Van Wert, Ohio, right on the border with Indiana, which promised to be one of those very old-fashioned "grub" joints where you could get REAL mashed potatoes and REAL meatloaf, and so Larry took a gorgeous picture of the vintage neon sign (vintage to us -- everyday news to them!).  Unfortunately, the food was less than ordinary (Larry got one uninspired salmon patty; I got some meatloaf much less flavorful than my own, and the meringue pies had no discernable flavor).  But it featured all of the trappings of my childhood, and probably Larry's -- the soda fountain-style counter seats in chrome, the wait people who looked like their names must be Maude and Susie Q.

And then there were the antique shops.  Here is an image of the interior of one of them in Indiana -- the kind of place where we find out vintage fasteners and jewelry by just plain rooting around in piles and piles of STUFF, most of it hidden from view. 

We made a nice haul this time -- though mostly at the Jeffreys Antique Center near Findlay, which was more or less where we began to look.  We'll go back there periodically.

And, just for the fun of it, here's an all-American street corner -- on the road to Maumee, Ohio, just because it reminded me so very much of childhood in places like Royalton and Worthington, Minnesota.

In another post, I'll publish some very important images of a very important young knitter.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ohio, Indiana, and Intimations of Winter

..........Yup.   As we drove through Ohio on the way to Indiana, it started to snow.  So we called the studio to find out how everything was going and to say, "Hey it's snowing here!" and Katie said, "Hey it's snowing here!"  So I guess winter is coming whether I want it to come or not.  Mind you, I despise warm weather.  I'm one of those people who has to have a fan in the bedroom every day of the year.  (Poor Larry).  And because I'm from Minnesota, I think much more kindly on prospects of winter than many people do.  I remember, to give one example, how people went door to door in Worthington, Minnesota, with a Folger's coffee can to gather money for families who couldn't pay the heat bill.  I vividly recall squads of neighbors helping one another with massive, truly daunting snow removal challenges -- with snowbanks at corners so tall that car owners had to put flags on their aerials in order to be seen while driving.  I also fondly remember the long, languid evenings at the fireside with nothing but one another.   We didn't have a TV for a long, long time, and when it came, it was an old, used Edison........too small to be all-consuming.  We talked to one another; we helped with one another's paper routes in mid-winter, we laughed our heads off when we ran out of groceries and had to put water on the Wheaties.  And so, in many respects, winter was an opportunity for engagement and learning and love, not a burden.     

But, still, it's better to be able to walk down the street, to sit on the deck, to be able to go to a lake and roll up the jeans and wade.  My main objection to summer, in fact, is not the opportunities for movement it offers, but the heat, the decreased productivity, the suffocating miasma in the big stucco house that can only be cut with big fans and, yes, air conditioning.  Intolerance of heat, in fact, has increased as I age.  It's so much harder to get cool than to get warm.   But what do you expect from a Minnesotan?  No lover of year-round heat ever spent more than a few years in Minneapolis -- a city, by the way, that has adapted almost perfectly to cold.  University students can move from builcing to building in shirt sleeves all winter long -- there's a tunnel system! -- and shoppers in downtown Minneapolis can do the same thing through a series of above-ground tunnels (can you describe a glass tube connecting one building to another as a tunnel?).  Snowplows move like a well-disciplined army to clear every street in record time -- and, mind you, they're at work DURING the blizzard, not just afterward.  Detroiters, by contrast, seem to be in denial ("Are we really in the temperate zone?"), throwing salt at snowbanks.  How stupid is that?   Salty slush in the place of snowbanks.

So we went on our trip to Ohio and Indiana.  It was fun, and of course we found oodles of really wondrous vintage buttons.   I also found scads of vintage crocheted doilies that I'm going to use to create lush, frilly necklines on a series of crocheted sweaters, should I live long enough.

But more later, when I have pictures.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

...taking a drive....!

Larry and I have decided NOT to go to the wonderful inaugural New England fiber festival in West Springfield, MA -- this weekend, in fact -- because, well, we're just too tired, and the last thing we need right now is more yarn.   So -- we have decided to fully staff the studio with good people and just LEAVE.   We will drive generally into Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky -- the general objective will be to search high and low for out-of-the-way antique and collectible shops -- that's where we find extraordinary vintage buttons and jewelery -- but, mostly, we just want to look at beautiful countryside and have good meals and REST.   I'll take pictures; so will Larry; and I'll make report.  Maybe we can get as far as the Bybee Pottery in Bybee, Kentucky, and raid the seconds shop!


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Entering the month of Thanksgiving....

It's almost November, a month that I associate with cool, fragrant air and the coming of white icing on trees and flowerheads........I don't think I'd survive in a semi-tropical climate.  I look forward to the coming of the Big Chill.  It makes me walk briskly, maybe to experience the crunch of leaves and last summer's flower stalks underfoot.  There is a smell that only occurs in autumn woods -- a mixture of damp moss and moulding leaves.  I learned to love it in Minnesota, where woods abound, and now I find myself wanting to drive to some woods and just go for a long, long walk.   Maybe get lost.  So I'd better make it a Metro Park so 'getting lost' wouldn't be life-threatening.  Maybe I'll call up Karen Turlay so that we can tromp around the Cranbrook grounds.

Anyway:  I'm thinking, ruminating really, about what the next month holds.   We have moved into new studio digs, which almost everyone loves better than the old digs -- if only because we can watch the winter skies roiling and churning through the huge picture window.  The new sofa is perfectly positioned so that everyone can OOOH and AHHH, as yesterday, over the swift-moving clouds and seagulls.  Everyone wanted to grab grays, lavenders, whites, hot pinks to knit a sunset.

There are start-up costs, and we are still struggling with them.  We have had to cancel a big event because of the local economy, which still can't support luxury purchases (such as workshops).  So I will postpone expensive visitors for awhile -- and that's fine.  We need to feel our way along.  In the meantime, I have some wondrous trunk shows lined up, mostly with Michigan people (this makes me VERy happy, all this Michigan stuff!), and the line-up starts this weekend with the brilliant Rita Pettreys of Yarn Hollow (near Grand Rapids).  She'll be there when the Second Annual Shop Crawl commences two days from now. 

And that's another wonder.  When we started the crawl last year, there were five shops.  Michigan is infamous for a general failure to band together (as shops do in Minneapolis or Seattle), whether rightly or not.  So we have been determined to do something about that.  Five shops were a good start, and the shop crawl was a success.   This year, we have SEVEN!    The stops form a long arc from Plymouth, Michigan, to St. Clair Shores -- a really cool development.  It can be done in one day, but we have made it a two-day crawl, complete with passports, bags of treats, refreshments, and nice discounts.  There is a 200 dollar door prize at crawl's end.  Proceeds from passport sales go to ovarian cancer research.  This is thrilling.  It will help us financially, of course -- all of us.  But, more important, it gets people out of the house, into the loop, into one another's shops to talk and make friends and SOCIALIZE.  This past week, the owners of the Knotted Needle came to visit us.  If we can keep all of this buzz going, everyone will benefit.  The boats all rise.  It's really true.  You CAN combat a recession (and a culture of isolation) by taking serious swipes at it -- we have proof.

In the meantime, I will go for a walk and inhale the amazing evidence of seasonal change, growth, advancement toward whatever lies ahead for all of us.


Monday, October 25, 2010

the palette...

to continue the previous discussion:  This otherwise poor photograph has the entire autumn palette -- the various greens, including chartreuse, the shots of madder red, the warm yellow-gold-orange range, and the grays/browns.   Notice the way the limbs sketch through like charcoal strokes.  It's particularly apparent in the maple tree on the right.  The grays are critical to the result, and I'll bet it's the sketchiness of the darks and the 'grounding' effect of the grays that have eluded me.


Autumn Colors and Wool...

I began today with a big ol' camera roaming the yard, the patio, the view from my second-story deck (which is in the treetops) because the light today is that particular kind of damp gray that usually causes warm colors to pop.  Too bad.   They don't show on this screen, and I doubt that they will show on anyone's monitor.  The saturation is just astonishing.   The first photo, by the way, is the little fellow who lives on my front steps -- an incredibly heavy little stylized sheep (I think of him as Mesopotamian) who came from a nursery in Ann Arbor some years ago, and who is my answer to all of the cloned dogs and lions on dozens of Grosse Pointe front steps.  He lives with a concrete hedgehog, on the other side of the steps -- a reminder to me of my dear friend Julie Larson, who years ago started a small collection of hedgehogs and gave them to me, year after year, on the ground that I looked just like them.  Isaiah Berlin might say that's a good thing -- better to be a hedgehog than a fox (his remaking of a classical Greco-Roman statement) -- the hedgehog knows how to dig deeply, whereas the fox is all about surfaces.....

Anyway:  Here are some faded photographs.  Each year, I try to capture the colors of autumn in wool yarn with at least one freeform knitted/crocheted project, typically a jacket, and each year I give up in disgust.  What I see with my eyes (not in the photos) are rich, saturated tones of ocher, sienna, some greens (very dark, almost black in the hemlocks, then a kind of green tinge in some of the changing leaves), dashes of cochineal and madder red (the little bush near my driveway provides an example), some dark chocolate (in the sketchy branches that form a lattice through some of the warm tones, and in bark), and then the backdrop of grays and blues.   The backdrop conditions all that we see -- so I hesitate to add serious blues to the mix.   It will change everything.   But grays are another story.   Grays have a way with color, as if celebrating or selling them to the world.  I'm going to try again this year.   I have a basket of wools, mohairs, some boucles, at the ready -- I wonder now, as I think about it, whether the problem is proportional.   I should pay attention to the amount of each color family.  

More later.   Enjoy whatever you see outside of your house -- I hope you live in a place with gold and orange and red and green and chocolate, changing each day..............          svb

Friday, October 22, 2010

In Retrospect

....and now that a few spare moments appear, here are my additional thoughts about the New York festival.   First, I still think it's more exciting than Maryland Sheep and Wool has been for the past two years.   People pushing and milling and smiling in large numbers, filling the many show buildings well beyond what the fire code should permit.....lots of energy everywhere, even in the parking lots, where you could find plates from Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Georgia (!), South Dakota (!!!). 

Second, and more interesting, there are more men than in the past.  That's not to say that men were knitting and crocheting. I have no idea whether any of them can knit.  But they were THERE.  And it was fairly clear to me that they were not there simply to be guarding against excessive spending by spouses.  They were smiling, looking at the merchandise, offering opinions about the quality of this or that pile of roving.  Young men walked along with young women, hand in hand, as if they'd done this all their lives.  America is changing.

Third, and most important of all:  People were taking their time, making friends, talking to perfect strangers at the luncheon picnic tables.  Now, this is always true at fiber festivals.  It's part of why these events are so importand to the cultivation of arts and crafts.  The sociability idea is reinforced.  And it seemed to me that, year after year, I've seen more and more of it.  At New York, friend Ann met up with two women she'd encountered on a website, shopped with them all afternoon, introduced them to me, created a network.  Over coffee, I met three women whose cards I now have in my wallet and who will be called when I'm next in the Fingerlakes region.  On and on.  There is a social fabric forming always, but it does seem to me that it is becoming stronger.

That's enough for now.  svb  

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Home again!

Here are some images from my wonderful trek to the New York Sheep and Wool Festival near Rhinebeck, New York..........though I messed up badly.   Larry's fancy camera has a 'manual' setting that I accidentally triggered, so virtually all of the photographs that I took indoors are out of focus.  Here are some that are at least see-able.  First is a shot of the fairgrounds with happy walkers/shoppers........and then there's the brilliant Lisa Joyce (Arizona) with her sister in two of the hats she makes from recycled felt pieces.  Lisa makes gorgeous sheep's wool yarn, chunky, deeply satisfying to use as trims or textural elements.  Thurd, I got a shot of Ann, one of our friends and clients, with whom I played phone tag for awhile at the fair.  Then there's the talented woman who's making tapestry bags (I got four of them) with hand-crafted hardwood handles.  And, finally, a shot of the entrances to a couple of the MANY buildings at the expo.  The Sheep and Wool Festival is so vast, and spread over so many buildings, that it's easy to become disoriented.  But.... it's also more fun than almost anything I can imagine.

The drive was long and mostly gorgeous.  Pennsylvania along Interstates 80 and 84 is endless, but in mid-October, it's also unspeakably beautiful.  It's as if a demented painter spilled colorful pots of paint all over the trees throughout the Allegheny National Forest and then into the Appalachians.  As New York appeared, the colors continued....broken only by pine expanses.  I didn't bother to photograph any of it.  Some things can't be captured on film; you're always disappointed.  Memory is a better archive.  So I can't share what I saw -- except to say that, if you ever want to soothe the mind, drive east in mid-October in full sunlight -- or , better yet, in grayed or end-of-day sun, when the colors are even more vivid.

More later.   I have to sit on a panel today at 4:00 and I'm unprepared.   svb

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Just want to quickly tell everyone what's coming.  This very next weekend, I will climb into a rental car (the poor little BUG is getting a bit creaky after all these years, so I'm only using her for short trips, say, to Ohio or Indiana) and drive to Rhinebeck, NY -- made famous recently by Chelsea Clinton, but known to fiber aficionados as the site of the amazing New York Sheep and Wool Festival.  I had hoped to hook up with Cynthia Grosch, who makes samples for me and test-knits some of my designs, but I don't think she can come -- so that's a disappointment.  But I will be able to find old and new friends, and of course grab some delectable new yarns (and so on) for the place.  Most of all:  I can think while driving, feel the power of the landscape as it rushes by, and get caught up on work in the quiet privacy of a Hampton Inn.  That's pure bliss.

Then -- to make matters more amazing -- Larry and I will drive away the very next weekend and go to Asheville, NC, where the rapidly growing SOutheast Fiber Arts Expo will take place.   More on this one later -- but most of all, I look forward to seeing it grow -- it's now about twice as big as when I first went, so it should be really really really fun. 

In the meantime:   If I don't finish the sweater model that I promised Barry Klein by October 15 or so, and maybe make some headway on some academic work, I will have to leave the country.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Past, Present, Future

In the past, the amazing little class just conducted in the studio with children -- taught by me, my wonderful Alex (age 12) and Dierdre (age 12), and assorted adults.  There is real magic in the way young brains function.   What flexibility and agility!  Show 'em something and they soon are not only doing it, but making it look like, well, child's play.  Why do people underestimate children so completely?   "Well, I'll cast on for you because children can't do it," or "OOOOH dearie, how ARE we???"  (in baby talk).   Ask a twelve year old a complex question, you'll get an answer that is both honest and penetrating.  Maybe we should start a permanent children's group and put Alex and Dierdre entirely in charge.  The problem, of course, is that I can't pay them in money.  The feds would come get me.  But I can give them endless yarn!  Alex is almost done with his first vest, complete with pockets, buttonholes, and nicely crafted bands.   Dierdre is making a pullover out of Trendsetter Tonalita -- really beautiful.   I drafted a simple little pattern and off she went.

Also in the past, a truly nightmarish encounter with a button maker who apparently didn't believe that we had cancelled her visit for lack of space and traffic, etc., and showed up anyway.   I'm exhausted. 

In the present, a studio that is picking up steam, attracting new people, making everyone happier than we've been in a long time.  I wish I could spend more time there.   It's frustrating to be doing everything less well than I could do if I were there more regularly.  I could be designing sweaters regularly, dyeing more yarn, teaching more people...........Oh well.  In good time.   For now, I have a book to finish.

In the future, the near future, in fact, there's the New York Sheep and Wool Festival at Rhinebeck.  I probably will rent a car and take four days to come and go by way of Canada (better roads).  It's a long way to Albany and fairly tedious -- but the festival is the biggest in the nation, at least to my eyes (some people think Maryland, but I haven't sensed as much energy there in the last two years).  And there are so many wonderful vendors that I hate to miss it -- not to mention antique shops.

Then the Southeastern festival across the street from the Asheville, NC, airport.  I need to figure out how to kidnap Larry.  He needs to get out of the studio.  The NC event is a natural.  He loves the Carolinas, and it's the right time of year.  So -- I need to plot, cover the studio for the weekend, and pile him into a car.  When we were last driving through NC, we found just an amazing number of wee antique shops with genuinely interesting buttons and old buckles.  They were off the beaten path, with prices not hiked up to meet the expectations of interstate travelers, who frequent the big malls along those roads (sometimes by the busload).  Better to go to the smallest of the small and find the truly original and unique buttons at good prices.  And the additional reward is that you get to visit all of those sleepy towns with a single old-fashioned cafe on Main Street, filled with people who haven't seen strangers in awhile.  I remember once in Kentucky having the distinct feeling that I was scandalizing everyone with my black fitness pants and (to their eyes) rather garish Marketplace of India jacket........not at all ladylike, I suppose, particularly because you're not supposed to be braless at age 65..........oops..........almost 66 (on Wednesday).   Too bad about that.  I keep thinking it's going to stop, but it doesn't.  I just keep getting older. 

The Southeastern festival is actually a joy.  I didn't go last year (conflicts).  But it keeps getting bigger and bigger.  It's held in a huge agricultural arena/center, which includes an immense main building with tiers, and then a series of drafty but atmospheric outbuildings/sheds.  The sheds are not entirely visible, so the people who rented space there were not entirely happy when I went the last time.  Maybe they've fixed that situation with better signs.  But the big building has dozens of high-quality dyers, spinners, and so on -- and you go round and round in circles, tier by tier, to explore the place.  What an immense amount of fun)

That's it for now.   Believe me, when there are travels to report, I'll be back atcha, as Palin would say.


Monday, September 27, 2010

I fixed it!

At least I think I fixed it so that everyone except spammers can post comments more readily.  Blogspot has a default position that makes it possible only for Google account holders to comment.  I hope I took care of that, so try it.     svb

Saturday, September 25, 2010 to northern Michigan!

Today, I got in the car late in the morning and drove to West Branch, Michigan, where the often neglected Northern Michigan Lamb and Wool Festival happens every year. What an amazing drive! The skies were threatening rain most of the way, and on a couple of occasions made good on the threat -- and the air is now cold. But I also witnessed the most astonishing celestial show of elegant grays, cream tones, blues punctuated with roiling, boiling charcoal. I was wishing I could get out of the car and knit something that looked just like that layered, linsey-woolsey sky -- summer becoming autumn, almost -- not quite. (My students have never heard of the old fabric linsey-woolsey, so don't feel badly if you have no idea what it was....only historians like me get all excited about things like that). In a week, autumn will insist upon itself. For now, the heavens are full of resentment and indecision.

The festival was interesting but a little bit odd. I was surprised at the number of yarn shops with booths full of manufactured yarns; I don't remember seeing booths like that in past years. And roving, spinners, spinning wheels were everywhere -- many more than in the past. In fact, it reminded me a lot of the expo at Ann Arbor in that respect, though bigger. In Michigan, it's fairly clear to me that spinners and makers of roving are outnumbering knitters and crocheters at the festivals, at least for now. Allegan was showing the same tendency, though on a lesser scale.

Nevertheless....I found some of my favorite people. Rita Petteys of Yarn Hollow promised to contact Larry about a trunk show, so I decided to wait before acquiring some of her lovely, lovely skeins. And then I found Kim Leach (Happy Hands Yarns) and Riin Gill (Happy Fuzzy Yarns). They share more than the word "Happy," so I hustled Kim away from her booth over to Riin's booth. They HAD to meet. They share a kind of eccentric eye for color -- never predictable, always elegant but whimsical. Both have a way with names ("Brown Eyed Girl" for one of Kim's; "Duck" and some other amazing names for Riin's.) Kim took one look at Riin's stuff and understood what I wanted her to notice -- not just the similarity in sensibility but the great skill with color. I hope they become friends -- that would make me very happy.

I came away with a pile of limey lightweight wool from Kim, some stunningly beautiful lace-weight alpaca, a pastel combination that I've not seen in her repertoire, and some delightful wool-tencel. From Riin, I gathered a few skeins of ravishingly painted orange, plum, red fingering weight yarn. Not many. I still have lots of her yarn. But I couldn't leave them there.

All of it now hangs on the new studio wall that I'm going to give over to new acquisitions. Larry will make signs indicating where they came from (in this case, the Finger Lakes Fiber Festival and Northern Michigan Lamb and Wool) so that people can see what's happening month to month and maybe grab things before they merge with the larger collections.

In the meantime, I am in desperate need of sleep! I hope to dream in technicolor.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

are you there?

Hey, faithful readers, are you there? Strike up a conversation. I feel as if I'm writing into a gigantic black hole!!!!!!!!!!!! Use the comment section -- and really comment!!

On Saturday, I'm going to take a quick road trip up Interstate 75 to West Branch, Michigan, to the Northern Michigan Lamb and Wool Festival (might have the name slightly wrong) that has always struck me as one of the undersung festivals in the region. VERY pretty setting -- a parklike fairgrounds, trees everywhere, an impression of unusual verdancy. There will be seventy-some vendors, some of whom are friends -- Riin Gill from Ann Arbor, who paints her beautiful yarns in a turkey roaster (!); Kim Leach of Wisconsin whose Toe Jamz are both whimsical and masterfully dyed; and some others. I am particularly tired right now and a tad dejected: My grad seminar tonight fizzled after two hours from lack of reading, so I need some perking up. A road trip almost always does that for me. I am not sure what it is about the motion of the car, the way the countryside whizzes by and the air whooshes on my face -- particularly when I can have either the windows or the sliding top hatch open. The mood is meditative, zen-like, as if mesmerized by the motion, the peace, the absence of contradiction and tension. Right now, I could use a big dose of it. Stay tuned. I'll take the camera.


Monday, September 20, 2010 final image....

and here is something to make everyone happy: Look at the colors, the texture! This is what I love to find when I travel to these festivals. I didn't buy any of this woman's beautiful work because I have too much that's like it in the studio. But I might next time, and I was dazzled by the artistry, the colors (think grapevines!), the texture. svb

Fingerlakes Part II

.......and here are some special shots from the festival. The wonderful chap at the top is Jim, owner of Ram's Horn. He's with his daughter. Ram's Horn makes some of the most amazing hand-cast pewter buttons and shawl pins I've ever seen; some of them are retro, but the rest are Jim's own designs. I bought more than is decent.
Second: Have some lovely yarn! I tried uploading many more photos like this one; the computer refused -- so you get only one. I'll try some more tomorrow.
And finally, what a splendid chap is Mr. Llama! He didn't glare or spit at me, which is a first. I seem to get on with alpacas much more completely than with llamas. What elegant creatures they all are. I'm glad that, in my lifetime, these denizens of the Andes have found their way to the northern United States -- including Michigan, which has a flourishing alpaca industry. This coming weekend, in fact, Flint (the home of Michael Moore!) hosts the International Alpaca Festival, which I'll visit in conjunction with the cozy festival at Romeo's Mt. Bruce Station, and maybe the wonderful little fiber festival at West Branch. It can be done in a day if you start early, so if it doesn't rain, I'll make the circuit on Saturday.
Hugs to anyone reading this!!! svb

Fingerlakes Journey, Part I

Since I'm not really a photography aficionado, you'll have to turn the top photograph sideways -- but look at it! Wild Stuff! You should have been there. Ravishing wild flowers in every imaginable shade of ochre and gold and lavender and creamy white, surrounded by stunning sun-drenched green.....really gorgeous, not really photographable. Have you ever noticed that photographs of drop-dead beautiful things are almost always disappointing? Memory holds every detail; photographs do not.
But that's not all: The second image appeared on a small walk that I took on a small New York farm. I love the geometry of that broken door. I love the fading of the white paint.
Third, we find a form of conveyance rarely seen in downtown Detroit.
And finally, here's a wee portion of the parking lot. Everyone at the festival in Hemlock, NY, was astonished at the turnout. My friend Ellen Minand (of Ellen's Half-Pint Farm, Vermont) said they were swamped within the first half-hour of opening. Nobody told those people about the recession -- or maybe they really BELIEVE that it's over (as everyone on every TV channel is explaining today: "Hey folks, it's been over since June." IN MICHIGAN???).
All of this (excepting the parking lot) eased my eyes, made the brain less fevered, HEALED.
Now go on to the next part. svb

Sunday, September 19, 2010

home again ...jiggity-jig

Notwithstanding a very slow start (I had one of those debilitating intestinal maladies that we all get from time to time last week for two entire days), I managed to drive away Friday afternoon in the general direction of New York's fingerlakes region -- by way of Canada. I have always preferred the Canadian route to the northeast - in part because it's shorter (allegedly), but also because it's so very pretty, with roads many time better than their US equivalents. This time, the queen's way was heavily under construction, two major auto accidents held up traffic, and I confess that it made me quite tired. The route took about two hours more than the US route might have taken. But never mind. Here's why:

The countryside in Ontario cast a spell -- the lighting, the way the cornfields were making the journey from summer green to autumnal browns (the stalks were beginning to look like emaciated scarecrows), the pristine mixture of eastern woodlands and almost-prairie. I say "almost" because I grew up in the Great Plains, and nobody who's grown up there would ever mistake long-settled and cleared woodland for plains. The woodlands gently undulate; the plains do not. On the plains, the sky is enormous, almost a cariacature of a normal sky; in easterly places, it's comparatively boring, normal, balanced. I'm also pleased to report that Canadians have Halloween-period orange cones with black and orange striping instead of the US's white and orange stripes. (Don't worry -- I have that kind of mind.....). I noticed, too, that the coffee at Tim Horton's is still better in Canada than in the company's American shops. I wonder why???

After a good night in Batavia, New York, Matilda (the bossy GPS) took me overland, away from turnpikes onto small paved roads to some of the state's most beautiful little towns. One was founded in 1789, another in 1802. Here and there, you can find vestiges of those early republican beginnings -- the occasional old Dutch facade (I last saw some of those rooflines in Edam and Amsterdam), fields with furrows much deeper and less temporary than the ones to the west. After a couple of century's you can't really eliminate furrows that have been ploughed in a certain way over and over again; if you don't believe me, just fly over the English midlands.

I bought some really amazing vintage buttons in an Ontario collectable shop, and then some genuinely antique fasteners in a very old, creaky shop in one of those sleepy NY towns.

But I'd like to save the Finger Lakes Fiber Festival descriptions until I can download the camera. I made some new friends. Be patient: I'll get the job done tomorrow. svb

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

and just LOOK at these things.....

....and before I quit for the day, just LOOK at these gorgeous vintage buttons. We took this shot at the Manchester, NH, show......and, as I think about taking another road trip in search of more of these wonderful historical artifacts, I'm reminded that we have found buttons, buckles, frogs, all kinds of old reminders of past practices in California, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, New Mexico, on and on. Once upon a time, all of them graced a garment or shoe or bag or cloak long since gone. What remains are the silver, Bakelite, horn, celluloid, glass, and wooden closures, the mechanisms that transformed flat panels into garments. I really love finding these things. Tap on the photo to get a closer look. We have thousands, all with the state's name on the card. svb

and thanks to everyone....

....and thanks to all of you. Larry and I just discovered that we have won some rave reviews on the Best of Detroit website -- the annual contest. We had no idea we had been nominated in the Best Fiber Arts Shop category. What an amazing string of comments!!! My dear, dear friend Julie Larson in Minnesota must have been searching for Artisan Knitworks -- she found all of this and told me by e-mail. So, if you were one of the many people who wrote so glowingly about the studio, blessings be upon your head. svb

In the Future....

..........I have been a very bad blogger lately -- so much to do, so little time. The university term has begun, and today I finally unpacked and shelved/hung the last skeins of yarn. We now have to make signs, finish button displays, figure out what to do with our wonderful jewelry and the dozens of finished garments, and generally finish.....I want to get some HUGE mega-posters that will show off Larry's incredible fibery photographs and float them along the top of the 16-foot ceilings. But that's for the future. For now, we need to think about the gala grand opening events from about September 20 through October 2, and the wonderful 7-shop crawl that will occur on the Friday and Saturday of Halloween weekend. It gives me real joy to know that we are indeed forging a network of shops, despite Michigan's reputation for fencing and guarding.

This weekend, I'm going to take some time off to drive, think, work out the kinks. I have wanted for years and years to go to the Fingerlakes fiber festival in Hemlock, NY -- smaller than the big Rhinebeck festival later this fall, bigger than a lot of others, and with some vendors I've not encountered before. So I will get into the little silver Bug and drive across Canada this Friday. I've rented a Hampton Inn room in Batavia, NY, not far from Hemlock. Then, bright and early on Saturday, I can be at the festival when it opens. I may take my time coming back. I don't have to be back in the classroom until Tuesday afternoon, and I desperately need some personal time, so maybe I'll deliberately take the long way home, stateside, and hit all the yarn shops and antique shops I can find along the way.

Of course I'll make report at every juncture, and I'll take photographs so that, at long last, you, dear reader, will have something to look at!!!! svb

Friday, September 3, 2010

Competition and Sisterhood

Well, we're least in the formal sense. Furniture is in place; yarn and needles and books (and so on) are mostly out of moving containers; volunteers have moved in and out of the place like benevolent angels. And the place is lovely: High ceilings that remind me of a Manhattan loft, complete with girders and big metal ducts, everything a warm shade of antique white, including the ceiling metalwork. We have some minor problems with spot lighting which, I assume, a good electrician can fix in an instant. So I'd call it a success. I bought two half-moon composite planters for each side of the front door with pyramidal boxwoods; I am calling them the Elaine Clark Memorial Boxwoods because my dear friend Elaine suggested them (they make the place look even more like a loft, though perhaps a London loft.....).

Now perhaps I'll have time to knit the medium-weight version of my Orkney vest, the pattern for which Barry Klein has purchased -- he is knitting the bulky-weight version and I volunteered to create a slightly lighter version (from Tonalita) so that knitters will have two options.

But today I must say I was troubled all over again by two very important things.

The first has to do with our old location, four blocks from the Detroit city line, across the street from the Grosse Pointe Park police station, for heaven's sake.....We left because foot traffic had dropped to almost nothing and because the small shops in the neighborhood had closed. It's a recession, after all. During recessions, people go out of business.

But, now that we've moved, people have been confiding (to quote one woman a few days ago) that they didn't feel "safe" coming "down there," and are SOOOO relieved that we have moved to where they can feel "safe." Of course there is nothing at all unsafe about the old location. But the closer you get to Detroit, the less "safe" some people feel. What they are really saying is this: I don't like being close to Big Black Detroit, and so I'll patronize shops that don't force me to go where I feel uncomfortable. It's racism, pure and simple, or more precisely racialized anxiety. I have to deal with the fact that a significant number of people will continue to say that they are SOOOO relieved, SOOOO glad to see that we are located in a "better" or "safer" or "closer" place -- references that typically speak to sentiments that I despise, and which I can't bear to have associated with me. This will be my little cross to bear, won't it? All I can do, really, is to counter racial anxiety with fact and hope it is enough to cut through the ugliness.

Second: An old customer came in today to see the place -- loved what she saw -- and then said, "Of course this brings you into REAL competition with the Knotted Needle!" -- a fiber studio down the avenue a few miles. The frame of mind is deeply engrained: If you're in a shop, you must be in some kind of tooth-and-nail competition with everyone else in the same business. As we organized a shop crawl this year and last, we ran into the same thing: "I'd do it, but I don't like So and So," or "No, I want to keep my own clientele." Company reps have talked about the "toxic" atmosphere in Michigan yarn shops -- a zero sum game apparently, in which the sale of a button in one shop means that another shop isn't going to sell a button. Never mind that, if people are milling around in greater numbers, all the boats will rise. No. Here, we have to do battle, compete, and -- most troubling of all -- never set foot in one another's establishments. Of what use was organized feminism, I wonder, within this community of women? And have they never read anything about the history of knitting????

When my colleague Allyson and I went on one of my periodic shop visitation road trips (this time to Birmingham and other points northwest), we actually encountered one shop owner who was so hostile we fled within about three minutes -- actively not wanting us there -- glaring at my card as if it were a grenade.

So when the question was put to me, as if it were the most natural thing in the world that I would view myself in some kind of mortal combat with the Knotted Needle, I could only say, "I don't compete." I tried not to sound annoyed, but I didn't entirely succeed. I got a blank stare in return. I quickly added that the shop in question was mostly into needlepoint; that helped a little. But I also told her, and I guess I'm going to have to say this each and every time it happens, that I simply WILL NOT COMPETE. I view myself and my work and my yarn collection and my buttons as augmentations of the holdings of other shops, and as a kind of repository of historical understandings. We are sisters and brothers in the same life-enhancing enterprise, perpetuating a chain of understandings that can be traced at least to classical Egypt. We make beautiful objects from natural fiber. We teach. We enrich the human condition.

Let me be more precise: We are part of an ancient community that has exhibited uncommon generosity over the centuries -- clothing the poor, warming the destitute and the very young, healing the sick with the soothing rhythm of handwork, putting food on the table (as with the men who used to knit stockings for sale), protecting fishermen with layers of wool. When my mother and her sisters made woolen socks for soldiers during World War II, and woolen soakers for soldiers' children, they were not competing with one another, or with knitters in other cities. Modest wool shops contributed huge quantities of yarn to the enterprise, setting themselves apart from a good many other capitalists. When Mary Livermore's helpers put bandages and stockings together during the Civil War for public use, they certainly were not fencing and guarding in relation to other makers of bandages and stockings. Once upon a time, sewing needles and knitting gear were so expensive that women (and men) actually carried them lovingly from door to door in protective cases. We move as one. Other sellers of wool can "compete" tooth and nail if they want to. I can't prevent it. But they impoverish themselves. They insult our forebears. They succumb to Ross Perot-style economic barbarism, thereby losing an opportunity to show other makers and sellers of things a better way to move from one day to the next. I simply refuse.


Thursday, August 26, 2010


Today was the last day of business for Artisan Knitworks LLC at its original location, and I found myself feeling relieved. An odd reaction -- it's been a wonderful time in many respects. But the neighborhood has changed so radically -- businesses closing on all sides, a sense of physical disrepair in the building itself, and of course we're out of room again -- that I am looking forward to this new adventure 6 miles away in St. Clair Shores. It's a splendid new space. And while I'm not terribly fond of the storefront -- unrelieved grey blocks -- it nevertheless has great promise for this lovely company's business. We have painted the walls a creamy white again, almost buttery but not quite yeilow -- and I think I can control the effect of the not-nice winey carpet with a seating area with red, blue, purple, and turquoise. I have bought a stunning lipstick red sofa. Found pillows in ethnic designs -- more red blue purple, and cream. Today I picked up a bark-colored shag rug for the place at half price -- with red, it's gorgeous. So we're on our way.

There will be little time between now and next week for frivolity, much less the serious business of getting ready to teach by next Thursday. But. Where there's a will, as my mother used to say, there's a way. Tomorrow a lovely army of volunteers arrives at the old place to help us throw yarn into ginorous plastic bags. I need to figure out how to move thousands of buttons how to NOT damage all of those tools and garments. And then the small moving van and burly men arrive on Saturday to do the heavy lifting.

The real work lies at the other end. I am responsible for making the place feel warm, inviting, creative, a haven away from everything we don't like as much as knitting and crochet. So I will be laboring to create intimate spaces in the midst of all of those black metal and wood cases. I also need to figure out how to swag the ceiling (16 feet tall at least) with muslin and fasten some of Larry's gorgeous photographs on the swag ends. All in good time. First some sleep, and onward. I'll keep everyone posted on developments . I hope with photos. svb

Friday, August 13, 2010

Cinderella? Phoenix? Take Two?

Here are some in-the-works photographs of my experiments with reclaimed jackets! This one is crocheted, but the next one will be knitted and, if I live long enough, I'll make yet another one with free-form, knit-and-crochet sleeves. I just finished the crocheted parts last night at an hour I refuse to reveal (there is NOT A SPARE MOMENT in my life for ANYTHING). As a big bonus, you now have a glimpse of my close-to-heaven second-story deck. Up in the treetops. A very cool place to be, particularly when it's less humid than it's been in Michigan recently.

Here is what you do: Go to your favorite resale store. Find a jacket that fits you, or fits the person for whom it's intended. I went to a Value City (Value World?) where they have hundreds of high-quality wool jackets for both men and women; this jacket, which is about a size 4 women's jacket, was originally a hugely expensive, tailored blazer made of herringbone with a slight burgundy-blue stripe pattern. It's very strict and unrelieved in its lines. The idea is to give jackets a new lease on life by replacing the sleeves and buttons, and perhaps embellishing the piece here and there (though not too much). This is one of about six jackets that I bought for less than 2.50 each (!!!). Some were originally made for men: I've discovered that really cool , boxy women's 'boyfriend' jackets can be made from them.

First step: Carefully take out the sleeves. You'll need a seam ripper and a sewing machine. If you don't have equipment, take the jacket to a tailor. Once the sleeves are out, you have to zigzag or serge all around the armholes, taking care to reattach the jacket lining all around. I chose not to remove the small shoulder pads to preserve the original tailoring. You can take them out. But be sure to remake the arm scye (armhole) because the shoulder fabric has been cut to accommodate a pad. Do NOT throw the old sleeves away.

Second: open the underarm seam so that you can use the old sleeve as a template. You will need to get a sense of the old sleeve cap -- its height and width. (You also could eventually cut up the sleeve into bias strips and use them as part of the sleeve design -- I will try that with the freeform version). Make a paper pattern of the cap; and you might want to measure the sleeve length from top of cap to make sure the replacement sleeve is more or less the same length.

Third: Make up new sleeves! And I do mean, make them up. The sleeves shown here are very simple affairs -- pinned loosely into the armholes, but you get the idea...... Starting at the cuff, I crocheted a sleeve about 18 inches wide, straight up, in a trellis stitch. At the start of the armhole -- the placement of which can be determined roughly by referring to the length of original sleeve, or to your own measurements from center back down the shoulder to the wristbone , or both -- shape a cap. Leave an underarm shelf at each side of 1.5 to 2.0 inches and simply work up from each side of the shelf. For these simple sleeves, I decreased at each side on every RS row until the cap rose to its present height (about 4.5 inches). Wool is malleable; it can be smoothed into the armhole with steam and in the sewing process.

For these sleeves, I went back to the beginning and picked up another layer of fabric about 4 inches up and worked another layer of fabric downward. It's about an inch longer than the original rectangle. I then worked shells along both pieces of cuff fabric. The idea is to create a full ruffle at the cuff in two layers. The trellis stitch makes it easy to run a drawstring at the top of each cuff. But that will happen later.

I put the sleeves roughly into the armholes so that you could see them at this early stage. These are made of yarn from my stash (these are experimental jackets -- I did this the first time at LEAST 20 years ago, so I'm rusty) -- in this case, Noro Kureyon, which isn't as buttery as I'd like for the purpose (best to choose an easily molded wool). But the colors are wonderful, and they pick up on the burgundy-blue pencil stripes in the wool.

Clients at the studio are going to want a 'pattern' for all of this -- and I'm going to resist the demand. Part of what's good about this kind of project is the fact that you really DO have to feel your way along. That will be the whole point of the class I've organized to make these jackets.

Next step will be working a row of slip stitch all around the cap (to smooth it), and then picking up stitches all around the jacket armholes, first with blanket stitch (in sleeve yarn), then with single crochet. Gauge will have to be the same as the slip stitches around the sleeve cap. I'll insert the sleeves, sew the underarm seams (these could be done in the round, but they then become harder to insert -- you might need a tailor's ham), make and insert drawstrings to ruffle the cuffs, and sew on buttons. I have in mind mismatched tagua nut (vegetable ivory) buttons in five colors -- I've pinned the stack at the neck of the mannequin (see photos). They'll be deep orange, olive, blue, purple, and ashy gold. There are only 2 buttonholes on this jacket, but I will put on five buttons fairly tightly arrayed across from the holes -- I doubt that anyone will use the old holes anyway. I then will look at the resulting jacket -- I think I'm going to do a very discrete bit of surface crochet at the very top of the back basically over the neck bone, maybe with another small tagua nut button. But we'll see. It's possible to ruin this kind of thing by overdecorating and not knowing when to stop.

I'll keep you posted on the project's progress. We are moving the studio to St. Clair Shores over the next three weeks, and there is the small matter of my day job (!!!) -- THE SEMESTER STARTS ON SEPTEMBER 2. So. If I don't post for awhile, that's why!!!!!!!!!!!! svb

Sunday, August 8, 2010


For those of you who haven't seen it: have a look at the Beetle Cozy (knitted) at NEED ONE!! svb

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Creativity, Spaces, Moving On..!

The house is very quiet -- no photographs to post, though that won't be true for much longer. We are going to move the fiber studio out of its 'birthplace,' so to speak, into new quarters about five miles away in another community to the northeast of Grosse Pointe, Michigan (St. Clair Shores). And I'm feeling oddly meditative, as if the occasion is somehow about more than just packing and unpacking a bunch of yarn, needles, hooks, buttons.

What is it about particular spaces that makes us want to create new things? Why are some spaces more conducive to creativity than others? And why do some of us (not everyone, I dare say -- which is no insult) care about such things to such an extreme degree? Why have I, for example, always fashioned new spaces as if my life literally depended on it, choosing paint colors, fabrics, furniture locations -- even when money was in short supply -- over many weeks' time, feeling my way along as the space came together, tinkering with it long after I'd settled in?

Private spaces, in my estimation, should be havens away from the rest of the world, retreats, quiet and harmonious.....which is why I moved from the beautiful townhouse I once owned not a mile from this house. There was a horrible woman next door who shrieked profanities at her son all day long, all night long, and it disrupted the sense of calm that I'd spent so much time cultivating in the house. I see, in retrospect, that I always create a soft, comparatively neutral background and pop colors off of it -- as with the present place, with its gray-green walls and earth tones, including spots of madder red. Men sometimes do this, too -- so its not only that I'm female -- I don't want to hear nonsense about how women are "natural" nesters, "natural" mothers....unless my first husband also was a "natural" mother. The second spouse loves small, cozy spaces that make him feel protected. At last check, he wasn't a "natural" mother either. In such spaces, people like us can write, knit, design, raise animals who genuinely display affection, reach out to whatever life-forces actually exist in the universe.....

But what about public spaces? As I think about the old and new studio spaces, it's clear that I wanted women's labor to really show. So I painted the walls a thick-cream color and let the colors SING for people when they walked in the door. There is a good, big seating area with cushy chairs and a loveseat and a coffee table and a big, black Ikea dining table with red chairs.......and there, as if by magic, people teach each other about what loops of wool will do when they're pulled through yet more wooly loops, when they are wrapped around crochet hooks, when they're made into a fabric and run through a washing machine or steamed or simply molded into beautiful shapes.

Best, I think, to let a warming, harmonizing container RECEDE so that the contents, the subject of the space -- whether it's hand-crafted wool or books or artworks -- can rise to meet whoever comes in. At Artisan Knitworks, the makers themselves rule the day -- the amazing women who put wool into dyepots, who pressed clay into buttons, who carved wood into shawl sticks -- and so the idea is to let them sing without any kind of background at home, where books and wool and the grand piano hold center stage, invisibly supported by watery gray-green.

I will take photographs of the new space and follow it along. Right now, it's a cacophony of primary colors -- a really unhealthy-feeling mixture of harsh purples, reds, blues, greens, yellows, with a dreadful burgundy tweed carpet. I'd like to rip the carpet out, but replacing it (I'd stain the cement and put gloss on it) has to wait until more money appears. So the idea will be to cream up the 16-foot, loft-like ceilings and walls so that they can welcome and celebrate the makers and encourage new artisans as they walk in the door, sit, talk.

More later. I need to do some academic work right now, go to the studio for a class, and sink back into the problem of making a new space later tonight. I'd love your thoughts as to why some spaces generate creativity and others do not. In the place as it is, I'd be astonished if anyone could think even one original thought.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Dye Pots!

......and so, in spare moments, I decided finally to make good on the threat to dye some yarn. Sound of drums rolling.

My wonderful friend Ellen Minand (Ellen's Half Pint Farm in Norwich, Vermont) has been my coach -- so has Sybil Williams (an incredible knitter/weaver/natural dyer/chiropractor/cardiac nurse), also the source of my wonderful ginger cat, Sheba. It's a new variety of Rainbow Coalition.

A couple of days ago, I ventured into my third-floor stash (what a misleading word! It's a thousand square feet of YARN, for god's sake) and hauled out about a ton of fairly old but still sound Green Mountain Spinnery (Vermont) undyed, single-ply worsted weight wool in cream.......I won't tell you how many skeins I had, but the number rhymes with 'plenty.' That's not counting the natural gray wool (from the Orkney Islands) that I brought home from the studio with another dozen skeins of Michigan natural white yarn. From the basement came a number of huge enameled pots and my insanely huge plastic salad bowl (!). Into the latter went the first half-dozen skeins of natural wool with a dab of Soak (my favorite rinseless soap) to help the yarn give up its natural oils, dust, and general resistance to change (like some people I know?). An hour or two later, I was ready to go.

The big enameled pot eventually had about 3 gallons of boiling water in it and maybe 8 teaspoons of dissolved acid reactive dye -- a gorgeous raspberry. Into the pot went the skeins. I want them to be slightly variegated, so I didn't stir -- just pushed them down. They simmered for about 30 minutes, then another 10 for good measure. Then into a vinegar bath. Then into cooler and cooler (never cold) rinse waters. Gentle squeezing... Then back into the salad bowl for hanging on the second-story wooden deck railings. What a sight from the street this must have been, particularly as the colors multipled (raspberry, almost raspberry over the natural gray, tealy bluey, golden pear, etc.). Now there is a basket of wool at the studio with new labels that say "Sandra's Kettle-Dyed Yarn." The colors are soft -- I have deliberately cut back a tad on the dye -- not unlike the ones that a Maine woman makes with her son from local wool, dye, and vats of sea water.

What a wonderful thing to do. I made sage green with 7 parts golden pear, 1 scant part teal. When I have time to do it again, I'll add a bit of lilac to burgundy and see what kind of dark mauve results. Or maybe I'll add a tad of ochre to burgundy. Or maybe a dab of purple with teal....what would happen?

......all of which took me back (don't laugh) to finger painting. In grade school, I remember being completely mesmerized by the way the shiny primary colors from the finger paint pots merged on wet paper -- orange, green, purple, where once there were only red, blue, yellow. I tried to make a sunset once -- I remember all too well -- and the teacher actually slapped my fingers with a wad of paper because I was MIXING IT ALL UP. "If you want orange, use orange..." Really annoyed.

...but of course I'm a rule breaker, and nature mixes it all up every minute of the day....White light becomes a cascade of colors only partly captured in dyepots, the pigments of life imperfectly replicated by creatures who can't even see the entire spectrum of natural light. But we try, much as Chopin kept trying to write the perfect nocturne. He was right to think that, had he succeeded, music might have stopped, at least for awhile. So I will work toward Beet and Sky and Fern. To that damaged second-grade teacher, I say this: I am mixing it all up again, you poor fool, still being naughty, still making a mess. Taking liberties all the time with damn near everything. You should, too.