....and so I have returned from TNNA....a name known only to people who deal in the fiber arts (The National Needlearts Association). This year, the Big Show was just a tad disappointing: I think I've seen most of the garment samples, in one way or another, in previous years, though I could be wrong. Mostly it looked tired. Exceptions: Laura Bryant's new models at the Prism display; the utterly gorgeous yarns at MadelineTosh, so gorgeous that I have trouble calling up accurate memories of what they looked like; the new colors in River Twist (by Mountain Colors of Montana). I bought a boatload of bags, needle cases, and dolls (yes, dolls!) from the lovely woman at Two Sticks. Beyond that, I didn't do much damage. And that's interesting: it only took me three hours to get all the way through the event, unlike last year, when the voyage took twice as long. So I think I'm right: It was less riveting, less FULL of sizzling ideas, and even less well attended. I hope I'm wrong.
On the way home, however, I decided to drive around awhile on side roads and found some amazingly beautiful lanes right off of Highway 23 -- more or less hidden from view, and very like the English countryside in their verdant splendor, complete with curlique roads. Ohio is much more beautiful than people realize. I also managed to find the Yarn Farm, which I looked for the last time I went to the Ohio State Legal History Colloquium -- had the wrong highway! It's on Highway 15, not 23 (I found 15 this time by taking the wrong turn -- those who know me well will realize how usual this is). Sue runs a slightly down-at-the-heels farm store with a quantity of mass-market yarns (not particularly interesting to me) and racks of farm-dyed, farm-raised mohair and woolen yarns (very, very interesting). Some are hand-spun. All are 'toothy' yarns -- that is, still permeated with some lanolin and 'prickle' -- traits that I really love in plied yarn. But, nowadays, people have it in their heads that animal fiber has to be soft as butter always, which means (usually) single ply and so softly spun that they will pill simply by running fingers over them more than once. This isn't the way wool should be. There is no reason, in other words, why you can't have softness and a resistant surface. I may be the only fiber fanatic left in all of Michigan who truly distrusts all of this artificially 'soft' wool. Yes, I mean Malabrigo.
Anyway: Sue raises her own Angora goats (the source of mohair), which is spun with good wool at a Michigan spinnery. Here, the nap isn't brushed, so the yarn is shinier than usual. The last time I was at the Yarn Farm, I walked off with a big ball of cobalt wool with black hand-painted streaks. It sat for over a year (toothy, remember!), but finally sold to a woman who understands that wool and mohair soften and bloom when washed. particularly when they're still lanolin-bearing ('grease wool,' as they say in the trade.) This time, I absconded with two huge balls of blue wool-mohair hand-dyed yarn, one a full two pounds, the other only a pound. So one will make a small sweater, the other a coat. They're both semi-solid blue, one light, one darker. And I'll bet they will sit in the studio for two years, one year for each ball. I don't care. They're authentic American handicrafts and very high quality. And Sue has a lot of integrity.
The corn in central Ohio fields is about 15 inches tall, so it WILL be the proverbial knee-high by the fourth of July, perhaps taller. People who grow up in cities don't understand how very special corn fields are to the rest of us. In small-town Minnesota, they were obvious symbols of a direct relationship between workers and the soil, even when you weren't farmers; everything and everyone depended on the well-being of all of those corn and soybean fields. All of us were custodians and sometimes tenants of the fields. They were places of retreat (I used to walk through cornfields when I wanted to escape the world) and places of raucous play, like labyrinths where you could get well and truly lost, and then magically be found. Animals lived there -- sometimes, does with fawns, but more often pheasants and quail and crows. It was a sign of real mastery to be able to creep up on the birds and study them, unseen behind veils of corn.
When I was a very small person, perhaps 12, 13, 14, I used to hire out to local farmers in Worthington, Minnesota -- large gangs of us would go out into corn fields and detassle the corn plants at a certain point in the plants' development. This is to encourage plants to put energy into ears rather than into sex (!). We got something like 20 cents an hour -- I can't remember exactly how much, but I remember thinking, even then, how much work it was for so little money. This was only one job among many. I had four REAL jobs when I was only 14 -- church organist (yes, at 12), two paper routes, and waitress gigs. Often, poor kids lied about their age; nobody cared very much (in the 1950s, nobody paid much attention to labor law, particularly in small rural towns, and day labor or waitressing in any case were exempt). I worked, to give a particularly unsavory example, at the Adams Hotel, in the upper reaches of which resided some Golden Gloves boxers who liked to pinch waitresses' behinds. I didn't stay at that job very long. I also vividly recall a carhop gig (three weeks -- I hated the little short skirt) and a longer-term job at Norton's Cafe, where I once dropped a dozen chocolate malts on the floor and had to pay for them out of my 40-cents-an-hour wage. That was a lot of money, by the way. Really it was.
I should reveal that, on Thursday night just past, I didn't sleep. I had left the seaming of a sweater, some edging, and a hat crown unfinished, thinking I'd wrap things up, once I got to Columbus. The items were due at the registration desk at TNNA by 11:00 AM on Friday (semi-finalist entries for design contest at the Knitting Guild of American contest upcoming). Well. I hated one of the borders. I took it out four times before deciding on a new treatment. Then the yarn I'd chosen for another garment decided to snap everytime I pulled on it while seaming. I thought I was going to die. Or maybe commit homicide. At about 3:30 AM, I discovered that I'd left circular and double-pointed needles at home for the hat. All in all, a harrowing time. At age 65, you can't stay up all night without suffering some pretty unpleasant consequences.
The big news was the hotel -- a hidden gem in Columbus called The Lofts, across the street from the convention center, on special at Expedia.com, and by far THE most interesting hotel I've inhabited since I stayed in a boutique Klimpton Hotel in Washington, DC. Really cool. Huge loft-like rooms, an old historic building done exactly right -- exposed brick, wonderful big beds, HUGE spaces, real bathrooms, a big coffee center -- in Manhattan, the place would go for about 500 a night. Anybody reading this who attends TNNA should stay there next time. You can barely see it from the street. It's an amazing retreat -- nothing frilly, nothing cramped, just pure urban elegance. Complete with Italian linens! svb