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.


Friday, July 23, 2010

An Amazing Poem by Ann Creer

by Ann Creer

In the needled clicking over mind
she knits with wool soft thoughts of yesterday
and weaves his wrinkled laughter
through her broken brow
slippered feet, rocker worn, retrace
remembered Sunday seams into the
sunstretched smooth of summers carpeted vows
she nods, replacing fraying fears
of loneliness with satin sounds of a
wedding gown and dream of his
Hand in quilted warmth upon her Heart
she purls the borders of their ribbed
separation, and gently kissing
casted lots upon the finished corners
Folds it over the Earth.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Women and Renewal

You know, women were the original recyclers -- for centuries past. I think of this today because, in between writing stints (book I'm trying like h___ to finish), I am taking the final steps toward remaking a half-dozen wonderful, old wool jackets. I bought them at a thrift shop for prices like 1.50, 2.00, 2.50. Wonderful wool. One of them is Ralph Lauren and I STILL bought it (I hate this preoccupation we have with Fancy Brands). I had a tailor take the sleeves out and serge the edges to prevent raveling, and to keep lining and fabric together. This kind of broke my heart, because I'm a pretty good wool tailor myself, lacking only the time, I'm afraid. But then, tailors have to earn a living too. So I gave her the work (I won't do it again -- she charged me a very steep price...I need to be less trusting about things like price and get it all battened down first). So now I will refashion the sleeves, using the old sleeve cap as a template. I think I'll make the sleeves for the first one in modified trellis (crochet) and make 'em long and wide enough so that I can draw the bottoms together into a big ruffle with a crocheted drawstring (edged of course with something nice). But I think now that I'll also add some free-form crochet motifs here and there on the trellis fabric, and perhaps over the old pockets. The buttons will be changed to mismatched vintage. The question is: What to call this line of jacket? Not Second Hand Rose -- too hackneyed. Take Two? All ideas are welcome. The next one will be knitted. It's a boxier jacket -- nubbier fabric. Looks like some kind of wonderful drop-stitch sleeve to me.

But as I think about all of this, I'm remembering my mother, and her mother. Mum was a great church bazaar (and Eastern Star bazaar) person -- made things out of nothing, which is what women have always done. Amazing enough that she could make dinner happen with nothing in the cupboard. She also could transform refuse into cute, sometimes beautiful objects. Sometimes we laugh at all of this. She made crocheted and skirted dolls for teapots and toilet paper rolls. She covered Quaker Oats boxes with all kinds of decorative things and used them for storage and sometimes for gift-giving. She made old curtains into clothing. She created such astonishingly beautiful Christmas stockings from scrap felt that people told her to start a small company -- which she did. She called it VanBee Originals. She actually SOLD quite a few stockings, and then kits made up of all of the materials needed to make stockings and picnic tray covers.............on and on. It was brilliant. It was what poor people have done for as long as there has been poverty. Women have yard sales. It's all recycling, creating wealth where other people see only trash.

If I live 100 years, I'll never be as resourceful as that woman was. Her name was Gladyce Bessie Beedle. She lived in St. Paul, Minnesota, ended up an executive secretary for the president of 3M and then Continental Telephone, and STILL had time for all of those charitable works and creative refashionings -- and she had only an 11th grade education. We should remember women like that as the embodiment of everything that's good in human society.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


The final part -- and what fun this has been:

HERE ARE SOME PEOPLE -- by no means all, just a handful:

First: The smilingly gifted maker of some of the most beautiful Blueface Leicester yarn I've ever seen, from Bellingham, Washington-- Scarlet Tang. Brand is Huckleberry!

Second: The two owners of the Frontier Fiber Mill in Indiana -- makers of utterly ravishing alpaca yarn, and a new alpaca-merino blend that I trust will walk off of the shelves. I don't know of a finer small American mill than this one. Their yarn is drop-dead gorgeous., and they remember who people are from year to year! Even after three years.

Third: A lovely woman who beads shawl sticks. I bought every one of them. GREEDY.

Fourth: One of my all-time favorite people, Kim Leach, who is another frighteningly gifted hand-dyer. The brand is Happy Hands. She makes a sock yarn called Toe Jams (!) that actually DOES walk off of the shelves. But that's not all. Kim is just a wonderful human being -- about three feet tall in her stocking feet (!!!!) and sweet as sugar cane. Look her up.

Fifth: The owner of Ursula's Alcove, who makes really FINE vegetable-dyed knitting yarns. I bought more than I can sell (people don't really know what they have when they see yarns like this, and typically they're not brightly colored, so they sell very slowly -- but they are SO kind to the skin, and SO good for the planet). Her name isn't really Ursula. She does Renaissance fairs, and so...........Ursula.

That's it, folks, as Daffy Duck used to say. Or was it Bugs Bunny? Hugs all around. svb


.......moving right along (this is thrilling! I feel as if I'm truly OUTWITTING all the smart people at Google, who think they've effectively limited the photos I can post.......!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You can tell I have a Ph.D., so damned clever am I.....):

First: Polly Ester, a PERSON created by the Windy City Knitting Guild some years ago. For the same number of years, I have been threatening to bring to life a sister, to be called Molly Ester, or some such rhyming thing, in Detroit. I learned, talking to some people from the Guild, that she is getting too big (i.e., her skirt is too long and heavy), so I have offered to move her to Detroit. Need to talk to more people about this. The question will be where to put her, and how to make sure people still add to her raiment. The idea, in a nutshell, has been to remind people that clothing used to be hand-made, and to create community. People add bits of knitting, crochet, weaving, etc., on the spot (years ago, I added a crocheted flower to her skirt on the spot and met two lovely women in the process).

Second: Members of the guild, who kindly asked me to share a bench at lunch IN ONE HUNDRED DEGREE HEAT.

Third: Two wonderful button necklaces made by the nifty woman on the right in the guild photograph -- photographed because I think that other people might like to try it.

Fourth: The owner of Ewetopia , a wondrous shop in a small Wisconsin town between LaCrosse and Madison -- and one of the most gifted young dyers I've encountered. I walked off with some of her lace-weight alpaca and LOTS of her amazing mohair. See below.

Fifth: The mohair! At least two of the colorways. And in the sun, to show the colors.

Move on to the next installment. svb


Well, here goes, as promised. I have to do this in stages; Google's blogspot software doesn't like dozens and dozens of photographs. So let me first share these things. First: One alpaca giving another alpaca a nice peck on the cheek. I'm sure of it. Second: One of the many workshops with dozens of students. Knitters knitters knitters. Third: The interior of the rigorously rectangular building (see previous post). Fourth: A tractor in one of the parking lots. Now, I promise you that, in any of Detroit's well-heeled northern suburbs, you would NOT find a tractor. But there it was, in one of Chicago's northern suburbs. Finally: The aforementioned rigorously rectangular building in which the wonderful festival was held. Shoppers shoppers shoppers.
Now, go on to Part Two, where I have some things to say about people and their art.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

.....On the Road Again...

....the Willie Nelson song is in my head and I can't get it out.....Just got back from the Midwest Fiber and Folk Art festival. For those of you who don't know much about it: The festival started several years ago at Crystal Lake, Illinois at a community college. The location was actually fun -- vendors in the school auditorium, up and down the hallways, spilling out into the lawn areas. I'm fairly sure that the vendors thought it was a bit less fun. Running electricity into hallways was a problem; lighting was terrible; and costs mounted because of these logisitcal problems.

Now, the festival has a new home in Grayslake, Illinois, in a big, airconditioned building at the Lake County Fairgrounds. I had a fascinating (read "infuriating") time finding it -- the GPS has old maps in it, and it just couldn't find the address, so I ran around in circles for almost an hour until I just decided to follow Peterson Road. The decision: Either I'd find it, or I'd go shopping in Hyde Park. All those bookshops! Galleries! Coffee shops! Opportunities to GOOF OFF!

I found it. The vendors are much happier. I will have pictures by tomorrow. Everything except the food vendors is neatly contained inside. Today, it was ONE HUNDRED DEGREES outside, so that was a mitzvah. When I went out for some lunch, I honestly thought I was going to melt. And the asphalt parking lots were soft as old bubblegum underfoot.

But I guess I like it less well. On the one hand, the festival itself is just marvelous. Quality is very high. I will have much to say about some of the vendors, once I have the pictures up and ready. But the building is a perfect rectangle, the lot is perfectly flat, everything is brown and black outside, and....well, I guess I'm a fan of idiosyncratic, interesting spaces. I LIKE it when vendors are all over the place, in odd corners. The Southeast Festival (near Asheville, NC), for example, is held in a huge agricultural expo hall -- with vendors stuffed into every square inch, strung along the upper, middle, and lower tiers like beads on strings.....very odd, very fun to navigate. More vendors in small stalls up the hill. The airport across the street. It makes for visual interest, atmosphere, surprise. So I'm glad the vendors are more comfortable. The festival also is getting both bigger and better year by year -- people should GO, and bring lots of money! But I wish the setting were more stimulating and less uniform. It's all oddly industrial. Exception: I almost ran over (and quickly photographed) a big ol' tractor in the parking lot. That kind of thing doesn't happen in Detroit.

On the way home, I noticed a perfect coincidence (I hope I'm wrong) between areas of Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan known to be heavily Republican and the ABSENCE of the signs that mark the projects funded by the Federal Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Goodness. If I'm right, that could mean that Those People don't want Obama to get credit for roadway improvements. I'm sure I'm wrong...nobody would do that MERELY for political gain (:

In Marshall, Michigan, I actually pulled off the road, thinking that I was maybe too tired to finish the drive.......5 hours on Friday, 5 hours on Saturday, 65-year-old bones. Both of the motels at that particular stop were full! A clear omen. So I went home.

More tomorrow when the photographs are available and when I've slept. svb

Thursday, July 15, 2010

For fun, here's the rest of the gang...

What can I say? Here are the buddies of the guy I showed you the other day. Think of some names! I'm off to the Midwest Fiber and Folk Art Festival tomorrow, returning late Saturday night. Stay tuned. svb

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

and here is what it looked like....!

Larry caught some cool shots of our big messy booth at the Manchester show......and some other things. As I look at these, I smile all over again.....All those happy women grabbing skeins of yarn -- as if there would never be yarn again. It was especially true at the Noro bin, where we had a lot of discontinued Noro stuff at a steep discount. A feeding frenzy....often at the expense of some of the truly gorgeous, hand-made stuff in the rest of the booth. Saturday wasn't as frenzied as Friday had been, which actually surprised me....but, on Friday especially, it was a lot like the shark tank at the San Diego aquarium just after the keepers toss in some fish.
Also have a look at some of our utterly ravishing vintage buttons, our new friends who publish a great yarn shop travel guide, and of course the King Arthur bakery store in Norwich, Vermont, which I sought out at great personal cost. Larry and Katherine (his daughter) almost stopped speaking to me. I would drive a block or two, then abruptly turn my big big big mini-van around in the middle of the street, in the middle of a parking lot, in the middle of a vacant lot, and so on. They were following me. I had to FIND it, after all. Katherine told me later that Larry was (to put it politely) deeply puzzled. He said he thought I might be drunk. BUT. I found it!!!! To mystified viewers: King Arthur makes THE best flour and bakery products in the world. I bought the King Arthur bread book and of course a nonfat latte -- Katherine bought a maple-syrup-filled smiley glass bear. See their website.
I see that the Crochet Guild of America has now posted the 2010 design contest winners (I still can't believe I won prizes in both knitting and crochet...), so go have a look. Mine is called "Corktown," after the wondrous Chicano-Boriqua neighborhood in Detroit. I assume that the Knitting Guild will do much the same thing one of these days -- haven't checked. The first class and grand prize winners are really fun to study -- especially the wedding gown crocheted in Japanese silk, complete with elaborate train. Nobody did that for ME when I ran off to Nevada a couple of years ago. What neglect.....! svb

A Stick in Sheep's Clothing......?

Meet Mr. PlasterHead, one of four such critters from the New York Sheep and Wool Festival.... a new variety of sheep kebob. I couldn't resist. There are four left.....come and get 'em. Maybe his name ought to be Mutton Chops? Sheep's Nose? svb

home again home again jiggity jig

(Is that how you spell 'jiggity'?). We're home. In fact, we've been home for almost two days, but we were SOOOO TIRRRRED that I decided to wait, and even now there are no photos because Larry is unable to find energy to download the big wonderful Nikon camera. Patience, dear public. I will produce the images by and by. I swear on a bale of fine alpaca.

The Knit and Crochet Guilds' national conferences are really fascinating. These are the people who sponsor and inspire all of the local knit and crochet guilds -- so you would expect energy and dedication. Those things can be found in abundance.

But there were some surprises. I had to attend both award dinners -- the Crochet Guild of America's event, and two rooms away, the Knitting Guild of America's event, which was supposed to be even more gala than usual (it was the 25th Anniversay celebration for the organization) -- because I had entered garments in both contests. A small army of men in hotel uniforms stood at the ready with huge trays of champagne (which, as usual, I spurned). But -- what on earth? -- the huge room that TKGA had secured was NOT as full as the smaller room occupied by crocheters. I wonder why not? It may be that crocheters still feel like Second Class Citizens in the fiber arts world and so are trying harder. (If so, that would be a sad explanation). Whatever the reason, the champagne purveyors were not fully utilized -- a lot of bubbly was going to waste, though the fact of waste wasn't enough to make me grab any of it. Champagne tastes like stale beer to me, and I hate most beer even when it's NOT stale.

The market was also curious -- and others thought so, too. There were several of the large(huge) discount companies (Newton's, e.g.) occupying 3-5 booths each. Visually, the effect was to swamp the smaller vendors. And, sometimes, the quality was suspect -- lots of inexpensive acrylic, a TONE more or less like one of the Big Box stores in those areas. But, elsewhere, a number of really good vendors held court. We had two booths, and we did very well when the right kind of people happened by. We noticed that, at show's end, everyone seemed too tired to buy anything, although there were a lot of people looking for bargains (a few of whom were angry that we weren't cutting prices more than we did -- they reminded me, very unpleasantly, of the bottom-feeders presently monopolizing the American housing market). The worst example of this was a woman (fortunately, I don't know her name or home state) who railed at me for daring to have yarn in the booth that cost (shudder) MORE THAN THIRTY DOLLARS. I never know what to say to people who do that, though I'm always tempted to remind them at least that courtesy is required always, always, always. Why is courtesy in such short supply?

On the way back, we completely forgot about the huge loads we were carrying in our two overstuffed vans. I am newly smitten with Sirius Radio (I rented a gorgeous and good-mileage Town and Country minivan from Enterprise). How totally COOL to be able to listen to nothing but Bruce Springsteen or Elvis or NPR for hours and hours with no static whatsoever, and no need to change channels!!!!!!!!!! I have now explored the possibility of putting Sirius in my 2004 Beetle, and think I cannot have a custom radio installed. But a portable one!!!! Only 169 bucks.

More later. I will have pictures, and perhaps sprightlier commentary, by tomorrow! svb

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Notes from Manchester, NH

......and from the Granite State, these remarks: We drove TWELVE HOURS STRAIGHT yesterday, from roughly Cleveland to New Hampshire, and I must say I thought it was the last day of my life. You do NOT respond as well to that kind of unbroken drive when you are 65. You really don't. Don't let people tell you otherwise.

The drive featured some particularly gorgeous landscape 'paintings' (I always think of the eastern 19th century painters when I make this drive) in the Berkshires and in the area just after the Fingerlakes, though here and there, picture-postcard panoramas appeared elsewhere. The Mohawk and Hudson Rivers will never cease to fascinate me: I can almost see the New Amsterdam planters with their four-square houses (and their slaves, sadly enough) plying the very lazy Hudson especially -- flatboats, keelboats. The Hudson somehow seems flatter than rivers can be -- it's always preternaturally STILL, as if someone airbrushed the surface.

At the Radisson Manchester, we set up our double booth -- I then went to the knit and crochet awards ceremonies and was astonished to win one prize in the Crochet Guild contest and two awards in the Knitting Guild contests. My my my. For crochet, the winning entry was my Corktown cardigan, which I would NOT have chosen. For knitting, they liked the Soho felted bags and the Bemidji pullover. Both will appear in the Yarnmarket catalog. ASTONISHMENT -- not to mention two nice big Yarnmarket credits and a hefty check.

But today was not entirely rosy. When I returned for the opening of the marketplace, the well-coifed booth of memory had disappeared. Yarn everywhere. Larry and Katherine had witnessed the complete collapse of the central wire cages -- thousands of skeins once neatly stowed were in a heap in the middle of the booth -- people due in the marketplace (for the opening) in fifteen minutes. So we didn't open -- it took an hour to get the cages rebuilt, and another 45 minutes to restore the yarn.

You DO learn all over again how nice fiber people are. The people from the Crochet Guild booth leaped into the fray and helped us resort all the yarn. My dear old friend Jane Schwartz (who I met years ago at a Stitches Camp) also leaped in and helped right up to the end. And now it's all back together, sort of. So maybe tomorrow won't hold any kind of disaster. I won't mention the fact that the hotel by mistake charged (actually charged) my debit card instead of my credit card for a week's worth of hotel rooms, which had a disastrous effect on the account.

More later.


Monday, July 5, 2010

...Meditating on the Next Adventure.....

It's very, very late at night -- more properly, it's very early in the morning -- for me, not an unusual development. But tonight, I find myself wondering what lies behind some recent choices. Larry and I and Katherine (his young daughter) drive away in two mini-vans at some point Tuesday evening for the Knit and Crochet Show in Manchester, NH -- a show that I attend when I can, and an event at which I actually won Best of Show some six years ago in the knit division. Plus an honorable mention.

This time, though, I go not only as a student and a contestant in the knit and crochet competition, but as a vendor. We have never done this before. In effect, we are about to exhaust ourselves and call it a vacation. We have two (TWO!) booths, end on end, and we'll drive away stuffed to the window tops by end of the day on Monday. At road's end, we'll have to unload and figure out how to set up a convention booth. This has NOTHING to do with a history Ph.D., does it? Nor does it have much to do with Larry's life as an advertiser, photographer, and trainer-writer.

I don't think of myself as a sales person. But here I am, about to try selling an extraordinary quantity of hand-crafted yarn, buttons, Artisan Knitworks patterns, handmade needle cases, knitting bags -- just an amazing array of goods collected over the past four years. Larry says I"m good at it, and I think he might be right -- if only because I know the people who make what we sell, and I really love telling people about it. The studio will look VERY empty while we're gone -- five days in all, maybe six.

But that's not why I'm feeling almost melancholy. It may be time, soon, to confront the fact of the matter: Writing history books is a source of real satisfaction, and what happens in university classrooms is unique in all the world, a matter of such importance that I'm terrified of making a serious mistake (I recall my dissertation advisor at Minnesota, Paul Murphy, who was never the same after giving a student a B and learning that the recipient of that not-bad grade threw himself within a half-hour over a Minneapolis bridge).

No. Fact is, what I'm doing more or less out of my hip pocket -- the studio is supposed to be a night job, after all -- gives me joy. Joy differs from satisfaction. I don't know what to make of or do with this knowledge. But it's very clear to me that I trust the character, the integrity, of the brilliant dozens of people I've met over the past dozen years in the knit and crochet and fiber arts industry more completely than I do the character and integrity of any people I've ever met, including the majority of academics. I certainly would like to be free of the bureaucratization (and unacknowleged moral collapse) of universitiy administrations before much more time passes. This is not to say that all academics are immoral, bureaucratic, and merely self-aggrandizing. On the contrary, some of the people I love best are academics. Many are more or less trapped in a world that is changing before their eyes. They have to scramble after scarce grant money, competing with one another instead of sharing ideas and projects. Recently, my colleagues lost their telephones, for god's sake, because of budget shortfalls. How long would Ford executives put up with this? Why do Americans permit the humiliation of the very best and brightest among them -- all the while complaining about tax dollars? Are we not one of the least taxed of all developed nations? Did the woman on Fox News really say the other day that we ought to be exacting more tax money out of poor people???

So I'd like to retire, fact is. I will finish the book I'm writing, batten down the hatches, sell some more of the 13,500 books (not a typo) that remain in my professional library, move into a loft or something similarly open and airy (I feel the need to disencumber, with the exception, of course, of spouse, cats, books, and yarn), and write as I wish, for audiences of my own choosing. I want to write a marketable but genuinely analytical book about the amazing renaissance in the fiber arts in America over the past twenty years. More on this later. And I want to publish another poetry chapbook. And I NEED to give more time to knit and crochet design. Someday, I want to be able to tell Doris Chan that I've finally learned how to write crochet patterns in standard notation!!! She will know what I'm talking about. (How pathetic! I've been crocheting for almost 60 years).

For now, two jobs, too little time to give to either one -- students enrolling in my classes at university for autumn term in large numbers --and an exacting as well as exciting road trip coming up. It will be a caravan -- gypsies from Michigan seeking their fortune. Or tilting at windmills -- but I shouldn't mix my metaphors. MUCH work to be done tomorrow. I will write about it. We will take pictures. Thanks to everyone who has decided to read what I have to say. svb