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.