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.