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.