Monday, November 29, 2010

For those of you who've asked...!

..........Here is what she looks like.   Who, you say?  Well, Lisa James, of course, the maker of those amazing sheep-spinnings  (yes, I got a new supply at the New York Sheep and Wool Festival, for those of you who snap them up when I have them in stock!).  Her sister (in the purple hat) has one around her neck:

She's also wearing one of her astonishing hats.   We have three of them in the place right now -- a red one (like the one she's wearing, though not identical, of course), plus two other warm colors.  There is a story here:   Lisa has a friend who makes felt constructions (I don't know exactly what kind) and she takes the voluminous leftovers and sews them into hats -- It takes amazing creativity, because the leftovers have been cut into a myriad of shapes.   Pick one up and look at it.  And imagine the spinnings on cuffs, lapels (they can be both knitted and crocheted, though with big tools), handbags, or needle-felted into hangings.   How about handles?  Or just do what Lisa has done.   She's a force of nature -- someone who reminds me of the region from which she comes (the southwest).   svb

Friday, November 26, 2010

Copyright violations and resistant women...

...and today I had another jolting encounter with yet another woman who doesn't REALLLLY believe that pattern writers have copyright.   Or so I gather.   I will describe this briefly because it really annoys me.  A couple of weeks ago, a woman came into the studio and was rifling through "the stash," which is what I call the discounted yarn supply in the middle room.   I asked her how I could help, and she explained that she had bought my pattern for a slouchy beret (one of the patterns in our own line of patterns) and now wanted to get a number of different kinds of yarn so she could make a whole lot of them for sale.   I said, Well, you know, that design is under copyright, and you can't make copies for commercial purposes -- have a look at the back of the leaflet, and so on and so forth.  She said that all of this was news to her and looked annoyed.   But she bought a small supply of yarn and disappeared.   Today, she reappeared with yarn and the pattern and prouldy explained that she had made a lot of the hats for sale.   At that point, I hardly knew what to say, so I simply said, Why would you do that?  And she said, quite remarkably, that nobody else paid attention to this copyright thing, so why should she?   And she was smiling!!!!!!    I'd like advice from others as to how to deal with this persistent problem.  There may be no answer, so long as women continue to think that copyright applies to everything except things that fall within 'women's sphere,' where everything is supposed to be shared (otherwise we're selfish), and where women continue to starve to death -- Remember that women continue to make 60 cents for every dollar that men earn for the very same work.   Selfish indeed.     svb

Thursday, November 25, 2010

On Thanksgiving

......a day for contemplation of riches, past and present, including pumpkin pies and dressing.  In the deep past, I can see my father's mother's  face clearly today, as if she were here, the Jewish grandmother from Stillwater, Minnesota, who hid her Jewishness under a thick layer of denial.  Lillian had married the love of her life, whose first name really was Orange, at the cost of complete alienation from her family.  It is hard to imagine, at this remove, the cost of being the only Jewish family in Stillwater, Minnesota, in the first half of the 20th century.   But there she was, in love with an Episcopalian with a big white house on Elm Street and little else.  During the prohibition era, in fact, Orange converted his auto repair shop into a rum-runner conversion shop (to make pots of money!).  There, he and Francis, my father (who had dropped out of high school for the purpose), installed heavy springs in the undercarriages of vehicles that were carrying illicit alcohol between Somerset, Wisconsin, and the Twin Cities (Minnesota).  Dad, who had a naughty twinkle in his eye, once showed my brothers and I the night club along the main highway where he used to hide out under a trap door to evade the feds.   I don't think he was making it up.  

In any case:  the Stillwater grandparents were the most serene and insular of the two sets of forebears -- I now think because they had been cut off from Lillian's family (they sat shiva when she got married) and because she was ill most of the time (psoriasis and a host of other maladies).  But could she cook!  I wish I had tumbled at the time to the cabbage rolls and other dishes that smacked of Jewish family cooking....but I really had no idea.   Only later did I learn what kind of questions I should have been asking the sad woman who spent so many hours in a big chair in the living room.  And of course by then it was too late.   Orange and Lillian, however, remained in love, perfectly content to spend time mainly with one another:  In their late 90s, they'd pile into the big old Oldsmobile every Sunday, weather permitting, and drive slowly to the A and W root beer stand to "watch the kids."

It was the other grandmother, the one I didn't like as much, but to whom I owed the very most, who joined us for Thanksgiving, to whose house we migrated almost every year, once we moved back to Minnesota from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.   I was about 10 when we made that penultimate move -- Dad's partner, Dick Erhardt, had literally walked off with the checking account in South Dakota, so .... time to relocate.  In Worthington, Minnesota, we were just close enough to St. Paul (it was across the state, but not impossibly far) to make the drive once in awhile.  When Thanksgiving was held in South St. Paul, we could at least have fun with Swift and Company foreman Toolie (nickname for the wonderful grandfather, besmirched only by his youthful dalliance with the Ku Klux Klan -- which, in South St. Paul, could ride its motorcyles to Lilydale and harass Jewish blacks in town, so you pick on what's available).   I have always wondered how such a gorgeously funny, genuinely nice man could have been hateful.  I can't ask him -- he died thirty-odd years ago, leaving his unpleasant wife behind.  As with Lillian, I didn't know what I ought to have been asking him.  When he died of kidney failure, a little bit of me died with him -- what a hoot that man was.  The dark underside was nowhere to be seen when we were young.  

His wife, my  mother's mother Carrie Beedle, was not a nice woman.   She paced up and down in front of the local church waiting for Toolie to cease all the annoying chatter and socializing.  She flicked the porch light up and down to let her 30-year old daughter, my mother, know that she was watching every move on the porch swing when she brought a boyfriend home.  In old age, she moved into our final resting place in West St. Paul, criticizing everything my mother and father did.  I was actually glad when she died, and didn't have to say so.  One of my fears, in fact, is that life will end that way for me as well, with everyone smiling at the funeral.   Perhaps we all entertain that fear. 

Yet it was Carrie -- the tyrannical, unloveable Carrie -- who taught me everything I once knew about thread crochet, the one thing she loved to the point of devotion, more than her children and husband, more than anything I ever noticed in her household.  I think now that she used her doilies, tablecloths, edgings, bedskirts, curtains, on and on, as places to live, when the real world became intolerable.  She made afghans too, and quilts, but her real love was thread lace -- and so, together, this awful woman and I 'spoke' to one another in the language of pineapple, filet, Irish crochet.   When I was taking Ph.D. written exams, I made over 200 lace doilies and used them for years afterward to wrap little gifts -- all because of her.  I made dozens and dozens of things as a young woman, all in ecru, white, sometime mixtures......and I owe it to her, don't I, that when I want to relax and find sanity, I escape into crochet, the one that's most natural.  There is a very rich irony here somewhere, because I really hated the way she lived. 

Carrie -- the same Carrie -- could cook up a storm.  When my parents joined forces at Thanksgiving to cook dinner, the results were spectacular.  Nobody had any money.  And, when Carrie finally did have enough money to be comfortable, she continued for the rest of her life to patch her clothes with flour sack patches, to buy everything on sale, to raise chickens, as if the Great Depression were still afoot.  But the old ways led to groaning tables and a week of leftovers.  Yams.  Whipped rutabagas.  Home-cooked cranberry relish.  Overcooked brussel sprouts or carrots, or both.  The apple pies were tall and tender.  The whipped cream dolloped onto pumpkin pie had been 40% butterfat, and so it stood tall as vanilla-flavored Minnesota snowbanks.  Turkeys with savory bread stuffing called to mind past turkeys.  One of the men, grandfather or father, stood proudly at the end spot at dining room tables and exercised the mysterious male art of carving.  The women, of course, feigned ignorance of carving, even though they probably had shown them how to do it when they were boys.  Tradition reigned.  Women cooked, men carved and took credit for the success or failure of The Bird, and everyone else sat there (it was always mid-day, an echo of the days when farmhands ate their big meal at noon) for the entire afternoon, unable to move, unwilling to make an end.

Even in adulthood, when I was living in Washington, D.C., for example, I often drove home (I was supposed to think of St. Paul, Minnesota, as "home" even after decades of living elsewhere) to share that same Thanksgiving dinner in my parents' West St. Paul house.  The dressing (the one I still make, that my brother David still makes) is Lillian's dressing.  The gravy is my mother's gravy.  The pie ingredients and method that I still use originated, when I was in my teens, with Elvira Ballou of Round Lake, Minnesota, who was a Paris-trained chef marooned in the middle of corn fields, who taught my mother to make to-die-for pastry, who in turn taught me.  So when I make pies, I self-consciously conjure up Elvira's amazing face, her carved nose, her loose bun on top of her head.  She had a big old house filled with antiques, and struck me, then as now, as an exotic creature victimized by some kind of time or space warp.....I never did learn how this fascinating, well-travelled woman came to live in that town, where everyone except Elvira made Campbell Soup hotdishes and ate Wonder Bread in the name of Progress.  Nobody made their own bread anymore -- except Lillian and Elvira -- because Progress had given them store-bought bread.  When we were kids, we made little objects at mealtime from the horrible, white, doughy center of those bread slices -- we'd remove the crusts and squeeze it into shapes as if it were Play-Dough.

So tonight, when Larry and Katherine and I migrate to a restaurant for our repast, I will be thinking about those meals, those family gatherings, and maybe I'll silently apologize to Lillian and Carrie and Gladyce and Elvira for not celebrating their ways this year.....for not making that wonderful sage dressing that Mom used to run through a manual food mill (an improvement on Lillian's original method).  I will do it next year.   This year, we need to rest.  I need to spend the time making hats and scarves for sale at the studio, and I need to plan classes for the rest of the semester.  But memory survives.  It will happen again.


Saturday, November 20, 2010


Is there such a word?   I have been laggardly with this blog.   I am SO tired -- it's near the end of the semester at Wayne State, students are doing what they do at term's end, particularly in the lower division class ("What??? You mean we have to write more than one paper?  Is that on the syllabus???" or "How do you expect us to read that whole book by next week?  I don't remember you telling us that....")  and so on and so forth.   This term, I learned many things I didn't know before.   On midterms, for instance, I learned that "slaves were entirely destroyed during Reconstruction" (!!!) and, no doubt less shockingly, that William Jennings Bryant was a famous black reformer.  Not to mention this:  "The sixteenth amendment gave women the vote, except for Indian women, who were reserved."   I couldn't make this stuff up, folks.

More later, when I can think clearly.      svb       

Monday, November 8, 2010

and a fabric to die for...

Finally:   I need to get some work done SOMETIME today......Here are two images of one of our visitors during the recent Yarn Crawl............Her coat was made of such an intriguing woolen fabric that I forced Larry to take pictures.  This could be replicated in knitting with black woolen tweed (or plain black with a carry-along) and a row of fair-isle birds-eye done with variegated handpainted wool.  Or maybe with a row of stockinette deliberately done on the wrong side to create some 'bleed.'  I love it.  One of the best ways to devise new knitted fabrics is always to remember that fabric is fabric, fiber is fiber, and all we have to do, really, is to translate one 'language' into the other.  When time appears, I'll find the yarn.


Alex's triumph.....

I am thrilled to report that the splendid Alex Peabody, age 12, has finished his first garment -- a wondrous sweater vest made out of Green Mountain Spinnery Mountain Mohair in a great, heathery shade of teal.  He began with a Knitting Pure and Simple pattern, but soon began adding things -- like pockets, a wider neckband, and then some buttons made of handblown glass in the shape of fish.  So it's truly an original.  So is he.  And don't miss his equally splendid friend Dierdre, shown at the table in the studio (second image), working diligently on HER first sweater, a pullover of my design made of Trendsetter's Tonalita.  Alex now has in mind making a Henley pullover...........stay tuned.      svb

Middle America: Larry's Pictures

So here are some of the things we saw in Ohio and Indiana.   We hang out in coffee shops whenever we can find them, and one of the true signs that midwesterners are gaining ground, perhaps advancing on the rest of us, is the proliferation of espresso houses -- NOT Starbucks and other big-box chains, but independent shops, like the ones we photographed here.  Wonderful places.  One of them, in Indiana, featured amazing (and amusing) images and icons from Florida -- where one of the owners apparently preferred to live. 

We also went to a restaurant in Van Wert, Ohio, right on the border with Indiana, which promised to be one of those very old-fashioned "grub" joints where you could get REAL mashed potatoes and REAL meatloaf, and so Larry took a gorgeous picture of the vintage neon sign (vintage to us -- everyday news to them!).  Unfortunately, the food was less than ordinary (Larry got one uninspired salmon patty; I got some meatloaf much less flavorful than my own, and the meringue pies had no discernable flavor).  But it featured all of the trappings of my childhood, and probably Larry's -- the soda fountain-style counter seats in chrome, the wait people who looked like their names must be Maude and Susie Q.

And then there were the antique shops.  Here is an image of the interior of one of them in Indiana -- the kind of place where we find out vintage fasteners and jewelry by just plain rooting around in piles and piles of STUFF, most of it hidden from view. 

We made a nice haul this time -- though mostly at the Jeffreys Antique Center near Findlay, which was more or less where we began to look.  We'll go back there periodically.

And, just for the fun of it, here's an all-American street corner -- on the road to Maumee, Ohio, just because it reminded me so very much of childhood in places like Royalton and Worthington, Minnesota.

In another post, I'll publish some very important images of a very important young knitter.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ohio, Indiana, and Intimations of Winter

..........Yup.   As we drove through Ohio on the way to Indiana, it started to snow.  So we called the studio to find out how everything was going and to say, "Hey it's snowing here!" and Katie said, "Hey it's snowing here!"  So I guess winter is coming whether I want it to come or not.  Mind you, I despise warm weather.  I'm one of those people who has to have a fan in the bedroom every day of the year.  (Poor Larry).  And because I'm from Minnesota, I think much more kindly on prospects of winter than many people do.  I remember, to give one example, how people went door to door in Worthington, Minnesota, with a Folger's coffee can to gather money for families who couldn't pay the heat bill.  I vividly recall squads of neighbors helping one another with massive, truly daunting snow removal challenges -- with snowbanks at corners so tall that car owners had to put flags on their aerials in order to be seen while driving.  I also fondly remember the long, languid evenings at the fireside with nothing but one another.   We didn't have a TV for a long, long time, and when it came, it was an old, used Edison........too small to be all-consuming.  We talked to one another; we helped with one another's paper routes in mid-winter, we laughed our heads off when we ran out of groceries and had to put water on the Wheaties.  And so, in many respects, winter was an opportunity for engagement and learning and love, not a burden.     

But, still, it's better to be able to walk down the street, to sit on the deck, to be able to go to a lake and roll up the jeans and wade.  My main objection to summer, in fact, is not the opportunities for movement it offers, but the heat, the decreased productivity, the suffocating miasma in the big stucco house that can only be cut with big fans and, yes, air conditioning.  Intolerance of heat, in fact, has increased as I age.  It's so much harder to get cool than to get warm.   But what do you expect from a Minnesotan?  No lover of year-round heat ever spent more than a few years in Minneapolis -- a city, by the way, that has adapted almost perfectly to cold.  University students can move from builcing to building in shirt sleeves all winter long -- there's a tunnel system! -- and shoppers in downtown Minneapolis can do the same thing through a series of above-ground tunnels (can you describe a glass tube connecting one building to another as a tunnel?).  Snowplows move like a well-disciplined army to clear every street in record time -- and, mind you, they're at work DURING the blizzard, not just afterward.  Detroiters, by contrast, seem to be in denial ("Are we really in the temperate zone?"), throwing salt at snowbanks.  How stupid is that?   Salty slush in the place of snowbanks.

So we went on our trip to Ohio and Indiana.  It was fun, and of course we found oodles of really wondrous vintage buttons.   I also found scads of vintage crocheted doilies that I'm going to use to create lush, frilly necklines on a series of crocheted sweaters, should I live long enough.

But more later, when I have pictures.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

...taking a drive....!

Larry and I have decided NOT to go to the wonderful inaugural New England fiber festival in West Springfield, MA -- this weekend, in fact -- because, well, we're just too tired, and the last thing we need right now is more yarn.   So -- we have decided to fully staff the studio with good people and just LEAVE.   We will drive generally into Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky -- the general objective will be to search high and low for out-of-the-way antique and collectible shops -- that's where we find extraordinary vintage buttons and jewelery -- but, mostly, we just want to look at beautiful countryside and have good meals and REST.   I'll take pictures; so will Larry; and I'll make report.  Maybe we can get as far as the Bybee Pottery in Bybee, Kentucky, and raid the seconds shop!