Monday, December 20, 2010

....being sick, with wool....

There is something about coming down with a truly vile case of gastro-intestinal distress right in the middle of a final examination that surpasses all other experiences.  This is not to recommend it -- only to identify it as one of those genuinely sui generis experiences, like driving a dark green vintage Jaguar while naked.......

....which, by the way, I add quickly but sadly, I've never done.

What do other people do when they're almost but not quite well?  I can't grade papers unless I'm in tip-top condition (not fair), and I don't usually write -- though reading is not out of the question.  The ideal activity is knitting or crochet.  The alpha waves set loose are healing.  The feel of the wool passing through the fingers is primal, soothing, next to godliness.  So now I'm ready to knit -- not yet well, but not as sick as I was four days ago.

What will I make?   Well, I have some experimental skeins of Ella Rae wool with some amazing, truly surprising color runs, so I am going to cook up a pullover with a rolled hem, a body made of garter stitch box stitch (big boxes), and a Henley neckline as wide as one line of boxes.  Might put a hood on it.  Might also make it into a tunic.     And I have this idea for a quite strict but LLLLLOOONG tunic jacket made of Trendsetter Merino 8 Shadow -- maybe in burgundy shades -- with wide front bands and an equally tall stand-up collar, hidden slit pockets, strict set-in sleeves, wide cuffs, with the cuffs and bands made out of Cha Cha.  A ribby but flat texture fabric, with traditional ribs at the sides to slightly draw it in.  Need to figure out how to make it look elegant instead of like a clown suit.  I want to make the bands horizontally so that the ruffles are short and side to side.  That means, I think, sewing the band as well as the cuffs onto the jacket.  (Yes, I know they can be knitted up the front row by row -- but the cuffs?  I'll wing it).  Off-center buttons with loops, and so on.   All of this will go up in smoke if the band is too stiff.

Then I have a coat in mind -- Prism's big-ball kid mohair in black (or maybe it's mink), mixed with a really fine ladder novelty yarn in jewel tones that a friend found for me at a dollar a ball (I think it's Karabella), which I'm going to use as a wild excuse for playing with triangles again.   Full length coat.  Wide sleeves, maybe cast on at the armholes.   We'll see.   HUGE jewel-tone mismatched vintage buttons.   Collar creeping up the neck quite high at the sides of the neck. 

All of this might indicate a fever.  Time to check the meatloaf.   Over and out.


Friday, December 10, 2010

'Growing' Flowers....

Well, the term has ended at university -- at least class sessions have ended (we set aside for the moment the inevitability of seminar papers and final examinations and smaller comparative book reviews, and so on, most of which comes home to roost a week from yesterday).  For the moment, I am at peace in my big late Victorian house, with a black-and-white not-quite-adult katten (compound word) demanding attention by rolling on the floor, digging at door bottoms when I dare to close them, mewing pathetically.....outside, snow has fallen just enough to coat the inner and lower parts of lawns, patios, steps with icing -- as if somebody spilled a big bowl of it and tried to wipe it up but couldn't get at the joints and interstices, and ....Here I am, thinking about flowers -- woolen ones especially.

As a child, flowers were one of the few pure pleasures -- alongside practicing the piano in the morning (yes, I looked forward to it....I could be alone, completely private, lost in beautiful spaces somewhere in the back of my mind); walking in woods with my big, goofy, sorely missed father; crocheting a lace curtain.  In the gardens of childhood, at my grandparents' house in South St Paul, Minnesota, or in our own (which always had vegetables and perennials), I would spend hours pulling up weeds that dared to intrude, digging up the unbelievably broad, heavy clumps of tulips and daffodils in order to split them for next season, making dolls with huge, voluptuous skirts out of the frilly, upside-down blooms of hollyhocks.  The soil was always warm; the smell was like nothing else on earth, full of promise. 

....and then there were the flowers that my brilliantly resourceful mother and I made out of felt, cloth, pinwheels, all kinds of shapes and materials, to decorate everything that seemed to need some attention.  We invented some felt tray covers, embellished them with felt flowers and beads/sequins, and then had the idea that we could sell them as kits -- So off we went to buy bolts of cheap felt, some stencil paper, bulk sequins, and we made kits with a label that said Van Bee Originals (I am NOT making this up).  Mom then took the kits to big department stores, where one buyer actually ordered three dozen (!!!!).  They didn't re-order; in retrospect, the kits were pretty amateur, with their mimeographed labels and stapled tops.  But what a joy to see our flowers and plastic-backed circles of felt in a Donaldson's department store window!

...and I think, more recently, about Val Devine, whose crocheted flowers embellished shawls and jackets and coats -- Mags Kandis, who encouraged two students at a Stitches camp in Riverside, CA, to cover over a less-than-artful section of a small handbag with ravishingly beautiful embroidered flowers -- and of course Karen Klemp.  I saw Karen recently at the annual crochet and knitting guild conference, and hauled her around to one side of our booth to show her the big tray of crocheted flowers.  She smiled and smiled -- no doubt recognizing that some of them were inspired by a class that I took with her at a TNNA meeting so that I could reconnect with some of the blooms of my own past.  I especially love the idea that we can cover over moments of pain or ugliness with beauty, simply by crocheting or knitting or embroidering shapes that originate in gardens.

....a customer came into the studio the other day in search of crocheted flowers.  She bought one of mne and then asked me if I could make a dozen more for her.  She designs scarves around individual blooms.  When I cut the price, she was astonished. bring peace, don't they?  They take us back to those long-lost gardens of childhood, where hollyhocks could be dolls.  Such joy to make flowers for her late at night, when the world is utterly still.  I can be 12 years old again.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Crawl.....!

It was a ROARING success, this latest multi-shop crawl.   We organized it over a mere two weeks' time, at the instigation of the people at Labor of Love in Romeo.  Three of us were 'urban' establishments (our Artisan Knitworks, of course, and then City Knits Mt. Clemens and Crafty Lady Trio in Macomb, MI).  What a splendid troupe were we!!!  Everyone was smiling.   I took our client Jean Engerson around for the entire 6-shop tour this past Friday, and both of us were thrilled half to death with the rush of urban and rural landscapes, the splendid sunshine for most of the trip, the crisp autumn atmosphere.

And the people!  Everyone was having a spectacular time.  In some respects, the mood seemed even more festive than during our Halloween crawl.  I arrived at the last stop in Romeo too late to take pictures -- it was only 5:30, but the sun is vanishing at a remarkably early moment these days, so no possibility of snapshots.  But we managed to get home before night was very far advanced.  All in all,  a marvelous day.

Two shops bear special notice.  They are mostly unfamiliar to Metro Detroit artisans, and so I urge all of you to take a road trip, first to Sweet Pea in St. Clair, then to Knitters' Hideaway in Armada.

Here is what the Sweet Pea shop looks like on River Drive in St. Clair -- and here is also what the river drive looked like from the car (and from the St Clair Inn's dining room, where Jean and I had lunch):

 Once inside the darling Sweet Pea, which had some wonderfully unusual yarns, we found NATHAN and his mummy.  Here is the young lad with his amazing handcrafted hat, with Penny, owner of the shop, on the right, and mummy on the left...!
....and then we got to Knitters' Hideaway, which is just the cutest thing.   Isabell and her husband have carved a darling shop out of the second floor of their shed on the farm -- which has horses as well as a vintage Sinclair gas pump. 

All in all, this was just a marvelous, marvelous event, a warming moment for new friendships, and perhaps a prelude to a much longer process by which the walls come tumbling down, one by one, beween all of the fiber-related enterprises in Metro Detroit.       svb

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dealing with Recession...

The question arises:   How do we get through the present economic emergency?  If only we could say when it would ease!  But the experts agree only that it will go on for awhile.   If only we could persuade people to begin spending some of their inactive cash!  We do know that 70% of the American economy is driven by consumption.  (Whether we like it or not!).  But.  For now, it simply IS.  So we do what we can do.   At Artisan Knitworks, we are dealing with it by making choices that are likely to succeed (though I confess to have bought some hats and super bulky yarns that I KNEW wouldn't sell right away -- there is the problem of my taste for the uncommon, the beautiful, the idiosyncratic....!

But there are other things that can be done, and some of them have unexpected consequences.  We have organized two multi-shop crawls, e.g. -- one of them over the Halloween weekend, and another upcoming on December 3-4.  The first one involved 7 shops ranging from Grosse Pointe to Plymouth, a distance of perhaps 40 miles.   The new one moves in the other direction, toward the small town of Romeo, with six shops.   There will be all of the usual benefits -- discounts, small bags with surprises. (all of which affords shops an opportunity to get rid of valuable items they haven't sold or otherwise want to eliminate -- we also give away copies of our own patterns).  The proceeds go to a charity -- in this case, a wonderful shelter for women and children in Mt Clemens, Michigan.  And of course that's one consequences -- the shelters run out of money at this time of year, just as the weather turns ugly, and at the bottom of a nasty recession, both of which increase domestic violence under the best of conditions).  We'll have another huge crawl in mid-summer, when all of us experience the summer doldrums.  And I'm trying to arrange a kind of 'visiting professor' program with friends in Ann Arbor, by which we will teach classes in each other's shops for travel expenses. 

But look at what has happened!  When the recession lifts, we will have forged links with people we barely knew, enriched our own lives, and grown as artisans through interaction with new people.  I had never met the wonderful women from Sweet Pea and Labor of Love, far to the north of us; now, we can visit and talk and compare notes.   Perhaps more important:   Everyone talks about the politics of yarn shops in Michigan (a phrase actually used by a yarn rep); we can break down walls, make it USUAL rather than unusual for owners to mix and mingle and visit and share.  This will be a lasting legacy of an economic disaster.  We will have succeeded in chipping away at those walls in ways that have not happened over 20 years of prosperity.

Second, and in some ways most important, we have been forced to fall back on The Local, our own resources -- local teachers, local resources.  I now carry a huge supply of Stonehedge yarns from East Jordan, Michigan - gorgeous medium and fine-weight woolens, including Deb McDermott's exquisite mill-end yarns, which our people have been fashioning into socks and amazing little sweaters.  No two skeins are identical.  Local talent, local materials, and local self-reliance.  Cultivating one's garden.
During World War II, there were victory gardens; we have gardens of knotted wool.

What a joy to contemplate all of this.    . svb