Saturday, December 24, 2011

I-Phone Covers I got a new Android Scary Telephone -- it actually responds to voice commands, which is uttery terrifying -- and decided that it needed a simple cover to protect the screen.  Here is (roughly) what you do (I made five of them so far to sell in the studio):   To make front, wIth a size G hook and DK-weight cotton (or rayon ribbon) yarn, chain 15 +1 to turn.  I used a cool variegated cotton by Gedifra for most of them and a true blue Karabella rayon ribbon (with acrylic 'beads') for one of them.  You need about 90 yards.  Work about 24-26 rows in SC, ending with a WS row.  The number of rows depends on the size of the intended telephone -- you might want to check against the actual instrument.  My Samsung Galaxy S (i.e., the spaceship phone) with plastic back-case attached required 26 rows in the DK cotton and 24 rows in the slightly more rigid rayon ribbon.  Fasten off.   For back and foldover flap:  Repeat the exercise for the front until you have completed the 24-26 rows.  Work 2 more rows even (fto give the flap you're about to make an opportunity to fold over the front of phone).  Then, on RS rows, decrease one stitch at each side of the flap (which will emerge, as if by magic), working even in SC on the WS rows, until you have about 5 sts left, ending with WS row.  (To decrease, pull up loops in the next two sts, YO, pull through all 3 loops, work to the last 2 sts, pull up loops in 2 sts, YO, pull through all 3 loops).  When done, chain 7 or so for a button loop; It should arc slightly over the 5 remaining sts.  Anchor the chains at the far side of the button hole area to form loop; work back over the chains with slip stitch (to strengthen loop); securely attach at the point of origin (slip st deeply into the appropriate SC).  Now, place WS's of the two pieces together, pinning if necessary at the 4 corners.  For DK cotton and other smooth yarns, work a row of SC all around the body (3 sides, excluding the flap) with 3 sc's at the two corners.  I wouldn't use a contrasting yarn because, with simple SC edging, the wrong side is actually less attractive than the right side.  For textural ribbons and other unsmooth yarns, you can 'sew' 1 st in from the 3 sides with a simple slip st.  Darn in all ends, working a couple of whip stitches at flap end to better secure the points about to be subjected to lots of stress.  Put phone (or a phone-sized object) into the cover, close flap, and mark the location of button with a T-pin.  Sew on the button (you probaby will have to fold the body of the case back to do this).  Pick one that has some size and glitz -- at least .75 inches.  I chose even bigger ones.   Fun, huh?  Also easy.  It's all in the yarn and button choice.  You can do the same, of course, for low-tech cell phones -- just chain only 8-9 sts (use your phone as a model) plus 1 to turn and GO.  Variations:  Depending on yarn, you of course can vary the st pattern, use a crab stitch or picot edging, make stripes -- on and on.

You could, of course, do the whole thing in the round and simply work the flap upward, once the body tube is done.  But I wanted a flat case, one that wouldn't be tempted to roll around.

Or you could just buy one in the studio for a mere $19.50!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   smiling

Happy Christmas Eve!    svb

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

At the holidays...

I'm not quite done with the mountain of essay and final exam grading that inevitably follows end of term.  But, as usual, I'm drawn into a series of waking dreams about holidays past -- Christmases, Hannukahs -- in which the healing, life-saving qualities of wool have figured large, at least for me.  I have been thinking about the long drives in very old, ramshackle cars (and in one case, a 1952 Ford pickup truck) from various small towns in Minnesota to St. Paul, where the grandparents lived, just in time for Christmas -- and for quiet times beside the fire and the jovially lighted Christmas tree with steel crochet hook, working steadily toward the lace curtain, the lace edging for a cheap pillowcase.  Those were my grandmother's habits, the ones that helped her survive poverty, a partial mental breakdown at menopause, the hideously unexpected birth of yet another son at age 54.  She would crochet.  And she taught me to do the same thing.  From tragedy and desperation came things of achingly beautiful delicacy.

I remember making my first sweater -- I'm about to reveal something I almost never talk about -- when my father filed bankruptcy.  They hauled away his grand piano.  I had never seen him cry.  He cried and cried and cried.  And so mother and I did the only thing we could do, once we had hugged him for awhile -- we took out the crochet hooks and worked on some squares for a blanket.  And then we gave it away.

At every Episcopal church to which I belonged, and to most of the parishes for which I served as church organist -- something that continued until age 29 -- there were church bazaars at Christmas.  We would make endless objects with needles, hooks, sewing machines, many of them literally out of nothing.  My mother and I transformed old quilts into new ones by recycling the padding and making new covers; we covered cardboard boxes, tubes, and squares with all manner of cloth, embroidery, crochet.  We made belts out of crochet thread and beads.  It was the original environmentally sound society, wasn't it, this society of thrifty, lower-class women?  And at the heart of it were our hands, our imaginations, our crafts.

When my first husband died, I knitted in the big maroon chair in the living room deep into the night, almost every night, and then slept there, because I couldn't stand to be in the bedroom.  I don't think I would have got through it without my knitting.  When the school year ended, I hit the wall -- so I piled an immense pile of wool in many colors into the trunk of the VW Beetle, complete with jeans and sandals, and headed west, making green modular squares at each stop between Michigan and Washington State.  I made a particularly garish one in the Black Hills waiting for prairie dogs to pop up on an off-road departure from the main highway.  I made others in Sioux Falls, SD, after driving right up to my old childhood home at 106 South Prairie, and Worthington, Minnesota..........and so on.  When I got home, I assembled the whole thing into a cardigan that I now call my Running Away From Home Sweater.  Wool kept me sane, didn't it?

I went to Rome the second year for Christmas -- with wool and needles, of course -- to forge new pathways for myself (it was a city that I associated with him), and I remember vividly sitting on the balcony of my gorgeous old hotel listening to the Christmas bells from St. Peter's Basilica, pealing over rooftops and onto the balcony like some kind of presence -- I knitted until there was no light, and in the morning knitted some more, and then wrote a long, long poem about being there and listening for the bells, hearing them fall away into darkness.  Then my niece and nephew came, and Rome was saved for me -- because of them, of course, because they saw the place with new eyes and not with my old, saddened eyes, but also because of the rhythmic movement of yarn over needles.

For the next Christmas, I went to Barbados -- a huge pile of wool in tow -- made a sweater while I was gone, just made it up, free form -- taking color cues from the water, the sand, the sense of joy as water slapped against rocks.  I sold it only a year ago for far less money than I'd paid for the yarn -- but it didn't matter.  The knitting had done its good work long before the sale.  And then, midyear, when I felt uncommonly sad, I made arrangements with my dear friend Vivian Hart (of Essex, England) to meet in the Orkney Islands.  How could I forget sitting by myself (Vivian was watching birds) on a tiny spit of an island called Papay Westray, a game preserve, with seals not ten feet away -- and my knitting needles, a gorgeous pile of Scottish wool assuming the shape of a pullover, colors like moss and lichen and rock?  The seals had no idea that they ought to be terrified -- though not of me.  I cannot imagine harming something so gentle, so innocent and trusting.

There are more instances.  Everyone who works with wool knows what I mean.  Happy holidays to all of you, each and every one, and guard yourselves.  We come this way only once.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

fair warning...

....and know, dear loyal readers, that I am silent because I am in the throes of end-of-semester turmoil.  This includes, e.g., students who appear for the first time and wonder what they've missed (!!!) (to which I say, Oh nothing....); students who ask whether the Supreme Court can pass an act outlawing immigration;  students who put the text of footnotes IN the footnote instead of in the text and get furious with me for telling them to redo it; students who ask in class, without the slightest indication of shame, whether they need to read the rest of the books to pass the final.  I could go on.  To be sure, there are good students, even some wonderful ones.  But MY GOD.  I've not even mentioned the very sad situation posed by students who are smart enough but have gathered no (NO) writing skills in high school because the whole damn thing was multiple choice.   Enough.   I will reappear in the blog after December 8.  In the meantime, I am knitting and crocheting hats to sell in the studio -- to stay sane.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Black Friday, Small Store Saturday

.....of course the Small Store Saturday schtick has been made up by Amex for their own benefit.  But Artisan Knitworks really DOES have some tricks up its sleeve.  There is a very long list available of discounted yarn, buttons, gifts -- including sweaters and hats, etc., made mostly by me.  And we urge you to bring or begin making something to give to the Detroit Rescue Mission -- all day Friday and Saturday, people will be knitting and crocheting, we hope, for the charity -- and we will hand-deliver the result, this week and every week, until the cold season has passed.  Detroit is not a happy place, so consider making something warm!


Turkey Day and afterward...

Today on Turkey Day, a term redolent of my youth, I am baking a leg of lamb, two mixed-berry gallettes, and a huge pile of roasted root veggies, asparagras, green salad, whole grain bread.  I am SOOO sick of Turkey.
     Probably I should explain the Turkey Day crack.  When I was very young, we lived in Worthington, Minnesota, which actually called itself the Turkey Capital of the World.  Why?  Midwestern towns are most often agricultural service centers -- and Worthington, with its mostly bored population of about 8,000 on a good day, was no exception.  So towns of this kind invent an identity.  There was a big Campbell Soup Factory in town -- made turkey noodle soup -- and a large number of quite smelly turkey farms on the outskirts.  So -- why not?  Turkey Day. 
    On the official day, a small carnival was set up on a side street near the Nobles County courthouse.  And of course there was a parade, featuring Miss Turkey Day (!!!), aka Miss Worthington -- a spot to which every comely young woman aspired (I didn't think of myself as comely, merely smart, and besides, I had too much work to do).  At the appointed hour, floats would start wending their way down Main Street, and -- blare of trumpets -- the entire sheriff's department would appear on horseback, herding a gigantic flock of white turkeys down the street.  Totally astonishing.  Small children followed in its wake, picking up white feathers shed by the terrified birds.
    Ah childhood.
    Today, I am thinking about my mother, who would secretly love the anti-turkey position, but who would pretend otherwise for at least fifteen minutes.
    Afterward, I'm going to knit for at least six hours.


Sunday, November 20, 2011


Tonight, just as the sun began to fall over Lake St Clair, as it does every night -- the same liquid melting of colors at the horizon, a unification of two elements -- I found myself worrying about an odd drop in business at the studio over the past week or so, wondering whether we had done something wrong, or whether it might be the usual mix of football games, bizarre weather, economic pressures, out-of-sorts relatives demanding to attend enormous Thanksgiving dinners in less than a week -- and then I saw the most drop-dead beautiful collection of ducks, geese, and swans -- the impossibly white swans dotting the lake's surface like thoughts -- or maybe angels resting.

And it came over me that joy does not reside in cash drawers, certainly not in the ugly knowledge that at least one competitor hopes to run us out of business.  It lives in the sight of swan-butts bobbing along beside swan-tops, in the sudden appearance of holiday lights on a tree along Lakeshore Drive that Larry and I call The Chrystalline Entity, in the pleasure a customer expressed tonight after finding one of my crocheted 1920s-style hats ("I'm never going to take it off!!!!!")..........Maybe we'll keep the place open after the end of this season, maybe not.  Maybe other shops have become cause celebres....maybe we've had our moment in the sun and ought to leave well enough alone -- or not.  What matters is that ravishingly beautiful lake-scene, that particular shade of ice-mauve where the water seems to vanish, the sight of an ecstatic woman with a new jewel-toned hat festooned with buttons.

And because I have been thinking about them all day, let me add this:  Maybe what matters, more than all else, is my ability to remember my mother, my grandmother, my no-longer-living but still present brother Randy, who brought happiness into the world each and every day of their lives, even when we had nothing to eat but Wheaties and water.  So -- my friends -- think only of swans.  Remember, too, what the Talmud teaches:  If you think often of those who have gone before us, they will never truly die.   svb

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Promised Photographs from Massachusetts

Several posts ago, I promised that I'd include some photos of Lee and Lenox and Springfield, MA, the points of interest during my trip to the Fiber Festival of New England.

Lee, Massachusetts, the kissin' cousin of Lenox, MA, has some wonderful old architecture, much of it ecclesiastical.  Here is an old church building (18th century) transformed into a theater:

....and here are images of a fabulous old Congregational church, the kind that one always finds on a town square (as here), and the Cakewalk, where I got fabulous latte and an apple cake to bring home.  Both are in Lee, MA:

But the images I captured in Springfield, MA, just before the camera's battery went out are the main event here.  What a horrible, tragic sight in the wake of the heavy, wet snowfall.  And just after the batteries failed I saw scenes much, much worse than what I captured here.  Everywhere, trees and tree trunks and lampposts and cars were decimated.  Limbs piled up on the streetsides often reached to half the height of trees.  Click on the photographs for a taste of it -- and imagine entire blocks filled with worse than this.    svb

Modern-Day Burning Bush?

Look at the COLOR of this amazing bush in Grosse Pointe!  I had to park illegally in order to capture the colors.  WHEEEEE      svb

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Marching through time...

....and how time does pass, when we're not looking!  I just noticed about 9 million additional age spots on my HANDS, for god's can I pretend to be 39 with 9 million of them?  

I'm actually joking.  I am home today with a really awful head and chest cold, which forces me to sit down and be quiet and soak in the march of time, my surroundings, the fact of an unfinished book, the prospect of actually finishing it, an attic mostly full of wool, all of those not-yet-imagined sweaters........There is something mostly wonderful about gathering up all of the learning of the past 60+ years (I can't claim to have learned much of value before about, say, age 7, which is when my grandmother taught me to crochet, and when I got into my first spat with a really boring teacher, and also roughly when my mother advised me for the first time to stop being such a smart-mouth!). 

I thought of it again last week when I looked up from the podium in the big freshman class (a survey of modern American history), just after telling a small anecdote, and noticed a very young man making faces at the very young man next to him -- the kind of look and hand gestures that say, "GOD but she's not very cool, really dorky.").  I stopped and looked at him.  He looked shocked, but not embarrassed -- just defiant.  So I let it go.  Hardly worth wasting class time.  But it occurs to me that a barely-socialized brat like that is behaving more or less as I did when I was 7.  He doesn't have a clue, does he, what a professor of history has gathered over 30+ years of in-the-trenches teaching at public universities, where you need to do all kinds of things to make sure that the poor students and the really fine students are equally able to understand what's afoot.  Often, I slide in some personalized material to engage the poorer students, who perk up right away and even start talking.  But -- the brats will just get impatient.  I vividly remember when I was 7, 8, 9, maybe even 10, thinking that the teachers were just horrible old farts, not at all 'with it,' not worth listening to.  On one occasion, by the way, I was right:  They were trying to teach a pretty smart girl-child who got bored easily (I was reading at the 8th grade level in 3rd grade).  But, on other occasions, it's clear to me that I just didn't have enough time on earth to make any kind of judgment. 

Sometimes, students like the impatient young man appear in my university office years later and say, "I see now what you were doing."  But most often not.  They need another 25-30 years to figure out how complex the world really is, and how ungenerous and uncompassionate they're being.

On the studio front:  If you haven't been in the studio lately, get there asap.  We just got a huge trunk show of raku ceramic beads, buttons and jewelry.  That's not even mentioning all of the very cool new yarn.  And gallery sweaters are at least 25% off between now and the end of the year.


Monday, November 7, 2011

The Fiber Festival of New England

This past Thursday immediately after my Thursday class, I drove off in the general direction of Ohio and Pennsylvania -- this time on the American side of things instead of the Canadian side because, at late hours, it can be hard to find motels immediately next to the Queensway in Ontario -- and got as far as Astaubula, Ohio, which I have just misspelled.  I HAVE NO IDEA how to spell it.  The town does harbor a particularly nice Hampton Inn, and Hampton happens to be my all-time fave because of the nice, white, lofty bedding and great mattresses.  Not to mention hot breakfasts.  That's what you pay for, and they deliver, for only a few dollars more than the less predictable bargain hotels.  I am really gunshy now about Super 8 and some of the others -- twice burned recently, and after long hours in the car, that's twice too many.

I booked another Hampton in advance for Friday and Saturday nights (though I ended up cancelling Saturday in order to get back on the road) in Lenox, Massachusetts, perhaps an hour from West Springfield, which is where the fiber event was housed.  What a lovely, new motel, and what charming communities there near Tanglewood.  I will deliberately stay there again if and when I return to the festival, which I probably will do next year -- it was worth it just to meet so many truly amazing new people (at least new to me).  I will have photographs when I recover from the headcold I picked up along the way, and when Larry downloads what few pictures I managed to take before the camera's battery ran out.

For now, let me just talk a bit about what I found.  First:  The Berkshires are always beautiful, and I think I hit them just after their prime in fall-leaf-season terms.  But they were still gorgeous -- the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers still wending their way along broad, sleepy courses, a watery iteration of Rip Van Winkle........The colors were mostly burnt-sienna, brown, spruce green, with the occasional spash of sumac red.....What complete joy when the forest covers an entire mountainside or valley!  It's as if the decorating committee went out of their way just for me.

In Lenox, the marvelous staff at Hampton put me onto a small bistro, called Jonathan's, in an otherwise nondescript (though pleasant) small strip mall perhaps a mile back toward Lee, Massachusetts (which has a fabulous downtown area, a darling coffee house and bakery, and some high-quality antique shops).  I must say that I have rarely enjoyed a meal or a setting so very much.  If you are ever anywhere near Lenox, MA, find it.  Go to dinner.  Fresh food -- gorgeously cooked -- and well served by a young Argentinian named Andrea, who wants to go to graduate school.  I didn't discourage him, though, given the state of our universities, I perhaps should have said at least something to the contrary.  I still think that cream rises, though, and so he ought to see if he measures up.  If he does, and if he indeed is cream, all will be well.

I drove from Lenox to the festival mid-morning on Saturday, had something of a time finding it (the address given on the website was wrong, and to make matters worse, the site was down when Larry tried to help), but I consulted locals and found the so-called Big E in another direction altogether. 

While I was looking, though, I drove through some neighborhoods in West Springfield.  And I must say that I have NEVER, EVER seen anything like what I found there.  The news media has not given us anything like a true picture of what has happened there in the wake of the huge snow storm of a week ago.  The snow was mostly gone, though not entirely -- in West Springfield, they apparently had 1.5 feet.  But it was very, very wet and heavy.  Old trees came down.  Branches came down.  Wires came down.  Lampposts hit by falling trees came down.  On sidestreets, where I did manage to get a few pictures before the batteries died, branches and dismembered trees are piled halfway up the remaining trees, waiting for some kind of pickup.  I can't imagine what it will take to remove all of that lumber and dead foliage.  It was enough to make me weep -- and especially because New Englanders are really attached to their trees, always have been.  The people I talked to at the festival were really devastated.  The oldest trees went first, of course, because the young 'uns were much more flexible.  What a horrible, visually devastating freak of nature.

At the festival, which is medium size and very high quality (only two vendors of Peruvian cheap crap -- pardon my language, but that's what it is, and I wish they would be excluded from vendor lists), I remembered almost at once that I was at the epicenter of the Small Farm Movement, which stretches up and down the eastern seaboard.  Booth upon booth testified to the power and productivity of the movement.  Old breeds were in evidence in the animal section; and old-breed fiber was everywhere, beautifully spun from local flocks in local spinneries (a couple very old firms in Maine, some new spinneries in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and of course Green Mountain Spinnery in Vermont).  It used to be that spinneries no longer existed in the US; now, it's rebounding.  Craft people are taking to the land again, harvesing very high quality fleece and other fiber from angora goats, Romney and Corriedale and Leicestershire sheep, on and on -- and the results are drop-dead gorgeous.  The work of Romney Hills Farm, e.g., is dazzling -- lofty, softer than Romney usually is, and well-dyed.  Kelly also overdyes some natural, single-ply blended yarn (done by Green Mountain) in small batches.

It is important to view American wool not only as an indigenous product, but as an ORIGINAL form of wool.  Nowadays, there is a lot of ruined wool out there -- wool that has been overprocessed and plied far too loosely (or not at all), or blended with other fibers, or altered "at the molecular level," as one company puts it (it makes my skin crawl just a little -- why on earth horse around "at the molecular level"?) -- so that many of my clients think that wool is not supposed to be substantial, toothy, full of air spaces to keep us warm.  It is supposed to bloom when washed -- and it does.  But you have to trust in it.  They don't realize that there is more to wool than merino.  Merino is beautiful, but it may not be the longest wearing wool, and it surely isn't (in my view) the best wool for outergarments.  So I am going to lend a hand to the movement by featuring some of their products -- knowing full well that people don't believe me, won't buy the wool, think that all wool is supposed to feel like silk.  It actually annoys me, and I have a very hard time hiding it.

There were signs of economic hard times:  Twist of Fate, where I bought some incredibly well-priced alpaca in natural shades, told me of clientse who drop off fleeces and fiber and then can't afford to redeem the spun yarn.  What sadness that must be for everyone.  But it really is a story of our time, isn't it?

On another front, the women (the vendors are mostly, but not entirely, female) selling their beautiful productions are making me very happy:  They are charging MORE for their handcrafted yarn, buttons, jewelry, sweaters, and so on, than ever before.  For YEARS, I have been giving little lectures to people (especially at the very small festivals) about women's labor and how we need to make a living, can't just keep giving labor away (something women often are trained to do from childhood), need to understand that sharing and generosity can't stand in the way of making a living.

Well.  They are doing it more and more.  The great irony for me, of course, is that I can't really expect women to make their yarns affordable for ME (I need to mark up what I find) if I want them to earn good money.  This is particularly true if the women in question can sell everything they make at full price at the festivals -- and so, when I ask a woman if she CAN sell out at full price and she says yes, all I can really do is to give her a card and encourage her to call me if she does not.  Wholesale discounts also have shrunk.  So -- when you stock a shop with as much hand-retrieved yarn as I do, it's a mixed blessing, isn't it?  On the one hand, people are doing what I have been telling them to do for at least 8 years.

On the other hand -- I have to sell at a very slim margin.  (If I were to really factor in travel costs, I'd be selling at a loss -- but this is what I do for vacations, so....I choose not to figure it in).  Probably, over time, I will be stocking less and less handcrafted, one-of-a-kind yarn, or at least buying it mostly after full-price sale has concluded, probably by photographs.  And I likely will frequent the smaller festivals more and more, at the expense of the bigger ones.  That's okay.  In my view, New York and Maryland festivals have both been stuck in the mud for a couple of years -- same vendors, not much change in goods.  But this requires a slight shift in the business plan.  It's also hard to say how much of the downward pressure on discounting has to do with the recession -- probably some part.  Time alone will tell!!!!!!!!!!!  Meantime -- I truly LOVED seeing women defending the value of their labor.

I decided to come home on the Canadian side which, IF (and only if) customs doesn't slow you down, can be undertaken in two hours' less time than the American side.  I was lucky:  Especially at the American end, the bulging mass in the windows of the rented station wagon didn't even get a long glance.  Still, I sometimes feel almost hurt that customs people never, ever see me as a possible criminal, smuggler, mafia accountant -- whatever.  Must be the wasp-y face, the gray hair, etc. -- but just once I'd like to be viewed as a possible threat to national security for daring to haul thirty-six tons of knitting yarn and a half-ton of buttons across Canada without once offering receipts at either end!

Hugs to everyone.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Onward to New England....

I am VERY excited to finally be attending the relatively new, huge festival in West Springfield, MA, this coming weekend -- the Fiber Festival of New England.  The vendor list is very, very long -- I get to see friends, including Ellen Minand (Ellen's Half-Pint Farm) and maybe Candace Eisner-Strick, who hopes to be there, too.  And I get to have a long, long road trip, where I can sort out my thoughts, make notes (I carry a lined pad on the passenger side), knit, and revise book chapters when I stop driving.  Laptops were an amazing invention....You can literally work anywhere there is an electrical outlet.  I'll of course take photographs.  This one is in a huge exposition center (called the Big E), and my cheap-o motel, which I hope isn't terribly disreputable, is close by.  I'll leave Thursday night after my class (on the road by about 5:00), stop maybe in Erie, PA, and come home again by at least mid-day Sunday.    Stay tuned!    svb

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Asheville's Wonders

Well, Larry and I drove all the way to Asheville, NC, this past weekend -- It's a very long haul, but punctuated (as usual) with stops at various antique malls and shops along the way -- beside the freeways, but also in small towns, where the real treasures can be found.  We returned, to give an example, to the marvelous shop in Candler, NC, where we found yet more entire cards of stunning vintage buttons at fabulous prices -- just as before.  In Candler, there's a button collector I'd like to meet in person!  I left before the haggling over prices started.  Larry is MUCH better at it than I am. 

It's impossible to photograph the mountainous scenery, the advancing autumnal colors -- those warm sepia and orange and reddish and chartreuse tones (yes, chartreuse -- as green yellows, there is indeed quite a lot of it which , in combination with other fall colors, I've tried in vain to capture in free-form knitting.  Something is elusive -- maybe the strokes of charcoal and dark brown, but more likely the very bright values where the sun strikes darker colors, and maybe even the blue tones of the sky).  Here are two poor examples of what we saw:

This time, I bought a motel room at the Asheville end of things from HotWire.  DO NOT USE HOTWIRE.  First:  The so-called bargain price was only 20 dollars less than full price.  Second, and more important:  The godawful room we got at the Ramada Biltmore West was so bad that I considered just leaving, prepaid or not -- Larry complained about the worn-out rugs, the sway-back beds, the general slum tone -- you don't expect to be in a slum for 120 bucks a night.  Surprise surprise:  They moved us to a slighty better room, although the electronic door barely worked (they have some problems with maintenance) and the bathroom sink had a faucet that was about to fall off.  The beds were better, so we stayed.  I'll ignore the time when the electricity went out.  Suffice it to say:  Hotwire probably means (contrary to the ads) that you get rooms nobody else wants unless you complain.  So I'll just do it the usual way from now on.

Asheville's Southeast Wool and Fiber Festival has expanded significantly since I was last there several years ago.  It's now well over a hundred vendors, approaching 200 in fact, some of whom still only show primarily at this fair.  NOT the same cast of characters, in other words, as one finds at, say, NY's lalalalooza festival or Maryland's.  It occupies the HUGE agricultural expo center (really a mammoth, circular indoor arena) and out-buildings in Fletcher, NC, which is an Asheville suburb immediately across the street from the Asheville airport.  When you are expecting to buy yarn, though, it's best to drive -- it's hard to find UPS or FedEx stores on Sunday!   Far better to load up a rental car and avoid trying to explain to airport authorities why your baggage is full of yarn and how an extra bag full of wool (you need to take an empty one along) can weigh as much as lead.

And the real joy, something I've been looking forward to for at least a year, was meeting the brilliant Stacey Budge, the driving force behind UrbanGypZ Yarns.  We got to hug!!!!  She was THE first indie dyer that I put in the shop when we opened.  I learned this weekend that I was also her first wholesale account!   Here she is:

The particularly good part:  It's always best to see yarn before buying it, and even better to see an artisan's full line before deciding what to buy.  So this time, I could SEE everything she makes.  I chose a boatload of her light-weight yarns, including fingering and lace-weight merino wools; but I also picked up some luscious wool-silk for makers of shawls and maybe cowls.  The semi-solids were a surprise:  I associate Stacey with variegations, and they were wonderful, but I LOVED her semis.  So I actually picked up more semi-solid yarns than variegated.  See?  THAT'S why it's important to go to the horse's mouth, so to speak.  No, that's not to call Stacey a horse.  It's a SAYING, dopey reader!

Everywhere, Larry took pictures of yarn and people and oddities.  Some important discoveries:  First, I did not know that Amy of YarnSmith (Ohio) had reorganized her yarn business as Pandora Yarns.  Apparently the wondrous Amy, who is a GREAT handpainter, got very tired of running a mill during a recession; now, she dies in her own studio and is MUCH happier.  I was particularly taken with some buttery lace-weight merino, which I bought too much of, and of course with her sock wools.  Here she is -- and don't miss the small sliver of the parking lot shown behind her.  This is a VERY big exposition:

And then -- TA DA -- an example of WHY I go to the festivals.  I found a replacement for the raku buttons by Tia of Olympia, Washington, who stopped making them.  Two amazing women are making raku buttons and jewelry (!!!!) that is actually more interesting, and just as well crafted, as Tia Matera's work.  We bought up a small supply to show our clients -- but -- blare of trumpets -- they are gong to send a trunk show on or about November 7, so we can select a lot more at our leisure.  It's also important, if we mean to support small producers, to let them try to sell goods at full price at the festivals and make arrangements to buy what's left at prices we can deal with.  So that's what we did with this delightful mother and daughter team (get a load of the chunky bracelets in the photograph, and the picture behind them!):

They aren't afraid of color, but they also seem to understand color.  So the beads, buttons, and jewelry are eye-catching and original without being either gaudy or predictable.

And here's one of the out-buildings (the actual expo building is multi-tier and HUGE):

As to whimsical moments:  Get a load of these, courtesy of the splendid Larry!  More later.  Come into the shop and see what we bought!!!!!!!!!     svb

Monday, October 17, 2011

On to Asheville...

.......And so, this coming Thursday morning, as bright and early as I ever manage (NOT), Larry and I will climb into a rental car and meander south through Ohio and other foreign lands toward Asheville, North Carolina.  Along the way, we will visit wondrous antique shops in search of (what else?) vintage buttons, maybe some delightful old jewelry.  (We all have words we think look funny -- is it jewelery or jewelry?  Here I am, the winner of the 8th-grade Minnesota state spelling contest, unable to spell jewelry/jewelery).  I have made a reservation at a Ramada Inn near the Southeast fiber festival -- actually in Fletcher, NC -- which is immediately across the street from the Asheville airport.  I flew last time.  But then you have the problem of figuring out how to get the TON of yarn you inevitably buy back home (Fed Ex and UPS are remarkably hard to find on Sundays!!!).  So -- this time, a car, with my sidekick Larry.   I'm secretly trying to get him the h___ out of the shop for a few days.  He really needs to get at least within a few yards of a golf course now and again.  I wonder if he realizes quite yet that I am going to put his clubs in the car?  More later when I actually have something to say.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

O Loyal Readers....

Dear loyal people, I have been silent because I have exams to grade (ARRRGHHH) and nothing, really, to report beyond the gorgeous fact of sailboat races on Lake St Claire, the ugly fact of virtually no yarn business (the warm weather), and the strange fact that, at this very moment, some idiot is firing off some firecrackers or rockets in my block.  I wonder what on earth is going on?  Do we shoot rockets on Columbus Day???  And in any case, it's tomorrow.  I will write more when I have something to say.  You do NOT want to hear about the schmo-like toy that I'm making from white string (Larry gave me a ball, having no idea that giving me a ball of something knittable or crochetable is like Coke to an addict).  More later.   svb

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Change in direction....

Larry and I have decided to forego the local festivals (see previous post!) at West Branch and Romeo in favor of a long, lovely drive to North Carolina in late October to the fabulous Southeast Fiber Festival near Ashville.  We will rent a car and take our time driving, from Thursday mid-day (if I can find a person to guide my Thursday class through a discussion) until late-day Monday.  He loves Asheville; I love the antique shops along the way (think BUTTONS!), and both of us are eager to see what has become of the Asheville show, which is held at a huge agricultural center across the street from the Asheville Regional Airport.  Since I was last there three years ago, it has GROWN.  And I finally get to meet Stacy Budge, the maker of our wonderful UrbanGypZ fingering yarns.  So that's the decision.  I will have much more to say about this in a month.  Meanwhile, fiber aficionados should check out their website (which can also be accessed through the events tab on   svb

Friday, September 23, 2011

West Branch Ho....

If it ever stops raining -- and only if it does -- I may head out on Saturday morning for the three little fiber events at Flint (International Alpaca Festival), Romeo (Mt Bruce Station Autumn Festival), and West Branch (Northern Michigan Lamb and Wool Festival).   I'll make report if and when I do!    svb

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tea Party as Old Soviets???

I was hugely amused today, while re-reading Bloomsbury giant Leonard Woolf's little essay Principia Politica, written in the heyday of the anti-Communist witchhunt, to find sentences about the diabolical communists that sound, for all the world, like a critique of the Tea Party.  The 'enemies' list, of course has changed.  But I'm taken with Woolf's clear sense of the ideological importance of enemies' lists and the whipping of communities into a froth of hatred.  It's pretty ironic actually that Obama is being tarred with the broad brush of Socialism!!!!!  Makes me smile, though darkly.    Here's a sample. 

"The persistent appeal to communal hatred is one of the most remarkable features in Russian communism.  We have already noticed it in the use of ideology by Soviet rulers.  The theme is always an attack upon guilty men or guilty classes -- capitalists, kulaks, imperialists, war-mongers, Trotskyists, or some other species of deviationist.  The Russian people are subjected to an uninterrupted stream of what is now called propaganda.  It is an unending stream of incitement to the hatred of wicked people who are represented as the unscrupulous enemies of Russia and of the masses.  It is these capitalists or kulaks, imperialists or Americans, and their dupes and hirelings, who deliberately prevent the workers of Russia and of the world from attaining the Marxist or communist millenium.  Therefore the first duty of the good communist is to hate them and the second to liquidate them."


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Young's Jersey Dairy and YARN? A Travelogue....Part Two

....and, as promised below, here are the woodworkers' pictures, surrounded by the beautiful things they have crafted.

....and here is a spinner named Michelle who was simply SPINNING, smiling as if she had never been happier in her life, just to make everyone else smile.

I loaded up on some gorgeous felted bags (ready-made in my view for those who use circular knitting needles and other rounded tools) and smaller tool kits from an Ohio woman who also makes darling necklaces with pictures -- with slogans like "I love to hook" (!!!).  I bought at least a dozen.

And then I left.  This was a day trip.  Someday, it will come over me that women in their late 60s aren't supposed to drive 7 hours in one day.  But, until then, I'll continue to do it.  And of course, on the way out, I took another final, long glance at the huge tents -- and captured another scene that will never be found on the streets of Detroit.  Here I am, taking the picture of some parents taking pictures of children on a wondrous tractor:

Happy Knit and Crochet!!!   And thanks to Ohio for having such lovely weather today.   svb

Young's Jersey Dairy and YARN? A Travelogue....Part One

Some years ago, I went to Yellow Springs, Ohio, to see what on earth could be going on at a dairy -- a fiber fair was alleged to be going on there, and I couldn't quite believe it.  But -- I went.  Yellow Springs is near Dayton, Ohio, in the middle of dairy and corn country, lovely rolling fields, healthy stands of deciduous trees and conifers, stunning wildflowers (at this time of year, mostly golden hues).  Then, it was a small affair, enclosed in a single good-sized building, with maybe 20 vendors.  They had great ice cream at Young's Dairy -- I remember that part vividly.

Well.   I saw the notice again on Knitters', where I go for information about fairs and festivals, and was astonished to see how many vendors had signed on.  So this morning I quickly got a cute little red Focus from Enterprise Car Rental and headed to Yellow Springs.  I learned two things along the way -- maybe three things.  First:  Ohio is just as rollingly beautiful along Highwyay 68 as I remember, and there are more Amish than I recall.  Marvelous black buggies, beautiful horses.  Second:  The corn is MUCH less ripe than it should be -- heavy rains?  Late planting?  Warm weather in late September?  Look at how green it is!  (Click on shots to enlarge):

Third, and perhaps most important:  Gasoline in central Ohio is 3.39 a gallon, not the 3.70 we are paying.   WHY? 

So I arrived at the Dairy and encountered a huge surprise:  Once, this was a small-scale dairy store on beautiful grounds.  Now, it's a full-scale amusement park, complete with miniature golf (called Udder and Putter, for god's sake).  Here's the ice cream building and a small part of the blocks-long parking lot.  And here is also a small slice of the amusement parkl, complete with children:

But let's get to the point.   "A Wool Gathering" begins with a big, bright blue banner:

As you walk through the gate, you find HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS of people, all having the most magnificent time -- including dozens of members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, two of whom can be seen in this shot (to the right):

Notice the SIZE of those big tents -- my photograph doesn't begin to capture the scale of things.  This fair has exploded over the years.  I found some friends inside, but also some new people -- like Michelle the spinner and two gifted woodworkers whose buttons and spindles I bought in profusion.  He of the spindles works under the name "Sunset Turnings," and I must say he knows a thing or two about wood finishing.  She of the buttons has THE cutest calling card I've ever seen (it's a piece of wood in the shape of a button!!!) -- Brenda K, of "A Remark You Made."   Both of them have shops, and I hope you'll all go have a look.  I bought more wooden buttons than is decent.

I can't download more pictures (at my limit), so I'll undertake another entry:   svb

Monday, September 12, 2011

Autumn in Michigan

Autumn typically comes late in Grosse Pointe -- the result of our location very near the warmth of Lake St Clair (in my case, it's only a half-block away).  It's SO pretty at this time of year -- and I must say, I greatly appreciate weather in the 70s instead of the 80s and 90s.  I am NOT a tropical plant.  Here is what's happening in my gardens!!!  Purpley bushy stuff!  The last of the hostas!  Enjoy the season!

Home from the Wisconsin festival!

On Thursday night just past, Lois and I took off in our rented Dodge Avenger (what a name!  and what an uncomfortable car -- the windshield wipers sound like little grenades every time they move back and forth, and the seats aren't made for real bodies) and aimed for a super-inexpensive Super 8 in the southern part of Chicago, just off of Interstate 294.  Do NOT EVER stay in a Super 8 that's less than 50 dollars.  I honestly think that's the dividing line.  This one was so awful that we considered trying to find another place.  But we were exhausted.  Let's just say that, in the morning, Lois saw a pair of men's underpants in the hallway. We also chose to find breakfast elsewhere.   Enough said.

But then, of course, we found our way to Wisconsin -- and Matilda (the trusty GPS) took us to small Wisconsin towns, where we found some wonderful vintage buttons.  Here's the sort of thing we saw in one particularly nifty 'mall' in one of those small towns:

The Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival, held annually in Jefferson, Wisconsin, at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, is a truly wonderful show.  We have been hearing some sad stories about Michigan's festival -- one vendor told me, e.g., that the buildings have developed leaks so that displays and goods are ruined with water.  The Wisconsin fairgrounds are in amazingly good shape -- and, most important, the vendors are numerous and of uniformlygood quality.

A sad note:  Diane Edwards (Annie's Handspun) told me that, at the Ann Arbor Fiber Expo, she had TWO handknitted sweaters stolen.  Now, this has nothing to do with Ann Arbor's show -- rather, it has to do with a shift in our world.  Fiber people are notoriously and STILL honest, almost to a fault.  More and more, though, thieves and scam artists are zooming in on festivals.  One of them, I was told, scammed a large number of exhibitors on the last day of the Southeast festival at Asheville, NC, on the very last day, virtually the final hour, with a fake checking account and a bogus story about how she was buying for retail.  Sad but true:  Crime is increasing, and if we have to start being suspicious at our fiber-related events, it will be shocking and sad.  In our shop, we have experienced only ONE bounced check -- and it was done (you guessed it) by a scam artist claiming to be a cancer victim in need of warm hats and scarves (I fell for it and gave her a hefty discount -- she paid us with a bogus check, accompanied by a bogus driving license).   

But let's talk about pleasant things:  Such a variety appeared at this show!  I sometimes choose not to buy otherwise nice yarns from small producers because (to give one example) I don't much like tiny color runs -- they knit up looking speckly and sometimes muddy, as with this really beautiful display of yarn, done with very tiny dashes and dots of dark color on lighter grounds -- mind you, some people LOVE that effect -- it's just not my cup of tea.  I like my color runs longer, and I REALLY like yarn with surprising colorations:

....but who could pass up the gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous SOFT-SERVE just outside one of the main buildings?  We couldn't -- two really nice fellows trying to support FFA (Future Farmers of America, for all of you city-lubbers).

I didn't take too many pictures -- too busy looking at all of the possibilities -- two huge buildings, crammed to the proverbial gills with potential studio offerings.  If money were no object (it's a recession in Michigan!), I would have had to rent a truck to come back home.   Look at this wonderful scene -- a woman working fair isle from a double spooled feeder.

I bought some single-spool yarn feeders from an amazing man, the father of the young owner of Sun Valley yarns, that are MUCH better than the ubiquitous ceramic yarn bowls.  They don't break, and the yarn doesn't collapse when it gets to the outer edges.  The man who makes them (the ones I bought) is a talented woodworker who had the good sense NOT to use stain or other noxious substances -- just beautiful varieties of wood and hard-finish oil.

Here is the MOTHER of the very young, gifted owner of Ewe-Nique Yarns, with her brand-new grandchild.  In the center of the photograph, behind her, is a basket full of wonderful little scarf kits -- dyed by the brilliant young owner -- called Skeleton Scarves.  They contain ultra-soft kid mohair and an amount of hand-dyed silk.  Made on big needles in garter stitch, with occasional shots of the silk, they end up looking like froth with fossils mysteriously embedded in the body of a scarf.   SOME (not all) of my shopping bags full of wool can be seen in the left of the photograph.  I didn't get a photograph of the young genius herself.  Next time!

Finally:  Here is Larry struggling to deal with the STUFF I brought back -- Ann Reisler's big, fluffy skeins of pencil roving spun with yarn or angelina; Ewe-Nique's amazing kid mohair (hand dyed -- see the photo of her mother above); some first-shear natural gray lambswool yarn; the wooden spinners; on and on.  The scarf kits that I mentioned are in the middle of the drafting table, tumbling to the front.  Also got some really gorgeous glass buttons from Michigan's Diane Edwards (Annie's). 

Now I'm going to start another page and show you some photographs of fall in my garden!


Monday, September 5, 2011

OKAY OKAY I can take a hint....!

OKAY OKAY!  What a lot of heckling friends!

Here are the other four hats -- cooked up especially for Labor Day, which, I'm pleased to say, is COOL instead of hot and humid.  All of them look too short and squat in the photographs -- my photography, I'm afraid, isn't professional.  But:

The first one is a crocheted Noro Kureyon thing (I don't like the hand of Kureyon, so I'm using it up on hats and other utilitarian objects) with two tagua nut buttons to conceal the beginning of rounds-- mostly puffs and half double crochet with crab-stitch edging.  The second one is also crocheted with a single strand of hand-paint that I bought eons ago -- hard to see the stitch pattern, but it's an open shell pattern.  The knitted terra cotta one is the same Rowan Drift that I used below to make the experimental Tunisian hat.  A simple box stitch with crocheted chain top-knot.  The last one is a triple strand seed stitch knitted cloche with a rolled brim -- 41 stitches, then 43 for the body, 7 inches worked even in seed, then decreased to 42 for the top, decreases in six wedges, initially of 7 sts each  -- three strands include a Plymouth wool-acrylic variegated and tweedy light worsted-weight yarn, the name of which is lost in the mists of time; a strand of Valley Yarns novelty metallic/mohair; and a strand of fluffy wool-acrylic two-tone yarn from Reynolds ("Main Street").  Crocheted pieces were done with my default hook (Size H).  Hats were done on 13's.

Wish I were a better camera-woman -- they all look better than the photos show, and are great fun to cook up. This has become a winter tradition at Artisan Knitworks:   I go on a hat orgy, everybody stays warm.  Except me.  I don't wear hats.  I have a natural 'hat' of nice, thick, gray hair.

So get a big pile of wool in colors and textures that you like and cut loose, blending yarns at will!


and here's a funny little Tunisian hat....

On Labor Day, what better thing to do than to cook up a simple little Tunisian crochet hat?  I've made five hats so far this weekend -- for sale in the studio -- and this one was kind of a lark.  Here's what to do:  You need one ball (less than 90 yards) of superbulky wool or its equivalent, if the yarn is very, very lofty -- I used Rowan "Drift."  It's working up at about .75 sts per inch on a size humungous hook (see the photos -- I think it's about a size S, an old plastic thing with a straight handle, and so suitable for Tunisian.....).  The body was worked sideways in a strip.  Chain 9.  Work Tunisian simple stitch for about 19 inches.  Break yarn.  Slip-stitch the two ends together, RS facing.  Decide which side is up (!!!).  On top side, single crochet in back loops all the way around, then decrease radically (1 decrease in every 3 sts over and over until you have only 3 or 4 sts left.  Fasten off and pull yarn end through the remaining sts.  Go to the other side, now designated "the bottom."  Work 1 round of single crochet all around; fasten off.  Darn in yarn ends.  Take a picture and put it on your blog!


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Mortgages and Tunisian Crochet.....???

Two topics at once:   First, the mortgages part.   Some time ago, as many friends know, I bought a big ol' house (c. 1896) to rescue, fix up and flip.  I pumped oodles of money into it.  I will never reveal how much (the idea was to hide money from the unproductive stock market).  Of course the joke was on me, and so I find myself possessed of a HHHHUUUUGGGE mortgage (and other things) in a market that won't permit a decent house sale.  And it's a house that's too idiosyncratic for Grosse Pointers, with a handful of exceptions -- a quirky urban house, marooned in a suburb.  So much for the Big Flip. 

So I went to an event in Novi, Michigan, sponsored by many banks for the benefit of mortgagees who were experiencing financial pressure.   WOW.   It was at the so-called Showplace, a gigantic expo center with a three-block-long parking lot.  The lot was FULL.  Inside, the scene was just plain grotesque.  Bankers were lined up at half-block-long lines of tables across the full width of an enormous ball room -- in fresh little Polo shirts, differently colored according to their bank (Chase was royal blue).  Each little banker had a shiny silver laptop -- hundreds of them, the lids propped open.  Meanwhile, clients sat on the sidelines behind ropes, as if in a deli waiting to order chopped liver and pastrami, clutching little slips with NUMBERS.  After 3 hours, my number came up.  The little fellow in the crisp, obviously new blue shirt was polite enough -- but it was clear from his demeanor that he was in it for the money, literally.  He even had a card specially printed for the occasion (how much did those mathing laptops, matching shirts, and new cards COST??).  I tried to take a panoramic photo of the scene, but it wouldn't fit into one frame, so I just got a couple of random shots.  Had to quit because a couple of Red Shirts (another bank) were eyeing me.  Folks, this is emblematic of our time.  What a commentary.  You can't really sense the depth or width of the ballroom......

IN THE MEANTIME:   While turning out hats for the winter season, I've also been working on a very thick, very easy Tunisian crochet shawl to show people when I offer Tunisian Crochet again at the studio.....just to demonstrate what nice objects can be made from Simple Stitch and a bit of crocheted fringe (beginning project!) and lovely yarn.  In this case, I used 30-year-old LaGran mohair from my attic stash (I have an entire closet full of mohair, if you must know!), a strand of Silk Garden Lite (Noro), and for a bit of drama and light-catching interest, some to-and-fro rows of Trendsetter's Dune, one of my all-time-favorite yarns, at the ends and at the center.  It's about 7 feet long and slightly less than two feet wide.  Of course, I used one of Bag Smith's humungous Size S, 18-inch, hand-carved wooden Tunisian crochet hooks.  The starting foundation row had only 28 stitches.  Here it is!!!!   You, too, can do it.  It took me less than a week, working on it only for brief snatches of time.  Every row (and each stitch) occupies an inch.  The Dune doesn't show in the photo (blame my cheap-o camera), but it's in the 7th, 9th, and 11th rows, third photograph.  The shawl is light, frothy, and hugely fun. Next will be a wide Prism black mohair three-quarter length coat  with Dolman sleeves, with some Trendsetter Tonalita (and the occasional shot of Dune) worked with the mohair, done mostly in rectangles with slight armhole and neckline shaping.  Might add a stand-up collar made from a Tunisian strip.  This one will have HUUUGGGE buttons, mismatched and vintage.

More soon, after the Wisconsin show has come and gone.     svb

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Wisconsin Ho...!

This Thursday, after my freshman class ends at 4:50, Lois and I will take off (from the university area) for Jefferson, Wisconsin, the site of the annual Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival.  It's a great show, medium sized, full of wonderful local and regional artisans working at a consistently high level.  I have always loved this drive.....It's my old stomping grounds, sort of -- a Minnesotan can't help but love the landscape and people of Wisconsin.  Besides, it's in Wisconsin that I broke my nose while skiing at Trollhaugen in southern Wisconsin, more or less on a dare.....You do NOT go skiing with a couple of daredevil lads and take their word for how you can ski down the expert slope with no experience whatsoever.  They flew OVER a deep pit; I fell into it -- so much for the lovely Romanesque nose.  Sigh.  To this day, it doesn't work properly (I sniff all the time).  Years later, a plastic surgeon tried to get some of the fragments out and straighten the nose....didn't work.  The fragments part anyway.

Other memories are more positive.  Wisconsin's glaciated regions are drop-dead gorgeous.  There are butte-like landforms that invite climbing, vast reaches of sculpted hills and valleys.  The most famous, of course, are the Wisconsin Dells landforms, but much of Wisconsin is just as beautiful as that riverbed area -- boulders deposited by glaciers, and the sharp edges of the escarpment where you can still see where the glacier ended. 

In the countryside, a fat dairy cow inhabits every field -- I swear.  Well, perhaps I exaggerate.

But it's a wondrous place, and I do hope Lois can put up with some rhapsodic exclamations from time to time.  I'll also want to stop in Milton, Wisconsin, at the odd old house that's been made over into a craft and art center for the entire county.  Last time, I bought some great hand-sewn bags there.

More later, with photographs of the event.  Happy Labor Day.  We are closing the studio for TWO DAYS IN A ROW, for the first time in the firm's existence.  Everyone is tired.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The MAD HATTER Initiative.....!

ANNOUNCING THE MAD HATTER INITIATIVE and some wonderful spin-offs! 

This year at Artisan Knitworks,  I’m going to play around with the idea of warm and wonderful hats.

First, hats to buy:  As some of you already know, each year I go on a hat-making binge and try to fill the shop with knitted and crocheted hats – a few of them with scarves, though I don't much like matchy-matchy hat/scarf sets.  Buy 'em for yourself, or buy 'em for gifts.  This year, I’m going to make OOOOODLES of them.  They will be ready by Thanksgiving – so (ready for a bad joke?) hold onto your hat.  In the meantime, I’m leaving one or two around the place for everyone to contemplate.  Some will be slightly insane, as hats ought to be.  They will be made up in all kinds of patterns, colors, and weights – though probably not in fingering yarn.  Nobody would want to have to pay for the labor!

Second, hats to make:  I am going to organize a couple of special hat-making sessions on Sunday at about 2:00.  I hope to persuade Judy Champagne to run one of them.  You may have seen her wonderful top-down I-cord hats in the shop.  She will show you how to do it in any weight yarn during one of the Special Sunday Sessions (Larry will think of a name for them).  In another such session, I will show you what fun you can have with the Mad Hatter pattern (bottom-up knitted hats, sometimes with big flowers).  And in yet another, I’ll show crocheters how to create fabulous crocheted berets with free-form tops.

Third, hats to make you rich (well, sort of ...):  We are going to have a hat contest.  The deadline for entry will be December 10th.  Pick up an entry form anytime after Labor Day.  Hats will be on display from December 10 through about December 15th or thereabouts, so that you can give them as gifts if you wish.  The contest has two divisions (children, adult) and several gift-certificate prizes.  We ask only that you invent the hat yourself (you can base it on one of our patterns, but it has to be inventive, original and well crafted – no internet or published designs allowed).  And we ask that you use our yarns for the hat.  All winners will be published in our newsletter.

How’s that?

Fall is coming!!!!!!!!!!   I will go to the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival in early September – a really wonderful regional festival that is growing by leaps and bounds – in search of yet more fabulous materials for everyone.  In the meantime, KNIT AND CROCHET YOUR WAY TO GOOD HEALTH!!!


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Allegan Fair, continued!!!!!

As promised, I have some images of the annual Michigan Fiber Festival at Allegan -- though, because I'm the photographer, they're not exactly elegant.  It's a wonderful event -- one of the best middle-sized fiber expos in the nation -- though, lately, I confess that I think the very best fiber festivals are the smallest ones, as with the wee gaggle of vendors at Sandhill Crane Winery a few weeks ago.  Has to do with table costs (lower!), and so the newest artisans can actually afford to attend, often for the first time -- so I get to see them at the outset, before they've actually gone big-time.  I also get to follow them over time to see if and how they develop! 

But Allegan is a good, good show.....Here are some indoor and outdoor scenes:

...and here is Lois about to SIN ......

.... and here is HUMPHREY the Camel (I have  never been this up-close-and-personal with a camel! 

  ....and, finally, here are the lovely people from Mohair in Motion, from whom I bought oodles of holiday-ready mohair with glitz -- shawls, shawls, shawls!!!!

More sometime soon.....time to get to work!     svb

Monday, August 22, 2011

To Allegan and back.....and back....and back....

Well, my wonderful studio employee Lois and I took off for the Michigan Fiber Festival this past Friday, very early in the morning -- too early, if you ask me! -- and had a wonderful, sunny time driving along the freeway (which can be prettier than in other parts of the state) and back roads to Allegan, a sweet little town almost to the western shore of the state, but not quite.  The festival is now a fixture in the lives of fiber fanatics in Michigan and surrounding states.  I have noticed with interest the growing number of non-Michigan vendors from neighboring states such as Wisconsin and Indiana -- but also the absence of vendors who used to travel long distances.  No doubt this has to do with travel costs.  In my little rented car, it cost about 50 bucks just to drive across the state and back.  Imagine if you were driving a truck or an RV full of merchandise!!!

We briefly met up with some other friends of Artisan Knitworks, and then prowled the one big building and then a second, smaller one in search of wonderful things for the studio.  I also talked for awhile with Ellen (Minand) of Ellen's Half-Pint Farm, whose gifted sister Carol Buskey has been diagnosed with cancer and is slated for additional surgery on September 16th.  Ellen has a darling little pink book that people are signing for Carol's pleasure -- we all wish her godspeed, and if there is justice, she will be FINE.

I will publish a small boatload of photographs tomorrow or the next day, once Larry has loaded them into the computer (I can't figure out how to do it -- I do NOT know why my once-formidable mechanical skills are slipping away, but they are).  For now, let me tell you that Lois and I found wonderful, wonderful yarn.  One bundle is made of Merino Wool and DOG -- yes, as in puppies -- the kind of wool found in double-coated dogs, the down only, not the upper hair.  Lois was, shall we say, unsettled by the whole thing.  I think it's wonderful.  Maybe you have to like dogs.  I bought ten skeins of lovely undyed, fluffy doggie and wool-blend yarn as an experiment.  I also bought thirty cookie cutters in the shape of sheep (Lois again was unsettled -- "This isn't yarn!!!!!") -- an armload of Bag Smith's wildly expensive but wonderful mega-crochet hooks for Tunisian and other varieties of big-gauge stitching (think 5 strands at once!).  I'd love to play around with wide strips for coats, jackets, ruanas.  And I will, when time appears -- maybe I"ll do what I've done with big knits -- simply work with two balls at a time and let the yarns run out, then add other balls.  What a coat that would make in Tunisian! 

[[NOTE added later:  The doggie yarn is NOT being received very well -- people say, WHAT?  A dog?  I wonder why they don't say WHAT?  A musk ox?  instead, they pay 40 bucks a yard...I'm smiling.  Probably has to do with the absence of musk oxen in the living room....!].

The vendors hadn't all arrived, which surprised us -- usually there are 3 or 4 buildings full, but on Friday, there were only 2.  I hoped, as we walked around, that it was not an indicator of waning interest.  I didn't think so then, and I don't now.  It has to do with costs.

But then disaster struck.  We got about a third of the way home and poor, conscientious Lois  (who had offered to carry heavy parcels) discovered that she had left behind the bag of big, expensive hooks.  I thought for a minute that she was going to fling herself onto the highway.  We kept going.  No point in worrying -- I have SO much faith in fiber people.  In this world, we worry about things that matter -- viciousness, racism, sexism, people who lie, people who kill other people, and so on.  Fiber people don't bounce checks.  Lois doesn't make any more mistakes than I do.  Knitters return things that don't belong to them, and so on.  In five years of business, we have had one bounced check, and it was written by a scam artist who, we learned, was known to the police.  NOT a fiber person.  We then had a sumptuous, old-fashioned supper at Schuler's in beautiful downtown Marshall, Michigan, which really IS beautiful, the streets lined with dazzling painted ladies and other astonishing reminders of a bygone time.

The next morning, bright and early, I simply drove back by myself, while Lois manned the shop.  I secretly loved having to do it -- Three hours to think about matters of importance (at least to me) and to listen to the Coffee House station on Sirius, more time to look at the verdant countryside, to smell the late-summer cornfields -- a pungent, grassy-polleny odor that gives a kid from Minnesota great pleasure.  I confess, dear readers, that I got out of the car on one occasion and walked for maybe 15 minutes between the rows.  We'll ignore the terrifying thunder storm that sprang up out of nowhere near Allegan.  I simply waited it out under an overpass.  I asked for and received a big black trash bag from a coffee shop to use as a raincoat (you simply punch out the eyes, or make a neck slit!), but by the time I got there, the rain had stopped and sun had reappeared.

....and of course the green tote bag with those expensive crochet hooks had been turned in to the main office.  Of course.  We're dealing with knitters and crocheters, after all.  Thanks to Audrey, if she's reading this, for helping me find them!!!

More later, when I can offer illustrative images!


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Something Unexpected....

Sometimes, when we think that everything is ugly in the world, unspeakably ugly -- politics, the complete idiocy of political brinksmanship at public expense, the idiocy of Sarah Palin, the idiocy of journalists who keep showing pictures of her, on and on -- an image appears that reminds you that ugly things aren't always ugly.  Sometimes, it's your point of view.  I mean that quite literally.

Consider the fish fly.  In Minnesota, we called them May Flies.  It's unclear why.  They appeared in June, invariably.  In Michigan, they appear in late May or early June, and they're called Fish Flies.  They are just awful.  They cover windows with their totally useless bodies.  They are born, they eat nothing, and they die in 24 hours.  What possible utility do they have?  And they smell.  And they accumulate in DRIFTS (you can sweep them up).  Outside the studio, they formed a kind of coral reef (remember that reefs are the skeletons of creatures, so you surely can have a reef of fish flies).  Ugly.  Well........

Just look what Larry saw.  Larry managed to make them beautiful.  There is a moral here.