Sunday, March 27, 2011

Amazing Grace...Farm, That Is!

I ALMOST FORGOT!!!   Here is the gorgeous owner of Amazing Grace, who also had a marvelous booth at Bowling Green -- and from whom I bought 20 (!) sheep-shaped hand-crafted soaps in a myriad of scents/flavors, including Jasmine and Cinnamon and Lavender.  What a gifted woman!  And what an empathetic shepherd:  She sells Shetland rovings, to give one example, that carry the names of the sheep from whom the fleeces came.  I bought quite a few bundles, not surprisingly.  Soaps and other sundries in the first picture, rovings (etc.) visible behind her, and in the second picture, some of the handspun yarn that she sells at each festival (with more rovings).   Last night, I finished an organic-cotton loopy soap holder and bath scrubber, with strap, for which I'll do up a simple crochet pattern -- I'm calling it Loop-ah.  Sigh.  Probably I should leave naming to Larry.


Second fiber fair of the season...!

As promised, I drove off to Bowling Green, Ohio, late on Friday afternoon.  I had made what I took to be a firm reservation on a day before at a motel across from Bowling Green State University (a Best Western), but when I got there -- I have trouble depicting the scene in words -- the two young women behind the desk claimed to be unable to find my reservation, even though I had a confirmation number, and were decidedly uninterested in doing anything about the situation ("We don't have it..." -- period...looks of vast boredom).  I stomped out and went to my old fave, which I should have undertaken from the start, the local Hampton Inn -- which was full.   But, in good Hampton fashion, a young woman named Jessica got on the phone and found me what turned out to be a sensationally nice room back up the road near Toledo -- for a huge discount -- with a sofa bed to sit on and a magnificant manager who helped me find a genuinely sensational restaurant in downtown Perrysburg called Stella's.  If anyone is driving up or down I-75 at meal time, go into downtown and find it.  REALLY amazing.  And if you are tempted to drive into Bowling Green long enough to patronize the Starbucks (advertised from the freeway), keep going PAST the Starbucks into Bowling Green's newly spiffed-up downtown and look for Grounds for Thought, a marvelous independent bookseller and espresso shop -- great coffee, great people, and not a burned coffee bean in sight.

Then on to the Bowling Green fair, where I appeared at 9:30 AM (a world's record for a woman who typically is barely awake by 10AM).  Each year, the Black Swamp Spinning Guild (named after the early American land company of the same name?  I wonder if they know that?) sponsors a high-quality, ever-expanding festival at the Wood County Fairgrounds, which is at the outer edge of Bowling Green.  This year, I was gratified to see a LOT of very high quality people in attendance, not least of which was our friend Carol from River's Edge in Grand Ledge, Michigan -- maker of unusual and beautiful rovings, handpainted and novelty yarns, and some other gorgeous things.  With any luck at all, we'll soon have a large supply of her rovings for Artisan Knitworks' small but growing spinning program.   Here is the inauspicious entrance at the fairgrounds:

....and here are a couple of shots of the interior of this surprisingly spacious building (the Junior Fair Building, whatever that means -- for young fairs???). 

And here is the talented, aforementioned Carol of River's Edge -- a happy woman, I'd say!

One of Michigan's most interesting (and less well known) hand painters is Maureen, one of our customers at Artisan Knitworks who used to own her own yarn company and now spends most of her time hand-dyeing and hand-crafting a number of other items for the festivals.  She, too, is a happy woman these days running her company, Twisted Stitches, and talking to people like me (look at the dark plum semi-solid wool-Tencel in the very bottom rack -- before I got there, she had maybe 8 of them -- now she has two):

And I met Amy.  What can be said about Amy?  She is a very naughty, very funny, amazingly gifted maker of small and large project and notion bags -- so of course she calls the company Bad Amy!  I bought one gorgeous little square bag made of fabric with brassieres all over it -- a smaller one with black and white sheep (and a chartreuse sipper!), AND a drawsting-top project bag (suitable for sock knitters) with a genuinely astonishing mix of fabrics.  Really cool stuff.  I decided to buy three and see how people responded-- we have had some trouble with bag sales in the past.   Well.  I got back, put them out, and sold one within about 25 minutes.  I guess people like them.  I will be in touch with the delightful Bad Amy SOON to get a larger supply of her zany, colorful bags.  If you have a yarn operation of any kind and want something FUN, you should do the same thing.  It is also true, and equally important to know, that she is a very, very, very good technician at the sewing machine.


Now I need to grade some papers -- which I hope is a less depressing exercise than two weeks ago, when I graded a stack of very sad mid-term lower-division exams -- and buy some groceries, so that I can say we have more than milk, Egg Beaters, and ketchup in the refrigerator.  More soon.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bowling Green upcoming...

This weekend, I'm going to Bowling Green......For those of you who don't live in Southeastern Michigan (or northern Ohio), that's a small town in which can be found Bowling Green State University (which has a really good graduate program in history!!!), a sweet little downtown area with an independent coffee/book store on the main street, an array of fast-food restaurants on the avenue across from the campus, and LOTS of flat flat flat farmland.  Larry knows how tired I am -- he suggested that I reserve a motel room on Friday night and just rest, so that's what I'm going to do.  it's almost end of term, the students in one class particularly are incapable of college-level performance in too many cases, and I am not capable, really, of fixing what ails them (no writing or analytical skills to speak of, a problem that cannot be fixed quickly, once students receive a high school diploma basically for good behavior).  It is very stressful to know that you can't fix things -- especially for a first-born girl child.  So I look forward this time to end of term so that I can write in the morning and migrate to the studio in afternoons, each and every day.

MEANWHILE:  The Black Swamp Spinning Guild will hold its annual festival at the Wood County fairgrounds -- and I will attend for the first time on Saturday  I will be looking less for rovings (I hope to take on a huge pile of River's Edge rovings soon for our spinning program) than for unfamiliar spinners and hand painters.  More soon!


Monday, March 21, 2011

First show of the year, Part 2...!

SO we moved beyond northern Kentucky through increasingly gorgeous countryside -- though browner than it ought to be in early spring.  I wondered aloud whether there had been enough rain.  Horses, though, and those wonderfully atmospheric creosoted tobacco barns.... We decided to go to Berea, where we had so enjoyed ourselves on another trip.  The town has created a Visitors' Center at an exit just off I-75.  But prices are high, the selection geared to tourists, and the building not at all like the town itself. 

Berea, home of the unique and important Berea College, has long been devoted to the advancement of the manual arts.  I used to spend considerable time in Berea -- also in Bybee, home of one of the oldest continuously operating potteries in the nation -- while completing my Ph.D. dissertation.  The College trains its students, not only in language and science and all the usual stuff, but more importantly in carpentry, wood turning, weaving, decorative arts and painting, clay work of all kinds (GORGEOUS pottery), glass blowing, on and on.....I was astonished this time to notice that there was almost NO handspun yarn, and NO apparent attention to handpainted textiles beyond the materials used in some pretty fabulous weavings.  After a good lunch, we headed for the shops, including the big gray wooden building called (oddly) The Log House. (it's not made of logs, except in the sense that all things wooden begin life as logs).   Here is one room, crammed with handcrafted wooden brooms, rolling pins, walking sticks, bowls, chairs, tables, quilts, rugs and crockery  I almost fell for a spectacular piece of weaving with metallic, embroidered insets, but stoically resisted:

      The yarn room was a HUGE disappointment.  To be sure, there were nice selections of Koenig Farms beautifully crafted and colored yarns, and other fairly well-known Kentucky producers of hand paints.  But -- no student work to speak of, and I associate Berea with student work.  At this point, both of us began to fear that Berea College has begun to cater to tourists at the expense of their traditionally unique work -- evidence included the fact of lots of stuff from Pennsylvania and other non-Kentucky places.   Maybe it's more important to support the town.  But I can be sad if I want to be.  It's also likely that some of the more entirely authentic work can be found away from the main shopping area.  I have a feeling that's true, and we didn't have time to find out.   Anyway:  here is the yarn room (an actual term for it, emblazoned on a sign), with Koenig Farms against a far wall:

Then we took off for points even further south -- to Tennessee, once upon a time the westernmost county of North Carolina, much as Kentucky was the westernmost county of Virginia. 

In due time, we reached the Mystery Place -- Townsend, Tennessee.  Much to my surprise, it appeared only in 1901, unlike the rest of the state, which dates to the late 18th century.  And it doesn't have a town center.  Townsend is scattered all along the bottom of a Smoky Mountain ridge, just at the edge of the national forest, and it's mostly new, built for tourists -- the same pattern found in almost every resort community in America.  It's our version, I guess, of the medieval village, which used to have the village church at one end of a curly street and the manor house at the other end, with cottages scattered all along the length of it.....only now, we put a motel at both ends.

But that's not necessarily bad.  One particular point of Pure Joy was Miss Lily's Cafe.  Before we left, there had been much laughter on the point ("OOOOH here's something called Miss Lily's...").  But, in fact, it was just fabulous.  I hate grits.  REALLY hate grits.  So I told our marvelous wait person (a native of South Carolina) that I couldn't possibly order the fish she was recommending because it rested on a bed of fancied-up grits, and she basically dared me of course I couldn't resist .   The joke's on me.   The most scrumptious combination appeared on a white plate -- stone-ground grain and cheese and something spicy with a delectable corn sauce, draped with tender, well-seasoned tilapia.  Larry also thought he had died and gone to heaven (REAL pulled pork).  That's our silver rental car, the unfortunately designed Impala (see Part I of this posting, below), in the foreground.  Keen-eyed readers will also notice that I am standing near the trunk:

At the Smoky Mountain Fiber Festival (finally!), we had quite a rompin' good time.  It was a very small show.  But we knew that when we started out.  Often, newcomers start out at the small shows -- the table cost is low, and you can test your wings without losing your shirt (sorry for multiple trite metaphors).  We had wonderful chats with two people I know fairly well -- Amy from Jehovah Jireh Farm in Paw Paw, Michigan, and the wonderful proprietor of River's Edge Weaving in Grand Ledge, Michigan, from whom we are hoping to get piles and piles of exquisite rovings.  But others we hadn't seen before.  I found some really fine, narrow semi-solid bamboo ribbon in muted colorations from a household operation (Unique Yarns) and bought more than I should have bought, but the colors are subtle and unusual (rose shading into corals, e.g., with binders picking up color at a slightly different rate than the yarn itself).  This will fill the spring-summer gap until we get Laura Bryant's "Rapport."

But the rest of the show was mostly just fun.  What can be said about Sheep with Balls (sorry!  maybe I should have said Sheep that Lay Colored Eggs?) and an authentic sheep-herding show, complete with border collies?  The last time I saw dogs doing that kind of thing, I was in England....and I have NEVER seen sheep with colored eggs -- had always thought they were mammals!!!! 

       And then Sunday arrived and we started home again, with sunlight for most of the trip, the Cumberland and Smoky Mountains laid out before us like ancient friends, welcoming us back.  The Rockies, the Alps, aren't welcoming; nor are they as old.  These stunningly colored hills have been on earth almost forever, softening and reshaping themselves as they age.  The valleys are bathed in shifting tones of blue, gray, taupe, with puffs of vapor rising from creeks and lakes and rivers.  The hills and mountains, with sun at the rear, look exactly like big heads with buzz haircuts, at least for now, before leaves fill out the trunks and branches.  Everywhere in trans-Appalachia, we watched for signs of baby green and baby red, early blushes of color on trees as spring sap begins to flow through deciduous trees.   But of course the water carvings are the whole show, aren't they?  Just look at this expanse of water and flatland, taken from a breathtaking Tennessee lookout.

I'll have more to say soon, once we've both rested.   Next weekend, it's Bowling Green, Ohio, where the Black Swamp Guild mounts its small but locally important, annual fiber festival.         svb

First show of the year..!

Well, we did it....Larry and I drove off this past Thursday, headed for the mysterious Townsend, Tennessee...had NO IDEA what we might find there, beyond the Smoky Mountain National Forest.  It's important at this juncture to remember that Larry considers himself a Tennessean -- more like a closet Tennessean, if you ask me, since he only has relatives there.  But there is no accounting for what people think they are....So we'll let him have this one.  He's a Tennessean.  The closer he gets to the place, the more he aspirates the first syllable of words, dragging vowels out to outrageous widths (do vowels have width???).  We had a big ol' rented car, a Chevy Impala, which I do not recommend.  Sluggish, like a very badly designed bobsled.  Seats badly proportioned.  No padding on the steering wheel.  And so on.

First night, we got over the Kentucky line to Covington and found the first motel for which we could find a tourist coupon -- lovely room at a Holiday Inn Express for only 69 bucks.  Don't pass up those coupon books at rest stops!  Friday morning, back in the car, plunging ever more precipitously tinto (shudder) The Land of Rahn Paul.  We stopped, as usual, at a number of antique shops in search of old jewlery, wonderful vintage buttons, the usual distractions.....Here is downtown Georgetown, home to the picturesque Georgetown College:

and, courtesy of Larry, you're about to learn what happened to Baby Jane.  Remember her?  One of the spookiest movies ever made.....Not many buttons in this particular collectible shop in Georgetown, Kentucky, but they DID have these:

...not to mention the absolute ugliest crocheted hat in the entire world, encrusted entirely with glass beads....

and here is the  shop itself -- notable because it's very much like every other small-town shop in which we have found our wonderful vintage buttons.  In this case, no luck -- but that's the exception to a general rule of "small-town shop, big-time buttons." 

I'll create a separate blog entry for the rest of what we found......!  Google accepts only a handful of photographs per entry.      svb

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Up and running....!

Larry and I are still planning to take off in a rented car (the poor, sweet little VW bug is getting old, and we all know about THAT!!!) (wry smile)..........Townsend, Tennessee, apparently has a place called Miss Lily's Restaurant, or some such amazin' thing (I'm practicing my southern accent, which Larry says is THE worst he's ever encountered)........Stay tuned! 

Yesterday, by the way, was an amazing red-letter day.  My handsome nephew Nick (who lives in Anoka, Minnesota) surprised me by coming into the studio as if he were just another customer.   What a delight!  He and his friend Jeremiah had been to Niagara Falls, and were headed for a local casino for the night.....Remember what it was like to be in your twenties???   Up all night?   On a lark?   TRUE joy.  We had a wonderful, no doubt fattening dinner at a new Mexican joint, they came to the house long enough to meet Bubba and Sheba (the cats), and they were off to the MGM Casino/Hotel.   Lovely lovely lovely.        svb

Friday, March 4, 2011

Catching Up, Gearing Up, Checking In...

It's now past midterm at university, and I can begin to see the end of the tunnel -- my god, what a long, gray, often unpleasant term this has been.   There are always good students.  But there are infuriating ones as well, and this semester, I've had more than my share.  You keep saying to yourself, "I got a Ph.D. WHY???"  To give one particularly galling example:  I gave the midterm in a freshman class maybe a week ago, a two-hour exam and a fairly hard one in my view, and....guess what?   After 20 minutes, eight students got up to leave.   I asked them, one by one, if they'd perhaps like to spend at least a few more minutes trying a bit harder; only two took me up on it.  Those exams, of course, are F's.  Then another big group left by the one-hour mark.  Only 20 students out of 54 stuck it out to the bitter end.  And then there is the sadness of their writing skills -- the poorer ones, some of them very SMART, in fact, but massively underskilled -- laboring away, as if carving something deeply into the desktop, and after two hours, managing to produce maybe three paragraphs.  Even the penmanship shows a comparative lack of experience with writing -- very round, or simply printed, as if high school had been skipped.  It's enough to make me throw a desk through the nearest window.

Another example:  We were reading a short text written by Herbert Hoover, who only some of the students could identify, and he approvingly mentioned "American liberalism," and so of course I asked them to tell me what he was talking about.   It may be important at this juncture to remember that Herbert Hoover was an old Progressive and a Republican.  One student loudly and confidently said, "SOCIALISM."  Could have knocked me over with a feather.  So even Herbert Hoover is a commie pinko.  After some pointed inquiry, it turned out that only the smallest handful had taken high school courses in which they actually TALKED about such concepts as liberalism, socialism, communism, fascism, and so they have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the (idiotic) signs accusing Barack Obama of BOTH fascism and communism.  It took me an extra thirty minutes, but MAYBE, just maybe, they now understand that liberalism is not a synonym for socialism.  My god.  What has it come to, my friends?  Thomas Jefferson is spinning in his grave:  It was Jefferson, after all -- that archetypal liberal -- who insisted that sound education in political principles would be critical to the maintenance of a republic.

But then I go to the studio, or I sit down to write something, and it starts to go away.  The wonderful Amy Hoffman from Women's Review of Books was back in my mailbox last week asking me if I'd like to do another long review essay for her -- this time a biography of the ever-fascinating Elizabeth Packard, a barely-known, important figure in the history of medical and psychiatric sciences.  I have wanted to write something about women's biography for awhile now, and this could be the occasion -- depending on the quality of the book.  So -- first thing out of the gate when term is done, I'll sit down to think about that amazing woman and the whole poblem of writing the life of a woman -- a remarkably difficult task actually, given the nature of the historical record.

Finally, the wool, the yarn, the possibilities -- exhaustion has made it difficult to knit or crochet very much.  I am not given to sketching or making swatches or any of the rest of it when I'm too tired to put myself into it entirely.  I wonder if I will have anything to offer this year for the CGOA and TKNA design contests.......?   But I now have enough of the back of a man's sweater in three colors of Naturally's gorgeous Vero (chunky weight variegated wool made in Australia) to know that it will be a nice design -- ABC stripes, three shades of Vero.  It will be some kind of Henley, don't quite know what yet, with some interesting vintage buttons.  The front will tell me what it has to be when I get that far.  And I have some ideas for simple light-weight garments-- one a side-to-side in Fibonacci stripes, from the cuffs up and across in asymmetrical undulations, maybe in bamboo or bamboo-cotton, and again in at least three colors.  This one will have a wide funnel collar which I hope will collapse, and I will try to reverse colors front and back.

Speaking of which:  In the newest Knitters magazine, Laura Bryant has done some of the most wonderful colorwork I've seen in years.   I hope this is a harbinger of the color book that she is producing:  If it is, we are in for a once-in-a-lifetime rreat.  What masterful stitchery and coloration!  I hope everyone will have a look (we of course have copies in the studio).  I need to find out as well about her Rapport (bamboo-cotton), which I don't remember seeing, but which is advertised in the same issue.  Might be the right yarn for the side-to-side that's stuck in my head (see above) in some of Prism's sandwashed colors.

Spring break arrives in the nick of time the week of March 14-19, and I'm going to take the occasion, maybe with Larry in tow, to drive to Townsend, Tennessee -- wherever that is (must be a Smoky Mountain town) - to a small, atmospheric fiber festival.  The vendors aren't numerous, and I even know three of them -- but the rest are unknown to me, quite a few of whom are spinning and dyeing, so maybe I can find a couple of promising new people.  Then, after the tiny festival at Bowling Green, Ohio, the next weekend, the fiber festival season will be off and running.   I cannot say how eager I am to be blessed with summer -- writing in the morning, maybe on the second-story deck in the treetops, exercising, being in the studio each afternoon until  closing.  The exhaustion this year is almost palpable -- I need a road trip, some kind of rural eye candy, and landscapes (colors, textures, water, the occasional deer flicking a white tail before dashing off as if its feet hurt!) have that effect.

I also need to learn, once and for all, how to download my own photographs.  Stay tuned.