Sunday, April 24, 2011

....using what's at hand....

....driving to the studio today along our exquisite lakeshore drive....and as I looked at the way spring is unfolding, near water and elsewhere, it came over me that, if I only could become a technically proficient yarn dyer (not Laura Bryant, not Ellen Minand, but at least competent), I could work to develop a sock yarn line that would be keyed to particular local vistas and vignettes of particularly striking beauty.  This will be a trick.  All I have done, really, is to overdye some natural grays and browns, and then kettle dye some of Green Mountain Spinnery's nice medium-weight natural wool.   Of course I've sat through a dyeing workshop with Ellen, and I've read the requisite books.  But that's not how one learns about dyeing and color.  So maybe I'll start with one vignette and see how I do.  I won't want to sell yarn that isn't done properly.

The idea here, though, is pretty wonderful:   Larry or I would take some photographs of riveting moments along the lakeshore and elsewhere -- he would reproduce the photographs (or at least the best and most telling one) on a yarn band, and we'd call the series something like Water and Earth by Artisan Knitworks -- he can come up with something more elegant than that.  And it will take me the summer to figure out if I can do this.  If not, then not.  Two friends promised today to tell me if the things I turn out are not up to snuff.

Or maybe, like the mama spider, I can lure someone over here to help!  I have in mind the brilliant Nancy McRay from Woven Art in East Lansing, whose parting shot was that she might try to come visit someday soon.  I can easily envision a dyeing workshop......  Failing that, or perhaps in addition to that, I could ask friends at Lorna's Laces in Chicago if I can drive over there and watch for a day or two.  (For Laura:  Florida is too far away!!!!!   And I don't think I can dip-dye.  This has to be done with poured dye and brushes, etc.).

The first vignette -- it almost made me cry to see it -- will involve some willows covered with brilliant, almost neon baby green (the color of what?  maybe a cross between lemon and lime, though it's not that either -- it has some gold in it -- close to Classic Colors' golden pear) with some other greens, draped over water that shimmered with blues and grays, and then of course a shot of deep, deep yellow from a patch of daffs newly sprung from the trap of winter.........We'll see.  This idea has appeal to me, but everything depends on technical competence.      svb

Monday, April 18, 2011


It SNOWED, for god's sake....!!!!  When I lived in Minnesota, this would have been more or less normal.  But this is Michigan.  It snowed on April 18th!  My poor Mesopotamian sheep (concrete, sitting on the front steps) shivered his way through the day.  And the poor trees -- still naked, after all, from winter but daring to run some sap -- and then, POW.  And the DAFFODILS, their green leaves taller by the day....God help us all.  Here is evidence:

.... I hasten to add that all of it disappeared within about 6 hours.  But, while it lasted, the colors and contrasts were amazing.  Don't miss the dash of red against black and white provided by the Japanese maple (center stage in the 2nd photo, and directly above, stage right!).    I have faith that spring will actually come.  In the meantime, we find beauty where we can -- as with pristine puffs of snow over the back of a concrete ram (yes, ram -- look at those horns!). 


Sunday, April 17, 2011

On to the festival at Greencastle

Greencastle, Indiana, is the home of DePauw University, a very good liberal arts school in some of the prettiest countryside in America.  The hills roll like some kind of voluptuous frolic -- as if living and breathing, maybe laughing -- and because spring has already happened tin this south-of-Michigan place, the slight greening turns yellow light an array of green tones, none of them precisely grass or apple or any of the other shades we think we can name.   The festival itself is at the Putnam County fairgrounds.   To get there, you have to drive through town-- a tableau of painted lady Victorian houses mixed with small bungalows, most of them in good condition.  A college town is a benighted town:  It has a year-round industry, unlike places like Harlan, Indiana.

Here is what the booths looked like inside one of the three display areas.  In the second photo you will find the darling, DARLING felted crocheted baby slippers that I pounced on ("I'll take all of them!").

One woman had a spectacular vase of brilliantly golden-orange flowers calculated to draw the eye to her array of natural yarns.  That's a good strategy:  We have learned at Artisan Knitworks that nature's ivory, tan, ash brown, and sienna tones don't attract customers unless you point them out.  We are so sated with saturated colors, noises, hype of all kinds that we just can't see understated beauty anymore -- subtlety and modesty increasingly have no place.  There is nothing more modest than a sturdy Corriedale sheep -- unless its a stalwart Angora goat.  Indeed, to make your way in the world, I sometimes think that all of us should be given huge trumpets at birth and training in their use by age five or six.   So here is the vase of flowers, and here also are a couple of those goats -- Don't miss the 'natural', silken, curly locks:

And here is a wonderful, quite new dyer of wool and silk and cotton yarns -- Lisa -- who's also a clothing designer (see behind her!).  She doesn't want to make more than a few skeins of each colorway.  She may change her mind in the future if she gathers some clients who want repeat performances.  But, for now, she's content to turn out 3 or 5 or 7 unique skeins, moving on to another idea -- and then another.

Finally, I made a friend, though I dare say his primary attachments lie with the young woman holding him as if her life depends on it.  Look at that face!  He was bawling like a newborn child, protesting his owner's insistence that he NOT run, NOT walk, NOT do what kids want to do:

I left after about four hours -- up the freeway this time with Michigan on my mind.  I decided at the last minute to cross Ohio on the turnpike so that I could have another 'go' at the big antique mall in Maumee (just off the turnpike) -- where I indeed found quite a huge number of really beautiful vintage buttons, and a half-dozen dazzling examples of thread crochet.  One of them is a perfectly enchanting little crocheted pinafore cover, complete with straps.  Every time I handle these things, I'm transported back to my mother's mother's home in South St. Paul, Minnesota, where she and I sat for hours and hours working on filet curtains and big, complex tablecloths -- me trying to match her gauge, knowing that I could never match her speed.   I'm going to use a dozen or so of these lacy lovelies (I have been collecting pieces of a certain tan color for a year now) to trim the lapels and cuffs of a crocheted cardigan, should I live so long.

Until later.  Everyone, don't forget to say "I love you" to someone close to you.  You never know what will happen next -- an hour from now, a day from now.  Take nothing for granted.


Indiana and the Peeling of Rural America

The trip to Indiana (which also featured some time with one of my former advisees and her colleagues) was both wonderful and troubling -- both heartbreak and much-needed nourishment for the soul.  In the heartbreak department:   I spent quite a lot of time driving around in small Ohio and Indiana towns -- the stuff of childhood, in my case.  'Home' once meant places like Worthington, Minnesota, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Little Falls and Royalton, and so on -- places very few people will ever know about, much less visit.  So, when I drive through wide-skied countryside, particularly in spring when everything is full of promise, the trees blushing with baby green and baby yellow, I am taken back to childhood, as if in a home movie.  Take this scene in a small town in Indiana -- the ubiquitous grain elevator, the wood frame houses:

...or these sites -- a typical old Victorian home on a manicured street, and a mile away, at the very edge of town in Harlan, Indiana, this gorgeous, well-maintained post-civil war manor house with its equally stunning, staggeringly huge red barn:

But other discoveries in the same towns or on farmsteads make me want to cry.  I think of it as the peeling of America, particularly in the rural countryside, where young, tired men and women are leaving farms founded by their grandparents, and where once-sturdy homes in tiny towns have been abandoned or stand behind well-worn "For Rent" signs.   Everywhere, paint is simply too expensive, and so the wooden frames and doors and eaves are molting in layers, like feathers or snakeskin.  If you look closely at the woodwork on this 1908 school building in Harlan, you'll see serious shedding -- and have a look at the wooden trim on these typical town houses, now "for rent" (which means, of course, that they haven't sold or, worse, are no longer saleable): 

Once, all of these buildings were the town's pride, the legacy of parents to children, passed from generation to generation as if according to the laws of nature.  No more.

I'll have more to say in another entry.    svb

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Upcoming adventure...

.....and this weekend, I'm going to rent a car of some kind and drive directly away from my late Thursday class in the direction of Indiana.....There is a remarkably interesting annual festival at Greencastle, Indiana, which is just south of Indianapolis.  It features the second most boring stretch of highway I've ever experienced -- roughly from Fort Wayne to Indianapolis (what's the MOST boring, you ask?  The drive from about Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to the start of the Badlands, when suddenly it's almost worth it...).  (If you make that drive in July or August, don't be so foolish as to think you can carry nice cool bottled water in the car, or have ice in a chest --- everything practically vaporizes in the heat). 

Judging from the vendor list, the festival has grown again, so I'll scoot down there, finish the drive on Friday morning, hit the festival at 1:00, when it opens, and get back on the road by about 4:00.  That way, I can be home again by late evening -- or stop at another motel and expect to be home by noon Saturday.  I even notice a half-dozen yarn dyers whose names don't seem familiar -- This is where you find the NEW artisans -- the smaller shows with low table costs.  They test the waters, increase production, and within a year or two move on to the bigger festivals.  And it's at that point that I really begin to pay attention:  The world of new dyers seems to divide into those who continue to grow, change, innovate, and those who replicate colors and textures they've already created.  In the latter case, I'm sorry to confess, I lose interest.

But quite a few fall into the first category, and I look forward to seeing who has done what over the past while, and from show to show as they develop and feel more powerful.  Life is about exactly that -- gathering our own power year by year, finding the path that leads to growth and away from stagnation, the mere replication of things already known, things already done.      svb

Monday, April 4, 2011

Spring, Lake St Clair, and World-Changes

It's spring in Michigan, or so it seems, bit by bit, as if to tease us.  We have giant crocuses in the side yarn, their non-hybridized relatives in the front yarn -- gorgeous lavenders, whites, yellows -- with their welcoming and welcome green shoots.  How trusting! Can instinctive behavior ever be anything but completely trusting? The assumption, of course, deep down in the gene pool, has to be that everything will come out as it's supposed to come out, that progress toward new seasons will be steady and certain.  It was modernity perhaps, and the hard knocks of human experience, that stripped us of that instinct, at least for the most part.

The lake right now is huge, bigger than usual visually, I suppose because of all of the liberated water churning around, the grey sky merging with it, covering it over, like some kind of overlord.  I wonder if waves have always been these colors and I just haven't seen them?  For the past two days, it has seemed to me that the water is almost not blue at all, except in the far distance.  Up close, it's cream, white, dove gray, slate gray, sage green -- and I am thinking yarn, of course -- what a truly amazing colorway that would be.  When summer comes, I'm going to try my hand at dyeing again, and I just might work up some sock skeins and call them Wave.

More later.  Papers to grade.