Monday, May 30, 2011

The Great Lakes Fiber Festival at Wooster ...!

Yesterday, I drove off fairly early in the morning (for me, that can mean 8:30), aiming the car in the general direction of Ohio.  When I finally woke up, I was in Toledo, so I turned on Matilda (my trusty GPS) and told her to find Wooster, Ohio.

Wooster is one of my favorite towns in America.  I can't tell you how I look forward to the not-quite-four-hour drive, and then to the town itself.  To get there, Matilda takes me through at least a hundred miles of rolling, verdant farm and grazing country in northwest Ohio -- Amish country, peppered with mostly prosperous farmsteads, herds of fat sheet and cattle in lush green fields, and an array of small-town restaurants and collectible shops.  Some of the towns have fallen on hard times, with the rest of us.  But not all of them -- which was heartening.  In Indiana, I thought I saw greater rural hardship overall than I saw in Ohio.  That could be misleading, of course.  This was one route in a very densely settled state.  But -- we use the evidence at hand, don't we?  I didn't find any remarkable vintage buttons in the two shops that caught my attention -- but I did find an amazing lunch at a place called C & J Cafe along a small state road.  The delightfully grumpy waitress was a throwback to about 1956, complete with French-roll hairdo (think peroxide, dark roots, and smokers' wrinkles -- but what a great, in-your-face personality!).

The big shocker, though, was the fact that much of Ohio seemed to be under water -- and I'm not talking about the condition of real estate.  Recent deluges have caused flooding in the Detroit area and in many other regions.  But, in NW Ohio, entire quarter sections are under water.  I wished more than once that I had brought the camera.  What a sight to see oil wells inundated half-way up their pipework and brown cattle huddling in a temporary lake (cows absolutely love water -- they'll crowd into almost any sizeable pond or lake until they can't move -- not the brightest animals in the world!). 

Wooster hosts the festival at the large, well-kept county fairgrounds at the edge of town.  I didn't buy much -- I sometimes think I go to Wooster for the drive and to go to the town plaza, though the fair is very good quality and quite large.  Or maybe I go so that I can have some of the incredible espresso and Hungarian pastry at a gorgeous little cafe on the town plaza -- it's called Tulipan.  This time, I treated myself to an open face sandwich composed (it's an art form) of pate, cucumber slices, and some kind of delectable spread, on homemade bread, with a hand-carved pickle on top.  The fruit cup was also an art form, with everything so fresh you wondered how they had kept it in a case for more than an hour.  I bought Larry some Hungarian pastry, put it on the floor in the front of the rental car, and headed for the fairgrounds.

Grace (of Amazing Grace Farm) had some pretty amazing handpainted sock/shawl yarn -- amazing because it was very simple, suitable for summer, not overdone or too densely colored.  I worry only that she sells her work for too little money -- and I keep telling her so.  She ignores me.  (This is a problem with women and their labor, as many of you know.  I can't remember how many women have heard my little lecture, as I contemplate handspun skeins for, say, 8 dollars, about how self-sacrifice doesn't pay the rent).   All I can do is to pay a little bit more than the asking price.  It doesn't happen all the time -- and I have noticed that a lot of the handspun (and to a lesser extent the handpaint) at the festivals has come up in price over the past year.   I hope it's related to the light dawning and NOT to the need for money in a recession.

Anyway:  I bought her out of fingering-weight yarn, basically, because my fingering collection has suddenly sold down a bit too much.  And then I bought a modest supply of handpainted roving for our nascent spinning program from Sue at White Creek Wool.  I decided as well to pick up some samples of Gita Maria sterling silver pins and buttons, to see how people respond to them.  I have been looking at their work for a couple of years -- enamel on silver -- and have worried about high cost in the present economy.  But with the economy on the rebound, it might be time to mount a small market test.  So I now have a scarf keeper, a shawl pin, and some buttons.  We'll see.  If they go, I can connect with her at the Michigan Fiber Festival at Allegan, Michigan, in August, and stock up.  If not, I'm not saddled with a large inventory that has to be discounted to sell.

I really hate having to deal continually with recession-era economies.  Let's hope everything heals.

On the way home, Matilda tried to take me along two roads, and over one bridge, that had been washed out -- so she yelled at me the entire way along multiple detours ("RECALCULATING!!  A BETTER ROUTE IS AVAILABLE!  TURN AROUND .....").  What a nag.   But a person like me, with NO sense of direction whatsoever, benefits hugely from this miracle of modern science.  Hard to believe that I used to flounder around without her.

More later.  It's Memorial Day and it's time to think about my irreplaceable brother Randall Thomas (Randy), who died at age 56 from a minor heart condition exacerbated by alcoholism, which in turn was a consequence of traumatic experiences on a hospital ship in Vietnam.  When I flew to San Diego to pick him up at the naval base, I remember a sense of utter shock and sadness:  He was gaunt, hollow-eyed, not the achingly handsome, puckish young man we'd sent away in a Navy uniform (GOD he was beautiful -- I always coveted his long, long eyelashes, which I lack altogether).  Randy was the brother who took madcap dares, made jokes, thought the rules didn't apply to him, and I absolutely adored him.  He also never really believed in his own worth.  So he drank.  Once, when he was young, he actually 'borrowed' a bread truck that was parked outside of some bar in St. Paul, drove it around to everyone he knew handing out free bread, and returned it to the bar.  He also would hop a plane (his wife worked for the airline) and surprise me at my university office ("Hiya Doc").  Vietnam destroyed him.  He picked up dying young men from a helicopter, took them to the ship, watched them die, then went back to the same hill, over and over again.  It was senseless slaughter.  And he never recovered.  I loved him more than I can say, and the injustice of that war for those who KNEW it was senseless, because they were there, still makes me cry.


Have a look at Sally!!!

At long last, I have photos of the Sally Melville workshops -- too many to post, in fact, but better to share at least a few of them than none at all.  In a separate post, I'll tell you all about my trip yesterday to the annual fiber festival at Wooster, Ohio.  But -- here's Sally!

.....and here are some of the attentive students, our wonderful clients, in a couple of the workshops. 

Now, on to Ohio!     svb

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sally's Visit

Now that's it's over and Sally Melville is safely deposited at the train station in Windsor, I can report a perfectly marvelous weekend in the studio....Her workshops (and her great "Creativity" presentation to knitters in Plymouth on Thursday night, where the hall was filled with 4/5ths of the guild's membership!) drew rave reviews and generated more energy in the place than I've seen for a couple of months.  What a splendid time.  ... At least three people told me that they had never taken classes before, hadn't known they ought to take classes, and had seen the light.........Really gratifying.  In the fiber arts, the eastern side of Detroit might be called a 'classless' society -- Over on the western side, classes have happened (and filled to overflowing) for decades.  I took my first finishing class at the Knitting Room in Birmingham almost 20 years ago, and it was full.  It also cost almost twice as much as we charge in the year 2011 for the same course.  I do NOT understand why this is the case.  But experiences like these could help change the dynamic.  Working with exciting people who teach theory as much as concrete projects leads to smart AND creative fiber people.  More later, with some of Larry's photographs.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

WHERE is spring?

Spring is missing in action.  Today, after a couple of tantalizing warm days, it's pouring very cold rain, the flowers are exposed as complete fools for having trusted in the whole proposition, the PROMISE.... even Lake St Clair was visibly annoyed, butting dozens of heads of gray-green hair tipped with gray against the if angry or hideously frustrated ........I don't suppose it's easy being a big wide spot in a river, stuck in the same gigantic tub for your entire life.  Sooner or later, you'd want to lash out, wouldn't you?  And what better excuse than a rain storm?

In a week, Sally Melville comes to town, and the classes are almost full, which will be very good for everyone concerned -- us, our clients, Sally, the people who come to the reception.  I have also learned that my dear Jean Frost has not been entirely well -- so I hope the book comes out without incident (it will make her very proud and happy), as it's scheduled to do on June 3, and that we can lure her back to Michigan.  She claims still to be interested in a workshop using Michigan yarns.  In two weeks, I'll drive to the Wooster, Ohio, fiber festival, which is actually one of my favorites, and not only because of the incredible Viennese coffee shop and bakery on main street.      svb

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Michigan in bloom, and memories of France

Last night, as I drove home from the studio along the shore of Lake St. Clair in that peculiar gray-mauve light that sometimes appears at dusk, I was suddenly back in Normandy at a small museum lined with ancient, petit-point tapestries and intricate embroideries bathed in the gray light of a rainy day.  The water reflected pinking cloud masses, flickering with mystery, and the trees!  People who don't live in Michigan don't know about the trees.  In spring, Michigan experiences a revival unlike any I've ever seen.  It may be the stark contrast with the intense and lifeless gray of winter, which in Detroit is more severe than in many other places.  But the flowering trees are also more numerous than elsewhere -- tulip trees, apple and cherry trees, early rhods and some very early azaleas, immense swaths of brilliantly yellow forsythia, and now the redbuds........and of course the tulips and daffodils (white, yellow, some with orange trumpets) burst from the ground like neon elements in somebody's dream fabric...  But last night it was particularly amazing.  Because of the graytone background and failing light, the explosion of blooms might as well have been done by a Frenchwoman centuries ago -- tiny white petit-point stitches, red-fading-to-pink puffs, baby green French knots, all over the dull ash-brown branches....but delicate, the blossoms like very precise decorations on a fading landscape.  This happens only at a particular time of day, in pre-storm weather, at certain times of year.  And it cannot be captured on a camera, so I can't share it.   But those of you who live by water in big industrial cities may recognize the medieval quality of what I can barely describe.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Alpaca Fest?

Well, today I drove NW on Interstate 75 for awhile in order to attend something called the Alpaca Fest in Davidsburg, Michigan, which is near Clarkston, which is midway between Flint and Plymouth.  And so on.  It's a lovely part of the state -- very wooded, small rolling knolls and larger hills, mixed farming, and Davidsburg itself is a village aspiring to towndom, with a handful of interesting looking small businesses in a two-block-long "downtown."

The Alpaca Fest was supposed to be at one of the Oakland State Park System's small fairgrounds, and indeed, after some miles of delightfully curvy country driving, a big sign blaring "Alpaca Fest" suggested that I had arrived.  I drove up the small road toward a huge building surrounded by cars -- a dead give-away, typically, that the advertised event is at hand.  I went in.  A large room crowded with parents and children but no alpacas set off alarms.  I walked around in the space for awhile, noting a tomato-planting contest, a woodturning demonstration, face-painting tables, and so on.  But no fibers, and certainly no alpacas.  Not even in the small (SMALL) petting zoo outside.  Finally, I asked one of the Information People:  "Are there no fiber booths?"  She looked at me as if I might be speaking ancient Sumerian, or maybe Bag Lady-Ese.  "Um, no," she said, turning away a bit too quickly.  She thought I was a loon, pure and simple.

So I left.  I had seen some kind of big barn or arena, or both, behind the big community center building, so I drove down yet another road to see what it might be.  There were no further signs indicating any kind of alpaca event.  But Dutch people with a certain amount of Jewish blood don't give up easily.  So down the road I went.  I found myself in the middle of a horse race.  Literally.  There were horses lined up and galloping, horses trotting along, horses all done up in braids.  This was not an alpaca fest -- at least not yet. 

Then I saw more barns.  So I climbed a hill in my little bug, avoiding horses as I drove, and came to a building marked "Sheep Barn."  Indeed.  It was full of sheep.  Also more children.   I got out of the car, now quite thoroughly annoyed.  I found some kids with what looked like parents in tow.  "Is there an ALPACA FEST anywhere near here?" I asked in a tone of voice that I'm sure scares my students.  "Well, I think it's out back somewhere."  Still no signs, by the way.  I went behind the "Sheep Barn" on foot and found a barn labeled  something like "Seeds of Life," though that's not exactly right.  Something to do with lambs and other small life-forms.  Another person, this time an adult, told me that the alpaca were in the Goat Barn.

Of course.  Where else would they be?

So I went to the Goat Barn.  Sure enough, there were about a dozen stalls with alpacas, and next to the Goat-Barn-Cum-Alpaca-Fest was a small shed within which there were alpaca showings.  In the building itself, I found mostly animals for sale.  But two vendors had handspun alpaca yarn nice enough to buy -- one in particular had some perfectly stunning marled handspun with photos of the animals from whom the fiber had come.  She wasn't there.  I waited.  I waited some more.  I made the rounds one more time and talked to a woman I'd met two years ago at the Flint International Alpaca Festival (not held in a goat barn).  Finally, I learned that the woman who had abandoned her booth UTTERLY was involved in some kind of showing at the small arena.  So I left a card near her chair with an invitation to call me.

That's it.  I went home and then to the studio.  What a hoot!


Thursday, May 5, 2011


Next, as it turns out, is not the Minnesota Shepherd's Harvest at Lake Elmo, but rather a whole lot of exam grading, paper evaluation, and blocking.   Also, I am going to take a small trip Saturday morning, before a learn-to-knit class, to Davidson, Michigan, the site of a small but interesting alpaca festival.  There will be animals, but also alpaca products, so it's worth an hour's drive.  I've not noticed this one before; it may well be a new event.  Michigan (with Indiana and a couple of other midwestern states) is developing into a major alpaca-growing location......    More soon.   svb