Monday, December 23, 2013

Alternatives for Girls

Artisan Knitworks will be collecting hand-crafted scarves and hats for adults and small children, including babies, as well as clean, unworn or lightly worn women's  and tots' sweaters, for Alternatives for Girls, which is a life-saving Detroit shelter for girls and young women (with their children) who have been living on the streets.  They have as many as a hundred girls and young women with kids in-house, or on stand by, at any one time.  We just sent a small batch of scarves and hats along with Naomi Frenkl, from Woolgathers' Guild in Plymouth, who took a huge pile of stuff to the shelter this past Saturday made by guild members, and we will be collecting more to take along in a few weeks.  I will be cooking up some bucket-style hats in spare moments from scrap yarns.  If you want to do the same, just ask us for a copy of my Mad Hatter pattern (in shop) -- one dollar for this charity (regularly 6 bucks -- I need to get back the cost of color copying).

In fact, because the City of Farmington FOILED our yarn-bombing by covering the poles and other surfaces with big hay sprays -- they called it Harvest Festival and it lasted for weeks -- we handed over the scarves and hats that our customers made for the bombing to Alternatives for Girls.  Just bring what you make or have on hand to the shop.  We will have a box ready for them.   svb

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Melancholy Day...

Today has been melancholy (what a wonderful, expressive old word!).  It's very clear that people aren't patronizing yarn shops as they used to do before the holidays -- and not just mine.  It's apparently true all over the country.  So we have to wait and see if people really want to have "friends" only in the virtual sense, on Ravelry, on Knitty, and so on.  I prefer people myself!!!
But that's not the only reason.  Today I also got an electronic holiday greeting from an old, old friend – someone I shared space with in a teaching-assistant room at University of Minnesota, a really dear fellow.   His first paragraph said this:  “Given the news from Detroit we have thought of you often, as it must be so difficult to watch all of this unfold in the community in which you have lived and worked for so many years. Are you still pondering your course in regard to retirement?”  It made me so very sad.   Why?  First of all, this isn’t the first such note I’ve received.  Everyone has some variant of “My God what a time you must be having in that awful city.”  And each time, I feel such a mixture of rage and helplessness.   The helplessness has to do with the very clear sense that there is no effective way to cut through the misinformation, the almost willful pile of distortion that leads people like Ken to think I am living in a war zone.

Recently, Anthony Bourdain had a show (CNN now carries his series) that both Larry and I looked forward to seeing.  We had heard that he did a good job with the city.  My God.  It made me so bloody angry that I still can’t think of it without feeling the same blind rage.  Nowhere did we see the vibrancy of midtown, the brave efforts to remake the downtown area, the wonderful new riverside walk with its gorgeous landscaping and sculpture, the amazing restaurants than have sprung up everywhere, the univerity smack in the middle of the city, the world-class Detroit Institute of Art, and so on and so forth – not to mention Lake St Clair and the beautiful Belle Isle and the suburbs ringing the center.  No.  All we saw were long, slow sweeps of burned-out houses, a make-shift restaurnat set up in somebody’s living room (where the hell was the Rattlesnake Club?), some guy who lived in a big ol’ abandoned factory.  I guess this satisfies people’s need for pathos.  You always need an orphan to feel bad about.  But this is fraud, pure and simple.  Detroit is NOT WORSE than any number of other cities – think Camden, Newark, areas of St Louis, Chicago, on and on.  Why not do the same thing with one of THOSE places?  Could it have something to do with the racial composition, maybe the politics, of this particular city?  

We have had recent experiences as well with some of this utter trash – as when prospective vendors for the Third Coast Fiber Arts Festival said they had seen all kinds of horrible stuff on television and so wouldn’t come into the city – God knows, drug lords were going to swoop onto their cars from treetops, or maybe there would be mass homicides in the McGregor Center.  God knows what.  One of them actually said she was sure that the police had been disbanded.  The display of incompetence in reportage associated with this old and storied city is without parallel in the history of American journalism.   It doesn't help.  Detroit has its problems.  But so do other places.  This hurts, and it's hard to think that it does NOT have to do with race, with unions, with Democrats, who have been the ONLY forces that have preserved Detroit, to be honest, from years of  Republican malice in the state's capitol.  One payment of all of the money owed the city could have prevented bankruptcy -- legislators had waited for decades to pounce , and misgovernment made it easier.  Everyone knows that.  But.   Enough said.  It's time to move on to constructive work.  As I said in the beginning, there is really nothing that can be done in the face of  willful ignorance and plain prejudice.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Shoulder Riding?

Copies this from my friend Riin Gill's Facebook page -- she of Happy Fuzzy Yarn.   Tee hee.   svb

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Stuff at the Shop...

Hey, guys, this will be brief - -I'm trying to finish a book -- BUT:  Come into Artisan Knitworks this Saturday for a spinning demo (Bea Cuthbertson from Addison, MI) and some nice markdowns -- It's Shop Small Business Day, and we're small!!!!!!!  and plan to bring your garment pieces into the shop for help with blocking, sewing, etc., in time for the holidays, on Fridays at 6:00 -- December 6, 13, and 20, until we're all done.  We will provide some munchies and beverages -- feel free to bring something sweet to share.   Happy Turkey Day!   Here's Bea!  She will be hanging out with us more than once -- with her wheel, her yarns, her felted objects, and her good cheer.  She sometimes shows at the Chelsea Spinning Guild events and at the Farmington Farmer's Market as well.      svb


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Guns again...

...and now for some commentary, because I am sitting here at my computer feeling an almost unbearable sense of despair -- for my country, my community, all of us.  I just read a news release a mere 37 minutes old about 5 people being shot inside an apartment complex in Texas; the gunman got away; two of the people targeted (in the head) survived, though god knows in what state; and then the reporter revealed that, in a town called Cypress a few miles away, 10 days ago, 19 people were injured in some kind of shoot-out and three teenagers killed.  In Detroit, probably somebody is dying right now.  In almost any town in America, probably somebody is being killed with a gun right now.

So I wonder why we do nothing.  Is this the new normal?  Do we just say, well, it's a second amendment right -- pile up all the rockets, grenades, bazookas, AK47s (or whatever the hell they are) with appropriate ammunition that you wish.  The Founding Fathers wanted us to have whatever we want; they foresaw -- what?  19 children dead in Texas, a few miles from another shooting ten days later?  What about all of the children?  Do we devalue them so much?  Or is it only black and brown children that we think can be picked off, one by one?  Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida by someone who quite obviously was a vigilante. We all knew that.  It was some kind of blood sport, that farcical trial, pitting his attorneys against the plausible lies of the opposition.  Cleverness won.  The dead kid couldn't tell us what happened, and it didn't matter.  It was Martin's fault because he was black, daring to wear a hoody, daring to walk at night while black.  Now, the vigilante threatens his possibly pregnant white girlfriend with a gun, and it's obviously HIS fault.  Why?  We think his girlfriend is worth worrying about?  We now think he shouldn't have guns?  What aren't people in the streets at long last?  Isn't it clear as day what we value and what we do not value, what kinds of manly sport we think can be played with impunity with a gun at your side?

Let me tell you this:  If I were not so old, I would pack up my books, yarn, and cats and move either to Great Britain (a village like Swanage, or maybe Oban, Scotland) or Canada and just design sweaters, write books, never listen to the news.  You can walk around in Scotland without worrying about whether some complete maniac is stockpiling guns in the cottage next door.  Canadian newscasts are not filled with news about dead babies, dead mothers and fathers, dead teenagers.  To make the news in Canada, you have to be an overweight mayor with a big mouth and a drinking problem.  In the U.S., we view such things as entertaining interludes between accounts of dead people.  Canadians also don't have to listen to inane, inaccurate "facts" about the Founding Fathers.

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison once warned, in slightly different ways, that the American republic would flourish for as long, and ONLY for as long, as the citizenry could be well-informed, EDUCATED, sufficient to make judicious choices and judgments.  Without education and civic information, by which I do NOT mean mere prejudice and fact-free superstition, there could be only anarchy.  Dead babies and Rush Limbaugh and Ted Cruz (not coincidentally from Texas) are aspects and expressions of anarchy.  Let's smash government, should we?  We don't need government if we have cowboys.  We don't need government if everyone carries a gun so he or she can blast away at anyone they choose -- such as the poor, inebriated young woman last week in Dearborn, Michigan, who made the mistake of trying to find help after a car accident and got shot in the face by someone who didn't even look to see who was standing on his porch.  That very dangerous man at the NRA, after all, said that the way to deal with a bad guy with a gun was to give a GOOD guy a gun. The more guns, the better. 

Should I go out and get a shotgun, do you suppose?   Or is it time to move to Oban?

Why are we doing nothing?  Why are those blathering idiots in Congress taking home paychecks?  In this, I include the blathering Democrats, the blathering Republicans, all of them -- not for an equality of ideas (I'm a woman, and so I can hardly approve of Republican policy choices, can I?  Vaginal probes?  No more contraceptives?  No health care for poor people?  REALLY? ) but because they are all infected with an immense, intolerable cowardice that can only end badly, in a gigantic pool of corruption and collapse.

This is NOT normal.  This is NOT what the founders and framers had in mind, for god's sake.  The Second Amendment is about militias.  The founding generation, two centuries removed from our own, wanted every household to be able to defend the state or nation against invasion.  So we had a right to own conventional firearms to defend the community against incursions.  There were no bazookas.  There were no military assault rifles.  Gun purchases were infrequent and expensive, done at a store where the owner knew your name and public reputation.  Remember that James Madison also said, famously (this information is found in STANDARD TEXT BOOKS), that the Constitution of the United States was not to be read as if it were sacred, as if it were Biblical.  Why not?  Because it had to be mutable.  It had to adapt to the changing circumstances of human beings.  If it did not, he warned, the genius of the document would be unrealized, and the republic likely would collapse.

I do NOT know how much more of this vicious, endless, mindless violence we can bear as a nation.  I do not know what it will take to get Americans out of their foxholes, into voting booths, into public office, into their elected officials' mailboxes, into chambers to yell and scream and make demands.  We can ban all of these instruments of death if we have the collective will to return the nation to some kind of safety.  There is no slippery slope.  To say (as the Supreme Court indeed has said) that we can offer reasonable regulations of guns and enforce them is good sense.  It is educated, well-informed, and altruistic.  It is a decision that aims to preserve the republic's children.

I am very, very afraid that we are seeing the end of a brilliant experiment in self-government, brought down by bigotry, racism, sexism, ignorance, and greed.  It is no answer -- only a complete cop-out -- to say that nothing can be done.  I at least go into classrooms and teach.   What are other people in this country doing to put an end to this?  How much longer will it go on before we sink?  Are we going to  hide in other foxholes?  Here's one that springs to mind:  "Well, it's only the mentally ill who shoot people."  Right.  So all of those stone-cold killers who walk through Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Newark, Houston, Cypress, Miami, Minneapolis, Los Angeles -- all of those people with "a right to carry" are insane when they fire the guns at perfect strangers (for sport) but sane when they are merely cleaning them?

I hold a hard-won Ph.D.  That Ph.D. happens to be in American legal and constitutional history.  I take the long view.  And this is utterly terrifying.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Maybe it's a REALLY good thing we moved?

Look at this.  Two days ago, a monster Jeep Cherokee put itself into forward instead of reverse and ploughed into the front of the old location of Artisan Knitworks.   When I was there yesterday, the masonry along the bottom was gone, too.  We had SOFAS immediately inside the window!!!!!!  As some of you may know, PEOPLE sat on those sofas.  This happened in mid-day.   I do think a picture is worth a thousand words.    svb

Monday, November 4, 2013

This amazing image courtesy of our brilliant sock teacher, Lynne Wardrop -- tee hee.... svb

sort of like the knitting olympics, but televised.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Developments at Artisan Knitworks LLC

.... and at the studio, we are creating an entire wall for Prism Yarns (!) as well as a special bin for Farmhouse Yarns, which we are discontinuing -- so quick come get some at 40% off.   Some of the Farmhouse yarns won't be sufficient for garments.  But all of them are great for accessories (think holiday gifts).  THE PRISM and TRENDSETTER YARN part of the recent trunk show continues for the rest of the week at 10% off.   We then will send part of it back to the companies this coming Monday.  So, for fullest selection, come into the shop pronto.    svb

Monday, October 28, 2013

Look at this Cute Little Thing!!!

Here is a really darling little something -- what is it exactly? -- that Sally Melville has created for all of us to make in any medium-to-chunky weight yarn we have at hand -- in five sizes, and in a choice of either seed stitch or garter.   I'm going to have a knit-along in the shop soon.   In the meantime get your copy from Ravelry!!!!!!!!  She is calling it "L'Enveloppe."  And, yes, that's only one sleeve!!!


Monday, October 21, 2013

Third Coast Fiber Arts Festival -- Thanks

My heartfelt thanks to everyone who contributed to the success of the second annual Third Coast Fiber Arts Festival, just concluded in midtown Detroit.  The McGregor Center staff did a wonderful job -- participants had beaming faces -- the incredibly gifted instructors did their very best job.   The vendors, while fewer than last year, were uncommonly high quality, so shoppers were not in the least disappointed. 

We made a few mistakes, and we're not yet making money.  But the losses are manageable, and the mistakes could be remedied with more staff.  Fortunately, one sponsoring shop has volunteered to take over the vendor part of things, which would e a huge load removed (it's a lot of work to gather in all of the vendors, keep them informed, and situate them properly in the available space).  Last time, we had unhappy vendors on the garden level (they were certain they were being ignored, though we still think they were not).  So this time, we put everyone on the first floor -- only one person thought she was in a disadvantageous position, and I think we persuaded her to the contrary.  It's all a question of learning how to do things more effectively.

If you had a wonderful time, you could help us by saying so -- particularly in social media! In the meantime, I will be exploring (with another sponsoring shop) the possibility of transforming the festival into a 501C charitable entity.  At the outset, I had in mind generating enough money to offer fiber-arts scholarships at local institutions, but you need a profit to do that, and foundations can attract corporate sponsors.  That would take the financial load off of Artisan Knitworks.

If any of you have ideas as to how we can improve, etc., let me hear.  I'm also considering bigger facilities, though I will not be persuaded to move the festival to a remote  or outstate location.  It has to be very near the center city -- maybe something like the Dearborn Inn. Too much of what happens in Michigan is far away from Detroit!  And this festival, in the end, has to continue to be a celebration of the Detroit Metro area as well as the rest of the Third Coast. 


Monday, October 14, 2013

Get a load of THIS Canadian resident.....

I LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS GUY.....!    From Quebec.     svb


In the shop right now is a massive Prism Yarn trunk show, complete with models!!!!  These are examples from Laura Bryant's newest book, Artful Color, Mindful Knits -- and the yarns are varied and glorious.   We are offering a ten percent pre-festival discount on all yarns in the trunk show and all other Prism yarns in the shop.  At the festival, the discount disappears.  We are also open today (Monday) to accommodate people who want to have the fullest possible choice.  '

Here are some amazing mitts made from Prism PLUME!        svb     

Sunday, October 13, 2013

THIRD COAST -- Last Call

If you intend to sign up for workshops at Third Coast Fiber Arts Festival, and especially if you mean to sign up for the wonderful Laura Bryant lecture/dinner event on Friday night, do it soon.  We will not be able to take MEAL reservations (including box lunches) after tomorrow.   Catering services have to have the order well in advance.  Workshops can be got right up to the morning of the festival, but some classes are FILLING.  ACT SOON.  I am not inventing this -- no point in being disappointed.  See my note of yesterday re: the underenrolled but fabulous Lily Chin crochet class.   And of course you can attend the marketplace, or just hang out in the atrium, with a modest market-only fee of five bucks, payable at the venue or on line.  For a MAP and other information (parking, etc.), visit the website:        svb

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Third Coast -- discounted Classes...

I have a couple of brilliant but low-enrolling classes at the Third Coast.   It has nothing at all to do with the quality, to say the least.  But I'd like to fill them with people who want to learn and/or can't afford full tuition.  Mind you, a whole lot of classes are in an altogether different situation -- no room at all, or almost none.  But -- believe it or not, Lily Chin's Crochet Hints and Tips workshop is nowhere near full.  Ditto, Judy Pascale's brilliant little workshop on Felted Blooms.  And then there is Sarah Peasley's essential course on gauge (Friday morning).  If you want to take any of these workshops (one per person), drop me a note at    You can write a check and have them for roughly half-price.  I don't want to bring in such good people and have groups too small to achieve critical mass.    The cost per workshop will be 30.00.  That's about a third of what you'd pay for exactly the same workshop by the same people at Vogue Live or Stitches.     svb

Friday, October 4, 2013

Birthday Bash and Lily Chin

Two important topics:   First, at Artisan Knitworks on Sunday after 12:00, we will be celebrating my SEVENTIETH birth anniversary -- HOW DID THAT HAPPEN???   Anyway:  There will be seventy cupcakes, numbered 1 thorugh 70.  For each cupcake that you wolf down on the scene, you get to put a slip in a box for a drawing -- the prize is a small brown handknitted lace shawl (Shetland, done by a knitter named Lynn Homan).  So get your butts on the road, everyone!!!  

Second, I am astonished, frankly, at the way people are signing up in droves (it's one away from being closed) for Lily Chin's brilliant Knitting Hints and Tips at Third Coast ( and NOT signing up for its crochet equivalent on Friday morning, which is totally brilliant, the usual amount of Lily Chin expertise and fun, and NOT just for crocheters.  If you have ever put a crocheted band on a knitted sweater, you shouldn't be passing up this one.  Last year people told me to have crochet classes.  I did.  I even got the world's TOP crocheter to offer one of them.  DO it!!!

 And by the way:  She is going to be leading a Speed Crochet contest at end of festival on Saturday.  She is also the world's fastest crocheter (an actual title).  That on top of the blindfolded KNITTING contest on Friday at noon, hosted by Candace Eisner-Strick and Judy Pascale. 


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Workshops at 3rd Coast.....

Five sections are almost if you have in mind taking one of our fabulous courses, I am seriously recommending that you act fairly quickly.   Not making this up, folks.   Don't miss the market-only registration and the box lunches and Laura Bryant's lecture at the Friday dinner.  Go to -- parking is a half-block from the Conference Center and costs about 6 bucks for one entrance and exit.   Safe, easy, close by.  Details will be sent by e-mail to everyone.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Scarf Bombing....!

Keep the scarves coming!   They can be thick, short, long -- whatever.  Just make 'em warm.  We are going to use them for the grand opening of the shop (postponed -- YOU KNOW WHO, the person writing this note, hasn't yet managed to get the button room up and running) and wrap everything in sight with scarves -- and then you-know-who is going to wash and reblock everything and take them to the Detroit Rescue Mission.  I don't believe in yarn bombings where the knit or crochet work is wasted.  So -- keep going!  The pile is getting big.  I even have two hats that we can put on fire plugs!!!!!!!!!!!!   Bring to Artisan Knitworks LLC, 23616 Farmington Road, Farmington MI.  svb 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Brief Note about Third Coast Fiber Arts Festival....

We have now removed several classes (almost all crochet) from the course listing.  Apparently crocheters don't take courses in the Detroit area -- which surprises me, since so many last year wanted us to offer some crochet courses.   But.   KNOW that everything that remains on the list is filling nicely.  If you are a crocheter, RUN, don't walk, to Lily Chin's Crochet Hints and Tips on Friday morning.   This is a once-in-a-lifetime course.   And -- this is a serious warning -- if you mean to register for the festival, don't wait much longer.   The reason:  We have maybe six workshops that are approaching the "full" point.  What an interesting thing -- on the one side, workshops are about to close, and on the other, a half-dozen bite the dust.  I suppose this is to be expected.  And don't forget Laura Bryant's amazing Friday night lecture about color and the fiber arts, the subject of her new book.  It will happen at a catered dinner -- but you can sign up for the lecture only.  Last year, the dinner was a signal event, really exciting!   Parking, of course, is only a half-block from the beautiful glass-and-marble McGregor Center.   See the website at     svb

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Knit-A-Long!!!!!

Everyone, we are participating in Mountain Colors very first Knit-A-Long!!!  Here is the project, a darling pair of mitts that will leave you with dramatically enhanced skills in Fair-Isle knitting.  We have the kits in the shop.  The Knit-A-Long begins in a few days (Sept. 21-26) on Ravelry. We will be taking names in the shop for people who want to do a free in-shop Knit-A-Long as well.    svb 



Thursday, September 12, 2013

Marketplace Only!!!

I just learned that you now can register on-line for the Third Coast Fiber Arts Festival marketplace ONLY for five bucks -- on the Third Coast website, and also in the most recent newsletter, if you get it from Artisan Knitworks.   Here's the deal:  We are going to have a drawing -- you are automatically enrolled if you register for the marketplace.  The main prize will be a 50 dollar gift certificate at AK. 

So do it.  But while you're at it, have a look -- a good look -- at the lineup of workshops.  We have Lily Chin on crochet hints and tricks, design, and inspiration.....Laura Bryant and Barry Klein with four each of their legendary classes -- Candace Eisner Strick with her magical blend of expertise and humor -- Judy Pascale, the beading and shaping queen, with four great courses -- on and on.  I have been told on good authority that people who decide not to participate are exhibiting symptoms of senility or, worse, early insanity!!!!!!!!!!


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Jill Bigelow Suttell's new book!!!!!!!

Everyone, Jill Bigelow Suttell -- one example among several of the extraordinary talent to be found in Michigan and one of our Third Coast Fiber Arts Festival instructors -- has published a new e-book on Ravelry!!!!!!!!!!!!!    It's called  A Knitter’s Gallery of Mitered Squares – Unique Designs in Color, Texture and Lace.  One of Jill's Third Coast workshops, in fact, focuses on lace modular squares and is WELLLL worth taking.   So look for the book and sign up, if you haven't already.  The festival just keeps getting better.



Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Damnable Private Labels Again.....

Some years ago, some people who had been in the shop for a lace-knitting event complained that Artisan Knitworks had put "private labels" on yarn -- which, said one woman, indicated that we were fobbing off cut-rate yarn as our own. (!!!!)  Then, I confess through clenched teeth (I was FURIOUS), I carefully explained on Ravelry that the "private labels" were being used to make the skein labels uniform and to provide information required by law.  When you buy a skein of yarn from independent makers, say, at fiber festivals, you don't always have more than a toe-tag -- and you need (to be selling lawfully) to say what the fiber content is, how many yards or ounces, and whether it's imported.   So it was our practice to label everything -- name of maker, amount of yarn, fiber, etc etc.  We were even hand-carding all of our new and vintage buttons on special cards with sewing thread. 

It was too expensive to maintain.  Now, we use little plastic bags and wire to mount buttons on cards.  And the yarn -- well, we still use Artisan Knitworks ivory-colored yarn bands from time to time.

Suddenly, today, we heard the complaint again.  I just don't know why it MATTERS so much to people and, more to the point, why people assume that we must not be doing things for a good reason.  Must be something bad.  This time, the complaint seems to have been that we are depriving indie dyers of the right to use their own, expensively designed labels and using our own.

These people have never run a yarn shop that specializes in indie yarns -- so here is part of the rather complex situation.  I do wish people would ask ME, though.   And I am often made sick at heart by the rather nasty quality of these complaints.  Why not assume the BEST?  We are trying very hard to maintain a tone of optimism, joy, LOVE of fiber.  And this kind of nonsense seriously detracts.

I wonder if people think about how much this kind of irresponsible, fact-free criticism HURTS people, in both emotional and financial terms.  Fiber-lovers are generally good-hearted people, so what gives with this kind of thing?    

But.  Here are the conditions under which I might use an Artisan Knitworks band:

*  Often, yarn bands come off.  That is particularly true when Indie dyers, and some better known companies, use fairly cheap paper, put the bands on loosely, and so on.  The bands rip, or they come off and get lost when customers rough-house the yarn.  So we put on an intact band with all of the information on the original band.  The alternative is to have unidentified yarn. That's why some companies are using alternatives to bands -- e.g., Prism uses wonderful little labels that slip OVER a strand so they almost never come off.  Other companies have taken to using little pamphlets.  And so on -- the minute you use a BAND,  it can get lost.  And if it's put on with just a wee hunk of tape, it almost always comes off.   I sometimes wonder whether there ought to be some kind of packaging seminar so that people could avoid all of the loose bands, and also the infuriating half-bands that are stuck into the center of balls of machine-packaged yarn.  They almost always pop off and get lost.  I wonder if people realize how easy it is to end up with "mystery yarn," which means financial loss, when bands are gone on hand-painted yarn.  

*  Very often, people who only make a few skeins of handspun or hand-dye use only toe-tags.  When I buy the yarn at fiber festivals, I can't sell it that way.  LAW requires that I give fiber content, yards or ounces, and so on -- not to mention the name of the maker and whether imported.  So of course I have to re-label it.  What else would I do???  Name, amount of yarn, fiber, the same information.

* Sometimes, when I buy from a small company, they ask ME whether I want skeins that they will have to ship WITH labels or WITHOUT labels.  Notwithstanding romantic ideas to the contrary about indie dyers' love of their own labels, what they really need to do is to make money.  So if I want to do the labeling, some of them actually are relieved.  LESS COST.  This helps the dyer.  That's a good thing, not a bad thing.  This has never happened with a big company, but it's happened maybe a dozen times with small producers.

* Also sometimes, a dyer will ask me whether I want bands with prices or without.  I say without.  Once not long ago, the dyer had to send me unlabeled yarn because she was OUT of the labels without prices.  This happens most often when a dyer sells mostly at festivals and has a small wholesale trade.  Festival prices are not equivalent to wholesale or retail.  They're in between often.

*  I have been known to ask dyers if I COULD swap their flimsy or hard-to-find labels for ours.  If they say, no, then I leave it.  If they say, sure, then -- well, I re-label.  I always have a good reason for wanting to do this; usually, it's because the label is apt to come off.   But, in the case of early purchases of Ellen Minand's beautiful big hanks, it was because you couldn't SEE her labels.

I hope this beginning explanation helps.  And, next time, folks, please assume GOOD things, and ask me directly.  Let's get rid of ALL toxicity.  Thanks.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

THIRD COAST FESTIVAL -- and you.....!

OK, so now that Artisan Knitworks is in its new home in Farmington, MI, it's time to focus attention on the fabulous Third Coast Fiber Arts Festival, to be held October 18-19 at Wayne State University.   Let me be blunt:   Some of you probably have noticed (who could miss it?) the very bad publicity about Detroit that has flooded the airways and newspaper front pages.  Bankruptcy indeed has happened.   Detroit indeed has some abandoned buildings.   But, sadly, the media has focused on bad stuff -- and not paid any attention to the really wonderful places in Detroit, the great recovery that has occurred over the past while.  As last year, but more pointedly, I am hearing things about how unsafe Detroit is, how difficult it would be to attend a festival in midtown, etc.  

It's important to be respectful.  I don't want to suggest that people shouldn't believe what they believe if they want to.   But I DO know this:   Wayne State University is situated within a BOOMING local economy.  Midtown Detroit is not falling down.  Midtown is an economic success and has been for the past several years.  Wayne State has 32,000 wonderful students and a huge staff.   It also has a large public safety department.  Recently, we learned that we have THE safest campus of any of the public universities in Michigan.   Please read that sentence over again.   The festival takes place in a glass and marble palace designed by the famed architect Yamasaki.

Most important -- even if facts don't about midtown don't do the trick -- I hope that people will consider who is coming.

Barry Klein!  Laura Bryant!  Lily Chin!  Candace Eisner Strick!  Judy Pascale!  Jill Bigelow Suttell!  Sarah Peasley!  and a wide array of local talent.  Costs are almost half of what these people command at other festivals -- we're trying to make things available to people in a city hard-hit by recession.

We have better enrollment than last year in our workshops, which is GOOD.  Four of them (including one of Chin's) are apt to fill completely within the next week.   So, if you want to work with these amazing people, click on our website ( and make selections.  Parking is a half-block from the McGregor Center, and it's of course guarded (always has been).  If you haven't been to Midtown in the past few years, it's fair to say you will be astonished. 

We are very pleased with enrollments thus far in the workshops.  We still have room  on the above-ground vendor floors for makers and other artisans, so if you know somebody who spins or dyes, etc., put them onto the festival.  We might have missed somebody.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

very soft opening.....

Blare of a few trumpets (not an entire orchestra):   Thanks to the heroic efforts of our new staff, we are MORE OR LESS able to be open beginning tomorrow at our new Farmington digs.  Come!!!!  It's at 23616 Farmington Rd., Farmington, MI.  We will have a class schedule out within the next two days, initially in a newsletter.   svb

Sunday, August 25, 2013


“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” -Buddha

"Of Filipino heritage..." ???

Some days ago, I wrote a blog entry entitled something like "Thanks, and some belts..." in which I said, among other things, that we had hired two "delightful, very young Filipino women," or some such thing.   The two young women in question are Holly and Cherie, who really ARE delightful.  They are also intensely proud of being people of Filipino extraction.  This morning, I opened my e-mail and found a quite upsetting note from a woman (let's not name her) chastising me for using an ethnic label for my two delightful young women, observing that I must be white, and then adding, for good measure, that she was sure this did not reflect on my character -- which, of course, in her view, it did.  So until I could resolve it, I got rid of the dread ethnic language.  I then exchanged notes with the two people in question.  They are indeed PROUD to be Filipino, proud that I mentioned their ethnicity, and so on, so I put it back into the blog entry.

But it is worth a little note, isn't it?  It is no proof of anything that I am probably the only yarn-shop owner anywhere in the metro area who has been a card-carrying member of the NAACP for decades, even though I am indeed pink (a more accurate term than white).  But there it is.  I am.  This is where the far left and the far right are in agreement these days -- on the one hand, the bare mention of racial or ethnic or gender distinctions suggests that some lunatic lefty is "playing the race card," and on the other hand, the same bare mention suggests that some lunatic righty is besmirching non-white people with what Justice Harlan once called a "badge of servitude."  So we are unable to describe who and what we are in relation to one another???  I would have to say that I am a "Dutch-Jewish woman of Minnesota extraction" every time I say "African-American" or "Filipino"??? 

Both of these positions ignore the fact that  in the mix , particularly among feminists, are people like me who think that we have an obligation to do things the hard way -- that is, to celebrate difference while insisting on equality and justice.  For feminists, it's called cultural feminism -- there are all kinds of feminists (radical feminists, equal rights feminists, etc. etc.).  We all know this is the hard way.  It has been very hard in our civilization for people to notice differences -- all of the glorious ways in which we are different, live differently, and so on -- without instantly creating some kind of hierarchy.  But the challenge has to be, not to chastise people for noticing our collective experiences, the RICHES that we possess as a group, or accusing someone of being racist because she mentions someone's ethnicity by name (!), but instead to create an EQUALITY BASED ON DIFFERENCE.  Here, I am quoting my friend Joan Wallach Scott.

Let's try to avoid absolutism and venom of all kinds in our dealings with one another.   svb

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Announcing a Scarf Bombing.....!

OK, so here is something wonderful:  We will be undertaking a "soft opening" for the new location of Artisan Knitworks --  23616 Farmington Road in Farmington, MI -- sometime this coming week, I'd expect before mid-week (though we won't be entirely done, it's best to be open).  

But I want to have a Grand Opening the week of September 22-29.  We will be having ice cream and some daily drawings for prizes (many of them supplied by the companies that stock our shelves). 

Most important:  Please encourage everyone you know to make bulky-knit or bulky-crocheted scarves, at least 6 inches wide, in any kind of wool, wool blend, or good quality acrylic at hand.  They should be 5-7 feet long.  Any kind of patterning is okay.  I want to BOMB the entire area around the shop with the scarves, using them as strips -- could use helpers, too, for the bombing, on the 22nd or so.   These long strips can be fringed or not -- the plan is to have them up for the week all over downtown Farmington and then collect them again.  I will personally launder them by hand, reblock them, and deliver the entire bunch to Detroit Rescue Missions.   Winter is coming.  Each scarf used in the bombing will have a little tag attached with the maker's name and information about where it is going to go when we're done.

If you want to help us with this warming project, .LET ME KNOW.   We will be collecting the scarves at the shop.   Pass the word.

LATER NOTE:   We have scarves piling up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   svb


Thursday, August 22, 2013

another rumination......

So we're well on our way into a new space, with a gorgeous, gifted new staff (thanks, Teri and Lana and Carolyn and Holly and Nancy and so on and so forth!) -- we even have volunteers from the neighborhood popping in the door and asking what they can do to help -- and today, while I was not much good in the shop (I am not recovering well from the extraction of SIX teeth last week), still I was struck all over again when I walked in the door and saw the amazing rainbow of wool (Shepherd's Wool from Stonehedge Fiber Mill, in every conceivable color) that our volunteer, Mary, was arranging in a rainbow -- or rather three rainbows in three weights -- that there is something truly magical, almost mystical, about the ways in which wool, yarn, knitting, crochet -- LOOPING of all kinds -- bonds people together, forges community, creates love.  I don't know what explains this.  But it made me weepy today, and I don't think it's ONLY because I am feeling a little bit punk.  We took our staff to dinner last night, and I had the same feeling at the dinner table -- incredible comraderie, volunteerism, a sense of common purpose, an almost irrational willingless to work for truly crappy wages to make other people and ourselves happy.  And maybe a desire, in some cases subliminally, to connect with all of those men and women for centuries past who have made loops from wool and alpaca and cashmere, all over the world.  We should be ready inside a week -- call  248-427-0804 if you can't stand the suspense, sometime next week -- and in the meantime be sure to tell everyone you know about the Third Coast Festival.      Love to everyone.     svb

Friday, August 16, 2013

Moving and the Allegan Festival

Well, today is the day Artisan Knitworks moves to Farmington Road (23616) in Farmington, MI -- the relocation company arrives this morning, and presumably we'll have a huge pile of rubble at the other end, as last time.

But tomorrow, I am stuffing Larry in the car and hauling him to Allegan to the Michigan Fiber Festival.   The mess can wait.  Allegan cannot.  If you have never taken the trip, for heaven's sake do it.  Vendors are wonderful, the animal sheds have splendid displays, and you can have lunch at a picnic table.   You can even buy some on-the-spot-fresh lemonade.

And of course I'll probably buy some new yarn for the new place.  Fittin' and proper.   Give us a week maybe and then stop by to see how we're doing.  We will have a wonderful new staff eager to lead social knitting groups and topical classes, or to help you find knit or crochet projects.  By mid-September we also will have  big piles of new stuff in the place -- and you can have a cuppa on our NEW out-back patio.

The new contact information is on the Artisan Knitworks website at "Contact Us." 


Monday, August 5, 2013

Thanks! plus some BELTS...!

and thanks to all of you for your generous, excited responses to the idea that Artisan Knitworks will now be housed on the other side of the city.  We now have a nice, big, outrageously talented staff, including two delightful, very young women of Filipino heritage, thanks to responses to this blog and announcements at local guilds.  [On the Filipino point, see entry for August 25].  We will be moving the weekend of the 17th -- don't miss the big moving sale that's going on right now!  see previous post -- to 23616 (I think that's right) Farmington Road in downtown Farmington.  We even have a back-door patio!  So look for us, and know that we will try to open within a week of the move. Now I need to get back to footnotes (the book I've not yet finished) and  then to the Wool and the Floss (in search of some ribbon yarns -- I don't have enough colors to make some belts that I'm working on).  Jean has wonderful novelty yarns.

Here are two of the little wonders that YOU TOO can make with vintage buckles and novelty yarn (in this case, Trendsetter ZOE for the yellow one and Checkmate for the other).  I'll then download my little pattern -- I suppose you could use new belt buckles -- just get BIG ones.  And take off the metal keeper.   svb



Copyright 2013, Sandra VanBurkleo, Artisan Knitworks LLC

This belt can be made any length, almost any width, and in almost any non-animal fiber light-to-medium weight yarn.  Animal yarns stretch too much (though some animal blends would work – test for elasticity).  You can substitute any semi-flat pattern stitch (including plain SC or HDC)  for the simple pattern stitch used here.  I used this one to introduce a slight bit of texture.  Crocheted seed stitch would work as well (rep SC, DC across all rows, ending DC).  Consider a simple row of SC with shells worked on either side of the row.  You could also work several rows of trellis stitch and run ribbon, fabric, or leather through the spaces.  And so on.  The belt shown tapers at one end by increasing in the first stitch on every RS row.  If you prefer a blunt end, simply omit increases.  Or, if you prefer a pointed end, increase for half of the width and decrease for the remainder.  For the adventurous:  Wear the belt on a tunic of the same yarn, knit or crochet, with belt loops at each side, or use the belt yarn for trim or as a second yarn for a tunic made in a two-yarn pattern stitch.    


2-3 inch vintage belt buckle (no metal keeper) with enough space for two layers crocheted fabric

1 skein Trendsetter “Zoe” or other DK/heavy fingering yarn, not 100% animal fiber

Size D-G crochet hook (test to assure a firm but not armor-like fabric)

Measure waist.  Loosely chain as many inches as the desired waist, plus 7 inches.  Turn.

For simple texture stitch:
Row 1:  Beg with 2nd ch from hook, SC across row.  Ch 1 to turn.
Row 2:  Rep row 1.
Row 3:  Work 2 SC in 2nd ch from hook, * ch 1, skip 1 in row below, SC in next st, rep from * to * across, ending SC.  Ch 1 to turn.

Rep rows 2 and 3 until belt is wide enough to fill the central bar of belt buckle with a bit of room to spare (no more than 1/8 inch more), ending with Row 2.  Break yarn leaving a long end for sewing (10 inches).

Steam-block belt on WS (hold steamer at a two-inch distance).  Let dry.  Tightly wrap square end of the belt around the buckle’s central bar.  Using darning needle, whipstitch in place on WS.  Darn in ends with tapestry needle, backstitching to secure the ends.  Do not use crochet hook to darn in ends.

Saturday, August 3, 2013


From Monday upcoming through Saturday, August 10, we will have a big moving sale at Artisan Knitworks -- lots of stuff we don't want to move at steep discount, and then a modest (10%) discount on most (not all) full-price merchandise.     svb

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Thinking out loud.....(this is a want ad!)

As I think about moving the shop to Farmington MI (the new address is   23616 Farmington Rd) -- and it's a lot to think about -- the mind turns to staffing.  Our dear, dear Ellen cannot make the move with us.  She has a special-needs child, and she cannot be further away from home than about a half-hour.  On a bad day, Farmington can be 45 minutes from her home.  So we will be looking for good, good people, probably some part-timers.

But then you start thinking about yarn-shop staffing, and it's problematic, isn't it?   In the first place, you don't get rich working in a yarn shop.  Usually, though not always, the people who work in shops are people who are good, maybe even great knitters and crocheters.  And they're women -- though one of the best people I've ever encountered in a yarn store was male (in the Springwater cooperative in Alexandria, Virginia).  So you start with the downward pressure on wages that always accompanies women's labor, made worse by the association (it's knitting!) with domestic work, and you end up with low wages, often minimum wage combined with a nice yarn discount.  And then you add the fact that it's almost never full time, so you don't get benefits.  Finally, it's hard to avoid the hard fact that yarn shops are low-profit businesses.

But, still, it's a great way to spend time, isn't it?  So people do it anyway.  And then some bad things happen.  We have all gone into yarn shops where the people who work there are sitting around a table talking to one another, or to clients (read "old friends") in social knitting groups, and don't even acknowledge that you came in.  One of my friends, who is a great person undeniably not deserving of what she got, went into a shop and was told brusquely that the yarn she wanted wasn't in stock, but then she found it in stock without any trouble at all.  She left without buying, seriously annoyed.  I have been in shops where people didn't even lift their eyes from their knitting.  In Philadelphia, I actually fell down and nobody noticed.  BUT:  I have also been in shops where I was trailed like some kind of potential criminal -- and I even have a nice, gray-haired visage.  I have been lectured on basic knitting by people who had no idea whether I could knit or not, much less know what I was doing; it was incredibly patronizing.  I have been asked, somewhat incredibly, if I knew how to tell a knitting needle from a crochet hook -- again, from a perfect stranger.

So here is what I think:   it's difficult to find really good people.  But I have found three in my time as a yarn shop owner  So it's not impossible.  One thing that happens is that people are in a place for so long that they think of it as a second home (or maybe as a primary home, depending on conditions at the other one!).  They think of it as a place to talk with friends.  They stop thinking of it as a work place, as a place with a reputation to maintain, as a place where they are supposed to SELL without seeming to be ramming things down people's throats.  As a place where everyone should be welcomed, helped, but not tracked around the place.......a tough balance.  But a possible balance.

We will be looking for a few good people -- at least intermediate knitters and with luck also crocheters, personable, with open faces and open hearts, not cynical, non-smokers, not smelling of alcohol (as one woman did), with IMAGINATION and a certain love of color and style that I would be hard pressed to define.  I'll know it when I see it.  My place is not the usual kind of place -- I go fetch much of the yarn from festivals, and that's our PRIMARY reason for being -- cultivating a love of color, of the craft itself, of cutting loose rather than following instructions and living in terror of not doing it exactly right, etc.  So much depends on whether our staff can convey what sets us apart.  This is an interesting problem:  One woman found the hand-spun, hand-made yarns kind of embarrassing -- as if they were some kind of tic that the owner had that she wanted to apologize for.  That won't do either.  And there's always a bit of teaching, especially to beginners, and helping people with problems, even if they bought the stuff they are working with some place else.....(though we might charge).

If you know someone who fills the bill, or if you do, drop me a note at  You don't have to have worked in a wool shop.  But you do need to be interested in helping people learn about ancient crafts and prosper as artisans.  And you need to be comfortable selling stuff.   I think this is a better way to find people than want ads.        svb

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Everyone, Artisan Knitworks is going to move -- from St Clair Shores to Farmington, Michigan, within the next 30 days or so.  We need to grow, and Farmington not only has a really darling downtown area, but great growth potential.  We will be located roughly at the intersection of Farmington Road and Grand River -- details later. It's at   23616 Farmington Rd.   In the meantime, check our newsletter for important information as we approach the first week in August!!!!!   We're excited, and we're sad -- we have created a family in St Clair Shores.  But it's only 27 miles to the new location, so with any luck at all, some of our dearest friends will make the trip.  And friends on the NW side of the metro area will have a much easier time finding us.  The new place even has a terrace, so we can have some ice-cream socials, etc.   More soon.     svb

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Third Coast -- New Workshops!!!

Blare of trumpets:   We have added two new classes to the Third Coast Fiber Arts Festival offerings -- they will be in place before the day is over........See Sarah Peasley's really really really wonderful new offering -- "Take Time to Save Time" -- which, believe it or not, is about GAUGE and the many ways in which a person can deal effectively with the problems it presents.   Then there is a brand new Candace Eisner Strick offering -- "Knitting Backwards" -- which is one of the most useful skills a knitter can have.  Think entrelac -- think edgings.  And, yes, this is about knitting without having to turn when you get to the end of rows.   AMAZING.   Sign up, everyone.   And don't miss Lily Chin's fabulous workshops -- four of them!!!!     svb

Monday, July 1, 2013

Trip to Columbus

Last weekend, my friend and employee Ellen Taylor and I drove to the National Needlearts Association convention (a trade show) in Columbus, Ohio.  This one is the summer show, which showcases cold-weather yarns, buttons, needlepoint canvases, and other fiber-arts related materials.  The winter show is in Long Beach, California -- and it has to do mostly with spring-summer goods. 

I always enjoy Columbus -- which I still think is one of the best medium-sized American cities, more than livable, with fascinating neighborhoods and genuinely wonderful examples of reused, rehabilitated buildings.  The Short North is my fave neighborhood -- lots of great galleries and restaurants, good walking, and good people watching.  Also Jeni's Ice Cream which has no equal in the world, I don't think.  Try Lemon Blueberry.  Try anything.  Jeni's also can be found in the Farmer's Market (cool place) near the convention center.  We had supper at my fave Asian Fusion place, called Lemon Grass -- highly recommended.  If I were younger, I'd probably have flirted with our waiter, who was to-die-for sexy.  I'll bet he was a theater major at OSU.

On the floor, there were the usual hugs with friends.  But let me briefly note the presence of intarsia again -- I bet last year that it would fade, but no -- though not picture knits so much as color blending in strips or regions on a garment, with some wonderful uses of variegated yarns.  Both Ellen and I also noticed widespread use of really NEEEEOOON chartreuse -- typically not by itself but dotted and dashed here and there on charcoal, black, brown, etc.  I loved the effect.  One trio of Rowan sweaters featured charcoal gray grounds with long dashes, short dashes, maybe 4-6 stitches in bulky weight yarn,  which I may try to replicate in some kind of coat, though with almost-black eggplant.
There were a LOT of knitted skirts, some crocheted long garments, including dresses.  But I didn't see much that was startlingly new -- just a lot of good designs, solid yarns, perhaps a greater number of indie dyers than before. 

I liked what I saw.  We drove home through torrential rain and  hail, which is not recommended.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Sally Melville's "Step Dance"

Here is something wonderful to make in handpainted mohair or almost any other short-color-run animal fiber yarn.  Sally has a pattern on Ravelry -- knitted vertically and horizontally in connected pieces.  DO try mohair. Too many people think it's rough or scratchy -- maybe it was 40  years ago, but no longer.   It's lush.  This yarn was hand-dyed in Michigan. I had a ball doing it, though I changed Sally's design a bit -- mine is symmetrical.  Hers has one side with longer steps.   svb 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Knitting, Crochet, and Human Memory

….so what can be said about history and knitting……hmmmmm.   What’s the best way to think about something so amorphous? 

One way, and probably the most conventional way, would be to talk about published stuff – the books that scholars and artisans have published in recent years.  I’d be the last person to say that books aren’t valuable.  I write books, for god's sake!  So:  You could go to any library (or to the bookcases in our studio!) and find Bishop Rudd’s History of Knitting, which (not surprisingly – he’s Anglican!) emphasizes English traditions.  Or you could make a bee-line to the wonderful social history of knitting called No Idle hands.   A number of wonderful books are available now – one of the fruits of the phenomenon we call the Knitting Renaissance – which I think should be renamed to include crochet.  

Another way might be to think about our own relationships to the fiber arts.  One day last week, as I sat in the big chair in my living room with my crochet hook, I closed my eyes for a second and could almost feel the slick, old (and uncomfortable) mohair upholstery of my mother’s mother’s sofa (she called it a davenport—a term that I do not entirely understand in relation to sofas!  Couch maybe.  But davenport?).  For a split second, I was 7 years old, maybe 8, with an old, much used steel crochet hook in my hand and a ball of white crochet thread, probably Coats and Clark, that she had purchased at the Kresge store in South Saint Paul.  Thread crochet is a tough art – you need a slightly different tension, and in my case a slightly different way to hold thread than with bigger hooks and wool yarn.  I can almost feel the fabric of one tablecloth in particular that we made together, motif by motif, carefully checking our gauge from time to time, then joining it all together; I've since learned that it was Irish crochet, and a clue to my grandmother's Scotch-Irish ancestry. 

 But the important points are these:  Grandma Beedle (Carrie to everyone else) never used patterns.  And when we did, it was simply an illustration in Workbasket Magazine, which she ‘read’ from the pictures (she didn’t know how to read standard crochet patterns, or simply didn’t bother to use them – the picture was enough).  She told me more than once about her own sessions with HER mother, and I gathered that the old, old tablecloths in her buffet had been inherited from two generations of women……on and on.  She would show me how it had always been done -- the rose, the picot, the filet -- and maybe, just maybe, she had in mind doing her duty by ME so that I could pass it all along to my own kids.  This certainly was part of women's work, women's responsibilities, this ongoing repetition of the work of bygone mothers and grandmothers.  It's interesting, in fact, that 18th and 19th century 'higher education' for women included needle arts -- In part because upper-class women were much less likely to learn USEFUL (as opposed to purely decorative) needle arts from THEIR mothers.

So as I sat there in my big chair with a vintage buckle, trying to cook up a belt strap from a ball of really beautiful yarn (Trendsetter "Zoe") and a size F Clover hook, it all came back – the childhood days spent with women who had  decorated otherwise plain, inexpensive domestic goods (cheap pillowcases, e.g.) with lace in order to create the illusion of prosperity and luxury, and a clear sense of connection with an endless progression of women doing exactly the same thing for time out of mind.  I only have two of those crochet pieces, a small doily and a medium-sized table cover, but the memory is what matters…..I am linked, even though I didn't much like that particular grandmother, across generations every time I pick up a crochet hook.  (She also taught me to tat, which I've forgotten).

For me, it’s less true of knitting.  I have memories of my godmother, Doris Kisch of West St Paul, Minnesota, who was a wonderful knitter, who made cabled sweaters from patterns drafted by the staff at Dayton’s department store in downtown St Paul and who worked with Mary Maxim kits, when they were still selling good quality wool (nowadays, they have only dreadful acrylic, and the jacket patterns are much less exciting).  She tried to teach me to knit when I was about 15, but I was a sewer and crocheter, much less interested in knitting than she would have liked, and besides, she was kind of unpleasant, controlling, bossy.  And, like cooks who leave out one key ingredient in a recipe so only they can make it, Doris refused to teach me how to sew up sweaters -- she wanted to do it herself, which was profoundly annoying.   So in the end, I learned to knit by myself – from a book, in my late 20s, and then only to satisfy curiosity about what knitting involved.  Nobody seriously knitted in my family; my mother had made knitted wool soakers (!) during World War II for use by the wives of soldiers who had babies (WOOL around a baby’s butt???).  But mostly she crocheted and sewed.  So I mostly crocheted and sewed.  I still have an antique box full of the motifs she was working on when she died -- someday I'll find a way to use them without feeling unbearably sad.  She was my best friend.  Nobody has ever been a better friend, in fact.  It was my mother who asked me to join her in creating a small fiber arts company to be called VanBee Originals -- we actually made up some kits to sell, and for awhile made money.  We spent many long, happy hours tracing shapes onto felt, packing up sequins, making labels.   But then she took a full-time job, and VanBee Originals faded into oblivion.  I hadn't thought about it for years until this very about the way in which writing revives memory!

I think these associations are the most important of all.  Books can teach us about other people, but they don’t touch the heart, that sense of who WE are as individuals, our sense of connection with OUR people, the way memory does.  (That’s why I don’t discourage people from doing genealogy, even knowing as I do how much damage a lot of genealogy societies have done to local archives).  That sense of kinship with thousands and thousands of women and men for time out of mind is much more immediate, much more compelling, than a scholar’s hard work, except to help us put our personal memories into context.   I say “men” because, in the beginning, men were the knitters, at least in the British Isles…..especially sock knitters.  But, as with so many other things, the craft was feminized in the late 18th century, and with so many other examples of feminization, the monetary value of the thing was diminished almost at once. 

It may be that, because I’m a professional historian, I am more sensitive to continuity of practices over time.  But I wonder.   When crafts are practiced within families, the connections are apparent to almost everyone who gives thought to it – and I think, too, that awareness of continuity is more pronounced in working-class families, where the crafts have long been passed from woman to woman, often as a way to beautify and elevate what otherwise would be plain and ordinary.  I think again of those very, very cheap, not very smooth pillowcases….the edges encrusted with exquisite lace, the inner parts intricately embroidered.  I remember with particular fondness a really amazing set of kitchen curtains that my grandmother and I made -- I made one, she made the other.  I am sure there is some kind of wonderful symbolism in the fact that they matched perfectly. 

And I think, too….can’t possibly prove this…that much of what women sought was escape from a life that often was filled with pain or drudgery.  You could step out of it for a few minutes and imagine a world full of flowers, leaves, picots, sheer beauty, before turning again to the endless laundry, the floors that needed scrubbing, the cucumbers that needed to be brined and jarred.

More later.



Saturday, June 8, 2013

Audrey's Good Advice

Tonight, before and after a (too-slow but tasty) dinner with our wonderful client Audrey, at the retro café called the Blue Goose Inn, on Jefferson Avenue in St Clair Shores, I got some interesting advice:   She has been reading this blog and wanted to know why I didn't include more talk about history.  I have had the same idea over the past month.   The interesting question might be why a history professor took to the fiber arts with such a vengeance.  So let me give thought.  svb

Saturday, June 1, 2013

What An Idiot...!

How can I be such a complete idiot?  I went to a fiber festival with a dead camera!!!

Anyway:   Friday evening, I made it to Fort Wayne, Indiana, and settled into a Hilton Garden Inn (a chain that is now my favorite -- used to be Hampton Inn, but they're sometimes run down these days) and collapsed.  Why?   Because of the THUNDERSTORMs.  What an ordeal.   They came and went, like little nightmares after eating too much rich food -- I'd be driving along and all of a sudden I'd be lashed with huge quantities of rain, as if in the tropics.  

The next morning, I took my time.  Sat in the nice breakfast area over oatmeal and fresh fruit, with my knitting in hand, until about 10:00 and then took off again.  The festival opened at noon -- and of course the weather continued to be squallish.  Time and again, as I moved south toward and then beyond Indianapolis, rain and wind boiled up.   Because I grew up in a minor tornado alley in Minnesota (the far SW corner of the state), I am hyper-sensitive to the possibility of tornadoes, so the whole thing was unpleasant.  The tornado "shelf" accompanied me much of the way -- that nasty black line of clouds from which tornadoes ordinarily touch down.  Argh.

But I got there.  The entire festival is housed in a single, big steel building at the Johnson County Fairgrounds in Franklin, Indiana.  That was just fine, given the weather.  And, frankly, I was underwhelmed by most of it -- maybe because I go to so many festivals.  Its not that the hand-dyed or hand-spun yarns were bad -- only that I have lots of stuff just like most of it in the shop already, and I didn't see anything at first that really popped.   Also , this year, the organizers (no doubt for economic reasons) expanded the show to include tool-makers, soap-makers, and so on -- again, not bad, but not what I go to festivals to see ordinarily. 

This is not unusual, I should add.   I go to the really small festivals on purpose.  Often, the table fee is very low, so NEW artisans can get their start there.   They are worth finding and then following.

To wit:  I found two wonderful Indiana women, across from one another on the far aisle.  One of them had huge, squooshy skeins of wool (they started life as Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride, then got softer from the vinegar and rinsing involved in the dyeing process) in wonderful shades of gold, purple/blues, wine/reds.  So I loaded up, to say the least (36 skeins).  Then her friend at Froebe Fibers had done up some really lovely lace-weight and finger-weight yarns in semi-solids.  So I loaded up on those as well -- maybe 25 skeins.  Huge yardage, and done with food-grade dyes (NOT Kool-Aid, which fades) and proper rinsing.

I also stopped at the Markel Antique Mall in the town by the same name in Indiana -- huge enterprise, with a few interesting button vendors -- walked off with an array of interesting old buttons, some of them Bakelite, others glass and other kinds of old plastic.  Cool additions to the collection. 

Surprise surprise -- on the way home, I drove through yet more thunderstorms, which I won't describe.  Ugh.  I also found the world's worst Burger King at a Marathon station in Michigan (near Monroe) which promised sweet potato fries and then couldn't find them (!!!).  

Glad to be home.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Off to Franklin, Indiana....???!!!

Tonight,  maybe about 5:00, I'm going to get in the wonderful, new-ish VW Beetle and head for the fiber festival at Franklin, Indiana, which is just to the south of Indianapolis.  I will aim for Fort Wayne, which is maybe 90 minutes away from Indianapolis -- no point in trying to swim the whole pool in one lap!!!   Besides, the festival doesn't open until noon on Friday, so I could actually rest a little bit in the morning, knit, sip some good coffee at a decent espresso shop (if I can find one) and mosey on down to Franklin.  This isn't a huge festival, and I note with some alarm that they are padding the resume, so to speak, with some potters and soapmakers.  But -- I'm sure to find some new people who deal in yarn and roving.  So it's a done deal.  I'll of course take my camera and make report.  Indiana has some of THE best collectible and antique shops in the midwest, so maybe I can find some truly cool vintage buttons!!!!!!!  I return sometime Friday night.     svb

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


The final piece in the Third Coast Fiber Arts Festival registration apparatus is now up and running -- the photographs that accompany the workshop detail page.  So go now to, click on Workshops, then on Class Details -- and have a look!  Congrats to Larry for doing all of this hard work so well (but with apologies to Dana Matuskey -- Larry photographed the crochet-edged squares wrong side up -- he'll correct it).

We have been a bit astonished by the rush of registration traffic this year, as compared to last year -- I guess that WAS the first year, and so it's not surprising that it gained steam.  But, this time, it's kind of a big WHOOOSH.   Thanks, everyone.     svb

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Second Annual Third Coast Fiber Arts Festival Registration Link

For those of you who are looking for festival information:  Go to


Friday, May 17, 2013


Someone got in touch with Ellen Taylor, our wonderful helper for Third Coast, and offered to volunteer, and she DELETED the e-mail by accident.  So please try again!!!!!!   Ellen is at      THANKS.      svb

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Registration for the Third Coast Fiber Arts Festival is OPEN

Everyone, we are struggling right now to get everything up and running -- Larry thinks that, by early tomorrow, you will be able to access complete information for registration.  I just went in to see for myself, and while you CAN resgister, you can't easily get at homework assignments.  So if you can stand the suspense, wait 24 hours.  Then go to   and click on Third Coast link (which, I see, also has not been updated).    All will be well. 

Thursday:   NOTE that all we're missing now is photography of particular projects, etc., for the long schedule.  But -- if you don't care about photos, you surely can register now!    svb

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Third Coast Festival Update

Everyone, we are in the process of  making the festival's workshop schedule final and putting it on line.  It is a VERY laborious process, has to be accurate, and falls entirely on poor Larry Hart, now that I have done the writing and organization.  We hope to have everything ready to go within 3-4 days.  But if we fail, just keep checking back.  We are only three people.   Speaking of which:  We are making a list (which has grown recently!) of three kinds of volunteers -- people who want to teach the knit stitch or chain/single crochet  at tables in the atrium, people who want to spin or otherwise offer demos in the atrium, and people who want to do general volunteer duty.  Volunteers who do this kind of thing will earn a free box lunch on the day of service and free parking.  Send such offers of help to Ellen at 

An overview of workshops (to which we will be adding 2 or 3) can be found at the Third Coast link at our website,    Just click on the Workshops link when you reach Third Coast.  You can also read about instructors.  With this information, you at least can plan.     svb

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


The festival's general outlines are now posted at the website at the Third Coast link.  Use Chrome if you can -- it comes up more readily.  Click on the Third Coast link on main page.  Then click on Workshops.   Detailed information will be available by the 15th (this is a change).  In the meantime, you can at least see the lay of the land!     svb

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


For everyone:   We are in the midst of selecting workshops for the wondrous Third Coast Fiber Arts Festival (Oct. 18-19), and it will be maybe a week more before we're able to post the offerings.  So stay tuned.  This is a lot of work!!!!!!!!!!!!    Also, vendors are starting to line up -- so if you have in mind applying to be a marketplace vendor, don't postpone.  Space is limited (no more than 32), with all of the spaces above ground this time!!!  See the Third Coast link at       svb

Monday, April 29, 2013

Back from Kentucky & Indiana, y'all....

....Just back from the Indiana Fiber and Music Festival, 3rd Annual (I have not gone to this one before).  I keep forgetting that southern Indiana is really southern -- and it was much the same this time, lots of pickup trucks, southern drawls, in both Kentucky and Indiana.  But some other things surprised me:  I had forgotten how gorgeous the drive from Covington, Kentucky, to Louisville is in the early spring, when baby-green leaves appear in maybe twenty different hues, all of it peppered with generous doses of drop-dead-beautiful mauve from full-bloom red bud trees.  Honest to god, it was enough to make you want to weep -- to my eyes, much more beautiful than autumn because it's so much fresher, so full of promise.....and as last time, I was wishing the whole time that I was a dyer.  I can imagine a fingering-weight yarn, for instance, that would blend those soft greens, that exquisite mauve, with some kind of gray-brown (there are trunks and limbs mixed in to temper the mixture).  But I'm not a dyer.  Too bad, to say the least.

I spent the night in a nice motel north of Louisville (pronounced LOO'vul by the locals), and got off to a nice, late start on Sunday morning, more or less in time for the opening in Charlestown, Indiana, over the border but not by much.  The weather had turned unpleasant, and when I got where I was going, I was horrified to see that none of the promised outdoor vendors were there -- a bad sign.  That often means not just that the weather was about to turn, but that people haven't shown up.  It's a good thing I go to these things as much to take a road trip and check out antique malls as to buy handcrafted yarn -- the vendors indeed were fewer than the website had promised.  And there were a lot of crafters selling their wares -- ruffled scarves made from big-box yarns, crocheted baby gear in big-box acrylic, etc.  This is not poke fun.  It's to say that I personally don't come for that kind of thing, and so it narrows the field substantially.  And only two of the dyers were doing work that I thought was first-class work -- the problem with hand-dyed yarn is that it requires more skill than a lot of people realize to get the borders right between colors, without blurring or ending up with a motley collection of brown zones.  

Here's a glimpse inside the first building (there were two buildings plus a half-dozen vendors in a livestock enclosure): are some wonderful, gifted spinners:

....and here are the amazing Riin Gill and friend Robert -- from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and two of our best friends.  Riin's line is called Happy Fuzzy Yarns.  She is one of THE most imaginative and technically proficient indie dyers I've encountered in all of these years.  So here they are, here is a shot of part of her booth, and HERE is the pile (part of it) that I ended up buying.  We have quite an array of her stuff in the shop -- as well we should.  It doesn't get much better.  Click on photos to get a closer look.  Plus, Riin is involved in the small-farm movement in Michigan, so much of what I bought is Michigan wool.  Part of what makes Riin an exceptional dyer/retailer, by the way, is her gift for labeling and naming.  It matters.  If people find the colorway name engaging or funny, they will identify more readily with the yar.  One of the colorways I bought this time is called (are you ready?)  Death and Taxes.  

BUT THEN the real fun began.  I left the festival a tad disappointed -- not in Riin, but in the fact of so few choices beyond Riin.  A wonderful alpaca grower from Kentucky did catch my attention, but she had only a few broken lots of beautiful, achingly soft alpaca (she has since taken on a new mill and the newer lots are not as soft, and are mixed with wool and also plied too tightly).  So -- I left without the usual sense of mission accomplished.

But then I went to Florence, Kentucky.  I knew there was a truly amazing antique shop there, so I turned off the GPS and decided just to look around.  LO AND BEHOLD.  I did NOT find the antique mall, but I DID find the old, original Main Street from the early 19th century, and there I found a series of businesses built up in what I gather is called Stringtown.  Look at this!!!  It's called Yesterday's Cafe and Tea Shop, and the yellow building is the old Florence Hotel.

This is a woman-owned business comprised of a tea room (above, in the middle), a gift shop with teas and all manner of gift-y stuff, and then a separate café and coffee shop with outdoor plaza.  Here are shots of the owner Susan (in black polka dots on the right) and the incredible Erin, in front of the array of coffee and tea-making equipment in the separate café operation.  I had a delectable lunch, and left without some of their Matcha green tea, which I passed up only because I was stuffed to the gills with gorgeous chicken gumbo.

I left reluctantly.  What complete joy!!!  Often, this is the best part of one of these trips -- finding truly unique, high-quality operations that have nothing to do with the fiber arts.

If you're in northern Kentucky or southern Indiana, for heaven's sake find this place.  Everything is delectable.