Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Blare of trumpets.........A scheduling snafu at the Center makes it necessary to change the dates of the Second Annual Third Coast Fiber Arts Festival from October 25-26 to a week earlier, October 18-19.   The list of presenters will be mostly the same -- we're still going to be able to boast the wonderful Laura Bryant and Barry Klein and Candace Eisner Strick and Sarah Peasley, for example.  And we are adding the fabulous Lily Chin, whose name I'm sure everyone knows.   All will be well.  And -- the really good news -- we no longer collide with the Ann Arbor expo!!!!!   svb

Monday, February 25, 2013


So how many men are out there who might want us to inaugurate a men-and-boys-only Knit-Together at Artisan Knitworks LLC every week?  Say, on a Friday night or Wed. night?   Let me know here, or at     I noted with interest that two Minneapolis shops have male knitting groups.  There's also one in Nashville, TN.  And of course there are big conferences of male knitters -- one periodically in Kalamazoo.  So.  Let me know.  I am about ready to just announce one and see what happens.   Men started the ball rolling many centuries ago; it's time they came home again.  We have had a fairly good  number of men in the shop, so.....let me know.     svb

Sunday, February 24, 2013


Call the shop (586-871-2884) if you're interested in working with a fabulous young woman, Erin Moss, who is a licensed yoga instructor.....Erin is going to be teaching a SEATED version of yoga exercise designed for knitters and crocheters.  She specializes in exercise for musicians, computer workers, and others susceptible to upper-body stress.  So this should be fabulous.   It's ten bucks for a nice, long lesson at 11:00 on Saturday, March 3.   Again, call to reserve a spot.  It's filling up.   PS:  This is a personal joy for me.  Erin is the daughter of one of my former graduate advisees, Enoch Baker, who sadly succumbed to brain cancer a short time ago.  He would be thrilled to see his fine, fine daughter bringing joy and healing to other people.  

REVISION/UPDATE:   Erin is offering the seated yoga class every two weeks at the shop -- so call 586-871-2884 to reserve a seat -- for ten bucks a pop -- and we also will have her at the Third Coast Fiber Arts Festival in mid-October for ongoing sessions.       svb

Sunday, February 17, 2013

On "Competition"

Today, a wonderful woman came into the studio to gather some more help with a couple of sweaters she wants to knit from nice hand-painted wool-mohair yarn that she bought some years ago when a shop went out of business.  She’s making one blue-y batch into a kimono-style sweater, made in strips, with a cool shawl-like collar.   And, in the course of things, she said that she was glad to see that my place was NOT “so awfully expensive,” as she’d heard in another shop.    
                I just sat there, overcome with sadness – not anger, not a desire to exact revenge, not an interest in learning who had said such a thing – but weariness and sadness.  And of course the hardest part was trying to figure out how NOT to show what I was feeling. 
                Here’s why.  We have heard this stuff before.  Over and over again.  It usually is attributed to some other yarn-purveyor in the metro area – a shop, never a customer.  I have always said that I do NOT want to know who it is.  Once, the person blurted out the shop name and I stopped her too late.  So I have anecdotal evidence about at least that particular shop.  But it doesn’t matter, does it, who is doing this?  What matters is what it says about community, our ability as an industry and as mostly women to create a culture that is simultaneously nurturing and entrepreneurial, to encourage one another, to understand how the boats really DO rise together when the ocean rises?  Once, I even heard tell (who knows how much of this is true?) that someone in another shop had said unkind things about a history professor presuming to know anything about knit and crochet.  Sigh.  What a downer.

                There are larger issues here, and they are rivetingly important.
                Long ago, a yarn company rep spoke disparagingly about “the politics of yarn shops in Michigan,” and he indeed meant to set us apart from yarn shops elsewhere, which very often have cooperative, sharing customs unlike what we experience here.  I expect that some part of that comparison is specious:   Every micro-culture looks greener from a distance.  But the larger point is important.   In Michigan, and especially in the Metro area, there is an extraordinarily thick layer of unhealthy suspicion, even nastiness, from time to time, as if each shop is to be conceptualized as an island in a hostile sea.  (Sorry for all of the oceanic imagery).
                Not long ago, I was sitting in the shop on a Saturday, with a handful of really nice women who come to the so-called Knit-Together on Saturdays, and suddenly three women burst into the shop, all with unpleasant scowls.  They didn’t look left or right – they just entered, walking like guided missles toward the back of the store.  I greeted them; they didn’t answer.  I asked one of them if I could help her, and she said quite testily, NO.  So I didn’t. Who would?  Several of us watched with interest (and astonishment) as they pulled out little index cards (I gather we weren’t supposed to be able to see LITTLE cards – this was a Stealth Mission) and began to jot down prices for things like Mini-Mochi and Kureyon.  One of them went over to a wall of hand-spun yarn – the most expensive stuff in the shop – and snorted.  They left just as they had come, in a scowling WHOOOOSH.  I asked them to come again; no answer.  
                It took me a few minutes, in fact, to figure out that they WERE spies!  Somebody had actually dispatched employees or friends to come see what we charged for yarns that were carried in more than one shop.  And that brought to mind the trip that a colleague and I had made maybe two years earlier to another shop in the NW sector of the city, where we were treated like enemy aliens on someone's no-fly list.  The owner took my card, held it as if it were a grenade, and said a bit too loudly that she had never heard of us, as if that were some kind of virtue.
                What a sad, sad moment.  Understand this:  I have my nasty moments.  Everybody does.  But they usually have to do with the misbehavior of a certain HUSBAND.  I visit other people’s shops all the time.  I make it a point, in fact, to buy something when I visit shops, even if it’s just from the sale room.  Some of the people I love best on this earth are shop owners.  They know who they are; we share e-mail notes and even dinner sometimes.  I have tried (without much success because of scheduling problems) to set up a network of visiting instructors so that shop owners could teach in one another’s shops.  Once a year, quite a few shops (though not by all means all shops) gather in a Detroit suburb to host Knit Michigan, which is undertaken in part for charity.  That's a good, strong step in the right direction.  People on the NW side of town also have a shop crawl that seems to have succeeded (ours on the east side did not, perhaps because the shops that wanted to participate were quite far apart).  So the question comes to be, why on earth, in an industry that’s known to be low-profit and mostly dominated by women, should we be spying on one another and, far worse, badmouthing one another to customers and company reps?   What a sad commentary on us and on our city’s fiber arts culture.  Think how much more we could do if the silliness evaporated.  
                So, for the record, let me say some things about my beautiful little studio.  We do indeed have some very expensive yarns.  I just bought three balls of hand-painted yarn, in fact, that I have priced between 60 and 90 dollars – each of them will make a good-sized shawl, but they’re expensive.  Of course they are.  They are hand-crafted.  They are made of fibers like silk, merino wool, and alpaca.  The hand-dyers used the best undyed stock available in the world.  I paid retail for these three and added FIVE DOLLARS to each of them to cover transportation costs (I don’t yet have a wholesale arrangement of any kind with this small firm).   There is indeed a wall of hand-spun yarn, some of which I bought from spinners across the country AFTER yelling at them in public about the ludicrously low prices they were charging for their labor – insisting that I pay them MORE.  I charge what I have paid plus a modest profit, never ever  more than the standard retail markup, and typically much less.  Hand-crafted is hand-crafted.   It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.  But we should be clear about what it is.  We are the only shop in the state that carries this much hand-spun and hand-painted yarn.  Nobody sells more hand-crafted buttons than we do.  Am I ripping people off?   Hardly.  On many of these yarns, I can secure no more than maybe a 25% discount – at the New York Fiber Festival, the Maryland festival, the smaller festivals scattered all over the country, women sell their wares ONLY there, and they need to make money.  So if I want to stock a store with hand-crafted, unique yarns, I can’t have much of a profit margin.  I add an amount to help me recoup travel costs, and that’s what I charge.  The entire point is to provide a clearing house for very small producers, and then to mix up those hand-crafted yarns with some of the best mass-produced yarns in the industry, for people who don’t want to pay a fortune for their handcrafted shawls and sweaters and socks.
                In other words:   I will insist that critics distinguish between yarn that is OVERPRICED or UNFAIRLY PRICED and  yarn that is fairly priced but still expensive.  I have never overpriced a yarn knowingly since opening the shop.  If anything, I underprice, on the understanding that if I sell something with only 20% profit, I’ll make up the difference with, say, vintage buttons.  And here is the part that really annoys me:   We have the best prices in the state on Stonehedge Yarns.  Nobody sells them as cheaply as we do. We charge NO MORE than a standard retail markup on all of our other mass-produced yarns.  Not a dime more.
So, my friends, it’s plain nastiness, isn’t it, designed to keep people out of other people’s shops.  What an unhealthy situation.   We are, or should be, a community.  I have always hoped, too, that a mostly female industry would NOT be just like, say, car dealerships.  I send people to the Wool and the Floss for things we don’t have.  I do the same with the Knotted Needle, Crafty Lady Trio, on and on.  We have called shops in other cities to get balls of yarn for people who have run out in mid-project.  I have thought twice, I confess, before sending people to the one shop that I know has not been truthful about us.  But – others get customers from me.  And why not?  Again, we are women.  We are supposed to be sisters -- skilled artisans interested in preserving ancient crafts for future generations of boys, girls, men, women.    We should not send spies.  We should not try to harm other people’s prospects by spreading lies and venom.
So now you understand the source of my sadness.  Thanks for listening.   It makes me weary enough to think about retiring.  The Third Coast Fiber Arts Festival has been an attempt to cut through some of this, to gather IN some of the shops, to aid in the task of cooperation and community – to give DETROIT something to be proud of.  Last year, it did a lot of good in those directions – but, of course, I later heard that I was somehow trying to undermine other festivals in the state, as if anyone could do that when they are months apart and many miles away.
Knit on.  Crochet on.  And let’s hope for happier times in this very special part of our lives.


Friday, February 15, 2013

Off to Mason....!

Today I drove to Mason, Michigan, and met up with the very cool Jill Bigelow Suttell, one of the new instructors for the upcoming Second Annual Third Coast Fiber Arts Festival in late October -- but also I wanted to see the gorgeously colored wheels of yarn produced next door to the Baja Grill at 421 Jefferson Street in downtown Mason. They're in the lower level of the amazing Kean's Store. The maker is Twisted Fibers -- and the yarns are just fabulous, gradually shaded, made in very small batches, some no more than one wheel at a time. They actually remind me, when made up, of the colorations in Candace Eisner Strick's old Strickwear designs, before her yarn became unavailable. But of course her line was colored with gradually shifting strands of relatedly colored yarns, not a single strand, as with the Twisted Fibers yarns. In any case, I bought three wheels for the shop and look forward to talking with the owner about carrying them in the studio permanently. What a joy. I do SO love to find Michigan producers!!! Above is a photograph of the three wheels that I bought for the shop.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Third Coast Fiber Arts Festival, Second Annual -- Early Notice

So many people have been asking for a heads-up, so here it is: We have scheduled the Second Annual Third Coast Fiber Arts Festival for Friday and Saturday, October 25-26, 2013, again at my beloved McGregor Memorial COnference Center, midtown Detroit, on the Wayne State University campus. We now learn that the dates coincide with another local festival, but we had absolutely no choice in the matter when we scheduled it some months ago. In any event, the dates chosen for local events had not yet been posted. We were dealing with a list of instructors who had already contracted to teach on knitting cruises, etc., and we had to heed the Jewish high holidays. Please look for additional news in this blog and at Knitters Review, the events list. Here is a partial list of instructors (the list is growing): Laura Bryant (with a big Prism trunk show in addition to workshops, and book-signings for her new XRX book), Chris Bylsma (we will have a large selection of her patterns), Edie Eckman (the crochet queen!), Candace Eisner-Strick (yet more of her brilliant workshops), Barry Klein (with a huge Trendsetter trunk show, in addiiton to workshops), Sarah Peasley (she was a huge hit last year!), Lynne Wardrop (more Siamese socks!), Jill Bigelow Suttell (workshops galore), and............stay tuned. The call for vendors will go out fairly soon; we will be moving the vendor floors so that all of them are above ground level. svb

Friday, February 8, 2013

After Long Beach -- A Rumination....

You know, I have had a very hard time with Chinese productions. I am such a champion of American wares, particularly Michigan wares, that I have even sent yarn back to hand-dyers when I discover that the yarn stock was made in China. But I have finally made an exception. Trendsetter had begun distributing Lotus Yarns, which are thoroughly Chinese. I went back and forth, back and forth, and finally decided to ask Barry to tell me about the company. He has a very good friend, as it turns out, stationed near the factory to keep tabs on it -- he assures me that labor practices are not exploitive, that the animals are NOT killed in order to produce fiber (I was worried especially about the scrumptious 100% mink yarn), and that the chemicals used are no more harmful to the earth than those used in the United States or Italy. He pledges his word on this, and he is an honorable man. He wouldn't deal with an abusive company. So -- we have Lotus yarns, the mink and the bamboo for now, and more later, once I can afford to place the order. Just want to clarify why, suddenly, some Chinese yarns appear. svb

Long Beach Adventure, Part 2 of 2

.....and then we went to Long Beach in our cute little Nissan Sentra -- discovered the luggage problem (see previous entry), and fell into bed like big lumps. The TNNA convention in Long Beach, the summer show, is held in the L Beach Convention Center, which is a really nice facility just off Ocean Drive. It features some marvelous close-at-hand cafes, including a gorgeous little crepe restaurant that made me want to move in, and very few of the usual beach-y kitsch shops. So it's civilized. Here is the entry hall, with the Yarn Tasting exhibit:
There are hundreds of exhibitors -- and of course we bought quite a lot of wonderful yarn-y things, some amazing shawl pins at good prices, and some more Ozark handspun:
We got some table-top MACHINES, the identity of which I am keeping a surprise until they come. And, because Ellen Taylor and I are cooking up a spring surprise (think GINORMOUS FLOWERS), I bought some eccentrically wonderful yarn made from T-shirt strips --by Skacel -- called Tee Cakes. Here is one example:
and then we met up with Larry's son Bobbie, who is the executive chef for the vast Yahoo empire in San Jose/Santa Clara, with his wondrous partner Chris (Bobbie is on the left).
....whereupon we went to an amazing pier, walked the full length, ate fattening 1950s style ice cream treats at a cafe on the end of the pier, drove ALL OVER Los Angeles to have a close look at Hollywood (it smells funny), Melrose (a great, funky neighborhood), super fancy drives with zillion-dollar homes, and a place unlike anything I've seen before called Sweet Lady Jane's Cafe, where we had desserts (ambrosia, I tell you -- just gorgeous stuff) and coffee for lunch. All in all, a great, great trip. We got to rest. I didn't have to think about students or book manuscripts or ANYTHING. When we came home, I expected that the cats would be mad at us. Does Sheba look at all mad?????
Love to everyone. svb

The Long Beach Adventure, Part I of 2

This past weekend, as many of you know, Larry and I blasted off (!) from Metro airport in search of Long Beach, California, by way of St. Louis. Southwest did its usual, fine job -- I do think it's my fave airline, though the seats keep getting skimpier on all airllines. Aisles are narrower too, each and every year. But I digress. The object of the game was the semi-annual TNNA convention (The National Needlearts Association), which is the big trade show for people who sell yarn, needlepoint and other embroidery supplies, knit and crochet patterns, and other fibery stuff. This time, we arranged two things in advance -- a romp through Barry Klein's amazing warehouse in Van Nuys, California -- the home of Trendsetter Yarns and the lines that Trendsetter distributes -- and some time with Larry's son, Bob, and his partner, Chris. They live in the San Jose area and were able to fly down to meet us for Saturday and much of Sunday. I will omit the fact that I left my luggage at the Budget Rental Car kiosk at LAX. Why dwell on evidence of COMPLETE STUPIDITY? Worse, I didn't tumble to the fact until we got all the way to Long Beach, after an entire day of frolicking (see below). The wonderful people at Courtyard Marriott arranged for a sedan to pick up the bag, which fortunately had NOT been stolen. Let's start instead with the trip to the Trendsetter warehouse in Van Nuys. Here, moving at about 5 mph, was our introduction to California (it's I-405):
Then we went inside this lovely building (they're much bigger than this -- just a front shot by one of the doors):
There, we found the fabulous Karolyn (Barry and his great helper, Heidi, were already at the Long Beach convention). Here I am in the vast yarn wonderland with Karolyn -- note that she is writing things down. She was having trouble keeping up. Sad but true. We had a shopping cart like the ones they have at Costco or maybe Home Depot.....I was throwing things into it....
and here she is in front of the BIG SHOPPING CART (isn't this just unbelievable? Under those bags of yarn is a MOUNTAIN).
Just look at the place! I thought I'd died and gone to putting an incurable alcoholic in a saloon and locking her in or something .....
Now I'm going to create a separate blog entry for the expo itself. Stay tuned. svb

Thursday, February 7, 2013


I promise to tell you all about the trip to Long Beach (the National Needlearts Association convention) this past weekend, complete with photographs -- but tomorrow or Sunday. I now need to go deal with some freshmen. I'd rather eat a bag of nails. svb