Saturday, December 12, 2015

I know......!

Yes, yes, don't nag.   I know it's been ages since I put fingers to keyboard -- but, until yesterday, I couldn't figure out how to access my own blog because we changed e-mail addresses/carriers, and beyond that, it's end of semester -- and here I am trying not to die.  Next term, I teach a wonderful new course for which a small but eager bunch of students have registered -- American Frontiers  (we have had many of them, and there are several continents to treat) -- so that's a lot of work.  And at the shop, we are dealing with a number of things -- good people coming in steadily, as we had hoped would happen when we moved to the west city of the Detroit Metro area, but not quite the autumn rush that we used to have.   This is happening everywhere -- the industry is doing a bit of a contraction, and the internet is hurting everyone.

Most recently, my good, good friend Kelly, owner of Knitting on the Fringe, decided to pack up her wonderful stock and sell it on line from a warehouse, along with her gorgeous, handcrafted jackets and yarns.  Kelly was a student in my university classes when I still had brown hair and she was still a law student.   We met again only a few years ago because of the two yarn shops (I had lost track of her).  She joins Sherrie and Carrie of Knit-A-Round (Ann Arbor) and the co-owners of Center Street Knits in Northville, another yarn shop to the northwest of us, and any number of small producers who just can't keep pumping money into their enterprises.   The bottom line might be that, if you don't have some kind of outside subsidizing source, it will be difficult indeed (though not impossible) to make a profit sufficient to justify a staff.  Larry works for nothing in financial terms; indeed, we both work for the satisfaction of it, not for anything like a reasonable return. 

I have said this before, and all I can do is to repeat it:   People will learn, sooner or later, that the internet, Ravelry,, Crafty, all the rest, are boons to all of us -- I send people to Patternfish, for instance, because it's refereed -- but also a major threat to all of us.  We lose the personal relationships that knitting and crochet have to be about, at least in part.  YouTube is not a reliable teacher; there are tapes out there that are just plain nonsense.  Shop owners and their experienced instructors can be relied on, at least much more often.  You can't have a social group on the internet, just virtual groups, and that's not face-to-face.   I don't like buying yarn without touching it.   I expect that more and more people are simply deciding to meet in coffee shops where they think they won't have to pay some shop owner five or ten bucks, or pay for yarns in a particular shop.  That may be right.   But it's a risk, because those same shops sooner or later will close.   It's a low-profit enterprise as it is.  It does make me sad, I have to confess, when people say they think it's unfair to charge them five or ten dollars for a two-hour knitting group.  Often, they also think it's unfair to "make" them buy yarn in house.  So I think the problem really is the retail problem generally, made worse by internet competition:  NOBODY can survive if revenue falls and overhead stays the same.   We have no choice but to ask people to help us with overhead.  

If I see one more person in the shop with a cell phone in hand taking pictures of the label on some yarn and then leave to check prices on line, I am likely to go out into the street and SCREAM. 

All of this just to get people thinking.   For now, we're fine, though we're not exactly rolling in it!   And now I am going to get dressed quickly and head to the shop.  For now, until Wed., when I have to administer and evaluate an MA exam, and then until Friday, when I get hit with drifts of final papers and exams, I'm more or less free!    So I'll be back here to talk about other things SOON.


Sunday, October 11, 2015


.....Recently, Larry and I drove to the Blue Dress Barn, an interesting old structure near Benton Harbor, Michigan-- drove to Kalamazoo, MI, on Saturday, then made the short hop to Lake Michigan on Sunday morning.   The grounds are lovely -- a delightful jumble/jungle of poorly kept and therefore very inviting shrubs, grass, flower beds, etc.   The event?   My fabulous nephew, Nicholas VanBurkleo, married Abby, now also VanBurkleo, so now they get to be happy forever after, and I think they really WILL be.   Here is the gorgeous duo:

.....also recently, I got through the nightmare of poor copy-editing and a host of other problems -- and then finished the index, which was genuinely exhausting......with luck, Cambridge U Press will actually publish my new book, Gender Remade..., on schedule....November 30 or so.  Once it's in hand, maybe I should get drunk for the first time in my life.  

.....and finally, here is a retro turban and cowl that I cooked up out of triangles.   Probably a bit TOO retro for most people.   But Sharon and I like it anyway.....out of Schoppel wool, Reggae Ombre.

and finally finally finally, here is an outrageous crocheted boa that I made yesterday out of Hairy Lala (yes, that's the right name) -- ENJOY.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Ruminations after Sally's Visit..

It's been awhile since I last sat down to talk with friends.....has to do in part with the arrival of page proofs for my new book (it may well kill me to get it through the page-proofs stage), but also with the visit of the wonderful Sally Melville, with her fabulous workshops and dinner-time presentation in downtown Farmington.   Both Larry and I, not to mention Sharon, Ellen, Nick, and the courageous server (the very pregnant Emily, who works for Cowley's Restaurant), loved every minute of it AND dropped in our tracks for two days afterward.

And then came the 24-hour coverage of Pope Francis, and soon (October 6) comes my 71st birthday, which is just plain unbelievable and also a bit scary.  These things have converged in my mind.   So let me try to sort it all out. 

Sally's wonderful talk over dinner, a week ago today, was about working with one's hands -- the way such things heal, offset the horrors and pace of modern life (the stress, the illnesses borne of stress, the ugliness and violence on all sides, the brain's ability to pass on to the body such worries and dark messages).  These things have been proved scientifically.  I have long thought, after hearing some of Sally's ruminations a number of years ago, that the resurgence of handknitting, crochet, weaving, and other fiber arts has to do with exactly that -- a need to be PRESENT in our own lives, in the world of quiet and reflection and human-paced activity.  The need to exist without worry or dread in the privacy of our own bodies -- perhaps in the company of others, but often in our own best company.

Once upon a time, I was a church organist -- began to do such things at about age 12 in Worthington, Minnesota, after having spent 8 years to that point in piano and then organ instruction.  My teacher for the piano was a lovely fellow, Prof. J. Earl Lee, at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota -- where we had lived for quite a while until we moved to Worthington.  My mother bravely drove me to Sioux Falls once a week for years -- until everyone decided that my hands were never going to sprout fingers long enough to reach 12 keys.   You need long, skinny fingers to master, say, the Russian repertoire.  So I fell back into church work and private lessons -- in Worthington at St. John's Episcopal Church and then, later, in West St. Paul, Minnesota, at Ascension Episcopal Church, where I finally got to play a pipe organ.  I did that until my late 20s, after leaving graduate school for my first professional job at the United States Supreme Court (a documentary editor).  I played that organ, in fact, for my father's funeral and, later, my mother's.  It was one way to say goodbye, very quietly, sitting on a hard, wooden bench all by myself in an organ loft.   In retrospect, I can see that I was also giving something away, but at the time, one doesn't see that.

So, when I listen to Francis, it's only a  hop-skip-jump to those early days in the Episcopal Church, which is still in many ways the Roman church done up in English and without celibate priests.  The music, the liturgy, the seductive power of ritual, are present just as surely as in Rome's St. Peter's Basilica or the Sistine Chapel -- or, in this case, the New World's Cathedral of Peter and Paul, where Francis spoke so very quietly and brilliantly of the human being's need to sit down, be quiet, help others, connect across lines of artificial division.

Francis speaks of our power to heal one another.  He urges us to find our own way, but to undertake such a thing even when it's difficult.  We do damage each and every day -- with the ratrace, the incessant looking at clocks, the violence in so many parts of life (competition with one another for no good reason at all -- as with the bizarre competition between yarn shops), rhetorical meanness and spitefulness and savaging.  My mother, Gladyce, once said that it was always easier to be nice than to be horrible to one another.  Why do we not pay attention?  And why -- this is one major point, I guess -- why do I think first of Elaine Clark when I think of my mother's words?

Attachments area
For those of you who don't know her:   Elaine is a now-retired professor of medieval history at UM Dearborn.  I have known her for 30 years.  On every day for all of those years, Elaine has made socks and little sweaters and hats and other gear for children (and, sometimes, adults) in need.  She learned to knit in early life, from nuns in a Catholic school.   Is it a coincidence that Elaine is always nice, always generous, always well-centered and kind???  That her face is completely at peace when the wooden double-points are in play?  You can sense a calming presence when she is in the same room.  The knitting is not coincidental.  Science tells us that the brain's chemistry changes when we knit.   Alpha waves smooth out; the supply of endorphins (the happy stuff) increases, as if while running or working on the treadmill.  We know, too, and Sally reminded me of it the other night, that older people with Alzheimer plaques in their brains actually can forestall the symptoms with knitting.

So let's all stop for a minute and ask why we are flailing through life like one-woman (one-man) demolition teams.  Where is the JOY?   When did joy become something we gave or experienced only at the moment of marriage, at passing the bar, at finding the perfect new coat or shoes?  How about at moments of forgiveness?   And how do our hands and handiwork advance the search for peace -- the search for alternatives to violence, dehumanization, the computers' tendency to put the mind elsewhere, no longer in the present?  

Go to your local yarn shop.  Gather some friends when you do it.  Speak only of joy-inducing things when you knit or crochet with them.  Make something for someone who has nothing.  Think of it as an homage to Sally.   Or to Francis.  Or to Elaine.  Or perhaps to my mother, Gladyce Bessie, who was the best person I've ever known.   If only she had lived forever.  Pick the one you want to memorialize, or come up with your own.... but don't fail to sit down soon and simply be mindful, present in your world, aware of the small joys that can be found every day, if we slow down and look for them.  In an E. M. Forster novel, there is a two-word chapter:   "Only connect."   That's the message, I guess.  I apologize for using so many words to say such a small thing.         


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Sally's Coming!

Be sure to check out the latest issue of the Artisan Knitworks newsletter and/or the website for full information about Sally Melville's upcoming visit -- which will include a gala dinner on Sunday night at a Farmington (MI) area restaurant -- lecture, Q and A, book signing, plus supper.     Enjoy!   svb

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Back from Allegan!

Each year, fiber artists and others gather at the Allegan County Fairgrounds in western Michigan for the Michigan Fiber Festival -- a lovely, good-sized event with very high quality offerings.   This year was no exception -- though I have to say the interiors of the various metal buildings (excepting only the comparatively remote, large "barn") were insufferably hot.  One thermometer registered almost one hundred degrees Fahrenheit.  That's just plain ridiculous, and if it continues, artisans may well decide not to come to Michigan.  Fans succeeded mainly in batting hot air around.  Someone needs to give serious, sustained thought to how this very serious problem can be remedied.  When you have hundreds of people milling around in that kind of heat, you court disaster, particularly since some of us are no longer 20 years old.   I know that the heat also suppressed sales.  Nobody buys heaps of wool in 100-degree heat.  I actually overheard two women talking about how they were just going to leave because they would be ill if they stayed.  Not good.   And one vendor told me that her sales were down dramatically as compared to last year.    Could be any number of causes -- but the heat surely had something to do with it.

More positively:  I saw many of my favorite people -- beginning with the wonderful Ellen Minand of Ellen's Half-Pint Farm in Norwich, Vermont.   Ellen makes big, beautiful skeins of hand-painted yarn, typically in DK weight but also in light worsted weight:   I got gorgeous hanks of wool-silk and some new fingering weight yarns with a subtle glint -- Angelina or something just like it.  They're all in the shop now in big baskets near the door.  One of Ellen's hanks makes a woman's sweater up to size large, and Ellen has been known to make additional yarn if needed from a couple of yards; I send it to her and she works hard to get a perfect match.   But it's only happened once.   And that was with a woman who needed a size 56.

Here are two general shots of the inside of the "barn" -- the only cool building among 5 or 6.   I do recommend that everyone drive there next year.  Call me -- I will be driving, and I can take up to 3 others in my cute little Beetle.   If a large number want to go, we can rent a van from Enterprise.  I did that one year, and the result was just incredibly fun.   Had I not been working to get a book to press the past couple of months, I'd likely have tried it again this year.

DO NOT MISS the guy with knitted antlers.

Please NOTE that Sarah Peasley comes to the shop this weekend to teach two workshops -- one on double knitting, the other on cables.   These are fabulous, and we still have a bit of room.  So call the shop pronto.   THEN on September 18-21, we have Sally Melville -- the legendary Sally.   Check your e-mail (and this site) for further information.     Love to everyone.  

Friday, July 31, 2015


Well, Larry and I negotiated the horrendous move from the east side of the Detroit Metro area to the west side -- a move that a lot of people think is like moving to South Dakota.   No.   In fact, it's like moving to Montana.    But.   That's because we hired a horrid moving company (do NOT hire Grosse Pointe Moving).  I am trying to forget all of the details.   Let's just say that a refund is in the mail.

At the west-side end, we have the usual array of boxes, bags, and other items to open and sort.  Things are made much worse by the quantity of YARN.   So we set up a big table in the shop with a huge pile (HUGE) of odd lots of yarn that I will not live long enough to use.   At some point (I need to get some energy back), I'll tag each item separately and put it in a real stash area in the basement; but, for now, it's 2.50 an ounce.   I will bring more in today.

On the academic side:   LOOK AT THIS!    It's in copy-editing stage now -- I have got through chapter 2, on to chapter 3-8 on Monday through Wednesday or so.   What a cool outcome.  Look at the fierce women on the cover -- they have KNIVES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  On the roof of a salmon factory.

  • Gender Remade
  • Citizenship, Suffrage, and Public Power in the New Northwest, 1879–1912

    VanBurkleo, Sandra F.
    Published: Not yet published - available from December 2015

    Price is not yet set




Sunday, July 19, 2015

DO NOT MISS This -- especially if you're having a bad day.

GET A LOAD Of THIS!!!   Copied from the dear Lana Niemeth's Facebook page.
Here's a precious giraffe named Misha kissing her newborn baby calf heart emoticon

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Visitations upcoming!!!

On August 22 - Another Saturday with Sarah!     Sarah Peasley returns with two new workshops - offered previously at national fiber-arts expos.   In the morning: Basic Double Knitting Techniques. In the afternoon: Basic Cable Techniques.  The prices are the same as her June classes: $60 for either class and $110 for both. Click the class titles above to learn details. Call or stop by to register.   Space will be strictly limited to about 16 for each workshop


Anothesally melviller Big Announcement: Mark your calendars - We are thrilled to announce that the incomparable Sally Melville will visit Artisan Knitworks for a long weekend on September 18-20.   Watch for details.


 As some of you know, Sally is an old friend of ours - she visited our east-side locations more than once, always to a full house.  She is doing a very bad job of retiring.  She is the author of many well-known and well-regarded books for knitters - among them, Style, The Knit Stitch, The Purl Stitch, Color, and Mother and Daughter Knits - and the creator of the now-iconic Einstein Coat.  


We can say this much:  On Friday night, September 18, somewhere in downtown Farmington, Sally will offer a public lecture about the process of working with our hands - why we do it, what difference it makes in the modern world.  (For those of you who have never met her - Sally is a fabulous teacher and lecturer).  There will be a small entrance fee and light refreshments.   This talk will be suitable for all crafters - young and old, women and men.   Then on Saturday and Sunday, she will offer three or four knitting workshops in house - topics to be decided with your help.  We have to limit seats to 16 or 17 each. 


Go to the Sally Melville Knits website, look at her 3 and 6-hour offerings, and give us a ranked list of 3.   Do it within the next few days.   We will be making a decision within the next 7-10 days.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

....rhe river runs deep

.....In America, the river of division, racial hatred, and violence runs deep.   Today, I wanted to weep (again) when the ex-governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford -- I think of him as Mr. Appalachian Fling -- said, in response to a question about whether Americans maybe ought to at least re-think the whole question of gun registration, "Oh I think that's premature...." and then he went on to say that he was sure liberals would SEIZE on the occasion of death, yet more death, to agitate yet again.

Well, when ARE people going to demand that lawmakers do something?  80% of the people in the United States, poll after poll, want gun registration laws revised and tightened.  A majority think it would be entirely proper to institute laws that would eliminate guns suitable only for warfare.  Will the citizenry really stand by like a bunch of  wooden soldiers and let lawmakers do NOTHING?  Year after year?   As if these demands are somehow radical.   It's time to stand up.  These bozos are elected to do the people's bidding.   Perhaps we don't know how to stand up and make demands.  We begin at the ballot box, maybe by running for office and standing for things that mean something.  In the meantime, we should be burying electing officials with petitions and written demands, with rallies and parades.  ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

Does nobody realize that the pastor and state senator shot down, Clementa Pinckney, has a surname linked directly to one of the most prestigious slave-holding families in South Carolina?   His relatives probably were slaves in Charles Pinckney's household.  He embodied the triumph of good over evil, and now he's dead at the hand of a skinhead.

A few short decades ago, it was three little girls in a church in Birmingham, blown to bits in the basement of their church by Klansmen.  People in theaters should not have to worry about whether some deranged terrorist is going to blast them in their seats.  Children in schoolrooms ought to be safe without armed guards and metal detectors.   Guns ought to be used for hunting, self-defense, policing, and wars.  They ought NOT to be in the hands of people who have them in order to blast away at other people, people they don't like, people who are differently colored.  They should not be able to buy them in order to massacre children and old women in churches while they attend Bible study.  An 87-year-ld woman was gunned down by a 21-year-old racist.  He was in the church because its members refuse to close the doors to people who want to be there.  A few miles from where all of this happened, there are confederate flags flying on government buildings.  No matter what their apologists might say, confederate flags STAND for the evils of race slavery and racism.  To fly that flag over public institutions is to grant legitimacy to THE most destructive racism ever to have existed in America -- the enslavement of Africans for three centuries under color of law.

This is an outrage.   We know that. But we sit here like FOOLS, guns blasting all around us, black people being targeted simply because they're black - more guns and more massacres than in any other nation on earth except for places like Yemen -- and we just let gun manufacturers' lobbies rule the roost.  We say that white terrorists are "deranged," but we call black shooters "thugs," as if it's in their character or genes.  We should be able to walk the streets, go to church, attend school, buy movie tickets without wondering if we will get shot.  Pure and simple.  And the ex-governor, Mr. Appalachian Fling, ought to be kicked out of office.  He cannot be trusted to ensure the safety and happiness of the nation.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

some favorite people....

This has been a very quiet week in the fiber-arts world.  Artisan Knitworks LLC has been so quiet that I have wondered why I was coming in each day.   School is over this week; parents are re-grouping; and the weather has been, shall we say, uncongenial.  But today I was reminded all over again why I come in.   Here are photos of two nifty people -- Wanda (in the gorgeous golden dress, fresh from church) and Eileen, otherwise known as Miss Wiggins....with her shiny new two-at-a-time socks.    Thanks to both of them for being in our lives.    svb

Monday, June 1, 2015


and here is our beautiful but stunningly stupid cat, Bubba.   A picture tells all...!       svb

Back from Columbus!

Every year, the National Needlarts Association (TNNA) has several expos around the country -- in summer, for fall and winter wares, and in winter for spring/summer goods (there are also a couple of cash-and-carry shows, mostly for needlepoint).  Usually, though not invariably, the summer show is in Columbus, Ohio.  This is a show for retailers and designers only, not the public.   It features all of North America's (and some of Europe's) best makers of yarns, needleart fibers, tools, and other, related goods.  There are dozens of classes, some of them related to craft, others to retail.  It's huge, and it is especially huge in summer.  When you think yarn, after all, what do you think?  WOOL.   Winter.   Fall.  So -- that's the biggest show.

It's impossible to capture the scale of things in photographs.  But here are some examples.  Multiply things visually by ten or twenty times at each side.  Click to enlarge.

   I confess that I go as much to see good friends and to see what's in designers' minds as I do to see yarn.   Here's one of those friends -- Heidi from Trendsetter: is an amazing coat on display at the Koigu booth -- just stunning, a modular knit.  (If you don't know Koigu, it's a Canadian firm -- they make fingering weight handpaint (the best known iteration is a shawl called Charlotte's Web) and some other yarns.   Look at this up close!  Say to yourself, "This was knitted in fine, fingering weight yarn."

And -- blare of trumpets -- here is the wonderful Nick Sielicki, group leader for our Wednesday night knit-crochet group.  Master of multiple languages (Russian, Polish, French, Spanish, on and on) and master of the hook and needle.   He helped me make choices this time -- I just LOVED having young eyes along for the purpose.  We hope that his group will continue to attract not only old farts like me, but young people of both sexes. 

 This year, there was a cash-and-carry component -- a new feature.   So I brought back some beautiful shawl pins, some stunning Alpaca and Merino Bumps (with Big Tools), and samples of things we have placed on order for August and September.    Come have a look.  There bill be a Bag Smith trunk show sometime soon (with more Bumps!).         svb

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Columbus HO! (also Columbus OH!).

TNNA | The NeedleArts Trade Show

This weekend, Larry and I and the wonderful Nick (who leads our Wed. night knit-crochet group) take off for a long day in Columbus, OH, at the TNNA trade show.   This is the big-deal expo where we can see what the various yarn companies are offering for the upcoming fall-winter season, and where we also can study designs -- I confess that I go mostly to see what is going on in the design and color world.  But -- we get to hug friends.   I also want to introduce Nick to a couple of particularly good friends.   He's there to help me select new, exciting goods for the shop.  He's young; I am (shall we say) less young.   But he's also there to study the scene:   I think that Nick will be a sweater designer before long.   

I will make report when we return -- I hope with some photographs, if the camera works this time.  I am not permitted to photograph the individual vendor booths (the show is huge, and much is copyrighted), but I can sneak some general views of the terrifyingly large market floor with my cell phone, I think.       svb

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Children and Work

Tonight, with two wonderful part-time employees in attendance at the Wed. night knit group, there was a fabulous, though troubling, conversation at Artisan Knitworks about minimum wage and children.   We all agreed that nobody on this Earth can survive on less than 16,000 a year.  But then one said -- she thought controversially -- that maybe kids ought to earn less than adults for their first job.  It seems wrong, she reasoned, for a kid with no experience to earn the same fifteen (proposed) dollars as an older, more experienced household head.  I wondered whether kids HAD to earn money most of the time, in the sense of financial necessity, or whether they just wanted 'stuff'; if the latter, I said, maybe they should read books instead.   No better chance to read books will ever appear in any of our lives than when young.  Later, time never appears.   Time has to be made.

So -- what do I really think about this?   The historian in me hears "child labor" in any mention of reduced wages for kids -- that's more or less what people said in, say, the 1890s when they hired kids to run looms or heavy machinery instead of adults ("Kids don't have the life experience, so why should they earn the same amount?") and then of course they'd hire nothing but kids and laugh all the way to the bank.  On the other hand: Kids don't have families to raise.  Moms and dads have greater responsibility ordinarily, unless children are working under extraordinary duress.   I think of the kids who had to get special work permits (all of which began at the turn of the 20th century) to get out of school when schooling became compulsory in order to earn money for the family.

I guess I think, finally, that flipping a hamburger, or running a loom, or washing a car, is the same for kids and adults.   If we pay people based on what they DO, then I think wages should be the same -- maybe a better minimum wage would help kids spend fewer hours working and more hours reading (or walking, or painting).   The real question is how to persuade employers and the citizenry to take THEIR responsibilities seriously:  Work deserves good pay, regular pay raises, and fair treatment.  If unions really bite the dust, then it will be up to policy makers (popularly elected, remember) to insist on it -- that's why we have unions, by the way.  If we want smart leaders, we need to support kids in every sense of the word.  They need to have time to become whatever they COULD become.

This was really the other person's point.  He had a lot of friends who worked in high school, as did he, and most of them did it because, otherwise, they would not have been able to pay for anything -- They had been made responsible for insurance, clothes, etc.   And he reminded us that, in Europe, kids are supported by community and family until they are DONE with their education; they also don't seem to need their own cars -- blare of trumpets -- because they have excellent mass transit and compact cities.

Much food for thought here.   I'm melancholy at the idea that kids are still having to work each and every day, not just as students, but as wage earners.   I did it at age 12 and every year thereafter; I have wondered more times than not what my life might have been like if I could have gone directly to university instead of taking 8 years off to earn money; if I had not had four jobs at age 14, two jobs at age 12.   How many more books could have been read?   How many more books would I have written later in life?   And so on.   What would have happened if I had been able to accept the offer at Yale-- which I turned down because (you guessed it) I needed to continue to help support the family.  And so I went to community college for a year.    What is youth for, if not to gather unto oneself the tools and habits of mind required for later years?   We have forgotten perhaps.  Or perhaps we have never really learned the value of a person's need for quiet, for contemplation, for doing nothing more frenetic than thinking.  If you guys are reading this:  I get it.  I do think the real problem, though, is that we don't support children (we really don't); to spoil kids, or to try to teach them the value of the dollar by making them work at an early age, without serious help from the community or schools, is not to support; nor do we take care of our workers.   It's a sorry condition all around.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Sarah Peasley!!!

Only a few short weeks remain.   Go to our website, or visit your last issue of the Purl Daily (the Artisan Knitworks newsletter) for information about the two fabulous workshops to be held on Saturday, June 6.....Sarah Peasley will join us to teach a morning workshop on Entrelac, and then an afternoon workshop on Intarsia -- an updated, very exciting version of Intarsia (not Santa on a sweater, though you still can do that if you want!).   Free lunch if you sign up for both, plus a nice discount for the double-header.  

Be clear:   I offer courses as do some other very good people at the studio.  But, when we have visitors, it's because they do things that we do NOT do, or, in Sarah's case, do them better than we do.  Visit her website.       She will return in July and August, but with different workshops.    svb   

Friday, May 8, 2015

Give Thought To This.....You? Your friends?

A Special Note for our Friends
We have been saddened to learn that our wonderful shop manager, Ellen Taylor, has been forced by personal circumstance to accept a full-time managerial position in another industry.  For the moment, Sandra VanBurkleo will be stepping in to assume some of Ellen’s responsibilities and to take care of everyone most of the time.  Larry, of course, will be available as usual.   But we also need to hire one or two part-time people to work one or two days a week.  Yarn-shop jobs are never particularly lucrative.   But they are rewarding, and we do offer not only a better-than-usual hourly wage but also a generous in-store discount.  In exchange, the person needs to be at least an intermediate knitter with equivalent crochet skills.  We are looking for someone possessed of both ambition and modesty.  We expect our sales people to be non-smokers, eager to sell and learn, well informed about yarn and tools, cooperative rather than competitive, willing to help us maintain the store without complaint (who likes to vacuum?), and prepared to work evening hours if needed.   If interested, please call Larry, Ellen, or Sandra at 248-427-0804.  Please don't respond on this blog; it's better to discuss such important things in person.    svb

Back from Maryland....

.....Well, I went to Maryland.   I left on Friday in mid-day, and successfully navigated between all of the semis and potholes and construction zones on I-75 and I-80 and I-70 and goddess knows which to Somerset, PA, for the night, and then to  the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival at West Friendship, Maryland, more or less without incident.  This is one of two of the nation's largest fiber festivals; the other is in Rhinebeck, New York, in the autumn.  (And don't forget about our smaller but wondrous festival in the near future at Allegan, Michigan -- check out the events list at ) 

In the past, I have driven to both -- but in recent years, I skipped Maryland.  I had thought that the vendors were looking pretty much the same.  So, while there are wonderful artisans in the Maryland event, not to mention HUNDREDS of them, I thought I'd give it a rest for awhile and see if the vendor list shook out in some way.  Rhinebeck has also seemed to me to be a bit edgier, a bit more innovative, though that could have to do with taste.

Now, I'm less sure.  This was a wonderful, varied festival -- and I did notice signs on some vendors that said "New Vendor."  So perhaps the organizers had much the same idea......

The problem is that I had trouble with my camera.  So -- here is what I got before it no longer worked (the lens cover wouldn't uncover -- stuck in some bizarre way).   When you come into the event, you are guided by a fairly large number of cops with lights lanes, which can take up to an hour, particularly if you are silly enough to come early on Saturday morning for the first day (and the best pickings).  I learned that lesson, so I showed up a bit later, hung around in Somerset, PA, for a couple of extra hours.   I arrived at maybe 12:30.   And STILL -- acres and acres of cars.  The license plates indicate that the place is a magnet for every state east of the Mississippi, including the deep south -- and I did spot a Wisconsin plate.   I'll bet I could have found more, had I made a study of it.  Here is a sample -- you would need a panoramic camera to capture the whole thing:

.....Along the LOOOOONG path to the gate, some brave souls had yarn-bombed the railings in strips and pieces and both knit and crochet:

....and here is the rather uninspiring area just inside the entrance gate -- a number of small booths in tents -- cheaper than any of the many big buildings, but also less protected (it rains in Maryland!). 

After that, no camera.   If you look hard and long at the end of the path shown here, you will see a large building.  To the left of it is a lower road lined with yet more booths and dozens of food vendors -- and then there is an upper tier composed of very, very large exhibition buildings (this is the Howard County Fairgrounds).   I think there might be eight such buildings.   My good friend from way back, Dalis Davison of Dancing Leaf Farms is in one of the tents in the photo above, with all of her gorgeous handpainted yarns.  I bought a large number of her big, multi-yarn skeins (called "Biggie").  She has a cult following in Maryland, and for good reason.  When I lived in the District of Columbia, I could visit; now, I'm just too far away.  But she's still turning out beautiful stuff. 

In the very farthest (and biggest) building was my wonderful Ellen Minand of Half-Pint Farm in Norwich, Vermont -- and of course I stocked up.  I got some really lush, saturated skeins of Tencel and Wool in sport weight, 1100 yards to the skein -- enough to do up a Vitamin D cardigan or a lacy alternative (we have patterns downloaded from Ravelry).  I got some of her new colorway, Pretty Bird, in Falkland Wool -- very bright, the kind of colorations that can wake you up.  Some other things stuck to my fingers as well as I made my way from building to building -- and, because I am trying to help artisans stay alive, I passed up some things that I will talk to artisans about later.  It's always better if small small small producers can try to sell at full price; I need to secure at least a modest discount to resell (which can be as low as 20 or 25%).  

Anyway:  That's the report.  I drove home, avoiding the same array of potholes and semis and lane closures.  Americans ought to be MORE ashamed of their highways than they seem to be, and MORE willing to step up to the plate to put things right.   I tried to find antique shops in New Market and Mt. Airy (I was assured they were hotbeds of such shops), but the fact of the matter is that both towns looked to be hollowed out -- it was pretty depressing.  So I gave up the hunt for vintage buttons, at least for this trip.  I confess that I also was a bit TOO tired -- you start to feel  your age after long hours at the wheel.  Pulled into the shop late on Sunday and unloaded my treasures to much applause.  Had the idiotic camera performed properly, I could have had some really cool images.  I think it's time for a NEW ONE.     Hugs to everyone.     svb

Thursday, April 30, 2015

OFF TO BALMORE, as they say in Baltimore....

Well, sometime in the morning I'm driving off to West Friendship, MD, which is maybe 25 miles to the west of Balmore.......yup, that's how it's said.  The Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival is held annually at the Howard County Fairgrounds in, well, Howard County.....gorgeous rural area, lots and lots and lots of fascinating fiber artisans, thousands of visitors, tons of handcrafted yarn and roving and buttons and so on.   I am dying to see old friends.  I have not been back to the Maryland festival, which is one of the two biggest (the other is NY's festival in the autumn) for three years, and it's time.   Stay tuned.   I get to drive through SPRING again -- here, the leaves are barely showing; as I move toward Maryland, spring will HAPPEN.  There will be baby green, then real leaves and flowers.  I can hardly wait.   I will take picture.    svb

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Back from the Carolina FiberFest

Well, I drove to NC -- a feat never to be undertaken by the faint-hearted if the weather people predict thunderstorms.  What a mess.  HUGE rainfall, heavy winds, in waves..........but I got through, all the way to Sanford, North Carolina.  En route, I stopped (of course) at antique centers -- some of them in Amish Country (Ohio).   Here is a fun mall that I found early on: 

and then, of course, the Amish part began:

Presiding over this wonderful shop (Herschberger's) was an Amish woman with a beautiful daughter, the latter possessed of a horse-drawn cart.  I have to say I have NEVER seen an antique mall with such shiny, dust-free floors:

In Sanford, NC, I pulled into a very nice iteration of Holiday Inn Express -- my newfound fave motel chain (I think that my old standby, Hampton Inns, are getting a bit dated and old -- someone needs to get after the now-matted down comforters).  The next day, the Carolina Fiber Fest opened.  Here are some interior shots, with one of the makers from whom I bought some gorgeous handpainted yarn:

and here is my wonderful old friend, Jane the white tunic.  She's from Greensboro.  I had plotted to surprise her, and I guess I did.   She hardly knew what to do when this white-haired lady screamed, "Hey JANNNNNE" across the show floor.   We then went out to dinner -- a real treat.  Jane runs Emerald Isle Designs -- we met years and years ago at a Stitches Camp in upstate New York, when both of us were new widows. 
I found another delightful antique mall in downtown Sanford (here are some shots) and yet more wonderful antique buttons and buckles (really fine, in fact -- lots of Bakelite and celluloid, plus a set of mint crystal and gold buttons still on the card from "U.S. Occupied Germany") (!).

After that, on Saturday, I was off to Asheville, NC -- the home of my dear, dear old buddy, Stacey Budge, who makes Urban GypZ yarns and rovings and spinnings.  She also offers on-line classes and occasional, live workshops with the inventive Canadian, Jane Thornley.  I found her on Hendersonville Road in her delightfully messy little basement studio, made un-basement by huge windows.  Here she is!   I was her first wholesale customer, she once told me.  And she still has only three.  Take a look at her Etsy shop.  I bought a BOATLOAD of really interesting fingering-weight wool (single-ply, saturated), some lace weight Merino in hot pink and deep reds, and some idiosyncratic fingering (an experimental dying technique involving immersion dying and spatters) that she called Magical Snow (we made up some names for newly dyed lots while I was there).  We had lunch at a really nice place in the Biltmore district, across the street from where a good yarn shop used to be.  We talked about how tourist-y Asheville has become, how the rents are driving out artists who don't make stuff primarily for tourists (including Stacey and her husband, a therapist, who are looking around for a less pretentious and more authentic art district).  The situation is not helped by the fact that Stacey is also politically progressive in reactionary NC.  I bought the kind of things you see on her desk, in embarrassingly large quantities.  
..........and then I drove home.  Tennessee countryside still takes my breath away -- and then I stopped (do not laugh) at the Berea, Kentucky, craft center to buy Larry some dry-cured bacon (also in large quantity).  No accounting for what some people want most!  Here is the craft center and its interior:

Home mid-day Sunday -- tired, but greeted by some of our best customers who proceeded to buy lots of Stacey's yarn.
Why do I do this?   First, and the storms notwithstanding, I love to drive -- though I have to say it's much less fun with the number of highways under construction (what a mess in America!) and multiplications of huge semis.  Second, and more important, Artisan Knitworks continues to support small producers, the largely female artisans who sell their wares mostly at fiber festivals.   So.  Next up will be either Greencastle, Indiana, or the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.   Stay tuned.  

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Off to North Carolina

I feel the need to get out of Dodge, as we used to say, and so I'm going to drive to a new festival (at least new to me) in Sanford, NC, this coming weekend.  That's roughly southeast of Greenville, and (if it's not raining) a reasonable distance to the oceanfront, if I decide to keep going.  I do not recognize very many of the vendors at the festival --though one of them is my dear old friend, Jane Schwartz, who runs a small design company.  I'll surprise her.   I'm a little bit worried about the weather; long-term predictions are for rain and maybe some thunderstorms.  But who knows.   If the weather is bad, I'll hang around and save my gas money for the festival later in the month in Greencastle, Indiana, and of course for the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival on May 2-3.  I will take lots and lots of pictures, especially if I go to Carolina.    I say with a red face, by the way, that I did take pictures beyond the ones I posted previously at Bowling Green, but I can't figure out how to get them from phone camera to computer (!).   Nor can Larry.  The cord doesn't fit.  I'll be sure to use a real camera the next time.   I'm also working on some embellished modular squares that I will organize into a jacket; I'll post pictures of that one when it's done.   svb   

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Bowling Green added!

Close at hand is Bowling Green, Ohio, the home of Bowling Green State University and one of the best independent coffee shops I've ever seen, no matter where in the world -- it's called Ground for Thought, and it's in the historic downtown area.   If you are anywhere near Bowling Greene (which will happen if you travel north and south through Ohio on I-75), pull into town, go all the way through the fast-food strip to the real downtown, and turn left on Main Street.  I also had a fabulous lunch at Panera's, which people continually underestimate.  They make amazing black-bean soup, and I had an equally amazing Thai Chicken salad, with fresh, fresh greens and soy beans in it.

This annual event, sponsored by guilds, is a small but fruitful event -- one building on the Wood County Fairgrounds.  It doesn't look like much of anything.  But, as I told Carol Larsen of River's Edge Fiber, which is at Grand Ledge, Michigan, it's also one of the best in quality terms.  I always find great things to buy for Artisan Knitworks.  Here are two of the finds -- one a pile of drop-dead-gorgeous tweed alpaca blend (natural alpaca with coloring spun in from an amount of fine-quality Merino wool) and a small pile of alpaca with a copper binder (all from a farm in Ohio), and then some of Carol's stunning new gradient yarns -- LOOOOOOOOONG color runs of the kind usually associated with Freia Yarns or the equally beautiful versions done up at Twisted Fibers in Mason, Michigan.  Like the others, Carol has used the best quality Merino.   I think Carol's productions are really gorgeous, and, if you know the other companies' products, the prices are lower than you'd expect.  Come have a look if you're near the shop.   One of the cakes (actually two cakes packed as one to make socks) sold within an hour of my arrival.  If they go like hotcakes, I'll get in touch with Carol and have her ship some more.     svb

Friday, March 27, 2015

For Artisan Knitworks' Newsletter Readers

Note that Larry will be sending out another edition of the last newsletter.   Sarah Peasley's workshops are three hours long, not two hours; there will be lunch with the tuition; and the captions with the workshop descriptions were reversed.  Also, the 'dollar-off' promotion of Merino 8 goes on for another week; it does not end on March 24th (which was, um, some days ago).      Stay tuned.     svb

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Season is Upon Us!

Time to hit the road!   This weekend, I am going to inaugurate the fiber-festival season with a short jaunt to Bowling Green, Ohio -- to a small, delightful festival sponsored by the Black Sheep Guild (not the same guild as our own Black Sheet Guild in the Royal Oak area).   I love some of the people who sell stuff there -- such as the woman who calls herself Bad Amy.   I still carry a little gadget bag that she made -- covered in brassieres!   I thought it was odd that nobody on the east side of Detroit wanted it -- !!!!  It's a hoot.  So I adopted it.   Anyway:  Next up will be the fabulous and huge Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival on May 2-3, just after the great, medium-sized fiber event in Greencastle, Indiana, just to the south of Indie.  I hope to find some more one-of-a-kind hand-painted and hand-dyed yarns at all of these places.  Stay tuned!  I will take pictures.    svb

Sunday, March 1, 2015


Everyone, just look at this drop-dead beautiful thing.   Terrie Voigt (the gifted glass-button maker and all-around fiber genius from Troy, MI) made it in the wake of the workshop I did several weeks ago for the wonderful Textile and Fiber Arts Guild of Michigan (free-form crochet).   Sometimes, when I see this kind of thing, I well up.   What extraordinary joy this brings to the world.   If you want to see more, visit Terrie's blog --   


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Are you COLD and BLUE? A remedy...

So here is what you should think about if you get to feeling BLUE and COOOOOLD and afraid that warmth will never return in your lifetime.   It's ALMOST fiber-festival time, which means that, across the country, also across Canada and England and some other countries, people pour out of their locked-up houses with bushels and boxes of gorgeous hand-crafted yarn and set it up in tents in the middle of fields or fairgrounds -- and sell it to people like me.    I just bought some of the amazing yarns produced by Solitude, which is a small-farm-project enterprise in the Chesapeake.  We have had some of their amazing yarn (locally sourced, handdyed, locally spun, etc.) in the shop for awhile now.   It's gorgeous wool -- not the ruined kind of wool that American knitters sometimes think they prefer (made too soft, will pill instantly, etc.),   This time, I got a dozen skeins of the undyed alpaca-wool lace-light fingering weight shown below (the ones on the far right) with little slubs of dyed blue and green spun into the natural animal colorations.  When I go to the Maryland Sheep and Wool  Festival in May I'll talk with them some more, try to grab some of the stunning luxury-fiber hand paints made by JOY (Just Our Yarns), which is a survivor from the utterly amazing coop that closed in Alexandria, VA, a few years ago, Springwater Fiber Workshop, operated by two women who were principals at the fiber workshop.    So you see?  There is ground for optimism.  Soon there will be the Ohio and Indiana festivals (Bowling Green, Greencastle, etc.) and a bunch more.  I will put on lots of miles in the little Moonrock Silver Beetle.  Stay tuned.    svb


Lovely undyed black alpaca is blended with just enough Merino wool to give this lace weight yarn a little elasticity. It comes in undyed black and three subtle color variations created with dyed in the wool Merino. Elegant and very soft to make something special.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

OMG -- Look at this!! Copied in its entirety..... !!!

Penguins wearing sweaters are the cutest thing ever

Feb. 13, 2015 at 3:35 PM ET
Humans aren't the only ones bundling up right now: Some penguins can also be found warming up (adorably) in sweaters.
Penguins at Phillip Island Nature Parks who have been affected by oil spills wear tiny knit sweaters as protection against the elements, since oil affects their feathers and makes them vulnerable.
Little Penguin in knitted sweater
Phillip Island Nature Parks
"Knitted penguin jumpers play an important role in saving little penguins affected by oil pollution," Danene Jones, a spokesperson for the nonprofit, told in an email. "Oil separates and mats feathers, allowing water to get in which makes a penguin very cold, heavy and less able to successfully hunt for food."
The phenomenon of penguins wearing sweaters has charmed the Internet a few times over the years, as stories have emerged of Good Samaritans knitting tiny garments for the animals in need.
Little Penguins in knitted sweaters
Phillip Island Nature Parks
This week, another such story went viral, as the 109-year-old Alfred "Alfie" Date revealed in a sweet video interview that he started knitting the creations after hearing the call for sweaters.
"I can't say no," said Australia's oldest man and avid knitter. "It's a good way of getting along in life. You make friends all the time but you don't make a fool of yourself either."
Little Penguins in knitted sweaters
Phillip Island Nature Parks
Over 400 little penguins were affected by the last major oil spill near Phillip Island in 2001. Ninety-six percent of those animals were successfully saved and released back into the wild.
Though Phillip Island Nature Parks did put out a call for the sweaters for little penguins (a species of penguin unique to southern Australia and New Zealand), the organization now says it's got all the sweaters it needs.
"Thanks to everyone who has contributed," Jones told "We don't require any further jumpers!"
But penguin lovers can still find other ways to help the little creatures in need on the Parks' website, The Penguin Foundation.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

WOW! Ann Arbor in the News!

Look at this!   Some of you may know Ann Arbor's Riin Gill, one of the region's most gifted hand-painters of knitting yarn and roving.  She also has been working hard to make use of Michigan-raised wool -- you can see some of the fruits of that project here in gorgeous semi-solid skeins (mostly DK and worsted weight, with lots of non-Michigan yarns in lighter weights).   Artisan Knitworks has over 800 skeins of her yarn available in a trunk show through the 15th.   You have to see this to believe it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!    svb

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

For Friends of the Third Coast Festival

So very many of you have asked what we plan for the future of the Third Coast Fiber Arts Festival that I think it's probably time to provide an answer.   The two experiences we all had together at the beautiful McGregor Center at my very own university (Wayne State) were pure joy, at least for me and my very small staff.  The amazing instructors all had a memorable time as well, both years; some of them have asked when they can come back.

The problem, as I have told some of you, is that the second year of the festival coincided with the godawful publicity that dogged the city of Detroit for so many months during the bankruptcy.  We have artisanal vendors tell us, somewhat incredibly, that they were afraid to drive along freeways into midtown.  The vendor floor was about half of what it had been the year before -- and people didn't ask me WHY, they just concluded that the event had drawn fewer vendors (all of them were wonderful, by the way....numbers ought not to matter -- we had a LOT of them).  We had absolutely fabulous classes, many of which were one-of-a-kind.  I don't need to tell you how wonderful the instructors were; everyone knows the merits of people like Barry Klein, Laura Bryant, and Lily Chin.  In addition, our day-trippers (people who just cane in for the day) were less than half of the year before; and, once again, people told us later that they were afraid of the city.

Now, I am of two minds about this.  I work in midtown, and I know (as do thousands of other people) that midtown is bustling and fairly vibrating these days.  It's the opposite of something to fear; I have my own ideas about what animates some of these so-called fears.   But, to be sure, they are real, and I think this is important -- the media hypes this kind of thing day in and day out.

So here is the bottom line:   I am frankly tired of losing great loads of money -- when revenues run short, I'm the one who has to pay.  The classes were a raging success, and of course we had no trouble there ... we just didn't have enough to cover the catering, the hall, etc., in its entirety.  And the staff was barebones, exhausted, and (I'm sorry to report this) subjected to occasional abuse from people who must have thought we had a paid staff.  Three people put on a festival!

I am proud of what we did.  I loved the idea of bringing something beautiful to my beloved midtown.  I only recently paid it all we will wait awhile, I will try to figure out how to hold a mostly-educational event perhaps in a location that won't make people think they can't come.  I do conclude that I can't change people's minds.  The only way to learn about midtown is to actually visit, go to a restaurant, go to the campus and walk.......and so on.  It will  have to be somewhere else, maybe Dearborn, and I will want to find a sugar-mama or two before I try it again.   I'm not rich, and yarn operations in any case are under stress as the entire industry contracts.  But I'm an educator by day, also by night,'s hard for me NOT to try again. 

 OK?   That's as straight as I can get.  In the meantime, KNIT ON, CROCHET ON, and enjoy every minute of it.

So h  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Crochet Doodling....!

What a joyous time I had this past weekend with members of the Textile and Fiber Arts Guild of Michigan at a two day workshop in which I got to talk about free-form crochet in several forms for endless, blissful hours and watch people create really spectacular little pieces!   Some were architectural or hyperbolic -- others were simply little flights of whimsy.   I have been getting little notes of appreciation, so I must have done something right.   But, mostly, the participants made success possible with their energy and imagination.   What a crew!!!!!!!!!!   Here is a little bit of a neck warmer that I did up for the occasion......has a fat turquoise button that fits into virtually any of the major holes in the piece.   Anybody with basic crochet skills can do this.   I'm doing it again, though in an introductory way at Knit Michigan next month -- morning class.  In the afternoon I'll have another go (again introductory) at free-form knitting.    Here's my fun little neckwarmer (in Noro Silk Garden):