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Archive for August, 2003

Renaissance Festival

Sunday, August 31st, 2003

Well, my day at Michigan Renaissance Festival went about as well as any could have, and I did have a good time.
It started out cold. It was in the upper 60’s Farenheit when I woke up , and our furnace was actually blowing. Fortunately I had planned ahead last night for a “cold morning” outfit and a “warm afternoon” outfit, using layers I could peel off between shows.

(If you are not big on costumes you may wish to skip the first several paragraphs here.)

I started the day with layers over my regular costume, a tie-dyed purple skirt with black bodysuit, and a lot of necklaces, and of course a hip wrap or two. As a warmth measure, I then layered a caftan on top of the skirt and bodysuit. On top of my caftan I wore my purple coin hip wrap. Under my skirt I wore beige (the color of my skin) wool/angora legwarmers I got this week at Target for $6.99 , and worth every penny.

I also wore a knit “shrug” which is basically sweater sleeves without a sweater body, but pushed up to the elbows so they weren’t too visible. I had to wear strappy sandals so couldn’t layer any more on my feet. I wore a scarf and then a head wrap (sort of a turban but it didn’t cover my whole head). The head wrap helps me balance a basket on my head during the basket dance (and a cane during the cane dance). I was very glad to have those warmer layers in the morning while the temperature hovered just below 70F. Fortunately after that first performance, the sun came out for a few hours and then went behind clouds but didn’t rain, all afternoon and early evening.

We had one show before noon, then I peeled off the caftan, shrug and legwarmers. I then had some fun playing dress-up with Arlyn/Mahtaab who had brought extra costume pieces “just in case” someone wanted/needed them. So at that point I had short sleeves and skirt with two hip wraps and the same head wrap. She added more jewelry and a few scarves artfully safety-pinned to me as a sort of top and sleeves. It worked out great.

At about 12:30 we had a walking parade through the whole grounds. It’s about a mile of walking, but the big issue isn’t how far we walk, it’s how long it takes. I am not sure how long we actually took but it seems forever while you’re in it.

It’s a big deal, though… most people stop and watch when they hear the parade coming. Kids like it, especially. I do enjoy dancing with a bit of eye contact between myself and the audience. My head wrap turned out a bit too warm, I sort of overheated during the parade. Hey, it wasn’t much of a surprise… after a mile of dance-walking what else could I have expected?

The afternoon was somewhat social: My mother and Fred came to see our post-parade show. Mom was wearing a pair of sox I knit and gave to her… the op-art pair from the cover of the first Vogue Knitting to Go: Socks book.

And then, wonderful surprise, out of the blue: my friend Deb Harowitz/Scarlet Zebra was there with her hubby Jack (I showed their picture during Ann Arbor Art fair) and her daughter Ashland (who I met last Monday at the Michigan dyers’ gathering at Brighton Borders). All three of them came to our last show. It was great fun to dance for them, knowing they were there, because they haven’t seen me dance before. I was so happy to see them. It’s funny, I see Deb all the time this year. She lives about two hours from me but we keep going to the same gatherings! How delightful it has been to have her in my life lately!

Pictures are: 1) a large number of dancers on stage… Habibi dancers on the middle of the stage doing a coreographed piece, and Mideast Dance Ensemble (from the Detroit Airea) in the background looking lovely and playing finger cymbals for us… and you can see one of their drummers in the back right corner; 2) Ren Fest public walkway (before the festival opened for the day), from our own home base, the treehouse. The dancers share the treehouse as a dressing room. It has a great second floor balcony/porch roof on two sides, where I spent most of my time off today; 3) Me/Lynn/Eudora with a cane, dancing with Sally/Sara; 4) portrait of me as Eudora.

All photos except treehouse view were taken by Stuart King. Thanks, Stuart!

Looking Toward Renaissance Festival

Saturday, August 30th, 2003

Habibi DancersTomorrow, Sunday, I am going with some Habibi Dancers to dance (with another troupe) at the Michigan Renaissance Festival. It is supposed to be a good-weather day, partly cloudy with high around 76F. I’m grateful, although I think I’ll probably need legwarmers under my harem pants in the morning, and a wool wrap. I get cold so very easily, and today it stayed in the 60s until past noon.

Last April I bought parts to make a coin-covered purple bra to go with my purple coin-covered hip wrap, so that I could wear them together to Ren Fest next time I danced there. Well, I haven’t touched those coins at all and I am dancing tomorrow. I may not end up getting it done, we will see. Most of my costume pieces just won’t work at Ren Fest, either because they are wrong for the weather, they aren’t comfortable for wearing an entire day, they are not “authentic” enough for the venue. I have never looked right, to me, when I’ve danced there… but I’m not the star of the show and as long as I don’t offend anyone I’ll be OK. Who knows, maybe I’ll feel like handsewing coins on a bra tonight.

I have to meet my troupe friends at 8am tomorrow morning to car pool. I usually wake up at 9:30 or so… these all-day outdoor gigs are just plain grueling to me. I have only gone twice before, but as I recall we have three stage performances and one parade. The parade will wipe this woman out, let me tell you! Try to be “on” for 15 minutes or so, dancing the whole time as you walk at a pretty fast clip! Tiring. Absolutely exhausting. We’ll start first thing in the morning and won’t end until around late dinnertime. I must say, for some of the girls it is no big deal. I must be a bit of a wimp, but that is how it is for me.

We are not supposed to be seen in costume eating or drinking from non-authentic cups and plates, so I’m going to be packing a whole lot of food to take with me. Thank goodness we have a “backstage” area, the treetop stage, where we can eat and drink out of disposable items without anyone noticing. I guess I would rather eat my own food for the most part, but I do remember with fondness the apple dumpling (apples covered in pie crust and baked, then served with ice cream and cinnamon sauce) that I ate the first time I went to the festival. It was delicious. My great-aunt Ingeborg, the one who used to knit for me, used to make apple dumplings for us and I always think of her when I eat one.

Some of the girls in the troupe really love this venue more than any other performance we do. For me, I am very busy in the summer anyway (Habibis usually dance 3 or 4 times at Ren Fest and I often can go only once or not at all) but I don’t look forward to this particular venue. I have a hard enough time being outdoors all day if I’m sitting still… but dancing on top of that is a bit of a challenge. I’m hoping that since my breathing allergies have been really good to me lately (the exception was after being at the farm last weekend) I’ll do better this year than I have the other times I’ve been there.

I do enjoy dancing and socializing with my troupe friends, so I’m going to focus on that. We’re all going in one van, so I can knit on the way there and back (I think it’s over an hour to get there). I am quite appreciative of the bonus knitting time!

Perhaps folks in Michigan who read this, are looking for something to do this weekend. If so, perhaps I’ll see you there. I will be answering to the name “Eudora” while in costume! You can find us between the treetop stage (our home base) and performances on the ship stage in the far back (left?) corner of the festival.

The photo is me standing, and someone I can’t recognize with her face covered…kneeling, in a jug dance (yes, on our heads are glass jugs wrapped in fabric). Picture was taken by Brian at the Habibi Dancers’ big spring show earlier this year. Tomorrow I’ll be balancing a cane and a basket on my head, but no jug.

A Date in Lansing

Friday, August 29th, 2003

Oldsmobile Stadium and Lansing SkylineI was given two tickets to see the Lansing Lugnuts minor-league baseball team Friday night. Brian and I have never been to a game, although we did go to the stadium once to see Bonnie Raitt perform (her concert was wonderful).

I’m not at all a sports fan, I don’t really understand competition where you hope someone strikes out so you can get ahead… not my thing at all. But… This stadium was built about three blocks from the State Capitol of Lansing about 7 years ago. All the media and government people predicted it would turn the city around (that stretch of street leading to the capitol had become a bit run down). And I was sure this was a ridiculous thing, and all the hype was certainly just that. (Picture inside stadium with Lansing Skyline in background. Notice on the top left, a smokestack with a “Lugnut” sculpture mounted at the top… not my favorite work, but they were able to raise money through private funds to put it up so a whole bunch of people must disagree with me.)

Guess what? I was wrong, and gloriously wrong. The stadium and its team has transformed my city. Now people go downtown after work (it used to be a ghost town after 5:00 pm, and actually maybe 5 or 6 blocks away it still is, but not on Michigan Avenue). Families go, you see strollers being pushed down the street after dark. It’s just wonderful.

In addition, now there are a good number of eateries within walking distance of the stadium. There are old establishments, the oldest of which is probably The Knight Cap which was here in the early 1960’s I think, when my family first moved here. It’s considered perhaps the best place for a steak dinner in town, or at least the best place to take a date for steak dinner if you are over age 50. I’ve never liked steak even before I gave up eating red meat, but I am curious about this place I’ve never eaten… we may go sometime just to check it out.

There are semi-old places like Omar’s “A gentleman’s club” which means some of the ladies in the establishment wear little or no clothing, but it’s somehow laa-dee-dah anyway. There are new places that have sprung up specifically to serve baseball patrons, the most obvious of which is The Nut House (remember, our team is called the Lansing Lugnuts because they play in Oldsmobile Stadium and we make a LOT of cars in this city… more than any other city in the US).

There are other spots springing up because of the traffic, a two-story bar called Rum Runners (I understand they have a live piano player at least some nights), a very new and very chi-chi place which is named for the street address where it is but I can’t remember the number… it has a martini list, which seems the cool thing of the year at expensive restaurants. It does nothing for me, but I wouldn’t go there anyway.

And then there is the Turkey Man corner spot. I’m told it’s sort of a barbecue thing, with Turkey drumsticks as the big draw (I haven’t been there so Lansing folks correct me if I’m wrong). I love this idea, a sort of everyman’s restaurant. I haven’t eaten there… although I do eat poultry, I’m not big on big pieces of meat… but I love that he’s there and seems to be doing OK. He may have catered before but I think he started with a booth at the Oldsmobile Stadium. “Jes’ folks,” doing a real business for real people. I like that idea, although perhaps that is my inner idealist talking.

Big Lug doing Tequila danceAnyway, so Friday Brian and I had a date and went to the Lugnuts game. It was much more interesting than I expected. I’ve been to the Detroit Tigers twice (both times to the old Tiger Stadium, once in the 60s and once about 8 years ago when a friend sang the National Anthem). For one thing, a smaller stadium is definitely more intimate and you can see things better. For another, they really kept the crowd going at any slow moment, such as between innings. They would have silly contests like running a race with swimming flippers on your feet (they picked two guys out of the audience for this). They sometimes threw things into the audience, such as baseballs… and they had “guns” for shooting t-shirts and *hot dogs* of all things, where folks could catch them. Folks were scrambling like crazy, let me tell you, to get those free things!!!

Sometimes they would do a dance, like the silly chicken dance we sometimes do at parties. Once they did movements to the “YMCA” song. Once they did some odd movements to the song that has one word… “Tequila!” (Second photo shows the mascot “Big Lug” wearing a grass skirt and dancing to the Teqila song.) One time there was a contest, two guys connected by bungie cords going opposite ways to try to put three different hula hoops over a blown-up “beer bottle.” Very odd but it did keep the audience captivated.

It was “Jimmy Buffett Beach Party” night so there were lots of folks wearing fake-flower leis and hawaiian-type shirts. The area’s own “Parrothead” club (fans of Jimmy Buffett) was there. Pretty fun. And there were a heck of a lot more people than I expected. Almost all of the box seats were full and a good number of the better seats in the stadium were also taken. It was definitely a scene, and a good one.

Kids Playing in Fountain after GameThe crowd sort of mills about afterward and walks to the local establishments. Some groups rent buses to come in and watch the games, and they all congregate out front. There is a ground-level fountain in front of the stadium, and the kids sure were having a wonderful time splashing and standing on top of the water spouts. (I hope you can see the photo I took in the dark with a little flash… If I lighten it up any more it loses all the detail).

We talked a bit and decided to continue our date by going out for a late dinner. It was 9:45, about the time we would eat dinner at home anyway. After surveying the possible restaurants, we decided to go to Clara’s, which is a restaurant housed in what was once the train station. We have been there before and I can usually find something to eat that basically fits my dietary restrictions.

We were seated in the train car that is pulled up on the track right next to the depot. I had never been in that seating area before. It was lovely. My father really loved trains, and I couldn’t help but think of him while we sat there in the beautiful wood-paneled car. (Photo is Brian checking out the menu in the luxurious dining car.)

Apparently they got swamped by a bunch of Lugnut customers all at once perhaps, because our poor waiter seemed overbooked although very friendly and knowledgeable. I had a salad from the quite nice salad bar (except they didn’t have a single drop of olive oil in the place, which is what I usually eat for salad dressing). Brian had a side salad with his meal which looked fine. Funny, I can’t remember what he finally ordered as a main course but he got mashed potatoes and gravy which looked real with some skins whipped in, and some vegetable side which had lots of what looked like alfredo sauce on it.

Brian in the dining car at Clara's RestaurantI got orange roughy without any sauce and the waiter was with it enough to realize after all my questions about what was on thir or that, to bring me steamed broccoli as my vegetable rather than the veggies in sauce that Brian got, for which I was grateful. I also got a side of fresh fruit which had watermelon and pineapple and grapes (I guess it usually has canteloupe too but I can’t have that so they accommodated that as well). It was pretty decent all in all.

We walked back to our car and people were still strolling along, still dancing at the bars and such. As we walked on the block where Rum Runners is (music piped out to the sidewalk), I could pretend for a second that we were in a big city like Toronto.

It was a wonderful night. Not only was the weather perfect, but I had the company of Brian for many hours. And my city was looking as good as it ever has. I was grateful.

Fanatical Details on Turkish Socks

Thursday, August 28th, 2003

OK, you are warned: I’m fanatical about Turkish socks. I now own four pair, thanks to a family I have recently befriended, originally from Polatli, Ankara, Turkey (I hope I read his writing properly to spell that right). Ankara is the place English-speakers have often called “Angora.” Well, since soft fiber from bunnies is called angora fiber, and sturdy mohair fiber is from angora goats, this is a place with a long history with fiber, I’m sure.

I intend to be a worthy recipient of these fine items. I have documented them as best I could. If you are not very interested in this subject, today’s post may be far too detailed for you, but in the interest of honoring the makers of the socks I will indulge my tendency to over-explain today.

I received four pair of socks. I will call them by their most noticeable color: Cream, Turquoise, Orange and Red. What they all have in common is that they are from neighboring geographical districts in west-central Turkey, they are knit from handspun wool, they are handknit. They are all knit toe up. That is where the similarities end.

Three are knit with multiple colors, but even how those colors are handled in the knitting is different on each pair. They all have heels I have never knit before… two look similar to some in Priscilla Gibson-Roberts’ excellent book Ethnic Socks and Stockings. One looks approximately like a “peasant heel” (an afterthought heel, knit after the rest of the sock is finished) as described by Nancy Bush in her book, Folk Socks. And one pair has what looks a bit like an afterthought heel but it is shaped in a way I have never seen nor heard of… though it brings to mind a Dutch heel in a way.

Since I am in love with the details of these pieces, I have taken many photographs. For the first time I have chosen to show small “thumbnail” photos here in the blog text, but you will be able to click on the thumbnail to see the larger photo… which should not take too long to load. (I surf on a 33.6 modem and so I’m really fanatical about image size, and these load pretty fast even on my connection, eleven seconds for the largest image, with an empty cache.)

Later I plan to put together a static web page to show these items properly, but for now I want to get them here on my weblog quickly for all to see. If you choose to click to the larger photo, you will need to click the “Back” button at the top left of your browser program window to get back.

Shall we begin?

Cream Lace
The cream pair is from a village or town called Gunyuzu in a district (something like a county) of Turkey called Eskisehir. It is the only one with just one color of wool. My friend (who got these for me, and whose father helped him find this particular pair) says that this is the type of socks they wore when he was a child, under rubber boots, when it was cold. They use the natural color of wool straight from the sheep. These are about a sportweight yarn, knit at 7.5 st/in.

This pair has some wide ribs alternated with vertical areas of lace. I’m not a lace knitter, so I can not give more detail than the photos I am providing.

The knitting appears to me to be what we call a twisted stitch, where the loop of yarn crosses itself at its base. This makes for a denser and more sturdy sock, and is also very pretty. At the top of the sock the knitter has increased in the flat stockinette rib areas, by two stitches around, one increase every three inches or so, to make the top more roomy for a calf. The top is a knit 2 purl 2 ribbing.

This pair has a toe which is flawlessly constructed, toe up in a wedge shape. This is what I expected to see in most of the socks I got, but it did not end up being the case.

The heel may fool me but I think it was knit as a “peasant heel” or basically a sort of toe, added after the tube of the socks was completed. You can see a ridge at the top of the heel where they probably picked up stitches for the final heel work. What is interesting is that on the inside, you can not see where that ridge might be. It doesn’t show any unusual detail at all. There is another pair with a similar ridge on the front of the sock (at the joint between foot and cuff), which makes me believe they put it there deliberately, as a decorative element.

The heel is shaped differently than the toe, but has its decreases on just two sides, in a sort of wedge as well, though more rounded in shaping. The last four stitches or so may have been grafted or maybe just sewn together in some way. This heel looks a lot like the toe style I prefer on my own socks.

Cream pair photos: One sock, detail (this looks right on for color, on my monitor), heel, toe.

Unique Turquoise Stranded Pair
The second “turquoise” pair is natural cream with turquoise and black patterns. (The patterns on the cuff are only on the front of the leg but stranded with long vertical floats, see detail picture.) This pair was from the area called Afyon in Turkey. If I remember what my friend said, they have hot springs in Afyon which are well-loved as a holiday destination.

Afyon is also famous for a special dessert/candy called Turkish Delight. I had the distinct pleasure of sampling several different flavors of Turkish Delight last week. Yum! I’ve seen it at mideastern markets but never tried it. I always think of the Chronicles of Narnia books by CS Lewis when I think “Turkish Delight” (because the dessert figures importantly in one of the stories)… but I digress.

These socks are actually slightly different sizes, no doubt because they were knit at slightly different gauges. The leg and half of the foot of one sock were knit at about 5 st/in, not tightly, more like a sweater in the US. However, the toe-half of that sock (and the other entire sock as far as I can tell) was done closer to 6 st/in.

What is intriguing in particular about this pair is the unusual methods used to create the heels and toes. The heel is an afterthought as far as I can see (added after the tube of the sock was knit) but it has shaping that looks a lot like a Dutch heel. However, a Dutch heel has a band of stitches on the bottom of the foot… and in this pair, the band is considered decorative apparently, because it runs up the back of the heel as a detail.

The toe is very hard for me to analyze, I’ll have to take some time to figure out how they did it. I just couldn’t get a very good picture. You can see that there is a sort of ridge going one direction. On the other side there is also one single ridge. So it is not a wedge with two sets of paired inreases on each side, and it also is not a star or round toe with multiple sections (typically these are 4 or more equal sections). It has increases on only one side of the top and one side of the bottom. I must try this and see if I can figure it out. It looks twisted in the picture (and in real life) because it’s not centered. It also has a knot tied in the yarn at the toe, on the inside of the sock. These days in the US you don’t typically see knots inside a sock because it can chafe and cause irritation, but I understand you do find them in folk socks from different areas.

Turquoise pair photographs: pair, toe, heel, stranding inside.

Orange Tiger Stripes and Patterns
The next pair I call my Tiger socks. The pair is knit of two colors: orange and an almost-black brown. The patterns are reminiscent of rug patterns and my friends say that yes, this looks to them a pattern that might have been used in rugmaking. This sock and the next do remind me of some in Anna Zilboorg’s book Fancy Feet/Simply Socks. These socks are also from Afyon.

This pair is knit at 8 st/in on the foot and 9st/in on the cuff. The sole has a different diagonal pattern than the rest of the sock, and the heel is striped (knit like some in the Ethnic Socks and Stockings book). It sure looks like there are 2 rows of single crochet to graft the top of the heel to the cuff. The toe is a round or star toe with tufts at the tip.

Orange pair photos: Pair, stitch detail, heel, toe.

Red Magnificence
And the last pair: What a prize. These are priceless to me. I am seriously considering getting these and the orange pair framed or somehow set up for display. My friend’s wife said to me that sometimes in Turkey this sort of sock is hung up from the ceiling so that they can be seen and appreciated from all sides. I can see why, because this is an artform, not just clothing.

This last pair is from the town/village called Bayat in Afyon. They are knit at over 9 stitches per inch, in deeply/brightly dyed yarns in six different colors of wool, predominantly a gorgeous dark red. The wool is very scratchy and knit much more densely than any knitting I’ve seen by a modern US knitter. These would hurt my hands, to knit that tightly with this very solid yarn. (Picture of the yarn was on August 26th’s post.) It’s almost stiff, not stretchy at all.

I imagine this is the sort of thing Anna Zilboorg mentions in her book, where she says they are difficult to get on the foot because they are so densely knit, but once coaxed upon the feet, the scratchy/dense socks make one’s feet warm and toasty in no time.

The toe is knit as a wedge (without plain knit stitches between increases) but with a tuft at the tip. The heel is elegantly knit in 2 colors per row with a vertical seam or faux-seam up the back and a double row of single crochet, again, at the top of the heel to graft it together. In this case, those two rows are in contrasting yarn so the intent of decoration is clear. It also makes it obvious that indeed, this is single crochet.

The top of the cuff is a sideways-knit stranded two-color pattern with a picot edge. Perhaps the picot edge was crocheted on, I can not tell for sure but it would be a natural for that sort of detail.

Red pair photos: Pair, inside out foot, heel, top detail, toe.

My friend said that this last pair he got by asking around at each store he found. Many of the stores where he asked, they did not have any of these traditional socks, but they sometimes gave him hints as to where he might find some. In this case, he was at a store which didn’t have any socks, but a customer in the store said she had some at home, would he please come to her home?

Apparently traditionally at weddings often socks are/were given as gifts. This red pair was knit by the grandmother for the wedding of the mother of the woman who sold them to my friend. It sort of makes me sad that someone might consider selling a family treasure (or maybe it was not as much a treasure to her as it would have been to me). I wonder about why they would sell this at all, but we in the US have so much wealth we can not even know how far our money goes somewhere else. Surely money was a big inducement to let go of the socks but we can not know for sure what meaning they had to the seller.

I am sure to be a grateful and worthy recipient and owner of this treasure. I hope you enjoy checking out the beauty of these lovely works of art. (You know, I think I’ve used up my share of superlative words for a while… I’m going to have to speak less enthusiastically for the rest of the week to make up for today!)

(Note added years later: I wrote an article and based three designs on these socks, which were published in Dawn Brocco’s Heels and Toes Gazette (issues 14, 15 & 16, from the year 2004) and which are still available as back issues from Dawn.

The most basic of the three designs I wrote, which is knit in essentially the structure of the turquoise-stranded pair but with only one yarn, I also offer as a single pattern leaflet on my shopping cart. The pattern is called Turkish-Style Toe-Up Socks. It includes a Turkish Cast on using DPNs and a band heel with the flap underneath the heel of the foot, and a simple slip-stitch pattern up the front of the sock which is particularly nice if knit in a handpainted yarn. This pattern is also available as a downloadable PDF file from Mary Moran’s Knittingzone.com site if you click here.)

A Little More Time

Wednesday, August 27th, 2003

I have been working like a crazy woman to document my new Turkish socks and I just can’t get all the pictures in order quite yet. I haven’t been feeling well and I need to sleep! Typically I’d just stay up until the wee hours of the morning (when the world is quiet I can get so much done!) but tonight is not a good night for that.

I will just report that today I had five knitters at CityKidz Knit! (even though our building was unnaturally quiet because it is the first week of school). Not only that, I had a majority of boys: three boys and two girls. One of my younger girls is finally starting to “get it.” She still makes mistakes but notices sooner. She just finished her third wrist band today.

This child is loving being competent enough at knitting! Today she learned how to knit two together, how to bind off (using K2Tog rather than the typical bind off adults use), how to thread a darning needle with yarn, how to sew with an overhand stitch and hide the yarn ends. And a week ago I didn’t have any hope that she would ever “get it.” I love it when they surprise me.

As for the Turkish socks: I got to show them to a few knitting friends today and got the expected oohs and aahs! Even non-knitters can see how special they are.

The photos are all edited, large and small, and I have written text to accompany the pictures. Now I need to write the code so that when you click a small image you get to see a larger image. And I just plain need to sleep so I’ll finish that tomorrow.

Sleep well, my friends!

Authentic Turkish Socks!

Tuesday, August 26th, 2003

I’m a bit beside myself tonight! I have recently begun a friendship with a family originally from Turkey. They just went on vacation back home and so I sent some money with them, saying if they found any wool Turkish socks that were in my price range, I’d just love it if they would buy some for me.

I didn’t dare have any pre-conceived notions, because I have been told that these socks are not made as commonly as they once were, and may be hard to find. I also know that the several dozen pictures of Turkish socks I’ve seen might be a very unusual set of socks, the kind you might show off because of their uniqueness. I was willing for the family to come home with no socks and my money in hand… but I did hope for a pleasant surprise.

I’m telling you, I’m just reeling at the beauty of what they brought back. They did a bit of detective work while on vacation, asking around for anyone who might have a pair. They ended up bringing me four pair of socks, all knit by hand in handspun yarns. All beautiful and unique, all very different from one another. I am just thrilled!

I have taken a large number of photographs which all have to be edited, sized, you name it. I have taken pictures of each full sock, and details of toes, heels and in one case the stitch pattern itself. I am in the process of working through this large number of photos in PhotoShop so I can show you my incredibly lovely new socks, in a way that does them justice.

Wowie. This already-Turkish-sock-obsessed grrl is so delighted, it’s hard to find words.

I may have to spread these photos over a handful of days so that I don’t overwhelm those folks who have a slow connection (as I do). Today I offer a teaser photograph, a close-up of a toe. This pair is knit in natural cream wool with turquoise and black details. This one is knit in a looser gauge, from 5 st/in to 6 st/in… very warm and cushy, like ski socks. I’m also showing you a detail of the yarn from a different pair. It appears to be two plies of very hairy single-ply yarn, which looks on this pair to have been knit with two strands together… but not plied before knitting.

A few of the simpler stitch patterns in this sock are familiar from the Anna Zilboorg book, titled either Simply Socks or Fancy Feet (depending on whether you bought it in soft cover or hardbound). The larger motifs are new to me.

More pictures tomorrow. I’m such a lucky woman!

Note from Teri

Tuesday, August 26th, 2003

Fast Florida Footies knit by Larry/KnitDadTeri wrote that she was knitting my Fast Florida Footies, and she had a question. It turns out that I had a typo in the toe decreases. Considering how many others have made the pattern before her, I guess they just made their own favorite toe without noticing the hiccup.

I had basically said to repeat rounds that didn’t decrease, rounds 2 and 3 instead of rounds 1 and 2. I’m quite relieved to have that typo repaired now. At least all my new visitors to the site will not have questions at that spot.

Thanks, Teri! (Picture today is Larry/KnitDad’s version of my Fast Florida Footies pattern.)

Dyers’ Gathering

Monday, August 25th, 2003

crocheted sock cuffToday I went to Brighton (40 minutes away) to meet with eight other Michigan dyers. I think there were three of us there who dye wool, but most of us at least dabble in silk so we had that in common (most of them work with plant fiber such as cotton, most of all). It was a great group!

I forgot to take pictures, I was so into just being there. I got some nice feedback on the recent dyed wool/mohair roving I’ve been doing, which I appreciated.

After the meeting started to break up, I also got a little advice on crochet, thank goodness! I’ve been trying to make crocheted socks from a booklet I got at JoAnn Fabric… but since I don’t really know how to follow a pattern I did one less row than I should have. I caught myself in time, so that is fine, but I was very glad to get a two-minute confirmation that I had figured it out, if too late.

(Picture is of my first crocheted sock cuff minus one row and a seam. I don’t love how variegated yarn looks in crochet but it’s yarn leftover from my legwarmers and they will be warm and cozy bedsocks. No, I didn’t dye this yarn.

I really wanted to do a crochet pattern from start to finish, and I just can’t do the filigree lace scarf with flower trim that Carla, Jillian and Amy are talking about these days. I just don’t like holes in my fabric most times… I am definitely not a lace grrl. Also, I think will never want to wear crocheted flowers on my own body… maybe I’ll make some for a child someday but not me.)

My friend Deborah Harowitz/Scarlet Zebra was a big moving force in making this gathering happen. I got to see her again (yay!) and also got to meet her daughter (Ashley?) who is a very fine, very smart and pretty young lady studying Theatre at a local community college. It was great to meet her.

It appears that the group will attempt to gather at a barn owned by one of the members, before the weather gets too cold (the barn is not heated). Our plan is to do some silk dyeing by Low-Water-Immersion, and then to do some printing on the fabrics using silkscreen and blockprinting. This could be a very good time! (OK, so I need a new group like a crazy woman, but I am indeed focusing more on dyeing right now than any other media.)

Off to dye in the basement studio. I am getting started late, but then again, I rarely go off to bed until after 1:00am, so I still have a couple of hours to play. And it is so very hot and humid here in the office, I think I’ll enjoy the basement more than ever! See you tomorrow!

A Wedding “Up North”

Sunday, August 24th, 2003

view from houseWe went up to West Branch, Michigan Saturday for Brian’s cousin’s wedding. I had been to West Branch years ago, but it was at night and I didn’t remember much about it. It seems every time Brian would go visit his Aunt Rosie and family, it would be on a weekend I needed to work. This was my first visit to the family home, although I did go to a different wedding a few years ago for another cousin.

I don’t know why being this far from what I think of as “civilization” is so unsettling to me. It really is just beautiful up there. We had to go on a couple of dirt roads which always make me nervous (I’m sure I read too many Hitchcock and Poe stories when I was a teen and that makes the dirt roads even more scary). I had somehow expected that the wedding would be at a church. Brian had mentioned that he thought the wedding might be somewhat casual, but I figured that was because it was a noon wedding rather than an evening affair.

Well, the wedding was at a dairy farm owned by the groom’s family. I was so unprepared for this I had a hard time adjusting for a while. There were baby cows watching the service with us, which was really a very nice canopy outdoors with a little constructed altar area made of lattice boards painted in sunflower colors: yellow and green.

Well, you all know how I feel about indoor plumbing and when we pulled up I saw a row of maybe six porta potties by the barn where the reception was to be held. I was so shocked by the surprise of it all (I had passed by on the restroom at the gas station, thinking I’d find a nicer ladies’ room at the church) that I lost my composure for a minute there.

It was impossible to miss the smell of a large barn full of cows, but it was otherwise a beautiful, sunny day. It was not too hot or too cold, not a cloud to threaten the service. One of Brian’s cousins who now lives in Florida was mentioning how “This is the life” meaning the country life was somewhat ideal in his mind. I did my best to hold my tongue, but I was very uncomfortable and would have done anything to be in a skyscraper or art museum right about then. Or my own lovely porch in the city…

I did get used to it after being there a while (although I find it hard to get used to the perfume of cow manure). It was pristeen and lovely, a farm in excellent repair which is clearly a well-run business. I just was as out of my element as a fish out of water. I think I did OK being a respectful guest but I hope I didn’t look as dazed as I felt.

The service was sweet. It was indeed casual in some ways and not in others. The bridesmaids had beautiful strapless gowns in pale green and yellow. There was a large handful of tiny children dressed in fancy clothes for the event, as mini bridesmaids and ring bearer, etc… maybe five little girls and two or three little boys.

The groom’s father wore a black t-shirt imprinted with a tuxedo and bow tie on it, under his tuxedo jacket with bouttoniere. So that part was more casual than I’d expected, although I didn’t even honestly notice that for a while and I think Brian never noticed until I pointed it out.

After the service, we retreated to Brian’s aunt Rosie’s home. It is a beautiful place with a view like being on a mountain, you could see so far…I love heights but usually find them on skyscrapers rather than hills. I also really appreciated the restroom facilities at Aunt Rosie’s!

There was what they called a “small repast” which seemed like a large luncheon buffet to me. Since it was typical American food which I can’t eat, I instead dug in to some Lebanese food I’d packed in my cooler, which was delicious. (I only wished for strawberry shortcake just a little bit, but not enough to eat it and feel bad.) Some of us played music, which I enjoyed, and then later I got to knit a little bit.

I also took a few pictures. It’s too bad that a view like that doesn’t really photograph well sometimes. For the best view there, I just couldn’t get a good picture. But above I’ve shown a picture from one side of the house, and it is just as idyllic as can be.

I can see the attraction to this sort of life. If you have a family that is big enough to keep one another company and not want to go to town often… if you don’t want to eat in restaurants a lot, then why not live on a hill with a magnificent view? On the other side of the house than the picture, they had playground equipment: a geodesic dome climbing structure, a tall pole with ladder to climb, and I think a swingset. It would be a good place to grow up.

Later we did go back to the barn for the dance/reception. I generally get overwhelmed with how many people there are in this family, and how even the cousins don’t always know each other’s names. Fortunately, I’ve been with Brian for about 7 years now and I am starting to know at least a few faces. It was pretty nice overall, I got to know a few more of Brian’s cousins, including Roberta, who has been living in Ireland for quite a long time now.

sandpileThe reception was in a large barn which apparently held tractors a few weeks ago. They emptied it, scrubbed it, installed metal siding on the walls, painted other areas, set up a kitchen area, made a clean and roomy space for a large crowd.

The wedding service had been basically family, but the reception clearly was large enough to accommodate all the friends of the young married couple. It was well thought out. There was a big buffet dinner (see picture of corner with all the food… above the food were shelves full of toy John Deere tractors and cows). Outside there was a large metal truck wheel without a tire, inside which they made a bonfire when it got dark. Before dark, the children played on a huge sand pile with scores of toys. I can just imagine how fun it must have been for the kids.

catgirlOne of Brian’s cousins had a preschooler daughter who was sitting contentedly with a cat on her lap most of the time. That cat was so sweet and easygoing, it let her do anything to it. I never did find out if it was her cat or not, but they were far from home so that makes me wonder if it was just a sweet pet from the farm. I took one picture of her sitting with the kitten and left good enough alone. After that, she came over to me every ten minutes or so, and commanded me to take her picture (with the kitty draped over her arms in some very contorted ways, and cat not worried one bit). Of course, I obliged… and got some very cute pictures. What a sweetie!

Dyeing Daze

Friday, August 22nd, 2003

I have spent the last two days cleaning my office and dyeing fiber. I have about 5 pounds of a wool/mohair roving that I expect will be wonderful for sockyarn. I’ve been using the new dyes I got from Ellen’s Half Pint Farm, for the most part, and having a wonderful time.

The only roving I’ve dyed before was two different brands of merino-cross top. This mohair blend is very different than the merino, and at first was a bit of a challenge. If you think merino felts quickly, you should see this stuff!

My first experiment with this fiber blend was a gorgeous colorway with three different turquoises. For a few reasons I’ve since figured out, the dye would not rinse out easily after steaming. While I was diligently trying to rinse it clear, I felted it a bit… not too much for me to spin for myself, but too much for selling the roving. I’m going to have a lot of pretty turquoise sockyarn one of these days!

Since then, I’m getting the hang of the fiber blend. It does take dye very well, as I would have expected with mohair in the mix. I spun up a mini-skein of approximately sportweight yarn from some of it, and the yarn is really beautiful. That little bit of white puts light in the skein and really makes it shine!

I enjoyed spinning today on the porch. It seems that most days, by the time I’m ready to spin, the sunshine has passed me by.

I like my porch so much, it was a delight to spin out there today. And I was doubly thrilled that when I went to wash my mini-skein, I had plied it balanced enough that my skein did not twist when I hung it up without a weight! Yippee for me, I’m getting better at spinning!

Brian and I are going to a big family wedding this Saturday. We’ll be staying overnight out of town, so I’ll check in with you again on Sunday. Have a great weekend.

Allegan, the Final Chapter

Thursday, August 21st, 2003

Well, on Sunday I had to decide which of the vendors to actually buy some yarn from. I was determined not to buy any fleece or roving/top because I’m not spinning much and not making felt much at all these days. I have plenty of roving and top to keep me busy for a while at that rate. But knitting…. I knit every day. And it keeps me sane. So yarn in reasonable amounts was in the works. But what is a reasonable amount, when you are surrounded by wonderful things?

I found some commercial sportweight alpaca in 50gm skeins for merely $6 a skein, at Carol Leigh’s booth, and bought six colors. I’m justifying that because I think I’ll use it to make a design to submit for publication. The colors were just as lovely as can be, three purples/pinks, two turquoises and one butter yellow. I just plain adore alpaca. It’s softer than soft, I prefer it to cashmere. And it is so warm when it gets so very cold here in Michigan, that it makes me happier during the cold season.

If I had been buying prepared fiber to spin, I would have certainly purchased the layered colored batts in alpaca/merino/silk (if I remember right) from Indigo Moon. My, she had incredible colorways. When spun up they looked a lot like a monet painting. Breathtaking. I did run into some friends from Spinners’ Flock guild there in her booth: Mary S., Patty and Fran. They actually spin more than I do… so they did what made sense, and took a bit of that heaven home with them.

For me, instead of spinning fiber, I bought one small skein of yarn from that booth. It was fluffy alpaca with a silk thread as a 2nd ply, about a worsted weight. She had handpainted it in hot pinks and fuschia and magenta. I actually had trouble deciding which colorway to buy, as she had a turquoise leaning toward green (my usual favorite), and a blues-and-turquoises colorway (if I remember the colors right). Very nice, but the hot colors won this time… even though lately I’ve been on a major turquoise frenzy.

At another vendor from out east (Vermont?) whose card I don’t seem to have on me, I got two skeins of a kid mohair/merino single-ply worsted weight yarn (one turquoise, one magenta). It went very well with the handpainted alpaca, and I thought originally that I’d make socks or gloves from them. However, now that I’ve done a little swatching of the alpaca/silk in seed stitch, it is screaming to be part of a hat. We’ll see… (Picture of alpaca/silk handpaint swatch with mohair/merino hanks, won’t they be nice together?)

Finally I got one skein of a cream-colored 50/50 wool/silk sportweight yarn that I hope will dye well and knit up as luxurious socks. If it does, I’ll try to get some of that to dye as one of my new handpainted yarn products, but with that much silk I have to do a wait and see approach before being sure. Either it will be soft and warm or it will be bumpy underfoot. I’m crossing my fingers.

Sunday was fun because it was a little slower in the vendor buildings. Therefore, I got to talk to some of the vendors a bit again. Saturday had been so busy I didn’t dare bother folks while they could make a sale. So Sunday was fun. I said hi to Donna Spanberger who was there with her husband in a double-sized booth. She sells books at Spinners Flock, so I often get my Interweave Knits magazine from her, and a few other special books at times. She’s a smart and very kind person whose company I enjoy. I was glad to meet her husband, too.

I also talked again to Ellen Minard of Ellen’s Half-Pint Farm. And I finally got a chance at the very end, to introduce myself to Traci Bunkers, of Bonkers Fiber. I really admire her work… her hand-dyeing as well as her amazing hats and other designs I’ve seen in magazines and books. It was nice to just go and let someone know that I really admire their work. Her colors, for the most part, are either too muted or a bit too dark for me to wear personally, although she had some wonderful teals/turquoises (Theresa/Keyboard Biologist got some of this colorway) that were very tempting.

Traci has many different types of amazing yarns she dyes, all different textures and fibers as well as colorways. That grrl must just crank in the dye studio! Ellen had a lot of handpaints (with many colorways I would love to wear) but also had some wonderful “froofy” commercial yarns and dyes in her booth… Traci had the same amount of space, but it was all hand-dyed and there were even a handful of handspun skeins available. One difference: Bonkers Fiber has rovings and other spinning fibers, but I did not see any of those in Ellen’s booth. She may offer them on her website but I didn’t see them this week.

I also saw a whole bunch of folks I knew from various guilds and knitting groups. I even ran into a couple of musician friends! I don’t dare try to list them all now or I’ll miss a good handful for sure, since it was now nearly a week ago. But the festival became a much more social thing, Saturday and Sunday. At least, during vendor hours.

I also got to meet Phyllis, someone from one or the other of my email lists. She is from Indiana but was in Michigan for some reason and so came by to the festival. I had done my best to describe how I typically dress for events of this type, and she was able to spot me. It probably helped that I was in my friend Sue’s booth at the time, which I’d mentioned was a good place to try to find me. I didn’t stay still at Sue’s booth very long at any time, but I did tend to rotate by there fairly regularly.

And I loved meeting Alice (Foxhill Farm, they had the grand prize fleece this year, and Bonnie Marie Burns bought some of their cormo yarn Saturday) and her booth-sitting partner whose name I didn’t catch, at the booth next to Sue’s. I had a little panic on Saturday night, actually, because I had showed off my finished froofy Yarn for Ewe stole to the Chicago bloggers, and then about a half hour later later I looked in my bag and found the stole missing. I ran back to the barn building (the vendors for the most part had gone home by then). I sort of frantically asked Alice and her booth partner if they had seen it, as they were the only vendors still there.

They were very encouraging to me that I might find it. After I stopped panicking I went back to where I’d showed off the stole. I took a peek under the sheets covering up that vendor’s tables. Sure enough, the stole was underneath the sheet. Whew! I hadn’t even taken any pictures of it yet! I’d just finished it during my vendor-avoiding time on Friday.

At the end of workshop time, I went to find my friends Leslie and Terri because they had purchased two gray angora goats and I was interested to see the animals. I found Leslie and she showed these lovely goats to me, they had such beautiful faces!

In the end I had to go home, and I did. Packing up the tent and my campsite went pretty smoothly, although I nearly left my chair behind. I caught myself in time, thank goodness… I really do like that chair.

I’m glad I went. I had a good time. I got to knit more than I typically am able to knit at home, even though I was wishing for a little more company especially earlier in the week. My workshop with Merike was wonderful and has inspired me to get in my dyeing studio three times this week, a record thus far. I found lovely yarn at reasonable prices- some of which I’ll use to make proposals for pattern designs, some I hope to use as a possible source of yarn for handpainted resale, and I even got a little bit of super-soft fat yarns just for me to pet and enjoy! (Photo of wool/mohair skein I dyed in Merike’s class)

I did collect some business cards, some from vendors I bought from, some I admired but did not purchase from. My business card collection is listed here in no particular order:

Foxhill Farm, Alice Field, 413/243-2558
Susan’s Fiber Shop
Annie’s Sweet Handspun, Dianne Edwards 877/537-2925
Ellen’s 1/2 Pint Farm
Aspects of Wool/Donna Spanberger (can’t read her phone number, no website)
Hillcreek Fiber Studio/ Carol Leigh 1-800-TRI-WEAV
Heritage Spinning & Weaving
Bonkers/Traci Bunkers

It was just as it should be, if it wasn’t exactly as I expected. Next year I may not go early unless I’m lucky enough to be teaching a workshop (I’m going to propose a good handful of workshops and we’ll see how it goes). But it was just fine, and I’m delighted to have gone and learned all that I did.

In the end, I did in fact meet some new people. They all were friendly vendors, rather than interested participants as I had expected (but then I sort of identify with vendors anyway, as a person who has been without a regular paycheck since 1994). As Carla says, these are “My People.” (I was quite honored to be included in Carla’s version of “my people” when we met at crochet class a few weeks ago.)

As all good tales say when they are done, “And they all lived happily ever after… The End.”

A Tale of Allegan, part Two

Wednesday, August 20th, 2003

Brian says that I didn’t mention what I did during the day on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Well, I mostly knit. On Thursday I was on the road a lot going to Lansing and back, so that took a lot of the day. But I basically prepared meals, ate meals, and knit. I sort of liked that kind of luxury during the day. I had my neato chair with sun umbrella and I got to work on my froofy stole with Yarn for Ewe yarns. But there isn’t much to write about my daytime hours for at least the first two or three days. I guess on Friday there were vendors so I checked out a few booths after lunch. I tried to stay away so that I wouldn’t overspend, as much as possible.

I also might have made it sound like I was a bad sort of lonely. It wasn’t forlorn or sad, it was just less social than I had wanted it to be. I am OK with being alone finally (when I was younger I couldn’t stand solitude) but I just had gone to the event eagerly awaiting companionship. That’s the kind of lonely it was.

OK, so where was I? Oh yeah, Friday dinner. With Sue and Mary from Marshall. I did enjoy that a great deal.

After we got back from dinner, Sue and Mary needed to start wrapping up their night. They both keep animals and Sue at least has a job that requires her to be at work very early by my standards, about an hour from her house. So they are just accustomed to sleeping early and I was again a bit alone.

I decided that maybe there would be fewer mosquitos if I could find a lit building where I could sit and knit. So I went over to the building where they have the contests, and the lights were on and there were chairs I could sit in. It was basically deserted but the doors were open so I went in and sat so that someone could see my knees and legs peeking out if they decided to lock up.

At that point a vendor went by and said hi. I mentioned to her that we seemed to be the last of the living again, and it was only maybe about 9pm if that. She said she had three more boxes to unpack for her booth and did I want to keep her company? I thought that would be great. Finally someone to meet and to chat with. We went into the vendor building which was attached by hallways to the contest building, and we chatted while she unpacked her boxes. The lights were on, we were talking, it would be pretty hard to miss us if you were looking for us. But we were basically alone.

When we got ready to go (the vendor had to get back to a hotel room in another town) we realized that the barn-type doors to the connected buildings had all been shut while we were in there. Apparently whoever locked the doors just assumed that nobody was inside, without checking. Whoops! Fortunately we found a little person-sized door where we could get out! Whew!

So then I was alone again but it wasn’t all too early to go to bed since I had a workshop to take from Merike Saarniit on Saturday all day. I went back to my tent, knit a little flat on my back again but was pretty wiped out and fell asleep fairly easily, even at that early hour.

The next morning (Saturday) I woke up realizing that I had set the time for my alarm but not turned the alarm on. I had about 20 minutes to get dressed, eat breakfast and make it to class. I did get there a little late but I’m sort of amazed that I woke up at 8:40 without an alarm. Clearly the two nights before, going to bed earlier, was a real asset that morning! (Picture is the class. I was in front here, with my partly-overdyed sweater on the table… Nancy Eggleston at front left.)

The class was just great. I learned a lot of tips. I tried a new kind of dye for me (Country Classics, they are powdered dyes which contain acid so you don’t have to do as much measuring). I found that I really liked the purple, especially. On one of our breaks I went down to Ellen Minard’s Half Pint Farm booth and bought three colors of those dyes, including the purple. I’ve had a really hard time with purples since I started working with dyeing fiber, so that was a big gift to find that.

Merike talked about procedures but also about fibers and avoiding feltmaking in the dyeing process. She talked about color in her usual intensely-focused way. I mean, she makes sure to let folks know that dyes do not work the same as opaque paints or polymer clay. With transparent dye colors, purple plus green makes a wonderful blue. I’ve heard her tell that truth more than once, and people have a hard time grasping it, so she brought yarns that she’d dyed with a combination of purple added to green. And they were the most gorgeous shade of blue you could ask for.

Merike gave us some mini-skeins of yarn where there were I think 5 different yarns, each of them two or four yards long. We dyed those first. Each yarn felt and looked slightly different after dyeing. (Picture is Merike, wish she were smiling as she does so often, but that was the best shot I got since most of the time she was moving too much. In the background are my friends Leslie and Terri who come into the story in a few paragraphs.)

Also we learned how to work with rovings in rectangular pans which are microwaveable. I don’t have any containers that would work yet, but it was a great way to avoid touching and felting the fiber while dyeing.

Then we started playing. I dyed a small skein that Susan, the woman sitting to my right (from Chicago), gave me to play with. It was mohair boucle/loopy yarn. Then I dyed a full 100gm skein of wool/mohair two-ply yarn and it turned out fine. A little lighter after dyeing than I expected, but fine. I first thought I’d redye it but I ended up leaving it alone for at least a while. It’s growing on me. The lightness allows sunshine to enter and it really glows.

Then I had fun applying dye to an old sweater I brought along. I soaked it and then applied dye with a spoon on all surfaces. I wrapped it in plastic wrap and microwaved it to set the dye. And the next day I rinsed it out and it looked fine. But it was still predominantly lavender, and that is not a color I look good in. Later I took it home and did another layer of dye on it, more turquoise and purple, and it looks pretty darned good. Not perfect, but very good.

I really enjoyed the class. It sort of freed up my worries about being more perfect than can be controlled. After all, it’s just wool, right?

Our class got out at 4 pm. Vendors were to close at 6pm. So I wandered around the vendors and found some lovely things, some just to admire and a few skeins of yarn to take home. I got some mohair/merino single-ply worsted weight, and some really beautiful sportweight alpaca in several colors, that was a very good price. Then I wandered over to the barn where Sue’s booth was. I knew I was going to meet my friends Leslie and Terri for dinner at 6:45 so I had time so socialize a bit.

I didn’t even get to Sue’s booth before I found Tony. You know, Tony was definitely the missing piece in this adventure up till that point. I almost never go to fiber events without Tony! It was great to see him. He showed me some books and a tool he got to make cord. Fascinating.

And then while I was talking to him, someone came up and said: “Lynn?” Of course she had me pegged… it was Theresa, the Keyboard Biologist (blogger) from the Chicago area. She was with Bonnie Marie Burns, of Chicknits, and then Julie, BoogaJ, was also there. Three Chicago folks I’ve been corresponding with online. Very exciting. Picture is Julie, Theresa, and Me… Bonnie was buing her cormo yarn.

I was so glad they found me. It turned out I’d said I would be hanging out at Sue’s booth so they asked Sue if she knew where I was… and Sue saw me walking down the aisle so she pointed them my way. How cool! (Picture of Sue knitting itty-bitty socks in her booth.)

We were very close to closing time at that point, so Bonnie Marie rushed off to make a purchase before it was too late. However, we convinced Tony that he should take a picture of the three of us bloggers who were left. Thanks, Tony!

After some chat, I set off to meet Leslie and Terri for dinner and Tony decided he could join us, after all (he said no the first time I asked but I didn’t have to twist his arm too much.) We went to an “English Pub” in Plainwell, about 15 minutes from Allegan, where they have some Indian food as well as English and American selections. We had to wait a good long while but the food was good and the company was wonderful. Two strolling musicians tried to catch our attention but we just wanted to talk to one another so we weren’t the best audience for them, I think.

By the time I got back from that dinner of quite good Indian food (Tony went back to Lansing), I was actually ready to go to bed. It had been a long day. I mostly spent time with people I already knew before I got to Allegan, but at least I had good company.

I’m so tired, I’m falling asleep at the keyboard typing this. I’ll have to do a final installment of the story tomorrow. Good night!

Charlotte Asks a Question

Tuesday, August 19th, 2003

Neon Sign in Allegan, MICharlotte wrote: I’m enjoying your account of the Fiber Festival. Must say it sounds a bit lonely so far. Was there a special reason you went so early?

I replied (paraphrased): “It actually *was* lonely.

“I went early because I was mistaken about the kind of crowd there would be. I thought people would go and hang out together, and thought I’d meet new friends. I mean, when I go to Boston I go to bead stores and art stores and talk to people and make friends, and hang out. When I go to music festivals, people stay up till 6am playing tunes because they all love music. You don’t know one another when you get there, but you make friends and enjoy each other. (I’ve had pretty good luck going to fiber guilds alone and making friends, as well.)

“This festival surprised me that way. There was nobody to hang with. I sat alone and knit. I had no idea that was what I’d do, or I probably would not have gone that early. It was good for me to mellow out a bit, but being alone that much was too much. I just figured a fiber fest would be people addicted to fiber stuff who wanted to talk and connect about it. I pictured circles of spinners talking until the wee hours. No such luck.

“Live and learn. I did need a vacation and I got one. And it did get more lively on the weekend!”

Oh, I also went Wednesday because there was an afternoon workshop I’d have enjoyed taking if it was open. The website showed it open, but I wasn’t that lucky. So that was another reason I went when I did.

And I must confess, the extreme heat may have had something to do with the fact that nobody was outdoors at night. The crowd was more affluent (is that the word I want?) than I expected. People had big campers for the most part, or hotel rooms. They had access to air conditioning, and they took advantage of that. People disappeared at dinnertime, and didn’t return.

You don’t see hotel folks attending a music festival, you know? At least at the festivals I have attended, it is just not done. There are lots of tents, but even the camper-trailer people come out in the open. You sit together outdoors and endure the heat (or cold) while playing a few tunes to distract you. Sometimes people put up protective canopies against wind and rain, but you keep on playin’ until your eyes won’t stay open any longer.

Today I have a busy afternoon at Foster Center followed by Borders in Ann Arbor. They close at 11pm so we often get home after midnight. More on the Allegan story tomorrow. I promise, it gets more social in the next part of the story!

My picture today is a neon sign not too far from the Fairgrounds. I love neon signs!

A Tale of Allegan

Monday, August 18th, 2003

Well, this entry is bound to be long, I hope at least a few of you hang around for the end.

MFFThis year I went to my first Michigan Fiber Festival. I left Lansing on Wednesday around lunchtime and came home Sunday after most folks had dinner. This was the first time I had ever camped alone. In fact, I had given up any form of camping for at least 14 years and loved being rid of the dirt and discomfort. However, my recent life (post-divorce, which was around 1991) brought me first one single camping trip with a gang of friends, and then it brought me Brian. And for Brian, I have learned to sleep in a tent and be outdoors for a weekend a couple of times a year… in order to attend music festivals.

Michigan fiber festival is held at the Allegan County Fairgrounds in lower western Michigan (lower peninsula). The situation was better than music festivals in that it had flush toilets rather than porta-potties, which I really appreciated. I would not have tolerated porta-potties for five days, no matter how cool the festival might have been! That’s where I draw the line, I guess. Two nights is my limit without flush toilets. So that was very good!

When I checked in, I found that the one class I wanted to take most (Fun with Acid Dyeing, by Merike Saarniit) had a person drop out and so I could take it. I was delighted. That was to be on Saturday. Interesting, because when I got to the fairgrounds the first people I saw close enough to see their faces, were Merike and Anna Zilboorg talking to one another. I waved but didn’t interrupt their conversation. In a few moments, Merike rushed over to say hello. I told her I wanted to take her class and she confirmed that the Fun with… class would be just up my alley. It was wonderful to talk to her again. She’s such an enthusiastic person… not loud enthusiasm like me, but more like focused joy. I was thrilled I’d get to take her class.

I got to the festival early enough that it seemed there were abundant camping sites available to me. I noticed that there were two large trees making a lot of shade, and that was very near a lovely garden with ponds and artificial waterfall. I decided that was my place! My food was in a cooler in the trunk of my car, so shade would make it so that I could keep the food cool and safe all day. However, it turned out that the weather was miserably hot except for Sunday, and I ended up having to buy ice twice a day (off site, there was no source for ice at the campground) in order to keep my food healthy.

I put up my very nice tent (it’s by Eureka, a small two/three-person tent with a dome shape) with no problems, and in a very short amount of time. We just got a new air mattress that has a fan in it to blow it up quickly, which I really appreciated. Our old mattress I used to blow up with a compressor made to blow up tires on a car, and it would take something like 15 or more minutes to blow it up. This thing took just a few minutes. Wonderful!

After setting up camp I walked around a while to figure out the layout of the place. It was not as large as I had expected. Mostly the only thing going on was workshops (the vendors started on Friday) so it was pretty quiet. I made myself some lunch out of my cooler and sat and knitted a little on my Yarn for Ewe stole until the classes got out.

After class I knew there would be a few people around so I walked back up and saw Merike talking to a circle of women. The only other woman I knew in the circle was Suzanne Pufpaff, a feltmaker who is very active in the volunteer organization which puts on the festival. I’d met her twice before but was not at all sure if she would know who I was or not. I decided to see if I could join their conversation (hoping I was not barging in). In the end I was invited to go to dinner with them. Of course, I said yes.

Our group was Suzanne, Patsy Zawistoski (Spinning teacher), Jill Gully (excellent feltmaker and teacher from Texas, originally from Australia), myself, and a woman whose name I think I never heard, but who also was involved deeply in the organization of the Festival. Oops! I sure wish I’d caught her name. There were just so many of us all talking at once that I never found a good time to ask.

Jill remembered a good Mexican restaurant from a previous year so she navigated while the woman whose name I don’t know drove. It was a pleasant place and the menu looked wonderful, but when you’re allergic to corn and cheese, and you don’t eat red meat, it’s best to just have a cup of tea and enjoy everyone else’s company. I really enjoyed being with these folks. I tell you, I made sure to tip that waitress well after she refilled my tea a good many times!

That night I was sort of stunned to find that there was nobody to talk to after about 9pm. It got dark around then and the whole place was silent. I looked around for a circle of knitters or spinners to chat with. No luck. I guess part of it was that it was hot and people went in their Camper “boxes” with air conditioning or something. There were almost no tents there, and those I saw were mostly in a group with a camper. At one point I counted only 6 tents yet there were dozens of RVs and big camper trailers.

First I tried to knit under the lights of a roof-only pavillion. There were too many bugs and I didn’t have any bug spray. So I ended up sitting in my car knitting in the dark. It was awful, probably the worst part of the trip. It was me and two mosquitos in that car. I found one and killed it, and the other one just kept buzzing… making me crazy trying to find it, and distracting me from knitting. Ugh. Then my little car would run out of good breathing air and I’d have to open the door to get more oxygen (and pray I wasn’t inviting in more mosquitos). I gave it up early! I went to bed in the tent and tried to learn to crochet out of a book while lying on my back. Gave that up, too.

At least I have the best flashlight I’ve ever had. It has elastic straps to wear it on one’s head, like a miner’s light. It even adjusts up and down depending on if you are looking at a book or knitting, versus walking to the restroom. I got the light at a local discount mega-store (Meijer) and it was the kids’ model. Because it was a kids’ model, it was a few dollars cheaper, and it is colorful: purple with elastic that has lightning bolts and stars on it. Much cooler than the more expensive gray one for grownups! This flashlight is always pointing the direction the eyes are pointing, plus your hands are free to open doors or knit… and it’s pretty darned bright. I love it no matter how dorky and silly I might look wearing it. Check out my picture wearing this wonderful gadget!

It was hot but I slept OK. Woke up with a miserable group of bug bites on my belly. I have no idea what bit me but it reminds me of the flea bites I once got when I had a cat who went outdoors. My bites still itch, and it’s now Monday night! So that first 24 hours could have been better, but I did at least get to connect with folks who were involved with running the festival.

The second day I talked to Suzanne and another committee member. We chatted a while because it turned out that somehow they had not been able to contact the woman who had been scheduled to teach polymer clay on Friday. They figured she would probably arrive as planned, but they had not been able to confirm that for sure.

They asked me if I would stand by as a second-string instructor if something happened. I had met this instructor once in my years of doing polymer, but it had been years. I didn’t wish her any harm at all, but I would of course be delighted to teach if I was needed. We made a few agreements and arrangements, and I drive home on Thursday (about 2 hours one way) to get my tools and handouts in case I got lucky enough to teach. This suited me just fine, as I love to drive and that also meant I could get my allergy shot which would help me get through the long weekend.

I went home the too-scenic route: I missed an exit and tried to take the back roads… they were faaaar too back road for me, my bug just bumpety-bumped along the rough pavement for miles. I got home, got my tools. Then I ate my lunch out of my cooler in the trunk of my car… while the car was parked out on the street in front of our house.

Then I went for my allergy shot. And as I was just ready to leave, the power went out. Mind you, I was about 11 blocks from the Capitol buildng, at 4:25 on a Thursday. Traffic chaos!!! It’s fine to say every stoplight becomes a 4-way stop, but when those four roads are up to five lanes wide, it gets mighty confusing. I “got the heck out of Dodge” as fast as I could safely proceed. I’m glad I wasn’t very far from the freeway.

Fortunately, Lansing was the furthest west that the power was out. All I did was head southwest out of town and the next exit outside of the city had power. I filled up with gasoline and got some money out of the ATM while I knew I could do it. At that point they had no idea what was up other than it was regional, not local. I figured it was the perfect time to be camping!

I got back to camp easily on the very lovely Vermontville Highway (it is absolutely gorgeous in the autumn, and almost as beautiful right now). I made it back for dinner. The planning crew for the festival put my polymer in an air-conditioned camper trailer. That way, the clay would not bake in my car, and I was all set in case I needed to jump into action.

That night, again, there was NOBODY to knit with. I had purchased some bug repellant when I went into town for ice, so I could sit outside instead of in my car. The bug spray worked great. Remember, I’m a citygrrl and we don’t really have mosquitos in our yard much. The last time I remember buying bug spray was when we went to Mexico a good number of years before. I’m not fond of chemicals if I can avoid them.

Even with my bug spray keeping mosquitos away, under that pavillion roof I constantly had bugs falling on me from above. The caterpillar that hit my leg actually scared me. The only people I saw walking around were the teenagers helping run the festival (they did a fabulous job) and one lone woman who said hello and asked what workshops I had taken. But at 9:45 she said she had to hurry up and go to bed! Wow!

I mean, when I teach at Foster Center, we eat dinner at 9:45pm. And I almost never go to bed before 1:30am… I often stay up until 3am. It was downright lonely being the only night person in a public space. I did have to get up early for me, in order to be ready in case I had to teach. So again, I went to my tent and tried to crochet lying on my back, giving up pretty soon.

Friday morning, it turned out that the polymer person did arrive just fine (I didn’t wish her any harm at all, but I was a bit disappointed… I mean, I love teaching, I know polymer backward and forward, and I would have loved spending a day in class). Since I didn’t have a class, that gave me a day to knit, which was fine, too.

I couldn’t find a cup of tea or hot water anywhere at the fairgrounds that morning, so I went into Allegan and found a deli/coffee shop where I could sit for an hour and knit my Yarn for Ewe stole. (See picture of downtown street, deli was at left side of green awning.) One customer at the deli came over and asked about my stole. She made me feel good, telling me how lovely it was. It turns out she’s a Home Economics instructor in the local schools. She took my card and said she’d write me because she was interested in the pattern for the stole. I guess I need to write that up soon!

Allegan is a pretty old town for Michigan, probably because it has a river winding through the town and that was a great way to get goods in and out. I enjoyed the one-lane bridge going in and out of downtown, which was dated 1886. It seemed all the promotional materials for Allegan had this bridge on it. I also enjoyed some of the buildings I saw in town. One corner restaurant had a lovely curved room on the corner. There was also a brick home on the street that led to the fairgrounds, with a hammock on the porch. One time I went by there was someone resting in the hammock. My kind of house!!! (See two pictures of these buildings.)

When I got back to camp, I sat in my lawn chair with a sun umbrella I just bought (at the pharmacy when I was buying the bug spray… that became a very expensive trip for bug spray, indeed). And I knit away again on my Yarn for Ewe stole. I enjoyed the knitting very much. Really, I rarely get long stretches of time to knit and it was as if I was waiting for a phone to ring or someone to tell me I had to do something else. I felt urgent though there was no hurry at all. How interesting my mind can be!

It was also odd to feed myself from a cooler for most of my meals. For the five days and four nights I was there, I ate all but two meals from that cooler. When we go to music festivals we tend to buy food from the wonderful hippy-dippy vegetarian places which always have at least something I can eat. But the first days I was at Allegan, there were no food vendors, and the last few days there were vendors but the food was not anything I could eat… they offered things like burgers and elephant ears. (I did buy a few diet Cokes just to get some cool ice in my body.)

I did pretty well packing food that I like which would do OK in a cooler. For breakfast every day I had either flour tortillas or ryevita (a sort of cracker) with almond butter or soy butter, and some delicious raspberry jam. For lunch and a couple dinners I ate italian-flavored baked tofu (yes, this is truly delicious unlike unflavored tofu) and either carrots or kohlrabi (a vegetable related to cabbage with a mild flavor and very crunchy texture), or fresh sugar snap peas. I know that’s odd food for others, but it was absolutely delicious to me. And it kept me healthy and strong, and no allergy problems. I brought other foods, mostly canned beans and olives and other canned goods, but I didn’t choose to prepare those.

Friday things got much more social, thank goodness. There were vendors in a big building plus the barn, so I got to check things out and touch things and ooh and aah. It wasn’t all that busy for vendors, so I got to talk to several of them.

I particularly enjoyed my interactions with Ellen from Ellen’s Half-Pint Farm. She does wonderful handpaints, and many of her colorways are right up my alley. So many folks who do handpaints are more interested in subtle colorways, which are lovely but not my style. She had a great assortment, subtle to vibrant. And she talked with me about dyeing for quite a little while. There were a couple of ladies there also helping her out and I liked them a lot, as well. I could have hung out there a long time if it were up to me. However, her work is very popular so I had to get out of the way so she could make a few sales! I bought a few dyes from her, which I’ve already played with since I got home. Great fun.

Friday night my friend Sue who is part-owner of the store In Sheep’s Clothing in Marshall, MI, arrived to work their booth. Sue and her friend Mary and I chatted a while and then went out to dinner at a little place that reminded me of a typical late 1960’s family-run restaurant. It was enjoyable. I was *so* glad to have company at last! They did go to bed early but at least I had dinner company.

Tomorrow I’ll fill you in on the rest of my weekend. You’ve been reading long enough!!!