Yesterday, I was looking at family pictures from my very young days and I came across an unexpected image. If you have read about my suspicions as to why I love and can draw sheep, you know the story of how my childhood stuffed lamb was left behind when my family moved from Spain to Canada when I was six. My lovely mom, who must have felt the loss as much or more than I did, gave me many many toy lambs over the years (into my 40s), until I had a collection that represented her love for me as much as underlined a connection with these creatures. The image is of my sister’s teddy bear and my little lamb hanging on a clothesline five stories high, after being laundered (a process that took about 5 minutes in the dry heat of Madrid). Yesterday was the first time I have seen an image of my lamb since I was young. I stared at it for a long time and am so grateful that my father, who was a wonderful photographer of life and art, took the time to document this moment.
Two summers ago, when the Iowa Sheep and Wool was still held in Colfax Iowa, I picked up a drop spindle and quickly began to repeatedly drop it. The frustration of learning (which I celebrated in a sheep-y picture that I called Spinning Gone Wrong), continued for several long weeks. I had been told that patience and practice were key. In the evenings, my family watched me with sideways glances as I faithfully spun, dropped, and reconnected the roving. I had fallen into a regular rhythm of spin, thud, and sigh. One memorable day, indeed one memorable moment, I realized that I had reached the other side of the elementary spinning abyss. In fact, at that moment, the family fell silent and watched. Finally, my mother-in-law quietly remarked: "Well, something has changed." By the time I had plied and wound my first ball of artsy, uneven, super-bulky yarn I was sure I was a genius. The roving I had chosen to spin is as deeply symbolic as the deep blues and purples of the color palette. I had bought it from a neighbor at the Wool Festival, Janette, who had been so kind and welcoming when I first showed up as knitbaahpurl at the 2012 Festival three years earlier.
Janette was in fact my first on-line purchase...which was also hilariously problematic. By May of my first full year as knitbaahpurl, I had learned how to put a website together and was busy drawing images for my Sheep Species Alphabet. It would take me another year to finish all twenty-six, but I decided to put them up one-by-one with an optimistic "coming soon" on the website page. I set up a payment page and got a business cell phone... and I left on vacation with my husband and sons. I was scared of that phone, always wondering if I had missed something really important, and jumping when it rang. Sitting in the car in Elizabethtown, NY, the phone rang. It was Janette. She was trying to buy 2 of my alphabet cards for her shop and the website was misbehaving. I remember the thrill of someone actually wanting to buy my cards mixed with the horror of having to figure out how to fix the problem. At that point I could only access the web in the public library about 20 miles from where we were staying. I went back and forth from the Schroon Lake Library trying to figure out what the problem was. Many trips later with many motivational inside-my-head talks and phone calls to Janette, I figured it out, everything worked, and I made my first on-line sale. So Janette will forever be part of the memorable moments of learning to be knitbaahpurl.
In 2016, I bought the rest of the roving from Janette and little by little drop spun and plied the lot. I had enough for a short sweater. It took me another year to "risk" knitting my hard-earned wool into something. This summer I remembered a pattern I had fallen in love with at least ten years ago and decided that was it. I learned how to knit holes (an illogical fear, I know), and made my first top down sweater. I finished it in the cabin where I first managed to spin, and in the area where Janette had first phoned to buy my cards (they were B is for Blue-faced Leicester and J is for Jacob). When I finished blocking I took the picture you see here. A left-over bit of yarn on a finished piece: all part of a creative journey that speaks of wool, learning new skills, and a treasured connection with Janette,
Two small folding tables, twelve sheep greeting cards, and two mug designs ago, my friend Joyce and I set up in the old gym of the Vinton School for the Blind in Iowa (where Mary Ingalls of Little House on the Prairie fame went to school). I didn’t know anyone.
I had reserved a space long after the deadline and was lucky they had room. Aside from my website, I was about to really go public. We spread things across the tables and tried to make it look full. We sat and waited and smiled as people wandered by. Many smiled back and then started to chuckle as they read the cards and mugs. Some laughed out loud. I felt like we were breaking the ice at an enormous fiber-filled cocktail party. Though it felt awkward at first, it was a quiet success and I realized how amazing contact with fiber enthusiasts, specialists, and producers could be.
One encounter stands out for me…
I looked up from adjusting the display to see a quiet older gentleman looking at the table. He had overalls on, and a baseball cap. He had been in the navy, a veteran of WWII. I watched him trying not to look as though I was watching him. It was unusual to see an older gentleman wandering alone. Normally, they were in family groups, or together with their partners. Though there are many fabulous men who knit, this gentleman stood out. After what seemed like a very long moment he spoke in the quietest of voices. It came across as a clandestine request for contraband:
“Psst, I want to buy a mug.”
I barely heard him.
“Excuse me?” I came closer to him.
Turning up the volume on his whisper he repeated,
“I want to buy a mug.”
“Of course,” I said. “Red or blue?”
He leaned in earnestly and looked nervously behind him.
“Red– A red one. Can we hurry. It’s a surprise for my wife.”
He looked over his shoulder again. She’s over there somewhere…”
I smiled and quickly put the mug in the brown craft paper bag. I started to whisper too. “There you are sir. I hope she likes it.”
“She will,” he said, “she was looking at them.”
And he walked away…
In March, my friend Joyce and I went to the Heartland Fiberpalooza in Winterset, Iowa. It was the third year in a row for me – and the town, the place, and the people were more familiar. I know many faces and I feel much more at ease showing my work …compared to my nervous early experiences with these yarn happenings, I realized how much I now look forward to the events and how much calmer and “trained” I have become over the last three years. The rhythm of it all ….counting, packing, driving, unloading, setting-up, collapsing (at the local hotel), waking, interacting, describing, laughing, buying (yes, from fellow vendors) conversing, packing. loading, driving home… that rhythm is familiar (and better when shared with a friend). I welcome the connection with people in love with wool, with sheep, and with all things fiber. The energy is contagious, the conversations are at once technical, and interesting …and deeply funny. Every festival offers many stories as well as an ongoing education. After three years I need more than one table.
It seems that, this year, the cosmos has nudged me into another kind of show where the comfort mentioned above has less of a presence. Little did I realize, even one year ago, that I would be invited to apply to shows on an urban scale with many many vendors, and with bigger challenges. I am in the throws of getting ready for events that used to exist for me on the pages of fiber magazines. Producing, packing, packaging, and organizing for a big show is rather different…dare I say as exciting as it is unsettling. We have overflowed from the business space into living spaces of our house. Every surface has lists, packing supplies, t’s waiting to be folded and mugs waiting to be packaged. The notion of a small business as a cottage industry while enticing, seems hilariously misguided. There is no cottage… obviously. Rather, my brain is full with details, anticipation, and nervous energy. It is overwhelming. My respect for “garage” entrepreneurs grows everyday.
In two days, I leave for Stitches in Schaumburg outside of Chicago. Two vans, myself and two friends. One of them, Wendy, was the first recipient of my very first sheep image given as a birthday offering. It is, I keep telling her, all her fault. Nerves and all, I am looking forward to the face to face that shows allow and I hope to add to the log of positive and amazing experiences that my sheep and wool drawings have offered me thus far.