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.