Sunday, July 26, 2015

How it all began

I first picked up a pair of knitting needles in the summer of 2000.  I was in the Physics PhD program at the University of Notre Dame having completed my master's in physics (observational astronomy) at Ball State University and having dropped out of a doctorate program at NASA Langley.  My sister Virginia and her business partner Carol were swinging through our home town on their way to Convergence (the big weaving conference held every two years), which was being held in Cincinnati.  In those days they traveled the country in a 1970s black stretch limousine that they had bought used.  They wanted some help at the show and I had the time so I went to the show with them.  At that point I didn't really know my oldest sister that well.  She is 10 years older than me and left home to pursue her own graduate degree in Fine Arts when I was only 12.  My memories of her mostly involved music, the albums that she would play in her room (they call it classic rock, now), and the sound of her playing the piano (she is quite gifted), which was directly below my bedroom.  After she left home the piano sat silent in the corner.  The memories of her piano playing inspired me to teach myself how to play and read music.  I spent a whole summer torturing my family with Christmas Carols (they were easy and I knew what they were supposed to sound like).  Eventually I had the piano tuned and took lessons.

So there we were in Cincinnati.  We had a single booth at the show and in the booth next door someone was selling knitting machines.  For the entire weekend we had to listen to that darn thing going back and forth.  The show was pretty slow.  Although things have changed in the intervening years back then fiber artists weren't that into beads.  I had plenty of time to wander the show floor and in a basket on the floor of a booth I found the yarn that ended up as that scarf, the first thing I knit without a pattern.  It is from Oak Grove Studio and is a Kid Mohair/Wool/Nylon boucle.  The color is Antique Rose.  It was in a remnants basket and I bought all that she had.  I had no idea what to do with a boucle yarn, but I loved the colors. When I got home from the show I bought How to Knit by Debbie Bliss and jumped right in, teaching myself on cheap yarn from the craft store.

Once I had gained some confidence I pulled out the yarn and tried to figure out what to do with it.  In the end I decided to make a scarf.  I knit it in seed stitch so there wouldn't be a wrong side.  I just cast on some stitches and started knitting and didn't stop until I had used up all the yarn.  By this time I had switched from Physics to the History of Science and was a teaching assistant for an American History class.  One of the things we had to do was watch some movies, like The Birth of a Nation.  Another one we had to watch was The Deerhunter, a film that I really didn't want to see, but had to, so I spent the entire movie knitting on that scarf.  It was while in grad school that I also got in to the habit of knitting during class and while reading (especially when I had to read Philosophy).

As I mentioned, the show was pretty slow, so we all ended up doing some beading in the booth.  Carol was playing around with lentil beads and so we all made spiral rope bracelets using lentils and embellished with pressed glass flowers, leaves and daggers.  I still have mine.

While I was wandering the show floor I also found some fabric that I just had to have.  I was walking by a large booth and I saw a bolt of purple batik fabric on a wire rack shelf.  The booth was St Theresa Textile, a local business.  I walked into the booth and pointed at the bolt of fabric and said "I must have that fabric."  The young lady smiled at me and asked "How much would you like?"  I thought for a few seconds and said "Five yards."  I had no idea what I would make out of it, but I figured if I bought five yards I should have plenty of options.  My sister Liz and I had taken sewing lessons when we were young and I had done some sewing while in high school and had taken the family sewing machine (a Singer in a nice wooden sewing desk) when I had moved out.  With the sewing machine stowed and a wooden tray over the opening it made a nice table.  Once back in South Bend I went down to the local JoAnn's and spent an afternoon at the pattern table looking through the pattern books (these days I do all of that online) and in the end I found a Retro Simplicity pattern 9192, which would make good use of the quantity of fabric I had purchased (even back then I hated leftovers) and whose simple lines would showcase the batik design.
I purchased some purple satin for the contrast sleeves and collar, but skipped the belt.

I didn't work for my sister again until 2002.  By then I had dropped out of graduate school and gone back to work.  I was living in Philadelphia and working at Lockheed Martin in Moorestown New Jersey.  I had kept crafting and regularly ordered beads from her bead store, so we had more regular contact.  When she mentioned needing help at the Bead & Button show I jumped at the opportunity.  I was able to fly to the show and as my airport van was approaching our hotel I saw their black limousine ahead of us at the light.  We had a lot of fun and I've been working the show with her ever since.  That first year was the only year that I flew to the show.  The next year she had me pick up gridwall at a place in Philadelphia and I started driving to the show and bringing the booth infrastructure while they shipped the stock and flew.  Back then I had a full sized Caprice Classic Station wagon, complete with "wood panel" sides.  That was a great car for hauling things in.  I could fit all of the booth stuff and still take my sister and Carol to the airport even with all of their luggage.

In 2005 my folks decided that I needed to get a new car, so when I went to the show I mentioned it to Virginia and Carol and asked them if they wanted the car.  We have a habit of passing cars on in my family.  I had gotten the station wagon from our parents when they decided to buy a smaller car.  Knowing that my sister didn't have a lot of money I offered the car to her.  She jumped at the offer and rode back to Yellow Springs with me.  She helped me pick out the Element and I helped her pack up the paintings (we had to remove the canvas from the frames) that she had left behind when she went out West all those years ago.  She packed up the station wagon with lots of things that she had left behind and I packed up the Element and we parted for another year.  Over the years we've gotten to know each other one intense week at a time.  We have done one other road trip together in 2006 when Convergence was held in Grand Rapids Michigan a week after the Bead & Button show.  It was at that show that I got to try out weaving.  On that particular drive from Milwaukee to Yellow Springs we drove through a horrendous thunder storm in Indiana.  We had gotten off the interstate (she likes the back roads) and we drove for hours through driving rain and even some flooded streets.  I had a Dell Mini with cellular wireless and we were tracking the storm on it as we drove.  The storm was moving the same direction that we were and we just couldn't get away.  Eventually we managed to get ahead of it, but it caught up to us shortly after we made it to Yellow Springs.  It was epic. We still talk about that drive.

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