We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to be really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.
Sarah Swett (you might recognize her sweater from Spin-Off magazine)
In 1998, when Gingko asked me to teach her how to knit, I checked Melanie Falick's Kids Knitting out of the library so Gingko and I could both learn. At the same time I checked out Melanie's Knitting in America (reissued as America Knits--a pox on whoever decided to give it a different title). [Unrelated note: would somebody PLEASE write another fine book like this one??? Please?]
Well, it is not an exaggeration to say that this action changed the direction of my life! Melanie's profile of Meg Swansen resonated deeply and moved me to delve into knitting.
But another profile was equally powerful: Sarah Swett, wearing an incredibly beautiful sweater (Kestrel's Alight) and spinning on a spindle (she's in the upper right on the cover), epitomized another way to live a life surrounded by fiber. She appealed to the back-to-the-land me, the girl who washed her first fleece in the dorm bathroom and subscribed to Organic Gardening while living in small city apartments--the girl who had been lost in the decades since.
But Sarah's art and life are a combination of totally modern and pioneer sensibility. She moves between spinning, natural dyeing, knitting, tapestry weaving, embroidery, writing, painting, and needlepoint in a dizzying way--if you follow her work you know that you can never be sure what she will do next!
Well, last weekend I enjoyed a 2.5-day workshop on value with Sarah. Beth Smith, a talented spinning instructor, of The Spinning Loft organized this event, which was held in Brighton, Michigan. When my friends Greg and Marilyn told me last fall that Beth was hosting Sarah sometime in May, I told them to sign me up the minute registration opened: I didn't care what the subject was. I find Sarah to be so inspirational as an artist and fiberist that anything she chose to present would work for me.
Luckily, the theme of the workshop was value. And it just so happens that value movement is the secret behind Fair Isle design! We spent our time playing with just a few natural shades of CVM fleece plus a tad of indigo-dyed fleece, blending to get just the right value to make, well, what we want to make.
[Value? What's that, you say? Value is the relative darkness or lightness of a thing. The manipulation of value is central to any artist's work--see this image of a tapestry Sarah wove in one color that works because of different values. All stranded knitting relies on value contrast, and Fair Isle also manipulates value gradients.)
Day one was spent preparing yarn for Fair Isle knitting. Day two focused on embroidery, and day three involved needlepoint.
Sarah's tapestry sample to show value
Sarah's needlepoint samples (plus some knitting) to demonstrate value
Sarah's needlepoint bag--soft yet sturdy, spun with long-staple wools--it can be hard to see value when presented with such vivid colors!
Sarah's embroidery sample, showing value movement
Sarah at the informal pizza party
I flew into Kansas City and drove up to Iowa City with Marilyn to pick up Greg; one more long day of driving and we were in Michigan. The midwest was looking lovely in the spring--so very green, with big skies and clouds like the cover of It's a Beautiful Day. Luckily we did not meet up with any of the severe weather that afflicted parts of the midwest. I did, however, meet many talented fiberists at the workshop--some already known to me by reputation (hello, Sasha, Julia, and Jillian!) and others new to me, but equally talented.
I came away as energized as a newly spun singles, ready to take on new challenges. Writing about this reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, from Thank You and OK by David Chadwick--I've shared this before, but it just fits here, too:
The bus to Beppu [Japan] stopped and an old lady got on. There was only one empty space left and that was the one next to me. Bravely she lowered herself onto the seat, placing a paper shopping bag with handles between us. [I asked her how she was.]
“Genki desu,” she answered, saying she’s fine, and then added, “Okage sama de.”
Yes, I thought, okage sama de, thanks to all that has made it possible. And I profusely thanked all who had helped me and all that had brought me to that place at that moment. Thanks to parents and ancestors, wives and lovers, children and friends, teachers and fellow travelers. Heartfelt gratitude to all beings and nonbeings on earth and in heaven, in the ten directions, from the past, present and future who have made it possible for me to have been where I’ve been, done what I’ve done, known what I’ve known and to be sitting in this bus seat now, so very happy to be rolling on toward Beppu and beyond, to more adventure and discovery.