Like The Queen
Whatever happens to strike my fancy, but surely some sort of fiber content.


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Sunday, January 18, 2004  


Really Really Long - Possibly more than you want to know

Some moments are so ripe with sentiment, sensuality and spirituality you find yourself waiting for them to burst with a physical manifestation, like a birthing. On Friday afternoon, as I stood looking through the doorway from Barbara's dye-room into the showroom of her studio, seeing the rhythmic motions of the spinners' hands, hearing the slight whirrrr of the wheels, the low, calming voices of the women, with the arching swing of N working the picker as J's graceful hands scooped up the flying fiber being tossed off its wicked teeth, my heart knew I was experiencing one of those moments. To try to describe such a supreme moment is a display of hubris on my part that tempts retribution. It is far more truly the right of the poet or bard, but the moment itself is too big for my soul to contain it. It must pour forth or I shall be immobilized by the wonder of it.

Of course there were many beautiful notes in the prelude to that glorious climactic moment. Friday dawned quite cold. As I sped away from home I saw LD warming up his truck - with naughty Socks, our yellow dog, skipping around his legs. He often walks over in the night and the dogs accompany him home across the fields. Priss never lingers, but lately, Socks has taken to staying at his house all night. He's good about not letting her in or feeding her, but she's smitten and love knows no bonds. Besides, she knows the way home and eventually, she'll get hungry. She was at the house yesterday when I drove up.

I'm always a tad frustrated on the trip to Charlottesville. It always seems to take longer than it should. Of course there is no direct road to C'ville from my house. One must either drive south then west then northwest or north then west then southwest to get there. BD has devised a straight shot, but it's down back roads and, while beautiful, must be driven slowly. It was hard enough, on Friday, to pay the debt of time to get there on fast roads. This was a day to sacrifice beauty for speed. I monitored the clock and from town to the moment I walked through the door of The Needlewoman into the loving arms of J and L, was 2 hours 20 minutes.

I am noticing that when I am with a group of like-minded women in a fiber environment, I have a hard time making my brain work. I'm so enmeshed in the sensuality of fiber, color, pleasure, friendship, love and delight, I have almost no judgment, no ability to act, think or decide. I can't really even knit if I let myself be a part of the experience, nor can I work on anything else, as I found out Friday afternoon. I have always thought I was a group worker - a committee person - not I, some Jack Horner, sitting in a corner, pulling out plums. I need People to get moving.

Well, that may be so, but I need solitude - no - no, I need to be apart, to get on with working, as I had to acknowledge yet again, later that day. Not even shopping can be done well, when I'm with delightful friends in an Aladdin's cave of desirable goods. It's fortunate for me that I ventured into this new place on a scouting foray, to just look. I would have been too excited and happy to make serious choices.

Anyway, there were hugs and smiles and loving words and huge grins and laughing voices when we three met and then coats were tossed onto a chair and we began the delightful process of touching, and ooing and ahhing.

When I assess a shop I'm looking for three things. First and foremost is a friendly atmosphere. This is not essential, mind - I shop to buy, not to be loved, but it is often a factor in whether I go back frequently or only when I am in need. The second thing I want is a good stock of quality wool in an array of colors. By wool I do not mean yarn. I mean the stuff off the sheep's back. I really truly love wool fiber. I love the way it takes colors. I love its elasticity. I love its springy tactile liveliness that invites touching. I love its scent, wet or dry. I love to sculpt it with needles and fingers. I like to wear cotton and silk and linen. I will wear synthetics. But when it comes to time spent with yarn - I want wool. The bigger the choice a shop offers me, the happier I am.

The last thing I am looking for is something unusual. Something nobody else has. Or at least, something unique to my experience; the shop's own line of wool; rare hand dyed yarns by a local artist; something different.

The Needlewoman has all three of my A-list requirements and it's certainly a shop I'll return to. It's large, airy and packed full of lovely yarns. The owner is present, friendly, helpful without hovering. Her assistant is a courtly looking gentleman who can talk fiber and knows the stock. The shop had the expected wall of novelty scarf yarns and I picked up two different glittery color-bits yarns to use with my dark peach Stars scarf. One is Eros with black tracks and color bits in oranges and golds and the other is Rialto, also with black string but more colorful flags. I'm not sure which one I'll use but the other will be given a home in some future happy project. Plenty of Cascade - a yarn I haven't used, but intend to. Brown Sheep, thank you, always glad to see that. And some Australian yarns in ice cream parlor colors full of the bright light of that very brightly lit country. It took monumental discipline not to buy a basket full of those colors, because a fair isle design for a hat began dancing across my inner eye the moment I saw them. I may yet have to return sometime soon - but the results of my November inventory were still standing sentinel on my pocketbook - and my inner peace. I resisted, but with real regret. The most difficult act of all was not buying that alpaca put up in 600+ yard hanks and priced at $25 a hank. $50 for an alpaca sweater was mighty hard to resist. But I also knew I had a trunk full of Falkland Island Polwarth, pounds and pounds of fiber and yarn at home, a sweater on the needles, two on the UFO list ... you get the picture. No yarn for me till I finish 2 sweaters. Period.

I did, though, buy XRX's new book Arans & Celtics: The Best of Knitters Magazine. Woo Woo. It really does have my favorite of Knitters arans and celtics. Especially the sweaters in the Fall 99 issue which I bought and have now lost. I am absolutely going to make an aran sweater in the next 18 months. I love cables. I love to look at them, touch them and wear them. But I don't own one. What is wrong with this picture? I also bought the Winter Vogue knitting magazine - because I like eye candy and I thought there were a few things I found inspiring inside. I haven't enjoyed VK in a long long time. It still has a bunch of soporific stuff in it, but the adds are better than ever. I applaud them, too, on the article on preventing stress injuries with healthful stretching exercises - particularly good were the explanations of injuries like trigger fingers. Good for them.

We lingered at the shop about an hour, chattering excitedly but I had an agenda - and L & J let me push them on. J knew how wonderful Stony Mt. Fibers was going to be and L was game for anything. Lunch was in one of those restaurants you find in a university town. Mr. Jefferson was nothing if not a connoisseur, and good food abounds. Cute waiter with a French accent didn't hurt either.

I have driven about in C'ville a bit but I wouldn't say I was familiar with it. Fortunately it was an easy shot out to Rt. 20 and a 15 minute drive up to Hammock's Gap Road. It's always further down that road than I remembered, when I go to Barbara's, but perhaps that's because I'm so excited about getting there. I will never forget the tight knot in my stomach the first time I drove up there - on the quest for a spinning wheel. Down the stony dirt road, then up and round and up and then, more up, to the green mail box and there is Stony Mountain Fibers.

Allow me to pause here and sigh.

I want to live in Barbara Gentry's studio. I want to pack a sleeping bag and when darkness comes, to lie on the floor surrounded by fibers and looms, wheels and needles, yarns and fleece, colors and books. I want the arms of a happy day to cradle me to sleep. I want the baa of sheep to waken me in the morning. I love this place. I love Barbara too. She is so calm and so peaceful. Her hands are graceful, as a weaver's ought to be. Her eyes are brimming with joy, for she is a woman who has followed her path with courage and love. I'm so glad to have found her and I'm so glad to have introduced other beloved women to her. How fitting that when I arrived, R and the girls were already there.

R is my oldest friend. Even older than BD for I met her about a day before I met him. When two chatter boxes meet, the first thing that happens is that conversation spills about in a froth of generosity all around them. It is a veritable bubblebath of sharing. That is how it was with L and me. But when you meet a QuietOne, the meeting is with the eyes. Even if you are a chatter box - when your eyes connect with a QuietOne, you know. That is how it was with J and that is how it was with R. We met at school, assigned to the same top floor in a high rise dormitory. I walked into one of the school cafeterias and there she sat, across the room and our eyes met and the thread of our lives spun together in that instant.

In the early years we were inseparable. There is nobody I have ever been as silly with as with R. We were silly and noisy and naughty as only 18 year old girls, fresh from our parent's supervision, can be. We pushed a number of limits, but only limits of absurdity, not of illegality, drugs, ethics or any of the other evil temptations. We were children of the '60's but we were both on personal quests and the radical movements fluttered around us, but never touched us. Art was our goddess, and the earth. Time has passed - thirty two years, in fact. Eventually we each landed on Rt. 631, albeit in different counties, married to land surveyors, who actually turned out to be distant kin, with a single child to delight our old age and more dogs than anybody needs. We heat our houses with wood stoves, live next door to intimate family members and shiver with delight when our hands plunge deep into bales of fiber. R is a better gardener than I; is more disciplined with all that she attempts; does not have mountains of stash and her house is tidier than mine. But those are merely differences of degree.

What delight it is to be in a place you love, with people you love. More than that, though, is a particular femininity that is brought out when women sit and spin. I really hate the term Stitch and Bitch. It makes me sad to hear it used, to see it in print, I was offended by the use of it as a book title, and just .. well. I just hate it. I hate the term bitch when it is applied to women unless they really are being bitchy. To call a gathering of women with fiber a Stitch&Bitch seems to condemn them to bitching about stuff. More to the point, I have seldom found women turning bitchy when they are gathered together around their wheels and with their fibers. Any two people may not like each other and be unkind or hostile or mean. But that's a personal thing, not a feminine trait.

Nothing could be further from the reality of Friday afternoon than the term bitch. These were beautiful women whose faces had blossomed with delight at the colors, textures and scents in Barbara's studio, and then relaxed into peaceful contemplation as they settled into their craft. They were there to experiment - to connect - to share. It was so pretty to see them, and it was extremely feminine.

And I was there to work.

I really did have a monumental job before me. My 3 or so lbs of F I Polwarth filled two trash can bags, but when we'd finished running half of it through the picker I still had two bags full, only they were now the lawn 'n leaf sized bags. The picker is a scary looking machine and we were all extremely careful with it. It has a curved bed studded with 3 inch sharp spikes and a pendulum curved to fit the bed, also studded with 3 inch sharp spikes. The pendulum swings back and forth in the bed. You feed the locks between bed and pendulum and it opens up the locks, tossing little fluffy bits of it onto the table in front of you. R's daughter J and her friend N spent almost all of the afternoon with me floofing (their own word for it) the fibers while I fed them into the electric carder. It took approximately 20 minutes to card a 3 foot batt on that big machine.

In my haste to have all the wool washed, I had not picked out the second cuts on some of the sections of fleece. STUPID. Once washed, those cuts were distributed throughout the fibers and there was no picking them out. What the carder removed I accepted with gratitude, and what is left I shall have to accept with grace. It changes utterly what I had in mind for this yarn - since it can be spun as fine as silk, with its long fibers and strong crimp. I shall just have to design something that displays the texture of the yarn I spin with it - and remember, next time I have a fleece, to pick out those second cuts before I do anything else.

I really had a choice Friday - to work with the fleece, or to linger with the BeauteousOnes. I chose to work, though I took breaks to join the circle often. It was enough to be able to hear the spinners in the other room. Besides, we realized almost instantly that this could not be our only gathering. We were going to have to do this on a regular basis. Monthly, perhaps? However we arrange it, we will cluster again in Barbara's wonderful studio. By 4:30 R had to leave, taking the girls with her. I was nowhere near done with my pickin' and a cardin'. In fact, I had made it through less than 25% of the stuff I'd brought. Since I was spending the night at R's house, it was decided that I would return with her and the girls on Saturday and see if I could at least card up another big chunk. Barbara took J and L with her to feed the sheep while I finished up one last batt and then we all went out to dinner. The same tenor of grace laced our conversation through the dark night, at the restaurant, along the ride home. We teased L with the most outre of our spiritual experiences, learned more about Barbara's life as a fiber artist, pumped J for news about Spirit Trail Fibers , ate copious amounts of food, and were impressed with J's ability to navigate at night through an unknown town, complete with blocked traffic and broken water mains, in freezing weather. All of us heaved blissful sighs as we drove back to Barbara's. Sighs that told the tale of repletion, fulfilledness, utter, complete satisfaction.

I peeled off after dinner, for I didn't want to be too late getting to R's house. It was a short enough drive, but I was surprised at how much traffic filled Hwy. 29 at 7 p.m. on a Friday night in January. I guess all of Virginia is filling up, but I do wonder where these people are coming from! It took less than an hour and I was soon in R's cozy house, with her Ds and her dogs and talk and laughter and that poking and prodding you can do in a beloved friend's house when you haven't visited for a while. They are renovating the whole bedroom area and both J and I spent the night next door in the house where EJ grew up. It's like all those wonderful old 18th and 19th century Virginia houses - with staircases that surprise and bathrooms in strange places and that wonderful smell of timelessness. Mrs.B was warm and gracious and with such a twinkle in her eye, and my bed was snowy fresh and cozy.

Saturday dawned with pink clouds dappling the sky over the blue tips of mountain tops. After a hearty breakfast, that pretty much lasted me till 3, the girls and I headed back to SMF. Friday's joy was still lingering in the studio. Barbara had already unlocked the door and we could hop right to it. There was so much fiber still to process, I decided to finish only the first bag full. I had to keep reminding myself that this truly is not the last trip I'll ever make to SMF, and I couldn't possibly spin all the batts I'd made over the next month or so.

It transpired that the girls ended up helping Barbara package felting needles - and I bought each of them a set, (Barbara contributed colored wool) - while R worked with me in the carding room. Once again there was gentle soft loving conversation, sharing with fingers and words and the tingle of two people who have loved each other a long time. And I did get that big bag done, and a little of the corriedale, which J and I bought last May. Just one big batt of it, to see what it is like. It carded so differently from the Polwarth!

But I will send that out to the professionals. I don't want to card for hours and hours. I want to spin and knit.

R&thegirls left about 2 and I lingered maybe another hour. Picked up some felting needles for myself, along with the most delightful little book about making needle felted creatures and Interweave Press's Tops with a Twist. First really different hat book I've seen in ages - it ranks up there with Zilboorg's hat book - but with more techniques that I have never tried. Barbara also had pretty much the complete line of Interlacements fibers. She had several yarns, including Little Toes, a mohair and I believe a boucle, as well as silk and merino roving in all the handpaint designs they offer. She also had their fiber card so you could order any of their yarns or fibers in their dye patterns. I picked up two hanks of the silk roving in vivid blue, green, purple, gold and orange. Yum for me. More blue than I usually wear but I am thinking summer tank top and I'm thinking about spinning and knitting it so that the golds and oranges are closest to my face. Ahh plans and plots and dreams.

The weather forecast was for wet falling stuff - an icy mix - and I was on the road by 3 p.m. The traffic was not bad driving home. Nothing tempted me to stop except for one comfort stop along I64. The only wet spot I encountered was in King and Queen county and that shower had already passed. A fine sleet was just beginning as I drove up to the door of home to find golden light pouring out of the windows, smoke curling out of the chimney and all the hugs this hug-hungry body needed, waiting there for me.

It had been a perfect two days that ended in a perfect homecoming. Yes. Sometimes, perfect is the perfect word.

posted by Bess | 8:57 AM