I didn’t realize that it had been so long since I’ve posted. The last few weeks have kind of opened up and swallowed me whole, but things are slowly beginning to return to normal around here. Or at least as normal as they ever are, which tends to consist of periods of reasonable calm punctuated by bursts of insane overwhelm.
Fortunately, the insanity is calming down, and I’m beginning to actually have room to think again. And as I look up from work and planning, I’m suddenly realizing that spring has come in my absence.
Or, rather, that spring has exploded into being. A week ago we had temperatures in the 40’s, and everything was damp, icy cold. Today, it was supposed to hit 70, and it was light all evening.
This past weekend, Branden and I took a much needed break and went outside. We visited the Chicago Botanic Gardens, looking for signs of spring.
First, though, I was struck by the beauty of the remnants of fall.
But then, pushing up amidst the faded glory of last years’ show, the new guard is bursting forth.
We walked through most of the gardens, finding signs of spring here and there, little isolated pockets of new life poking out.
And then, we walked around a bend in the path, and stumbled across this jubilant display.
If that doesn’t capture springtime and the joy of reawakening, then I’m not sure what does.
The annual Fine Art of Fiber festival was this past weekend at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. The festival is put on by the Illinois Quilters, the North Suburban Needle Arts Guild, and the Weavers Guild of the North Shore.
We were expecting something fairly small, maybe a few rooms of pieces on display. We were completely unprepared for the size of this show. There were at least 3 display rooms with every surface covered in quilts, a display of handmade aprons, and two large rooms full of weaving and other crafts for sale.
I expected that we’d spend an hour or two and then go for a stroll around the gardens afterward. We spent the entire day.
This was one of my favorite pieces in the show. I love how the quilter used different values and saturations of color to really make the squares pop. It’s also interesting how the different colors interact; I wouldn’t usually think to mix pink and orange, but they complement one another beautifully here, and I think that contrast is part of what gives the quilt depth. Their placement also keeps your eye moving around the quilt, giving it a really dynamic feel.
Quilting, like weaving, is all about color composition. It’s something I’m not very good at (yet), but I appreciate it in others’ work. We kept circling back around past this one throughout the day, and every time I passed I liked it more.
Here’s another one where the color pattern was carefully chosen to highlight the woven look of the quilt. This must have been an awful pain to construct, since those pieces can’t be sewn as squares and have to be pieced as “L” shapes (corner seams don’t tend to like to lie flat).
This one I liked for the sheer boldness of its design, and it’s jagged feel. It’s saw edges and z’s and broken glass all at once. I’ve read somewhere that there are certain commonalities in how sounds are represented across languages and cultures; that a curvy shape has a soft sound, and a sharp shape represents hard, crisp sounds. To me, this quilt is the visual equivalent of that. It practically crackles, doesn’t it?
This was almost the exact opposite. Subtle, calm, understated. A forest of trees that is almost there, and almost not. I think the background fabric on this one was handpainted, too. Loved the color blending, and the way the three-dimensional leaves brought out the background.
This piece was another jaw-dropper in terms of color composition.
And just look at the details in the quilting!
Another thing that this show really brought home is the importance of beautiful quilting to finish a piece. I don’t have much to show there, because it’s hard to take pictures that actually show quilting, but when well done, it really elevates a quilt from nice to spectacular.
Here’s an example of a very plain background that became a lot more interesting with quilting. All those flowers are quilted in. Without those details, the butterfly would be on a plain red background.
As with anything, I suppose, the genius is in the details, and in pulling them all together to make a coherent whole. It was fun to spend a day studying so many masterpieces.
There was a woman demonstrating bobbin lace, which I’ve been tempted to try for quite some time. She managed to make it sound quite simple despite its apparent complexity, too. Turns out that’s all just one “stitch” too. Just like knitting…you take one simple thing and make complicated patterns. She had a sample for people to practice on. I declined, out of fear of gaining another hobby on the spot. Fortunately, I know I will never run out of things to explore in the craft world.
We also sat in on a lecture by the owner of Kasuri dyeworks about Japanese textiles. I didn’t take photos, but it was an amazing hour, packed full of information about the techniques of Japanese master dyers and weavers. There is so much history in those pieces of fabric. It literally takes a lifetime to master these crafts (she said that one of the weavers she works with is considered “up and coming” after 30+ years of apprenticeship). We found ourselves shaking our heads and saying “only the Japanese” so often during the lecture. There is so much careful attention to detail, so much miniaturized and painstaking work, and such emphasis on perfection of their craft. The fabrics were truly beautiful, and the culture behind them was just as interesting. I’d highly recommend that anyone sit in on one of these lectures if you get the chance; even if you don’t weave or dye, it was an amazing way to spend an hour.
We didn’t take photos of the woven pieces on display, unfortunately. They didn’t have any for show only, and people can be funny about you taking pictures of things that are for sale, so we opted to just look. I’ve decided that I really must play with huck lace, and have reinforced the idea that I want to weave very fine (50-100 ends per inch seems like a good goal for now, just as soon as I can get enough heddles to thread the loom with that many ends!). I also discovered that I like very lightweight chenille much, much more than the slightly heavier-weight kind that I’ve usually seen.
We saw some examples of garments with beautiful finishing details, which is of particular interest to me because that’s where my weaving is headed (eventually, anyway). Again, the details really make the piece. I only barely managed to avoid taking a finely finished jacket home with me as a new addition to my wardrobe. Next year, maybe.
In all, it was a long but fun day. So many inspiring things to see, a million more directions to explore. It did poke my dormant quilting itch, and has gotten my brain turning on some new ideas for weaving projects. Definitely an event to attend again next year. (And who knows…maybe to enter, too?)
Ellen and I have been emailing about how we’ve both been in a bit of withdrawal since Rhinebeck. It’s a little harder than I expected to come back to real life after a fantastic weekend of friends and fiber. I’m thinking that perhaps it is time for a little reminiscence, yes?
(And a little revealing of purchases, too…can’t have a proper festival post without that.)
As usual, I had terrible camnesia for most of the trip, so this post will be link-heavy and picture light.
Fortunately, Ellen had the presence of mind to ask someone to take a picture of our group, while waiting in line for the fair grounds to open on Saturday:
From left to right, that’s Karen, Cricket, Ellen and me (bet you couldn’t tell on that last one).
We all stayed together in a beautiful little cabin about 20 minutes from the fairground, which really was the perfect way to enjoy the festival. Ellen arranged that too. (You may be sensing a pattern here…)
Despite a heavy rainstorm on Friday night, we had a weekend of beautiful weather that was just right to highlight the fall foliage. Driving back and forth along all those winding country highways, it was all I could do not to pull over every 10 minutes to take a picture of the colors as the car rounded a bend into yet another beautiful landscape.
We all arrived late Friday night, had a great nights’ sleep after our travels, and then sprinted off for the fairgrounds first thing in the morning. First off, we investigated the fleece sale, where I was sorely tempted by an 8 pound Cormo. I managed to resist that one, but fell head over heels for this gray Corriedale cross from Lisa Lafferty at Eidelweiss Farm, which Ellen and I agreed to send off for processing and then split between us.
This is the first time I’ve sent a fleece off for processing. It does add a whole new dimension to buying raw fleeces (as well as cutting out many, many steps in between the buying and the spinning). Could be dangerous.
Then, we stood in line to meet the Yarn Harlot and get our books signed. Actually, we stood in three lines. One, to get to a copy of the book, then one to purchase the book, and a third to get it signed. Fortunately, there were other books and authors to look at and chat with along the way, and Ellen kept us entertained with her adorable little Jenkins Kuchulu spindle.
I picked up a copy of Sheepish along the way, which I’ve heard is a very good read.
Then, we began our wanderings around the fairgrounds. And there was much wandering to be done. I’ve just had a look at the fair map, and there were ten (ten!) barns chock full of fiber. You could go for days and not take it all in. Fortunately, we had Karen to read the map and make sure we knew where we were (and where we were going) at any given time. This is a big help when the rest of the crew is caught up in *shiny!*
Instead of doing my usual walk once around before buying, we just went straight for it and hit up the booths we thought were interesting. We found rare breed wools at Spirit Trails Fiber. I was bitten by the Targhee bug at Jefferson this year, and so ended up with 8 oz of that, even though I got in line expecting to buy 4 oz. Oops. I also bought 5 oz of Debouillet, since Rambouillet has been on my to-try list for a while now, and Debouillet sounded kind of close, and was very soft.
There was a whole booth full of incredible shetland sweaters from Yarns International. I didn’t buy any, but they’ve gone into my mental file of yarns I must try someday. Their colorwork was also stunning, but it was early in the festival and I hadn’t worked up the courage yet to start asking if I could take photos of sample pieces.
We stopped by the Fiber Optic booth to meet the dyer, Kimber, who I hear is very scientific. Unfortunately, she was also swamped, so I will have to find another time to stand around and talk shop. Her fiber is lovely, though. I ended up with a bag of Black Coffee pencil roving, and a gradient-dyed braid of Merino Tencel in Espresso Gold (must have needed a caffeine kick after the early start to our day).
We also stopped by the Golding booth and had a look at their spindles. At one point, both Ellen and I turned around, saying “you’ve got to see this one” and then dissolved into laughter when we realized that we were holding two copies of the same spindle. Great minds think alike. (And you should see it spin!!!)
After lunch, we wandered the upper fairgrounds, passing by the Briar Rose and Sanguine Gryphon booths. Then, we watched a few sheep lose their coats:
And took a tour of the show barns, including the breeds barn where Ellen picked out all the sheep she wants for her future farm (and for Jan’s…she’s such a thoughtful sister).
We also got to talk to Otto Strauch about his drum carders, which was very interesting. Both Ellen and I are in the researching phase of considering a drum carder purchase, so it was interesting to hear about all the technical details that make the Strauch carders unique.
At the end of the day, we realized that we had not sat down from the time we arrived at the fairgrounds until we got in the car to head off to dinner. You know it’s been a good day when you’ve forgotten to stop and sit.
We had dinner at a local brewery, where Cricket and Ellen dueled their way through the beer sampler, and Cricket kept us all in stitches. (Actually, she did that all weekend.)
We got back to the cabin late, but we had just enough time for a show-and-tell before bed, and a few more laughs. Ellen did some sample washing of fleeces in the kitchen sink, and we all oohed and aahed over the locks of freshly cleaned wool.
I headed back to the fairgrounds alone on Sunday morning, since I had a morning class and a few hours before my afternoon flight. The class was called Great Garments from Handwoven Cloth by Daryl Lancaster, and it was very, very good. I’ve done a good bit of garment sewing myself, but I learned so much about simple sewing techniques that just hadn’t come up in my self-taught career. Daryl is great at getting into the “why” of garment construction instead of just the rules. She also had tons of useful tips for stabilizing handwoven cloth, adding structure to garments, and finishing edges so that they stay put and don’t ravel. The class was only an hour and a half long, but it was jam-packed.
And then there were the samples. Here’s one of my favorites:
After class, I was in a weaving mood, so I visited the Just Our Yarn booth to peruse their samples. I just love looking at them all.
Look at the detail in this one:
I just love how those colors work together, but wouldn’t have thought to put salmon and blue in the same piece. The owners are also wonderful to talk to about weaving; they know how each sample was made, and can talk at length about the structures and colors and yarn weights used to get a particular effect. I always learn so much from a visit to their booth. I have some of their yarn for a project already, and so forbore to buy more, but I did pick up a couple of books that are kind of the equivalent of weaving stitch dictionaries. There are years of exploration in these pages.
I also found a few things on the fairgrounds that we’d overlooked on Saturday. There were some very artistic carved pumpkins:
And a whole barn full of antique museum-displays. They had everything from the print shop to the formal parlor. I spent quite a while watching the clock maker repair the mechanism for a pendulum clock:
Here’s the print shop:
I got to use the mini moveable-type printing press, but didn’t take a picture of that one.
Then, I headed back into the yarn barns. I found this beautiful colorwork sweater by Decadent Fibers. It’s sold as a kit, but I really just wanted to sit and study those intricate colorwork designs. Might have to buy the pattern someday, just because.
And these fantastic felted/leatherwork bags by Spiralworks. I just love the combination of felt and stylish leather bags.
None of them made their way home with me, but it’s something to keep in mind when I need something special one of these days.
A couple of tiny braids of pure silk from Cloverleaf farms did manage to sneak into my bag:
I bought the first one because I thought it might make the perfect trim to go with the fall colors sweater:
The red is looking a little pink next to the wool yarn, so I’m not sure if it will actually end up in the sweater. We may have to see what it looks like when spun up first. The second braid I bought just because. I’m not sure what they will become, but they are beautiful.
I also stopped off at the Briar Rose booth to show Chris my sweater and gush a bit about her yarn. I’ve just realized that I never actually showed a modeled photo on the blog, so here it is:
And here’s a closeup of the neck detail (that’s my favorite part).
I had completely forgotten to take pictures; probably because I’ve been so busy figuring out how to wear it as often as possible. My sweater queue is completely full up right now, or I’d have bought yarn for another three right then and there. Honestly, I could buy every yarn in her booth.
And then, in my last few minutes of wandering, I ran into Anne, as I’ve already told you. I really had given up hope of finding her at that point, so it was just the perfect way to end the festival.
So that was Rhinebeck 2011. Two days packed full of fiber, fun, and friends. I’m not sure I could handle this much fiber activity on a regular basis, but I am looking forward to next year!