Friday, March 20, 2015

Posting Again

I am trying something new today: Posting with a time limit. I haven't posted in the past several weeks as I have been doing an Artist's Way daily journal of three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing instead. I noticed as I was doing it that it was much like blogging for me except without the spelling correction of the ability (and unfortunate reliance on) backspace. The other thing about the Artist's Way daily pages is that it takes a very finite amount of time (in part due to the afore-mentioned lack of backspace) as it is only three pages long. In the past I have spent much too much time days on blogging--to the detriment of accomplishing the things I was blogging about. So for the next little while I am going to split my time between daily pages days and blogging days--one for personal bitching and one for things worth sharing. I am writing all about this daily writing in the sharing venue as I truly believe in the value of starting the day with a mental purge from the squirrelly brain to page. It's my form of mediation or mental yoga (and has the side benefit of not being too physical!). To keep it manageable, I can blog for 15-20 minutes (the goal is 15 but I'm allowed 20) as there is no three page limit on the Internet.

Today's streaming....

I have a desk again! And in true Brenda fashion, it is already covered in STUFF. But it's a desk, and the laptop has a cool background today (it changes daily--of course it does). If I sit at it in the cool red chair for too long, my butt goes numb so I have go do actual work.  This is a good motivator for me.

Happy Anniversary to my wonderful spouse who asked me out for the first time 20 years ago today. We met 20 years and two days ago (and we both forgot that anniversary till yesterday) and he started today by bringing me a kiss and a mocha from Kavarna in bed. Awww.

Glass is flowing--literally--in the studio, though I am coming to the end of the orders I got at the American Made Show. Glass is also breaking with a higher frequency than usual with a gallery reporting two pieces--the largest and the smallest in their order--arriving broken. I now have a claim in with Hargrove for the AMS breakage and a claim in with UPS for the client breakage. That's over $1,000 in inventory I've had to replace. Hope it pays back.

On the Farm2Yarn front, I also made a first pass logo (though I am still waiting for Debbie Suchy, my marketing and product consultant, to get back to me with her designs and recommendations) and updated the website and Facebook pages a bit. I have almost 2,000 likes on that Facebook page (wow!) and I feel I should update it regularly because of it. But who has time?

Last weekend was the spring retreat for the Peachtree Handspinners' Guild (of which I am a member) and I spent from Friday at 6:00 pm till Sunday at 4:00 pm--excepting a tiny bit of time to sleep and eat--rolling roving into 4 oz balls and labeling it for sale. And even with all that I still have three bags left. I have a LOT of roving!! In order to decrease my inventory a bit, I signed up yesterday to be a sponsored vendor at the Georgia Fiber Festival in September. Though I have already sold all but six skeins (balls, whatever) of the llama roving, I still have tons of alpaca and a good bit of yak cloud for sale and I will also have a lot of dyed and painted rovings too. Though I have decided to specialize primarily in the natural colors as they are so varied and plentiful, I can't get away fro the blues, greens, purples and reds--and I have yet to see a fiber animal outside of Minecraft that is naturally deep blue. I do raise colored sheep in Minecraft and when I shear them I get colored wool all ready to make into carpets, but the real world requires slightly more work.

Time--both for writing this post and for life--are in short supply right now. Dan the wonderful carpenter built the games cabinet that is the basis for this year's Waldorf 7th grade class auction project, and now I have a week to make the veneer inlay for it, do the inlying, and sand and finish the cabinet. The design chosen for the cabinet isa detail from The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo as the 7th grade studied the Renaissance this fall and spent a good bit of time on DaVinci and Michelangelo. I have all my tools and materials save the first one I need to use which is the tracing projector as there is no way I am going to try to freehand an enlargement of this work. But is it supposed to arrive tomorrow morning and then I have all day tomorrow to draw, cut veneer and glue. Gulp. Hope I have enough time as Sunday is the day to do a year's worth of Quickbooks for my business (and our personal) taxes.

Now my time is up and it's off to the studio I go to meet Dee (who is coming down to help me today) and clean up the mudroom--it needs to be turned back into a coldworking room from the dumping ground it's been for the past year and a half.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The One Show Movement, AKA The American Made Show or ACRE Philly?

I have been sitting on this post for awhile. Every time I thought it was the right time to weigh in, something else happened in our community of artists and show producers that made me hold off. Now, given everything circulating from other artists who did ACRE and everything I have heard from the rumor mill, I think it's time to step up to the plate.

Apparently I wasn't clear enough in my post about what kind of show I had this year at the American Made Show (AMS) in DC (formerly the Buyer's Market of American Craft) put on by the Rosen Group. That actually turns out to be a good lead-in for this post which addresses the current state of this show and what to do for a wholesale show for American handcrafts going forward. In short, it was a very good show for me. It wasn't the best ever, but it was very good. So why wasn't it better? Though it is never as simple as one reason, I believe it was primarily because attendance was diluted--both on the part of artists and buyers--by the emergence of another American handcraft show on the east coast in the winter.

During the huge amount of downtime I had at the AMS, I had a very interesting conversation with Michael Golan, another artist at the show who has been doing it a lot longer than I have, and who has years of experience in wholesale going back to the boom days. Whether he intended it or not, he became a focal point this year for an artists' revolution--a fomentation complete with torches and pitchforks that started out at the American Made Show and, I assume, spilled over into the ACRE Show in Philly last weekend. While I was talking to Michael at the AMS, a couple of other artists actually came up to him, brandishing their pitchforks and cackling madly about how they were "in". They seemed to want to burn Wendy Rosen in effigy as the source of all their problems because she moved the show to DC in January from Philly in February. Consensus was that she did this (as well as change the name of the show) on a whim, or to screw over Nancy Vince from Wholesalecrafts--the ACRE show promoter. That was not at all what I understood Michael's call to arms was about.

Instead, his proposal seemed to be quite reasonable and something I am definitely behind myself: There should only be one winter all American handmade show in the northeast. Artists should refuse to do two. Michael was encouraging artists to draw a line in the sand and say, "Enough! We will not be squeezed any more! We will not be bullied into doing two shows in the northeast in the winter because we're afraid we won't see all of our buyers. We are going to pick one show based on solid business reasons--not hyperbole--and only do that one!" At least that's that's the gist I got from speaking to him. If this is not what he meant--and I am as liable as the next person to hear what I want to in a conversation--I apologize profusely and publicly for misunderstanding his intent. But I want to say that I am 100% behind doing what I think MIchael said. It's ridiculous to add another show to an already over-burdened, under-served artist community. It's also a disservice to buyers to make them travel multiple times for essentially the same show. Down With Two Shows! Down With The Man.... Uh, sorry. I'm getting caught up and carried away by my own fervor. Where was I? Oh yes, one show.

So how to decide what show should be the One Show to Rule Them All? Michael proposed having an artists' meeting at the end of the ACRE show (he did both shows) to talk about how both shows went, and to--as a group--pick one show to do next year. It was a brilliant, if flawed, idea. It was brilliant because people banding together DO have the power to affect change in their lives, but it was flawed, because most of the people making the decision would be doing so without all the facts and based on erroneous assumptions, and because a lot of the people who could add their voices and weight to the movement (like me) won't be there because WE ALREADY REFUSED TO BUY INTO THE HYPE AND  WON'T DO TWO ALL HANDMADE AMERICAN WHOLESALE SHOWS IN THE SAME AREA LESS THAN A MONTH APART.* But I'm perfectly willing to evaluate the shows on their own merits and then choose one of them to back in the future. I can't speak for everyone, but I absolutely, positively CANNOT afford to invest twice as much money, time, and energy to see the same number of--or fewer--buyers because now we have to do both the American Made Show and ACRE or be afraid that we'll miss out on orders from buyers who only attend one show.

How about we start with some facts, and then finish off with some opinions driven by the afore-mentioned facts to inform our decision-making process.

Fact: It is neither a secret nor a surprise that sales have been down across the board at wholesale shows for the past several years. There are many causes: a recession, increased access to products through the Internet ( and Etsy just for starters), the aging out of the gallery owners and the artists who ruled the handcrafts world during the 90's, the emergence of a new generation of self-proclaimed makers--as opposed to artists or craftspeople--who don't do the American Handmade show circuit, and, finally, the ready availability of cheap or knock-off goods from China and the third world. We have to face facts: Artists who put three kids through college from the sales they made each winter at the Buyer's Market show will never see those days again. Those of us who still have kids to put through college had better be looking to diversify our revenue streams because we're not going to see those days at all. It doesn't do anyone any good to stand around whinging at a show about the good old days and pointing gnarled fingers at the show promoter in blame.

Fact: There's been a lot of gossip and conflicting information floating around for the past few years about the Rosen Show changing dates and locations for their winter show. Personally, I don't care about gossip and rumor. If I want to know something, I go to an actual decision-maker and I ask until I get the straight bottom-line answer. So I went to Rebecca Mercado, the American Made Show Director. I asked specific, pointed questions, and am confident that I received complete and honest answers. I got no hype and no bull, just a complete several-year forecast of available space and options. For those who don't know me, I have no agenda to promote here. I am just sick and tired of having my business manipulated by other people. I want one show, at the same time, in the same place, every year, with enough hotels rooms for buyers and artists, and enough hall space for 700-800 artists. Period.

So here's what I got from Rebecca: In 2014 the convention center in Philly was totally unavailable for the usual dates in February due to the Auto Show being given all the halls. In 2015, only Hall A was available for the February dates with other spaces elsewhere in the building (on a different floor) being offered instead. The show moved to DC because the convention center in Philly cut down on the space they were willing to give the Rosen Group in favor of the Auto Show which brings more money into the city than a wholesale American handmade show does. Without the space available, the show promoters wouldn't be able to host as many artists, without a good selection of artists, the buyers wouldn't attend, and the slow spiral down the drain that we have all been experiencing in this business would continue. The show moved to January because Congress is not in session yet, so hotel rooms are cheaper, the convention center was available with plenty of space for all the artists, and the Presidents' Day holiday meant a three-day weekend for buyer's. Fun as it might be to imagine one, there was no great conspiracy by an evil empire to manipulate the little people, to crush our dreams and control our lives. It was hoped that the January dates and the move to DC would not be to disaccommodating for everyone, but that doesn't seem to be the case, and now we have to move on.

So we started out with the Rosen Group changing time and dates for their winter northeast show based solely on long-term strategic planning (emphasis on the "long-term") and incorporating stability, facilities availability, and other market considerations into the decision-making process. They knew that it would take time to move their customer base--both artists and retailers to the new place and dates. But they knew that for long-term growth of the show, the move was necessary. The Rosen Group knew they would take a hit financially, but figured they could weather it.

Then Wholesalecrafts came in, snapped up the reduced space in the old time and location, grabbed a large percentage of the customers--both artists and retailers--for their show by capitalizing on the human dislike of change. I have heard that they have secured both Halls A and B (the traditional AMS space) for 2016 which means they could accommodate the same number of artists who used to do the Rosen show in the same space and at the same time. Wow! Aren't we lucky? I am sure that there are many people--artists and retailers alike--who are breathing a sigh of relief right now because they get to do a show where they are accustomed to doing it at the time they are accustomed to doing it. I, on the other hand, am so annoyed that we got to this state that I could cheerfully throttle someone!

"But, why, Brenda?", you might be asking.  "After all, buyers and artists came to Philly this year, and there is no reason to think they won't continue to come. So if we're only going to do one show, let's pick the easy show for next year: Let's stay in Philly with ACRE!" Uh huh. The only way this scenario actually makes sense and is good for both artists and retailers is if the Rosen Group is headed by an idiot who walked away from a viable, vibrant situation in Philly for stupid reasons. But I think everyone who knows her can say with confidence that Wendy Rosen is no idiot. Like her, hate her, you've got to acknowledge that she built the strongest, longest all American handmade wholesale show in the country. She did it with a combination of good timing, good business sense, and sheer stainless-steel-balls grit. Wendy also has the best secret weapon in the world (for artists and retailers) in her toolbox: She has Rebecca Mercado as her show director. Rebecca understands planning, traffic patterns, dollars and sense (sic intentional). She does not react off the cuff. Instead she acts after careful deliberation, and executes deliberately and precisely. She is the best counter balance to Wendy's expansive, blue-sky visioning that you could imagine.

But maybe Wendy did make a slip, and Philly is still the best place to be for the show and February is the best time. How do I want to bet? What do I know about Wholesalecrafts? After all, I want to place my business in the hands of the the show promoter in whom I have the most confidence. It's not about liking or disliking or personalities; for me it's strictly business and about performance.

I have done shows with both promoters--I did ACRE Las Vegas for the first four years hoping it would be a good, strong, west-coast show for me, and it never worked out. Yes, there was a recession. Maybe that was the problem initially. But my biggest problem with the show was that I never felt like they knew what they were doing. They were very nice and seemed to genuinely want to put on a good show, but they lacked the experience (both the promoter and her support staff) to pull it off. Everything about the show was in constant flux. It felt like they could never make their minds up about anything because they were either too busy getting (conflicting) opinions and trying to act upon all of them, or they were making decisions based on the best price they could get year-to-year for facilities and dates--flying by the seat of their pants. In the nine years since Wholesale Crafts launched the Vegas show, I haven't seen them follow through long-term on anything. Yes, the show started just before a major down-turn in the market, but every single show they've done since the original Las Vegas show feels like trying something out to me. The Vegas show is limping along not nearly living up to its potential. ACRE Orlando came, and almost as soon as it came, it went. I think there was another show in the northeast, but it came and went so fast I don't even know what it was called. Now instead of focusing on their core show, building it up to a west-coast version of the American Made Show, they're in Philly. They're hopping all over place. Why?

Regardless of why, I know that I have to look out for my own business. I have got to choose what shows I do based on consistent performance and the stability of the promoter. A lot of my peers are jumping on the she-said/she-said bandwagon and choosing based on personality or how the DC and Philly shows were THIS year. I'm more concerned with a year or two from now when Halls A and B aren't available again (it wasn't just a one-off problem for the Rosen Group when they were doing their planning) and Wholesalecrafts reacts in the same year-to-year fashion they have shown with their previous shows (either downsize, change dates, change venues, or cancel the show completely and move on to doing something else).

By not having a strong forward-thinking planning strategy you cannot grow an enterprise. I've seen nothing so far to think that Wholesalecrafts has such a strategy in place. Every move seems to happen based on the Now. Lest you think I am sitting in my glass house casting stones, let me be the first to say that I can recognize the reactionary behavior because I am often guilty of it myself. I have fallen into the trap of making business decisions based on something that happened rather than on a calm analysis of all the facts. I have also given up on things I should have stuck with and grown. Had I not exhibited both of these behaviors, my business would doubtless by in a much better position and I would be doing all the shows and not worrying about picking the right one. Because of my own limitations, I have to be scrupulous these days about my choices and plans, and Wholesalecrafts has not shown me the stick-to-itedness that I need to have in a business partner. It is my great fear that they will coast the February Philly show along and not grow it until the slow spiral down the drain is complete. And then we, the artists, will be screwed. The American Made Show will be slowly ground down, the ACRE show will never grow, and we will have nothing.

So here's my torch and pitchfork: I am not going to do ACRE Philly. I am not going to do it next year, I am not going to do it the year after, and if it is still around, I am not going to do it the year after that. I would be happy to do and support the Wholesalecrafts' Las Vegas show if the promoters put a serious amount of time and energy into growing it into its potential, and stopped futzing around and diluting their focus by moving into an area that is already (longterm) adequately served. I hope that many of my peers feel the same way, and make their own stand for One Show. If it turns out that the One Show is not the American Made Show, I will mourn, and I will drink a toast to the end of a great era. Then I will pull my big-girl panties up and figure out another way to market my work to my wholesale customers.

*For those who say "What about the ACC?", my answer is it isn't the same as /American Made/ACRE: It's also a retail show. Arguably the retail component is stronger than the wholesale component, and many artists who do it wholesale have also traditionally done the American Made Show.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The American Made Show 2015

Front of the Booth
And now the promised post on the American Made Show! Statistics out of the way first. We didn't do the show last year as I had to take care of my mother who was post-surgery (and had a major infection). So my comparison will be with the year before which was our best Buyer's Market show ever (we missed the boom times in the 90's and started just as the recession hit). We were down from 2013 by about 10 orders, but our average sale size was up a bit.

32 orders
15 new customers
$636 average sale

Hello DC! (After a night on the train)
New customer distribution:

  • 2 California
  • 1 Connecticut
  • 1 Delaware
  • 1 Florida
  • 1 Massachusetts
  • 1 Maryland
  • 1 Maine
  • 2 North Carolina
  • 2 New York
  • 1 Pennsylvania
  • 2 Virginia

Existing customer distribution:

  • 1 Arkansas
  • 1 California
  • 3 Florida
  • 2 Indiana
  • 2 Massachusetts
  • 1 Maryland
  • 1 Michigan
  • 2 North Carolina
  • 1 New Jersey
  • 2 Pennsylvania
  • 1 Wisconsin

Back of the Booth (Look Ma, no dead side!)
Two existing customers (on from California and one from Hawaii) contacted me with orders prior to the show and said they would not be at any of the east coast shows this winter. Now it's up to me to contact everyone else I didn't see and send them images of the new work. I will also let them know how the show went and encourage them to attend next year. I did not see my buyers from Uncommon Goods, but I did meet the buyers from the Museum Fine Arts San Francisco. Mostly who I didn't see were the little shop buyers from Pennsylvania and Maryland who were so prevalent at the last Buyer's Market I attended. I have a feeling they are going to go to the ACRE show in Philly in February instead. Regardless, I will get in touch with them before that show to let them know about our new work, and to check their stock on what they have ordered from us previously. I did ask the Rosen Group for specific numbers of buyers for this show and was told that registration was higher that it has been in 4-5 years with 70% of those registered checking in at the show.

Set-up went quickly once we decided what to do about our extra space.
Crowns for all!
Those were the facts of the show, now here are the impressions: It felt dead. Dead, dead, dead. The aisles were empty, we rarely had anyone waiting for us to take their order, and time crawled by. Despair was thick in the air. I talked to several artists who thought they were having a terrible show because of the feel--only to find out when they totaled up their sales after the second day that they were even or ahead of the previous year! As will always happen, there were also those who had a horrible show, and those who had a great show. No one was saying their numbers were anywhere close to what they had been in the 90's, but I doubt they will ever be there again (more on that tomorrow). The people who were there were placing orders, and the orders were good. Unfortunately they were also efficient which meant we artists had a lot of time on our hands to worry, and gossip, and--in some cases--gripe and foment. More on THAT tomorrow too.

The traditional One Nice Night Out For Dinner photo
In our booth we spent the time getting to know our neighbors better, mentoring new exhibitors, and Todd made lots and lots of crowns. He made crowns for everyone around us with each artist's own work as the centerpiece of her (or his!) crown. We also took lots of pictures. In all, it was a very, very good show.

For a personal experience, it was great. Todd, John, Dee and I took the train in from Atlanta--a sleeper and an adventure all on its own. Set-up was the quickest ever--in spite of a change in the floorplan that left our booth exposed on all sides and with five extra feet of width. Breakdown was also quicker than ever and we were back in the hotel room before 6:30 pm on Monday. It was very nice that the show ended at 2:00 instead of 3:00 or 4:00--though to be honest, it really doesn't need to be four days long. I can see the argument for having it run Friday through Monday so some buyers can attend Friday through Sunday while others can grab the other end of the long weekend Saturday through Monday. But it is very long--and boring--for the artists when there aren't a ton of buyers.

Bottom line: I WILL do this show again next year, and I will do everything I can to promote it and keep it a vibrant, exciting place where artists can connect in person with buyers. Thank you Rebecca, Jen, Maria and all of the rest of the staff from the Rosen Group and Hargrove who worked tirelessly to fix problems and address concerns throughout the show. I was very impressed with the level of professionalism and personal commitment shown by all. And now, more pictures than I could comfortably share in the text.

My goody bag for the train from Todd
Todd on a train.
Trying to get Todd and John's viewliner roomette.
The dining car on the train was very cool.
Narrow train aisle
The hall in the hotel was as wide as the entire train car--both cabins and the aisle!
Booth: Back Right
Booth: Front Left
Booth: Front Right
Booth: Back Left inside
Booth: Left Outside (Our kite wall)
Hanging with the neighbors.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Back to Glass Incarnate and the Niche Award

Unusually for me, I have several posts backed up in my head to write and I am having difficulty getting them out. This first one is easy--it's back to Glass Incarnate from Life Incarnate. The second one--my review of the American Made Show in DC last week--is also relatively easy--look for it tomorrow. But it's the prospect of writing the third one--the politics and future of shows for artists--that has been blocking me on writing at all for the past several days. I finally got past the block by separating out the first two posts, and I'll use them to ease into the third. The third post is the most important one and the one that I have really got to think through carefully to get just right. I hate that kind of pressure. But there are a lot of opinions and smack talk flying around out there now in the wake of the American Made Show and leading up to the ACRE and ACC shows next month, and I think it's essential that all of us who work in the handmade crafts industry stop, think, and act for our futures instead of reacting in fear to rumor and misinformation and making bad choices. I am also not one to keep my strong opinions to myself. So be it.

But today, back to Glass Incarnate. For those who have followed this blog over the years, you know that it started back in 2006 as a tool to help me get back into the flow of writing so I could write my first book. I used it to chronicle my experiences writing, running a small glass studio, and later expanding the studio into a kiln glass resource center and teaching facility with a hotshop, a torchwork classroom, and 4-8 other artists and support staff. As I began writing book two, life both inside and outside of the studio got very complicated. Artists are like cats and herd just as well, and they also have lives just as complicated as mine with responsibilities and choices that affect their ability to contribute to the needs of the studio. My own personal life also became very complicated with my mother's health, my daughter switching from the Waldorf school to homeschooling, and splitting our family's time each year between Atlanta and Montana--two homes, one studio. Finally it came to the point where herding artists and trying to run a studio long-distance for 3-4 months of the year on top of everything else on my plate was just too much, and I closed the resource center/teaching facility and let go the remaining staff. It was a hard decision, but book 2 and life really kicked my butt for a couple of years, and I was finally tapped out. I limped by on the work that I sold to galleries and shops, but I didn't attempt to grow my business at all. I waited. I hibernated. And Glass Incarnate transformed into Life Incarnate.

Then life cycled back around to the upside, as it is wont to do. My mother got better, my daughter went back to Waldorf, and I emerged from my den to find spring. I am now back in the studio regularly--though I am not opening it up again as a resource center--and I have a renewed vigor for both my business and my art. I missed vigor! I missed excitement and the tingle of an idea that just couldn't wait to be realized in glass! It's been three and a half years since I dreamed about glass, and I finally have the room in my brain to do it again. Oddly enough, in the weird way the universe has, that of which I dreamt three years ago and that which inspires me now are the same thing--3-D printing in glass (although I think of it more as 3-D silkscreening with glass than 3-D printing).

I submitted a 3-D whatever piece that I created for book 2 as an entry for the 2015 Niche Awards in glass cast, fused, or slumped. Ten years ago was the first time I was a finalist for this award, and this year I finally won. Unsurprisingly, the recognition of the judges and my peers gave me a shot of confidence and energy  that I really needed after the past few years. Though it is time-consuming to the nth degree, I really want to do more of this work. I may or not be able to market and sell it, but for the first time, that isn't a consideration for me. I want to do it for art's sake, because it demands to be created--not for business. Ahhhh. That feels good! Now off to finish printing out my orders from the show and building the firing schedule for the next few months. Truth to tell, that feels good too.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Distaff Day

"Distaff Day, also called Roc Day, is 7 January, the day after the feast of the Epiphany. It is also known as Saint Distaff's Day, one of the many unofficial holidays in Catholic nations. Many St. Distaff's Day gatherings were held, large and small, throughout local fiber community. The distaff, or rock, used in spinning was the medieval symbol of women's work. In many European cultural traditions, women resumed their household work after the twelve days of Christmas. Women of all classes would spend their evenings spinning on the wheel. During the day, they would carry a drop spindle with them. Spinning was the only means of turning raw wool, cotton or flax into thread, which could then be woven into cloth." from Wikipedia

I celebrated Distaff Day for the first time yesterday with a day of social spinning with the Peachtree Handspinner's Guild, and it was MARVELOUS. We spun, chatted, ate, shared knowledge, and picked challenge projects for the year. I picked up a 3 oz bag of brightly colored ends to blend into roving, spin and weave into a project before the March meeting. And speaking of weaving, last week I finally finished my first handspun/handwoven project, the beaded scarf. It was a bear to do, but it turned out beautifully and has me very excited about this challenge and more weaving of handspun.

Other challenges I am going to do this year are the fleece comparison--wash, card or comb, and spin
three different types of wool; and the The Spinner's Book of Yarn Designs: Techniques for Creating 80 Yarns challenge which is to work (as a group) through the book and create all 80 yarns.

In the more immediate timeframe, I finished spinning and plying the three lbs of merino/camel down blend that I am going to dye and knit into a sweater for Dave. While I have no problem dyeing this fiber, I never thought I would want to dye any of my alpaca as it comes in such wonderful different colors naturally. But a few things have happened recently to make me open up to the idea. First, I am incapable of walking by any of Gale's skeins of hand-dyed alpaca/silk roving without buying one or more so clearly I like brightly colored alpaca. I am also intrigued by the color possibilities that result from overdyeing the heathery greys, browns, and even the black alpaca with greens, blues, red, yellow, purple--in short, just about every color. And, finally, as I look at the stash of roving I have left from 2013's alpaca processing and contemplate the amount I have coming in from 2014's, I feel a need to move the first on to something new to make room for the second. What better way to invigorate it than to dye it?

As I was already ordering protein (acid) dye from Dharma for Dave's sweater, I went ahead and got some other colors to try on the alpaca roving. And because no project is complete without a book, I also ordered the book Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fleece: Custom-Color Your Favorite Fibers with Dip-Dyeing, Hand-Painting, Tie-Dyeing, and Other Creative Techniques. It's not that I don't have other excellent books and resources for dyeing, but this one looked really scrumptious.

Finally, I am also about half way through spinning Levi's cria (baby alpaca) fleece that Ruthann sent me. We are doing a trade whereby she had her fleece processed into roving, I am spinning it, and we will split the finished yarn. This is another one that I think I'm going to dye (my share of the yarn) as it is a beautiful soft, light grey brown that I think will really be gorgeous with a bright overdye.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Long Johns. What I Most Need are Long Johns...

Glacier National Park (
J has been dropped at school, and I am in my cosy chair wearing fuzzy black sweat pants, a heavy 3/4 sleeve cotton shirt, the huge sweater my father-in-law made for me, two scarves made for me by my sister-in-law and my friend Vanessa, my dad's old fuzzy socks (I would've worn the smartwool socks my sister-in-law gave me at Thanksgiving, but I could only find one), and my sheepskin slippers. And I have a fuzzy blanket on my lap. I am not yet warm and toasty, but by god I will be!

I spent my entire life not knowing how to dress for the weather. It took having a child and sending her to the Waldorf School for me to learn about layering. Yeah, we layered when I was a child, but the layers were a big heavy sweater on top of a long-sleeved turtle neck shirt. There was no way you wouldn't end up too hot inside the house in the sweater (even in our house which was kept about 60 degrees during the day, 50 at night) and too cold if you took it off so I missed the whole point. and just suffered. Endlessly. Silently.  Now that I'm in my 50's, I think I finally know how to dress (except for the whole open-toed, open-sided shoes thing with the bulky socks, but I'll find my new boots before I go out again this morning). I like a lighter shirt with a sweater of cotton jacket over it, and a coat over that (with knitted scarves as necessary) and warm fuzzy gloves. Speaking of which, I need to find my gloves before I go out again too. For the drive to school I wrapped my hands in the sleeves of the sweater--not the best option. As it's going to be cold for the next several days and I need to prepare for winter in Montana (2016) I went on-line and ordered me up a pair of Merino tights from Amazon. They'll be here tomorrow. Thank you Uncle Ed and Aunt Susan, your Amazon Christmas gift card bought me a wonderful book on dyeing wool and a pair of merino wool tights.

So the weather, I'm sure a hot (no pun intended) topic across many parts of the country today. It was 10 degrees when I got up this morning. At the same time it was 25 in Austin, -4 in Chicago, and though two hours earlier, 27 degrees in Polson (where we spend our summers up by Glacier Park). In Missoula, 75 miles southeast, it was only 14, but that STILL beats Atlanta! And they have snow! If I've got to have cold, I want to have snow too. Of course I know all of those temps because I huddled under my fluffy down comforter looking up temperatures on my iPhone instead of getting out of bed--anything to put off being the first one up and so the one who turns up the heat and on the shower. Can't wait till Dave is home Saturday. I'm sleeping in!

Now off to pour hot water in the bunnies water container, check the pond pump, and put out warm water for the chickens (who are probably quite indignant about the weather).

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Change is Good

Today I reflect on the benefits of changing up life, and setting new records. Now that Jessie is back in the formal school system  some might wonder if the past year and a half of homeschooling was a failure. Today I say with confidence that it was not only a success, but it had positive implications for areas of life not even associated with education. I find myself setting a record today of three days of blogging in a row. I think I would have to look back far into the stacks to find the last time I managed that feat. Jessie has also risen, gotten ready for school, done all her chores (letting out the chickens and feeding the bunnies and chickens and feeding and watering the dogs), made and ate her breakfast, made and packed her lunch, and been ready by the door ON TIME for the past three days--with NO yelling from me. She has also completed two nights straight of homework, we have watched no tv at all, and she is getting to bed early every night. I have completed the tasks on my daily to do list for three straight days--including packing up the crate of work to be shipped to DC today. Now I have a few minutes to post while I wait for Becky Hinton to arrive for a handwork morning. This afternoon, piano lessons for J and me, and tonight the Reno girls are coming for dinner.

What does this have to do with homeschooling? I'll tell you. Though there were aspects of it J liked, she really missed the daily interactions with all of her friends. And because she had the break from school, she appreciates the parts she likes enough that she is willing to maintain her performance on other aspects, e.g., the education and learning part, up to and including paying attention in class, trying not to get frustrated when parents and others work with her and explain things she doesn't get, doing her homework before it's due, and getting up in the morning without fussing.

For me, though I knew I was spending a lot of time planning curriculum, teaching, assignments, and driving to all kinds of extra activities, I hadn't realized just how much time until I got it all back. Even with being on point every morning at 6:45 (6:45!!!!) and driving her to and from school, I have time to burn. And I have a renewed appreciation for the other things I do with my life. I am enthused about being back in the studio making glass, I have been cleaning my house, spinning, throwing out/giving away clutter, and ticking thing after thing off my list. And everything feels great.

Had we not taken a break to homeschool , I think we would both be stuck in an ever-deepening rut of dislike of school for her, and dissatisfaction with life for me. So Huzzah for Waldorf and Tim Smith--the best teacher in the world.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Oh Me Oh My Oh It's Some Kind of Cold OH!

Coffee in the Chicago mug in honor of the extreme cold in Atlanta this morning. There was not only frost on the windshield when I took J to school, but she reported that the top part of the pond was also frozen. The temps were a great shock to me as it was considerably warmer yesterday. I might have been better prepared if I watched tv or read the news/weather. Alas, I live in my own world and am thus surprised when there are unforeseen climate changes. Unfortunately, today is the day Todd and Dee are coming to unpack the boxes from Chicago, repack them for DC and load them into the pallet for pick-up and shipping tomorrow. This would be a fine activity inside the studio where there is heat, but the studio is already bursting at the seams with other stuff so the boxes (and pallet) are all outside in the hotshop. I may have to spend the morning befire they get here cleaning out the shipping room so we can work in there and avoid the frigid outside as much as possible.

The new year has started chez Griffith, and with it came many changes; the biggest of which is J rejoining her class at the Waldorf School. We had planned for her to go back next year as she wanted to graduate 8th grade with her class, but when the door opened on the possibility of her returning in January if I took a job in Montana, it did not close when the job went to someone else, lingering instead to become a stated desire for her,  and thus a reality for us. Yesterday was the first of many requiring us to rise with the sun to hustle to school and I frankly can't wait till Dave is back from Austin and can take over the morning chauffeur duties. I am already over being a morning person and it's only Tuesday.

Now the vacuuming and sweeping from yesterday are still calling, and it's time to get on with the day.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Hello 2015!

'Tis two weeks after Christmas, and all through the house,
Dust bunnies have grown up, the size of my spouse!
The stockings and ornaments packed back up the stairs,
No sign on the mantle they'd ever been there.
No longer till ten the child lies abed;
She's now back at school knowledge filling her head;
And Dave's off to Austin, so I am on point,
Time to dust, sweep, and vacuum to clean up this joint.
But there's email to read and forms to fill out,
And dog pee to clean up (after giving a shout).
Then time with my mother I'm going to spend,
A date every Monday till June when it ends.
The house is so quiet all empty of peeps,
I can hear the street cleaner from way down the street.
But time now to focus, to get on with my day;
To get paid by a client, (a cause for "hurray").
The American Made Show in DC next week,
And faucet upstairs which late sprang a leak,
Both need my attention I'm sorry to say,
But this blog post I've started, it's consuming my day.
"Now finish, now get-up, now get on the horn!
On, kiln-loads, on shipping, there's glass to be born!
To the studio I go, I haven't much time,
Now stop all this puttering making up rhyme!"
And yet to this cushion my butt seeks to stick,
Though the clock on wall continues to tick.
Ambition and energy just can't found,
The height of my goals; to keep sitting around.
But deadlines are coming, the time does approach,
When I'll find myself snug in a railway coach.
It's off to DC that I travel next week,
With Dee, Todd, and John (oh I hope I can sleep).
The American Made Show is setting up there,
My work to the venue I ship now with care.
But first I must make it, last minute my friend,
Today I start firing and Wednesday I send.
Someday I'll start early, I promise myself,
With work all done early and stored on the shelf.
The thought makes me smile, mouth quirked into a bow,
That's the day that I'll wake up with hair white as snow.
My keyboard I'm tapping as dogs scratch to come in,
Fingers furiously flying then rising again.
I'll have some more coffee and finish this post,
Eat a weight watchers breakfast--maybe some toast,
Then I really must move, one half hour remains
Before my day starts to run down the drain.
I've so much much to do here that thoughts fill my head;
The amount I have scheduled does fill me with dread.
But there's no use in crying or wringing my hands,
I'll get nothing done without taking a stand.
So coffee, and blog post, and breakfast, and forms,
Then mother, and charges, and shipping, and more.
This day I will triumph, and so with the year,
May you also flourish; too bad you're not here.
One last thought 'fore I leave you, 'fore going away,
"Happy New Year to all, and to all a good day!"