Saturday, July 31, 2010

So You Want to Work at Hill Country Weavers, Eh?

If you're at all like me in the Knit Fantasy Department, you have days when you wander into the shop, look at (and touch) all that glorious fiber, and think, "I HATE MY DAY JOB! I WANT TO WORK HERE!!"

I can't tell you how many times I've entertained this daydream-- to work in my Number One Happy Place. In fact, I've been lucky-- Suzanne found me this nice little spot on the Internet so I can be part of the fun without ruining the displays. Isn't she smart? It's not that I would purposefully wreck the place, of course. But as I learned on a recent behind-the-scenes tour of how it comes to pass that things look so darn good all the time, I discovered that in no way could I make the cut of in-store help. This is because I am directly descended from Pig-Pen-- you know, Charlie Brown's pal. I'm not a mess on purpose, it's just in my genes.


Maybe you never stopped to think about just how unmessy Suzanne is. Maybe, since she runs such a tight ship, you're just accustomed to things being in order and just take it for granted. As it turns out, there are some important Rules of Organization that inform the organization of a constantly growing inventory of products that, if not tended to, can get very out of order very fast.

So what's the magic that makes it happen? Well, I'd like to present some Do's and Don'ts photos here, sort of like Glamour Magazine has that section of Do's and Don'ts-- you know, the pictures of fashion criminals with censor bars over their faces? Here, for example, are some Definite Don'ts:

For the record, the Don'ts occur when an excited customer goes rooting around looking for just the right skein. Totally understandable. However, it's up to the staff to zip around and, as quickly as possible, restore order, and keep things in the Do's Zone. To get that job done, they must remember, for example, that colors must be organized vertically and never horizontally. (Perish the thought!) And, of course, balls and skeins must be meticulously ordered. Oh, and every skein has a "butt" side and a "tag" side-- tags must be hidden, with butts facing out. Here, then, are some photos from the Do's Department:

[Note: Technically, yes, the above pic has a couple of horizontal skeins, but this is due to not-enough-for-a-full-column.]

Of course, when the cat is away, the mice will play, as the saying goes. So once in a great while-- rare times when Suzanne disappears to, say, go to Market, those she leaves behind might just have to have a little fun editing her To Do List. I happened to get my hands on a copy of a recently altered list, which I will now share with you. (Shhh, don't tell Suzanne!) I leave it to you to figure out what's real and what's not.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Carry On and Smell Good! (Cool New Stuff)

By this time last year, we'd already had some crazy number of consecutive 100+ degree days. Thankfully it hasn't been that hot this year, but lately the heat index has been pushing into triple-digit territory. Maybe, for some of you, this means a break from working with wool. Fortunately there's no shortage of cotton, bamboo, and linen to knit with, and tons of great summer projects from breezy tanks to portable socks that won't cover your lap and leave you sweating.

Well, there's more good news for you if you're ready to add to your knit accessories stash (and really, who isn't ready for that?). Some of the bags that Suzanne and Lindsay picked out at Market have arrived-- groovy black-and-white patterns, excellent for toting your projects around in high style. There's a furry bag, too, from KnowKnits-- it's fake fur and a small bag, so I say it falls well within the Perfect Summer Purchase category.

Also new-- Lavishea Bars, this very cool lotion-in-a-bar. It comes in two sizes and nine "flavors" including: pear, ginger blossom, lavender (my favorite), citrus basil, mountain lake, and island breeze. What's so special about Lavishea? Well, for starters, since it's in a solid form, you can carry it on planes without worry about that 3 oz rule that applies to liquids and gels. You rub it on your hands like soap, but you don't use water. It moisturizes but won't transfer onto your fibers. So you smell good, you feel good, and you don't wreck your yarn. Pretty clever.

More cool stuff from Market should be arriving soon. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Swans Island-- Full of Sheep!

When Suzanne calls something at Market a Big Find, you know she's serious. The woman sees so many incredible yarns and products that singling out one as Especially Special means you better believe it's a big deal. For her last trip to Market in June with Lindsay (see post below for details about that adventure), her Big Find was getting to meet the folks from Swans Island.

We talked about her meetup recently, but this wasn't the first time I'd heard her gush about the company. Really, what they do is amazing. Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, a bunch of sheep were rowed out to Nash Island off the coast of Maine. With no brush or trees to offer the sheep shelter, they improvised protection by huddling together. This out-in-the-open lifestyle of theirs prompted the growing of super thick, super luxurious fleeces which are rich in lanolin. This makes for really clean wool.

Once a year, in mid-June, shearers from a small business called Swans Island head over to Nash Island to shear the sheep. This outrageously fabulous wool is then spun into organic merino yarn and dyed using natural plant dyes like Indigo and madder, and they're mordented with non-metallic mordents. It is then used to make handwoven blankets which have been recognized internationally and awarded a Smithsonian Blue Ribbon for Craft.

Now let me explain a little about the company called Swans Island. There's actually a place called Swans Island, also off the coast of Maine. A couple, John and Carolyn Grace, moved there in the 1990s to live off the land, so to speak. They started a weaving studio using local wool. They moved back to the mainland in 2003, but the company and the blankets are still known as Swan Island.

The Graces and some partners who joined them, work out of a farmhouse built in 1780. They also sell yarn, which is spun from the fleece of Corriedale sheep and other breeds raised in Maine. It's sold in 100gm skeins and, yes, that's right, Suzanne ordered some up so we can all pleasantly wrestle over it when it arrives. This is a major score-- the yarn is available at fewer than two dozen retailers around the country.

Meanwhile-- to keep you occupied while you wait-- you can head down to the shop and check out the gorgeous Swans Island booklet Suzanne brought back with her. And you can also go to their website and learn more about their sheep and gush over the gorgeous handwoven blankets they sell. Plus, you can scroll down here and see some more pictures:

Monday, July 12, 2010

To Market, To Market-- Lindsay's Turn! The Full Report!

Hey Y’all,

Well we’ve been crazy busy here at the blog, helping Jane get votes to win that $20k to help her charity, Colombian Orphanages. We’ll know tomorrow if she won. Meanwhile, I’ve been collecting HCW stories to share with you. One big one is that last month Suzanne took Lindsay to TNNA Market in Columbus, Ohio, to shop for Fall/Winter inventory.

You might recall that back in January Suzanne took me to Market, which was held in Long Beach, CA. Suzanne likes to do that—take one of us for the first time and watch our eyes pop out of our heads at all of that yarn, all of those yarn people, and—oh yes—all of that swag.

I chatted with both Lindsay and Suzanne after the fact. Suzanne reports back that this time around, the fashion show was much more exciting than in January. There was even some chick from Project Runway there. Overall, she says, “They pulled out all the stops.” To translate, that means things like more booths, more inventory, and an ice cream social hosted by Ravelry. (The Ravelry folks usually travel the showroom floor in a sort of celeb-pack, with all sorts of people glomming onto them.)

Suzanne’s big score was talking to the Swan Island guy—consider that a teaser. I’m going to do a full Swan Island post really soon. She also was excited to talk to the Kauni yarn folks who, at long last, have a US presence. That means you can now order the stuff way easier than before—we’ll be getting some in the shop. Suzanne says, “It’s a slow shaded, striping yarn and the distances between the colors are greater (than with other striping yarn.)” It’s kinda Shetlandy, very sophisticated, and offered in a classic palette but, at the same time, is thoroughly modern. Make a note to self to get some once it comes in, before it disappears.

As for Lindsay, Suzanne said she did great, and was “a terrific help. She has a real sense of color and knows what items sell.” That said, Suzanne says they both went a little crazy in the bag department. Lindsay’s really big on bags. Suzanne, less so. Until this trip. “She gave me that sickness,” says Suzanne. “All of a sudden I wanted to outbag her. I was like, ‘You’re going to buy three? I’ll buy four!’ We kept saying no more, but then we’d find another and another.” So, yeah, plan on buying some new bags soon.

One area Lindsay did need a little help: swag acquisition. Me? When I went to market I just marched up to people and asked for free samples. Lindsay needed a little coaching from Suzanne, who showed her how to approach people and ask in just the right way. In the end, L scored some books and yarn samples. (And if she wants more, I still have a massive bag o’ swag from my trip.)

So does Lindsay’s take on Market match Suzanne’s? She says, “It was crazy. It’s funny—it’s like a little club.”

She also got to have dinner with—Debbie Bliss and Louisa Harding. And, Lindsay reports (and I can confirm), “Suzanne is a party animal. We got there Friday afternoon, unpacked and Suzanne went to dinner. I slept through the fashion show.”

Lindsay says she was nervous at first with the responsibility of buying, but she got over it. “Once you get in there it’s easy to point and say I want that that that and that. I took lessons from Suzanne. I picked out so many bags because I’m bag lady. I got to pick out buttons. Once I got going I had no problem knowing what I wanted.”

And then, to reward themselves from all that hard shopping for store inventory, the ladies hopped on over to NYC for a day where they took in the sights and scored the ultimate swag. Yep, they took a trip to Tiffany’s—not just for breakfast, either. Not those little blue boxes? Trust me, they aren’t filled with sample stitch markers.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Reminder: One Click and You Can Make a HUGE DIFFERENCE! ONLY 5 DAYS LEFT!!

Hi Everyone,

Last week, I wrote a post (you can read it by clicking here) about how Austin knitter Jane King is working hard to make a huge change in the lives of Colombian orphans. And she's doing it with knitting.

I mentioned Jane is part of a contest and that by voting for her-- it takes just a click, no money-- you can help her organization win $20,000 which will go a very long way. Today I want to tell you that the voting process can seem a little tricky. I so want Jane to win this that I am asking you, if you haven't voted, to please consider doing so. And I'm trying to simplify the process for you. Here goes.

1. First, you do have to have a FaceBook account.

2. Use the SEARCH box on your FB homepage to find Chase Community Giving.

3. You have to "LIKE" Chase Community Giving to vote. (You can "unlike" later.)

4. Once you LIKE you click on this link.

3. You'll see two boxes. One says CHARITY NAME. Click inside the box and type in: Colombian Orphanages.

4. Hit SEARCH.

5. This will take you to Jane's page COLOMBIAN ORPHANAGES.

6. At some point in the process you will need to hit "accept."


I know this is a bit of a process, but consider that the three or four minutes it takes you can, literally, save a life. Jane has got to get back into the top 200. She was in the top 100 for most of the contest but now all the groups are really pushing hard. I've watched her votes more than double in a week from 450 to nearly 1,000. Let's try to get it to 2,000, eh? Please share this with everyone you know.

If you are still having issues, you can email me at and I'll do my best to walk you through.



Sunday, July 4, 2010

Summer Reading

I don't just save reading for summer. As with knitting projects, my reading usually involves having several books going at once at all times-- at least one audiobook and then three or four honest-to-pete books made of paper. My knitting mix usually includes one complicated project (I just started a sweater), something a little easier (basic socks), and there's always my emergency knitting project (a very basic garter stitch purple thing I have been "working on" for years-- that means it's buried in the car just in case I forget to bring something else along).

Even though I read (and knit) all year, something about summer makes me wish I could read (and knit) around the clock. I spent childhood summers immersed in books, usually Little Women (which I've read a million times) and whatever I could find of interest in our tiny town library. This summer's reading includes a 48 hour (!) audiobook about India on my iPhone, a stack of magazines, an ever-growing pile of Sunday NYT, a memoir, a novel and -- this is where the knitting and reading join forces-- Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac.

I've heard EZ's name tossed around for years-- Brooklyn Tweed, for example, loves EZ-- but never got around to looking up info about her until recently. I've been eyeing the free pattern for Lady Sweater at Ravelry for sometime now. Haven't committed to making one. But when I was reading the notes about it, I saw the recommendation for EZ's Knitter's Almanac. I ordered a used copy for a song from Amazon. I'm so glad I did. Now, I am reading it sort of like a novel. I haven't picked a project to work on yet. I'm just enjoying the heck out of EZ's conversational tone. She is so witty, so easygoing, so very pleasant that I feel like I'm having a personal chat with her-- I actually looked up her bio on the Internet and was so sad to see she's no longer among the living because I would so loved to have met her.

Reading EZ isn't just fun-- it makes me feel smart. It occurs to me that, after eleven years of stumbling around with knitting, I've actually come to understand quite a bit of the lingo and know more than a few techniques. When she describes the way a project is supposed to go, or outlines a shortcut, I realize that either a) I can totally visualize what she means or b) if I'll just try it, it will make sense as I go. This is such a far cry from my early days as a fearful knitter.

This thrills me-- it is a serious goal of mine to become not exactly a certified master knitter, but at least someone who can knit on the fly, without a pattern, and feel all joy and no frustration along the way. I didn't pick up this "hobby" (I use quotes because we all know it's more than that) to lose sleep over it. I picked it up because I wanted to bring some happiness to my life. And that has been overwhelmingly the case so far. Reading the almanac reminds me of how far I've come (and, okay, how far I have to go).

I was in talking to Suzanne recently about her trip to Market last month-- I'll post about that soon. I told her about my EZ reading. She told me the store just got in a bunch of new books. So even if you've read the Knitter's Almanac, fear not, there's plenty of new Knit Lit awaiting you. Here are pictures of a bunch of the books-- and remember, you don't need to make all the projects you see, or even any of them. Sometimes it's just fun to thumb through the pages for ideas and inspiration. Happy summer reading!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Yep, That's Right-- It's FIRST THURSDAY! (Big Sale)

-this one won't be Called on Account of Rain so Step Up to the Plate because HCW will be pitching it in the Strike Zone! No Screw Balls, Fast Balls, Backdoor Sliders, Chin Music or Heaters!

Winding up for the pitch
20% off all skeins!
Bat it out of the Ballpark
15% off all needles/hooks
additional 5% off purchase when you come in wearing your favorite baseball team's logo!!

HOME TEAM: Hill Country Weavers
IN THE BATTER'S BOX: Lindsay, Emily, Brenda, Kathy
IN THE DUG OUT: Valerie, Fran, Connie, Pam, Susan

It Ain't Over till it's Over!