Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Good Day at Fiber Fest


This year, I went to the Michigan Fiber Festival on Friday. Last year, although I enjoyed being there on a Saturday, I found myself feeling far too crowded. Because of the huge number of people at the show, you couldn't walk two steps in a straight line, and the opportunity to talk with vendors was non-existent. So this year I went on Friday, a fairly quiet day and a good chance to really see Fiber Fest.

One of the first things I noticed is that vendors were selling. Consistently, I saw customers buying, buying, buying.
Sales were brisk at the Fiber Fest products booth.

Not just at the festival booth - though they were doing very well - but everywhere I noticed that people were buying. In this economy, that was a welcome sight. I saw a lot of vendor's bags being carried, but I also saw spinning wheels and weaving frames going home with new owners.

Friday works well as a family day. There were plenty of women with their children, and because there wasn't an overwhelming crowd, it was actually fun for kids.
These little girls were sitting on Mom's feet, playing the "I Want To Stay Here" game. It was actually pretty funny to watch .Mom was having fun teasing them, and everyone was having a good laugh. They were right in front of this booth:

Once Mom had pointed these bags out to the girls, they immediately jumped up to see them. There were a whole lot of questions, and I was laughing as I left when I heard Mom explaining why there was poo in brown paper bags. (But $5 a bag???!!)

Vendors were able to relax in-between customers. They were spinning and rug hooking, which attracted even more customers curious about their crafts.

People watching at the show was fabulous. I saw this woman in her completely knitted outfit and couldn't help but take a photo. She was knitted from head to toe, and even her bag was knitted in complimentary colors. Turns out she wears knitwear to the Fiber Fest each year, and vendors actually recognize her for her knit clothing.

Some of vendors were a bit different than what one might expect at a fiber show. I loved this watercolor artist's paintings - they were absolutely gorgeous. But the vendor that really caught my eye was the felting artist - at first glance, I thought it was a painting. Her felted scenes were astoundingly accurate; she certainly was an imaginative artist, and has taken felting to a new artistic level.

These watercolors really added to the show.

Yep - both these pictures were felted. (Sorry for the glass glare on the shepherd - there was a white pole right in front of this picture.) The photo on the left sold immediately, but the adorable kittens and puppies picture was still available.

Then there were the classes. Classes were everywhere, scattered in buildings throughout the show. I took a few shots of friends taking classes - thanks for allowing me to shoot you! :)

On the left, Karel was concentrating on her Knitting Tips class, while on the right, Terri was sitting outside in the shade, finishing her basket class.

And then there were the animals. Many of them hadn't arrived yet, and some were just being unloaded.

The photos pretty much speak for themselves. All of these guys loved attention, and although a bit shy, most of them allowed a pet or two.

The little guy at right was one of my favorites - I think he was a Pygora (cross between a Pygmy and an Angora goat). He spent much of his time literally sticking his nose into my camera lens or happily chewing on the hem of my blouse. He was a lot of fun, especially when I could get him far enough away from the lens that I could actually get a shot.

Overall, it was a great day. Very relaxing, with good food from the Allegan Band Booster concession (quite reasonable too - a Brat was only $2.50, and along with a fresh hand-cut fruit cup and large iced tea, the who bill was around $6 or so). I walked the show three times, didn't feel crowded even though there were a lot of people there, and had lots of fun wandering with my friend Gloria.

It was a good day.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Knitters at Smashburger!

A few weeks ago, I received this mysterious email via Urbanspoon Kalamazoo, a local restaurant review site where I occasionally post. The email was from Katie Hallin, of SmashVenture, inviting me to a "social media lunch" at the new Smashburger restaurant. It was a "soft opening", scheduled the day before Smashburger officially opened, designed to give the new staff some early practice.
Smashburger is the newest franchise restaurant in town, and is owned by Terry and Jean Henderson, longtime Kalamazoo restauranteurs. This Smashburger is the only one in Michigan, and the Hendersons are planning to expand in other Michigan locations.

After a few emails back and forth, I told them I was coming, with friends - knitting friends, all ready to test out the new menu and give their opinions.

Here we are, just before lunch arrives - Kay, Val, Karel, Becky and me.
(Note the knitting on the table!)

Five of us arrived, and after ordering, we took a look around. The restaurant isn't large, but still manages to handle a good-sized number of people. About 20 people were joining us for lunch initially, and others came a bit later. There's both booth and table seating. We happened to discover that the bench seating we were using needed a bit of adjustment - the one end kept sliding downwards, making for uncomfortable seating. We mentioned it to the staff, who quickly responded.

We also checked out the ladies room. It's clean, neat, spacious, functional.

Then we ordered. Amongst us, there were several who are diet-conscious, but Smashburger can handle it. Not only could we order salads as a main course, but some of us custom-ordered our sandwiches, picking and choosing ingredients that specifically suited our dietary requirements.

The sandwiches were rated well, with everyone liking their choices. One of the top-rated sandwiches was the Avocado Chicken Club sandwich, which included chicken you can have your chicken crispy or grilled. The apple-smoked bacon was generous, and added much flavor. Now if they could add just a teensy bit more avocado, it would be a perfect sandwich!

Friends Karel and Val testing the onion rings.

I ordered the sweet potato fries to share with the table, and they were fabulous. Not greasy at all, with good yammy flavor - I'll eat them anytime! On the other hand, the Haystack onion rings were nice, very thinly sliced and served with a dipping sauce, but a bit too salty.

For fun, we tried the fried pickles, and found them to be quite different - dill pickle slices deep fried, so definitely not diet food, but very tasty. I probably won't order a whole order again - the serving was very generous, but if they add a smaller portion serving, I can be tempted.

Although they weren't ready to offer full servings of their shakes, several of us tried the test portions of Smashburger's Michigan cherry shake. We all gave that one two thumbs up. Great cherry flavor, very natural tasting (unlike some restaurants that use a cherry syrup flavor that is artificial tasting). That's going to be on my list for my next trip.

Smashburger owners Jean and Terry Henderson, with Marketing Manager Katie Hallin.

Thanks, Smashburger, for inviting us - you've found five new customers, and there's more knitters from where we came from!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Shopping Isn't My Thing

With the exception of grocery shopping, I never shop. Well, occasionally yard sales, just because my car chokes every time I pass one and it's just not fair being mean to my car. But my clothes and household items usually come from yarn sales, just because that's my price point - pretty cheap. I have jeans that are older than your college-graduated kids.

So going into a Target the other day was sorta scary. After all, I didn't have a shopping list, and my budget was small. But after spending three and a half hours there (really! nobody believes me, but I had decades to make up), I came away with some good - no, great - finds.

I had to have a purpose to set foot inside Target. As I'm going down to Georgia at the end of the month for son Shawn's graduation from Army Officer Training School (Yay Shawn!!), I needed a few things.

Like a dress, for example. For the past 20 years, I haven't had much need of a dress. You don't need one to be an antiques dealer, or a photographer, or a freelance writer (my office dress code is jammies), and the only dress I own is a long sleeved black velvet dress. Definitely cute, but not Georgia-tolerant in August.

Why do I need a dress, you might wonder. Shawn surprised me last month with the news that he wanted me to pin his officer's ranking thingie (sorry, Shawn, I don't know what the heck you call that thing) on him at graduation. This is a very big deal. It's a big deal for him, because it represents five months of grueling training in the super-hot Georgia sun, and it's a big deal for me, because I'm representing Tom, who won't be there. We're going to have a big cry, and then we're going to celebrate. Shawn's definitely earned this one!

So back to Target. After much searching and comparison, I found this:

Yeah, I hung it up outside on my barn, just so I can take photos of it. Barns are great for that. The best news is that God was smiling upon me, and let me find this great blastedly-hot-Georgia-weather dress for only $20. Regular price, not even on sale. And it even fits, not always an easy feat.

Even better, it's lightweight, and scrunches up in a ball, a necessary requirement, since I have to jam it in this:

It looks bigger than it is. It's 20x13x7 inches, so it will fit up in the plan's overhead. I just refuse to pay to take a suitcase on a plane. Yes, I am cheap. Usually that's a good thing. But wandering around Target in circles was a whole new experience for this unshopper, and I somehow found myself way in the back corner looking at luggage. My old duffel bag is probably still serviceable - after 25 years, it only has a couple of small holes - and I was just planning on using that. But I did a double-take at the price, and then a triple-quadruple-quintuple-take. The regular price on the tag said twenty dollars for all three pieces. God was still smiling on me. Of course, he already knows what's in my wallet, because Tom told him.

So I dragged my dress and my luggage towards the front of the store, quite pleased with myself and with my finds, in that order. But wait! There's a 50% sale rack - can't pass that up! And I found myself flipping through that rack and six more, until I found - 45 minutes later - this:

That raspberry color just screamed "Take me home - now!" and once I'd seen this third price tag, I knew it was being piled on top of the dress on top of the rolling luggage. It was $10. By now, I just know that Tom's sitting in his boat up in heaven, fishing rod in hand, laughing himself silly. He knows how I hate to shop, and he knows God is messing with me.

But, of course, all good times must come to an end.

I was so excited that I'd found this adorable lightweight blastedly-hot-Georgia-weather sweater, that I set down my wallet for a moment to try it on. And look it over for any problems that would cause other savvy shoppers to ignore it. Not finding any problems, I headed up to the cash register to quickly pay for my finds before someone discovered that I was robbing Target blind.

And that's where God had his last laugh. I no longer had my wallet with me. And I didn't have the slightest idea where I'd left it. I'd been in six different departments, had circled half the store in mindless amazement of all the cool stuff one can buy, and most likely set my wallet down thirty times. In thirty places.

So I tried to nonchalantly wander back through my circuitous path - as I remembered it - and after 45 minutes and passing the same spot four times, found my wallet. Nobody had touched it - after all, it looked like no one had opened it in years - and I dragged myself up front to the cash registers again, paid and left. Total time in Target: three-and-a half-hours. Really.

One more stop, and I'm headed home. I needed to swing through Joann's Fabrics just to ogle some yarn I've been thinking about. And I had the last laugh (forgive me, God, but I was really only laughing at Tom):

Giant needles, at Joann's, on sale - all three for $5.19.

Take that, Tom!!!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Art Yarning The Kalamazoo Mall

There's a reason they call them "yarnstorms" - it's because all of us in ZooKnit have been knitting up a "storm" for our latest art project: the Kalamazoo downtown mall. If want want a closer look at any of the photos, just click on them.

We chose the Mall because of it's central location for tonight's monthly Art Hop, where many galleries and restaurants are open late on the first Friday of the month. Here's the result of many, many hours of knitting by many different people.

Sheila's many tree scarves were bright and colorful, just as she is!

The piece above was hung from an umbrella that sits over one of the public patio tables. After we were finished with our project we went across the street for supper. When I came out, it was gone. Obviously, someone really liked it. It lasted less than two hours.

We know our art won't last long after installation. We accept that, and we hope it's new owners will appreciate the time and effort each piece required. I'd love to think that this brightly colored piece will be worn this winter. If so, then I am honored to have made it for someone who loved it enough to take it, and probably needed it.

We have a rule: We check our installations regularly, and if any remain after two weeks, we remove it. Our yarn art is meant to be a temporary joy, hopefully bringing an unexpected smile or giggle.

We attracted a lot of attention. First, there was the grumpy police officer, walking through the Mall. He stopped and watched us for a few minutes, sipping his cold drink. I waved, but he didn't wave back. Since he was only about 10 yards from us, I waved again. He frowned. I asked him why he wasn't waving back (may as well strike up a conversation, right?), and he answered gruffly, "I'm trying to figure out what you are doing."

During this exchange, the other gals are continuing to install our yarn. They're pretending he doesn't exist, while I'm explaining, "Oh, we're just doing an art installation for the Art Hop."

"When's that?" grumps the cop. "It's tomorrow night," I said. "Hmmmpphhhh." said the cop, and he wandered away. I would have taken a photo of him, but decided to leave well enough alone. No point in aggravating a non-yarnie with a badge.

So we continued on. And we attracted a lot of attention from passersby. Street people abound in downtown Kalamazoo, and they've learned to befriend - temporarily - anyone who will talk with them. One man talked quite a bit about his poetry about God, and about his obituary poem. Another man, sitting on a nearby bench, mostly talked to himself but would occasionally would direct his discussions towards us, and we would nod sagely and smile. Nearly every street person asked us for money, and just smiled and moved on when we politely said no.

(Within two blocks of the Kalamazoo Mall are two different missions, both available to street people; all the local street people are familiar with and use these missions. However, we were new "targets" on the mall, so we were fair game for panhandling, especially since Mr. Police Officer was no longer around.)

One of the funniest moments was when we learned we had just beautifully decorated a mobile plant! Val had placed pretty glass ornaments with yarn inside around what she thought was a big bush, only to learn from the owner that the bush was in a planter on wheels, and that they wheeled it into Cafe Casa each evening at close, fearing it wouldn't be there the next morning. We quickly offered to undecorate it, but they liked our decorations very much, and asked if it was okay if they could just wheel their yarned bush inside and then outdoors each day! (Sorry, the camera didn't come out until after they'd closed for the day, art yarned bush safely inside their cafe.)

We liked those folks so much for their positive attitude, we left them a present - a rainbow yarn curlicue with the tag "You are beautiful" on their shop's door handle. (see photo above)

We had so many positive comments from those strolling the mall. And three people offered to take our photo with our camera! Guess they recognized our pride in our art, and wanted to help us document ourselves doing what we love.

Here's some more art we installed last night - enjoy!

Glass yarn balls hanging from a tree, plus a neckerchief for the water fountain.

The Chain and Lock was a fabulous project that Terri knit and then hung on a pair of doors at one of the closed stores on the Mall. We did our part to beautify the trash bins, too!

We love all the seating on the Mall, and concentrated on decorating them too. But one of the best parts of our installation was the Dog-wood Tree, sporting knit dogs from Zooknitter Joan.

We left hanging tags attached to our art throughout the project, asking for comment at this blog, hoping to get some input on our art mission. In the meantime, we're gearing up for our next project. More guerrilla knitting coming somewhere in Kalamazoo soon . . .