Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Stitches West: So much yarn, so much fun

A Verb for Keeping Warm / Pioneer naturally-dyed yarn.

My wife loves to knit -- she's been a yarn and fiber enthusiast for the past decade-plus -- and she maintains many project bags that are ready to travel. And, when you're the husband of a knitter, like I am, you set aside the last weekend in February for the fiber arts -- and embrace this creative experience.

Last Saturday, we attended the 2014 Stitches West yarn and fiber exhibition in Santa Clara, Calif., where we also connected with fiber friends. I've been my wife's regular companion -- and enabler, too -- at this annual gathering for several years, and together, we have seen it grow into one of the West Coast's premiere fiber arts events.

Although husbands and boyfriends make up a very small percentage of the ever-growing yarn and fiber crowd at Stitches West, I attend willingly and feel uninhibited, totally at ease. If you've ever been tempted by the fiber arts, whether it be knitting, crocheting or spinning, the Stitches West marketplace is the place to go see. After all, there's so much yarn, which can only mean one thing: So much fun.

Upon entering the Marketplace Hall, knitters and their enablers are easily tempted by row upon row of booths filled with colorful, luscious yarn and gorgeous fiber that's not only attractive to look at, but also lovely to touch. It's the place to plan the perfect sweater, find fiber friends, learn new things -- even take engaging classes.

For instance, there's the incredible softness and beautiful colors of the Malabrigo Worsted Merino yarns from Uruguay that are always very pleasing to see and touch. Then, there's Miss Babs Hand-Dyed Yarns & Fibers, whose booth is always an inspiration for lovely designs and colorful fibers -- and whose Road Trip #1 scarf I chronicled last fall. And, I have a fondness for all of the naturally-dyed yarn and fiber that my dear friends Kristine Vejar and Adrienne Rodriguez create at A Verb For Keeping Warm, their warm and spacious brick-and-mortar shop, which has become a haven for knitters and fiber artists close to home in Oakland. Their booth at Stitches is always a beautifully decorated and inviting space. Mid-morning Saturday, when we dropped by, AVFKW was abuzz with newly-designed and naturally-dyed yarn and fiber, and there were plenty of knitters and enablers perusing the booth and buying yarn and fiber, patterns and project bags.

Yarn Pop / A Top Shelf Totes product that is designed
for knitters and crocheters who knit on-the-go.

Of course, there's a plethora of knitting and weaving accessories on display throughout the marketplace, including: knitting needles of every imaginable size, yarn winders, and sock blockers. This year, a recent trend I noticed in years gone by has grown bigger: Handmade, hip and colorful project bags and totes, created by designers such as Yarn Pop and Slipped Stitch Studios, are big attention-getters.

Because I've been a regular attendee of the Stitches West Marketplace, I think a lot of people are surprised to learn that I can converse decently in the language of knitters -- and, my wife seeks my advice and trusts my judgment when it comes to buying yarn. I know what a "skein" is; I can tell the difference between tweed and alpaca yarn; and, I understand the importance of matching "dye lots". It helps that I try to stay current by perusing some of my wife's knitting magazines and reading a variety of knitting blogs, too. Plus, photographing all of her finished projects for Ravelry -- the Facebook for knitters and fiber artists -- has given me great street cred with knitters, too.

Over the years, I've made many acquaintances among the yarn and fiber vendors and artisans at Stitches West -- and, it's nice to be recognized like an old friend by them. Among my Stitches friends are Robin Senour, a glasswork artist from Berkeley, whose witty Sacred Laughter artwork and philosophy ("Bring more art into your life") I admire and adore. On Saturday, I bought our seventh piece of Sacred Laughter, a lovely and colorful polar bear with a whimsical smile. I showed Robin a photo that I took of all of our Sacred Laughter artwork we've bought over the past half-dozen years that's at home atop our fireplace. It drew a big smile from her.

Meanwhile, my appreciation of the fiber arts has grown, and I enjoy exploring the creative process and discussing what inspires various fiber artists. I've found that many vendors are very appreciative of being asked about the background and detail that goes into creating their products such as hand-dyed yarn, scarf patterns and eco-friendly, upcycled cashmere sweaters.

As I perused the aisles at Stitches West this year, I spoke to a few of the fiber artists about their creative work experiences and asked each of them: "What inspires you?"

StevenBe / Glitter knitter.
Steven Berg AKA StevenBe: "I love watching fashion shows. I love color. I love to design," the Minneapolis-based fiber artisan, who would look right at home with the Rolling Stones, told me. "The future is getting people people interested in crafts and knitting."

StevenBe's motto is catchy but positive: "Be inspired. Be brilliant. Be limitless." And, on his website, he reminds all fiber aficionados: "The possibilities are endless. There are no mistakes, only variations.

"And always remember to 'glam it up'."

Stella Neptune /
Everyone loves critters.
Eva Kisevalter AKA Stella Neptune: This former DJ-turned-devoted thrift shopper, has combined her love of pop graphics with her addiction to cashmere. Her L.A.-sourced, "upcycled" cashmere sweaters caught my eye. "Every little scrap can be turned into art. Every scrap is an opportunity," she told me.

Asked why she works with recycled clothing, Stella Neptune admits she's not a knitter, but she's been an artist going back to the days when her DJing gigs meant spinning vinyl. "The thrill of the hunt turned into a lifestyle obsession that just happens to be a better way to make new things without feeling guilty about all of the waste and excess in the world," I learned from her website. "The end result is creating eco-fabulous designs."

Kira K Designs /
Clean lines and intriguing details.
Kira Dulaney of Kira K Designs: This Oakland-based fiber artist creates original hats, scarves, cowls, shawls, sweaters, gloves and mittens under the moniker Kira K Designs. She also designs patterns and teaches a variety of knitting workshops around San Francisco and Oakland.

Kira told me she's inspired by period costume and design. Upon exploring her Ravelry page, I learned this about Kira K: "I first learned the basics of crochet around age three and knitting around five. ... I retaught myself to knit while I was in college. I studied theatrical costume design and worked as a costume designer in and around San Francisco for several years.

"The research I have done in historical clothing is a strong influence on my design sense, and many of my patterns reference styles from the 1920s through the 1960s. My designs tend toward garments with clean lines and intriguing details that are interesting to knit and easy to wear."

Finally, a poster at the Ontario, Canada-based Zen Yarn Garden garnered my attention for a moment, but nicely summed up my Stitches West experience for this year. It said: "Create something unique everyday."

All photographs by Michael Dickens, 2014.

1 comment:

  1. It was a great experience yet again! Gorgeous photos!