Thursday, October 04, 2007

Returning to Stitches

When I had a real job and I was in my 20’s, nothing was impossible. I worked with an odd but fun group of women – most but not all of us were young and willing to try and do anything to make the little yarn business a success. That’s the thing about youth, it knows no bounds and everything is possible. I still live my life that way to a certain extent (yes, let’s plant a field of sunflowers and maybe someone will buy some, let’s move to the country and try to make ends meet) but I am also a bit more careful and thoughtful about my hair-brained schemes.

Which leads me to my appearance next Friday at Stitches Market in Baltimore, Maryland. It has been years and years since I was at a Stitches Market. It was before Julia and our present farmhouse and 200 plus sheep and pigs. It was before Knitting for Baby, Kids Embroidery, Colorful Stitchery, and Kristin Knits. It was when I was idealistic about a lot of stuff and before life really whacked me in the face.

I think it was the late 80’s. The people at XRX, Inc. (my friends Alexis, Elaine, and David) cooked up a plan for Stitches Convention and Market. I was working for Classic Elite Yarns. We had always advertised with Knitters Magazine and I had enjoyed many a long, loud Greek dinner with the XRX gang. When they thought up this (at that time) crazy idea for a knitting convention and market, I was in total whole-hearted support. I signed us up for a booth not knowing what to expect but hoping for the best.

The first show was held in Cherry Hill, NJ at a race track. My co-worker Cathy and I borrowed our boss’s daughter’s van. We took out the seats and loaded it up with yarn and display items. When we got about 20 miles out of Lowell, we promptly ran out of gas. Thank goodness we weren’t too far from a gas station and we were able to con someone into getting us going again. We drove to Cherry Hill and met up with Linda Pratt who was selling yarn somewhere in NJ to stores.

We set up a booth on the first floor of the race track. Upstairs there was betting and racing, downstairs there was yarn. The specifics are a bit fuzzy to me. The Saturday evening gala banquet was held in a white tent outside the race track with heaters and fans - everyone was still freezing.

The whole trip and the first “Stitches” was a comedy of errors - everyone was finding their way – the vendors (at the first market there were even needlepointers and cross-stitchers), the students, and the people who were putting the show on. If the first show was any indication, they should never have done it again. Students were upset, the accommodations were pretty awful.

But as with failed knitting projects, you rip out, analyze and try again. There was a general good vibe about the possibility of the thing. I was still whole-heartedly in support of “Stitches” going on and offered as much moral support as possible to the people at XRX. I had the confidence that the XRX people could turn Stitches into something good. But that racetrack location had to go!

The next year, we rented a very large Ryder truck. I drove it, loaded with display items, mannequins and junk yarn we were going to consign to our customers. The location had been moved to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. My co-workers Cathy and Valerie and I drove this truck loaded from Lowell, en route to PA. Very late at night on Route 80 in NJ, about 10 miles west of NYC, the truck broke down. We were stuck, before cell phones, and stranded with a big truck and lots of yarn. Luckily, an immense 18 wheeler sensed our distress, pulled up behind us and offered us help. We sat in the truck, hoping someone nice was coming to save the day. The truck driver, a huge burly guy with the biggest arms I have ever seen, called Ryder for help. He waited with us while they came and towed the truck. My mom picked us up at the Ryder depot (thanks again Mom) and we stayed with my parents. The next day, we got a new truck but we had to shift all that yarn and stuff to the new truck. Then, off we went.

We met up again with Linda Pratt at Valley Forge and set up our booth and passed out all the junk consignment yarn to shopowners. Upstairs there was a gun show. Another odd combination – yarn and guns? My co-workers and I volunteered to run the fashion show at the banquet and became dressers, commentators and stylists. We met knitters from all over the country. I taught some of the most fun classes I ever have – the students were warm and happy to learn whatever it was I was teaching. It was a great time and everyone knew that something big was in the making. The hotel accommodations were pretty awful but it didn’t seem to matter to us.

I continued to attend and teach at Stitches events for several years – I went to the West Coast Stitches and Camp Stitches (very pregnant where I roomed and met Sally Melville for the first time – what a great woman). My company stopped doing supporting booths (where you only promote, don’t sell). The market became bigger and more crazy and frantic. Knitters were fighting over yarn and books. Book signing lines were a mile long. Knitters were dropping thousands of dollars in a weekend. It was quite a scene.

I lost my enthusiasm as the venue got bigger. I found that the students got more demanding and less friendly – they felt more entitled and the more you gave them, the more unhappy they got. I decided to “retire” from Stitches because it wasn’t any fun for me anymore.

So now, I am returning, next Friday the 11th at the Baltimore Stitches. I’m doing an author talk in a large room at 11:45. I’m struggling to learn PowerPoint and to produce a slide show that people will like. I’m hoping knitters won’t be disappointed because I’m only me, a knitter from the countryside dreaming up ideas for them to knit somewhere else, in lovely yarns and colors.

If you are going, look for me. There will be 250 copies of my book there, the first copies to hit these shores. I’ll sign them – at booths, at my talk, wherever you can find me. And I’ll try to put on an entertaining slide show letting you in on my creative process as a knitwear designer. I’m pretty sure there are still seats left. Click here for more information.

But most of all, I want to have the fun I had of the first Stitches, as crazy and disorganized and spontaneous as it was.

See you there!


Gammy aka Peggy said...

What a wonderful story. Often times it is those "beginning" stories that are the most special. When we were too naive and in love with adventure to know we were being stupid. And we had fun. Here is hoping fun for you at this years Stitches.

Willow said...

If I weren't 3000 miles away...

What a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing it. Those years in the 80s, I was living in a little hut in the jungles of Indonesia, crocheting because it was too hot to knit.

PatB said...

How timely! For the last few months I've been on the committee for the first Nordic Knitting Conference here in Seattle. I came into it in the middle having had no intention in getting involved at the beginning. It's been very interesting working so closely with something like this after attending Stitches since the first west coast one in Portland.
The sponsor of the conference is the Nordic Heritage Museum and they had no idea of what they were getting into when they said "yes" to the idea a year and a half ago. It was kind of like Micky Rooney and Judy Garland - "Let's put on a show!" But they signed on the Nordic "stars" - Elsebeth Lavold, Vivian Hoxbro, Annemor Sundbo, and other Nordic knitting experts - Marilyn Van Keppel and Carol Rhodes. The response from the knitting community has been incredible. This is a small local seat-of the-pants operation but it's drawing people from all over the country. And this will be much different than Stitches in one respect - no market!
It's been a rocky road at times but it has all come together and tomorrow the show starts. We're pretty excited!

Patricia said...

I too, miss some of the old days of Maryland Sheep and Wool. Early 80's and 90's before knitting was hot. I'm buying one of your books there and look forward to having you sign it. Wear comfortable shoes, and bring water.


Judy F said...

I remember the one at the Gun show. We had just formed a knitting guild in DE and we went en mass and had a blast. We attended a couple more but they became not so fun for me. I cannot go to this year's in Baltimore but almost wish I could....

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the glimpse into Stitches! I've never been, but would like to go someday. Good luck with your talk, and I will be ordering your new book, probably via snail mail if that's still an option.

-- Grace in MA

Paula said...

Just wanting to throw my Good Luck wishes into the ring for you. Hope you have the fun wonderful time that you remember from the earlier shows. I will be ordering your new book also, as soon as we get over this "first of the school year" financial hump!