Monday, February 26, 2007

Stitches West 2007, Part I: So Much Fiber, So Little Time

I. Have. Done. It. I survived Stitches West 2007.

For the 5 people that work with fiber and have never heard of "Stitches," it's a series of huge (and I do mean huge) exposition/convention for those in love with fiber, particularly of the knit/purl variety. The shows are put on by XRX Publishers (the people who publish Knitters Magazine), and there are three each year: Stitches West in Santa Clara, CA each February, Stitches Midwest in Rosemont, IL every August, and a Stitches East in October. As Stitches West is the first of the year, it's full of hungry fiber people, who haven't had a "fix" in four months.

I decided to go simply for the shopping, so I bought a ticket just for the Stitches Market. $12 bought my entrance for two days of very serious shopping: the Santa Clara Convention Center's exhibit halls is 90,000 square feet, and every inch of it was filled little booths with everything to delight a fiber person's heart. I got down there on Saturday morning just after the Market opened, got my ticket stamped, walked in, and immediately suffered the fiber version of vapor-lock: there was so much, how was I ever going to find anything? I had scoped out the vendors (over 100 from all over the world), and knew there were certain people on the "must see" list, and I had a good shopping list, so I just started at row 1, and systematically worked my way through it.

This year, the "must have" was Jane Sowerby's new book, Victorian Lace Today. I picked up a copy a while back because I liked the pictures (all the photos in the book were shot at one of the Trust properties in England), and I liked the idea that she was updating historic knitting patterns, but still giving the history of each pattern. When you walked into the Stitches Market, the first thing you saw was XRX Publishing's booth, full of the pieces made for the book, all available for scrutiny (which for fiber people includes touching). Wow! They're beautiful in the book, and even more beautiful in person; everything is knitted of buttery soft yarns--personally, I would call them "threads"--and they're wonderfully floaty and drapey. There were booths with books, booths with yarns, booths with knitting needles, booths with patterns, booths with books, yarns, knitting needles, patterns, and so much more, it's really sort of difficult to describe. And the fibers! Alpaca, cashmere, wool (of course!), silk, cotton, and all the manmade fibers were well represented. Windy Valley Musk Ox came down from Anchorage, and I finally had a chance to feel what quiviut (pronounced "kiv-e-yute") is like--light, and very, very soft.

My downfall came on Saturday afternoon when I walked by the Carolina Homespun booth and noticed that Morgaine had brought a large selection of spinning wheels, including the Kromski Prelude. I've been toying with the idea of replacing my Country Craftsman Saxony with a smaller, better Saxony for reenactments. For some reason, I just don't like the Country Craftman, and I can't get it to spin properly. I sat down to spin on the Kromski and what a disappointment! Wobbly doesn't begin to describe this little wheel--the maidens "shimmy and shake like your sister Kate" when you get the wheel up to speed, and the entire time I was afraid the poor little wheel was going to tip right over into my shins. It's also sort of crude, and lacks the refinement of many other wheels (even Ashfords!). Right next to it was a drop-dead gorgeous cherry Schacht-Reeves 24" Saxony, so for hoots and giggles, I went ahead and tried spinning on that. Omigod! It spins itself. I literally sat there with a bit of roving, didn't even bother to try to keep a drafting triangle, and spun some of the best lace-weight singles I've ever spun. I had to have that wheel! Then I found out the price. Ulp! But dang it, I deserve a stunningly beautiful, terrific spinning wheel like that, so I called that darling enabler of mine, and ten minutes later, the Schacht-Reeves was mine, along with a cherry Kate, a high-speed whorl, and 3 more bobbins. One of the sales people from Carolina Homespun helped me get everything out to the car, and the looks I got as we paraded through the expo! So the baby is home now, awaiting a basket of roving. By the way, the photo is not a photo of my Schacht-Reeves, but of the (less expensive) ash one.

After a purchase like that, most people would be shopped out, but I still had 3/4 of the Stitches Market left. I found a deal on some nice Surima wooden knitting needles (straights) for reenactments, scored a couple pounds of Corriedale/Falklands roving and picked a set of Howard handcards for carding the mountain of uncarded fiber I still have to deal with. A question here: Is it a reproduction if it never stopped being made? This is the case with my new handcards. Howard Brush started making handcards in 1866, and still make them exactly the same way (in some cases, on the same machinery). They're dandy cards, a little bigger than my Clemes & Clemes, and perfect for all the long, soft fibers I like to spin.

I had to get a "goodie" for Stephen, so I bought a skein of black alpaca to knit him a new "smoking" cap to wear around the house. It's soft and warm, and I think he'll really like it.

So that was the first day of Stitches. A fun day, an expensive day, but well worth it.