If you’ve been to Seed Stitch at all over the past several years, you probably know Michele. She holds down the shop every Tuesday and Wednesday, offering advice to knitters new and experienced on everything from casting on to complex cables. She is a serious knitter, without taking knitting too seriously. She’s known to shrug over the stitch you knit instead of purled twenty rows back and say with a smile, “It’s not worth it.”

Years ago when, half way through my second scarf, I finally figured out how to keep tension, I brought my lopsided project to Michele and told her I’d have to rip it out, she gave me an emphatic, “No!”

“But it’s not perfect!” I protested.

“It’s not supposed to be perfect!” She told me that if I wanted a perfect scarf, I should buy one knit by a machine. Every knitter knows that knitting by hand is not a means of making something faster or cheaper than you could buy. It’s about craft. It’s skill and hard work and sometimes even swearing. But always, it is emotion. It is the pride of making something with your own two hands and the love of the craft, the fiber, and perhaps even the person for whom you are knitting. And though many will argue the fine line between art and craft is the idea of functionality, I would argue that though both can be made with emotion, the thing that we make when we make art is meaning.

Michele overlooks the imperfections in knitting, but she makes meaning, she makes art, from the imperfections in the world around around us. Where some people see a heap of discarded clothes, Michele sees the raw material for making a message. For her piece Hide, which you can see at her joint show with husband and fellow artist John Bonner, opening this Sunday at the Marblehead Arts Association, Michele sewed hundreds of designer labels culled from unwanted clothes. “Hide speaks to the world’s obsession with labels for both people and objects,” she told me. By reassembling the labels into a new kind of trophy to be hung on the wall like a moose head or bear pelt, Michele did not simply deconstruct a status symbol: she skinned it.

The labels hold personal meaning for Michele as well. The heaps of clothes she combs for labels are from Lifebridge, a local homeless shelter here in Salem, where she has led a knitting and crochet group for the past four years. Michele says that much of her work acts a “link to a backstory, a feeling, or an event.” The Short Window of Cherries, for example, found it’s beginnings in a memory of growing up in Switzerland, climbing cherry trees in the back yard to pick for dessert. The piece is a sphere of tiny jars that no longer preserve jam, but instead moments spent with family. One can look through the small, round glass windows to see memories of fleetingly sweet cherry seasons gone past, punctuated by cherry stones spit out through puckered lips, not unlike hundreds of kisses goodbye.

Michele’s family and friends also play a part in her work by helping her collect. She has enlisted their help in finding lost gloves for a piece she is currently working on about gun violence in response, in part, to the Sandy Hook massacre. “I need so many, it would take too long to get them [by myself].” Sometimes, though, Michele will collect objects before she has an idea of what to do with them. In addition to gloves, she is currently collecting hair, tea bag tags, and window weights.

Take 2 is the aptly named second joint show between Michele and her husband John, who Michele says is her biggest supporter. When the two began dating, Michele took photos that John would later use to paint from. It wasn’t until recently that Michele considered herself an artist as well. Even if Michele is still modest about calling herself an artist, others have begun to take note. She is a graduate of Monseratt College of Art’s Artist Professional Toolbox program, was selected for a two week artist residency last summer at Haystack Mountain School of Craft, and, last month, was invited to give an artist’s talk and workshop at East Carolina University.

Take 2 opens with a reception from 2 – 4 at the Marblehead Arts Association this Sunday, April 27th. 25% of all proceeds from work sold will be donated to benefit Lifebridge. For more information on Michele Fandel Bonner and John Bonner, check out the hyperlinks.

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Tonight, from 6-8, we will be joined at the shop by Tara Gitt, Courtney’s  talented and knowledgeable sister, who will be sharing her expertise in essential oils. Tara took some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions for us here on the blog.

Tara was introduced to Young Living Essential Oils last year after using the Stress Away blend for herself and a blend of oils called Peace and Calming to help her 10 year old son fall asleep. ”It really worked!” she told me.

“I began to research the products and the science behind them… I began sharing with my friends, and they love the products as well.  So, what started as personal use…has turned into a mission to inform people everywhere of the truly life changing uses of these oils.”

So, what are some of the ways we can put essential oils to use? When applied to the body or diffused in a bath or humidifier, essential oils have effective anti-inflamatory, anti-bacteria, anti-depressant, anti-fingal properties. Knitters and crocheters familiar with essential oils have used scents like lavender to help repel moths from their yarn and their finished knits. You may have noticed that we keep satchels of lavender on our shelves in the shop to do just that. Though dried herbs can lose their scent over time, they can be refreshed by adding just a few drops of essential lavender oil.

If you ask Courtney about her favorite oil, she’ll tell you all about Thieves. This essential oil blend was created by combining rosemary and clove oil, among others, as these were the scents that four French thieves cloaked themselves in while robbing dead and dying plague victims! Not only did it mask the stench of the robbed, but it also helped to protect the thieves themselves against disease. The Thieves blend of essential oils is particularly useful in cleansing both self and surroundings while supporting the immune system.

Tara has lots of stories of different people she has met who have benefitted from essential oils. “From the burly roofer who carries a bottle of lavender with him during work day and applies it on his nose and hands to alleviate allergy symptoms, to the mother whose kids line up at night for some Mommy time and a foot massage of lavender and peace and calming, for the owner of a cat who spent hours meowing and wailing over the loss of it’s companion cat who diffuses lavender to relax the cat, to folks who have found resolution to their arthritis pain, the lady who uses the oils to make her laundry smell fresh, there are so many uses for heath, mood, hormonal balance, insect repellent, home cleaning, first aid, fever reduction, ease stomach pain, reduce stress….it goes on and on.I love the oils and the products! They have changed my life and impacted the lives of people I care about! I love to share the oils and their possibilities with folks!”

Hope you can join us this evening, 6-8 for drinks, refreshments, and all things essential oil!

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If you’ve seen the latest issue of Vogue Knitting, you may have read about local fiber artist Adrienne Sloane. The Lexington-based sculptor began her career in yarn as a milliner, crafting machine-knit hats throughout the eighties and nineties. When a fire destroyed her studio, Sloane took a break from fiber. When she returned to the knitting machine in 2004, a new kind of work began to emerge. Sloane tells us about her creative shift and her recent body of work.
Your present work seems markedly different from your pre-fire work, mostly in that it reads more as art than craft (in thinking of craft as a usable art, as in the case of your hats) and is intensely political. What spurred this change of creative pace?
While I loved playing with color and design in the sculptural hats I knit until losing my studio to a fire in 1999, the fire provided a clean break and an obvious time to reexamine the focus and intent of my work.  During the five year hiatus which followed, I became chair of the Watertown Cultural Council as well as help found our local arts center, Arsenal Center for the Arts (arsenalarts.org).  As long dried yarns worked their way up from the cellar to my dining room, it became clear that it was time to look for a studio.   As I fully reengaged with fiber, it also was clear to me that I wanted my work to be more meaningful.
When you sit down to work, do you begin with the medium, the form, or the message? Are you working toward an image/form and creating a pattern to get there, as in more traditional garment/knitwear design or is there more tactile exploration happening along the way?
Generally, one piece informs the next, with a lot of tactile exploration along the way. Currently, I am playing with linear elements in a variety of ways with particular focus on non-traditional ways to use I-cord as a drawing medium.  Though I have dry periods, what I enjoy so much in the creative process is just when I think that I have exhausted the possibilities, a new way of working seems to evolve leading down yet a new path of exploration.
Similarly, how do the construction techniques used effect the final object and the meaning inherent in it as a made object? For example, are there differences between those pieces that are machine knit as opposed to those that are done by hand? Do you use both techniques in a single piece?
I have occasionally mixed machine and hand knitting.  However, there is a subtle interplay between material and message and I try to choose the most appropriate medium for the piece I have in mind.   At the moment, I am doing much less machine knitting than I have done in the past.
Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve made? That someone else has? What artists do you look to and admire?
My favorite pieces are the ones that are the most evocative, where the material, subject matter and overall execution sync well.  These pieces sing to me; Truth to Power and Sea Change, (which is up at Above the Din exhibit at Artworks in New Bedford until April 3), to name two.
There are so many artists whom I admire; four of whom I invited to the Artworks show.  They include Beatrice Coron, Nancy Crasco, Nathalie Miebach and Ruth Marshall.

 

You have said, “I knit to rejoin the frayed and unraveled places around me.” That is so lovely. But does this driving force of making art to make sense of things around you ever make things more difficult? Do you ever become consumed or bogged down by the stream of (often bad) news you keep playing in the studio or are you able to shut it off during other parts of your day? Do you create work from narratives more directly involving your personal life and do these pieces also get shown or do they remain personal?
The fiber world is not infrequently inwardly focused, however, my interest is on conveying my visceral responses to the world around me.  I do not have a body of work that is for my eyes only.   I am always very pleased then when my work resonates with others.
On a much lighter note, you are a fiber artist, but do you also consider yourself a knitter in the more traditional sense? Do you frequent your local yarn shop, spend time on Ravelry, and make yourself knits to wear, or is your knitting mostly sculptural?
Thanks so much for asking.  At this point in my career, I am really more of a sculptor and do not frequent yarn shops, spend much time on ravelry or knit wearables.  I am more likely to look for new and interesting linear elements at the hardware store or take material inspiration other media.
Sloane’s work is currently on view at the Attleboro Museum as part of the show, Down to the Wire. Her studio will also be featured and open to the public on April 27 and 28 through the Fifth Annual Lexington Open Studios. If you are interested in learning more about sculptural knitting, you might consider taking Sloane’s summer intensive at Monserrat College in Beverly this June. Knitting a Life runs from June 10 – 14 and registration is now open.
You can see more of Sloane’s work online at her website or her blog.
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So excited to participate in this project with the Mass Poetry Festival, which will be in Salem this weekend.

If you’re in the area, make sure to take advantage of this amazing event.

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The Yarn Crawl this weekend was a huge success!

We hosted three local knitting artisans: Ana Campos, the Salem yarn dyer behind Toil & Trouble;  Newbury knitwear designer Leslie Scanlon of Mac and Me; and Knitink Yarn and Fiber dyer and spinner, Ady Bee.

Ana’s soft, subtly variegated yarns made the shop feel like spring.

And she can multi-task! Below, Ana (right) knits while showing a customer her wares.

Leslie showcased her clean, fun style in blankets, clothes and accessories for both babies and adults.

I think I’m going to have to knit these adorable baby booties (above) to compliment what will surely be my favorite hat this winter. It’s the fuzzy white one on the table below in front of Leslie (right).

Ady’s comic book inspired, homespun yarn was so freshly dyed, some of it was still damp!

Of course, she came decked out in her own knitting (above).

If you missed some of the fun, don’t worry! Check back here soon for an interview with Mac and Me’s Leslie as well as summer knitting suggestions, sculptural yarn and more.

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As my mom would say, “Can you stand it?!!” No I can not stand how cute these crochet Quahogs (pronounced ‘ko-hog’ for all of you that are not from ’round here) turned out. They are another part that will go into our Seed Stitch Sound:community art project celebrating New England Marine life.

Quahogs anyone?

Quahogs anyone?

I didn’t use a pattern for these, just free from single and double crochets where I increased to make the shells and then via single crochet increases and decreases to make the Quahog bellies. I almost want to eat them!

To keep your creative juices going, I’ll be posting projects a they are created and patterns for you. Stay tuned!

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Ok I’m super excited that I’ve finished the first of a school of “minnows” for our Seed Stitch Sound project.   The pics are not great so forgive me but I just had to share them.  Hopefully it will get you all as excited as I am to start crafting all sorts of New England Marine-y things for our community exhibit.

Crochet minnow

Crochet minnow

Knit minnow

Knit minnow


These are both made from cut up Crosby’s grocery bags. They were both just sort of free form knit and crochet to make the shape as I went. I love the way the bits of red and blue writing on the bags add to the scaley color of these minnows. I’m thinking I’ll make a whole school and have them swimming through some eel grass once we assemble the exhibit in September.
PS Happy first day of Summer!

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We’re sooooo excited to announce we’ll be hosting a free concert for kids 2-7 at the shop with one of our very favorites, Debbie and Friends!!!!!!!!!!!!

Debbie is a big favorite around these parts and we’re so happy to share her music with all of our Salem friends. The concert will be held Sunday August 7th, starting 10:30 AM.  It will be a great opportunity share some fun music with your kids.

Debbie Cavalier of Debbie and Friends

Be sure to tell all your friends.  We can’t wait!  If you plan on coming, it will be a free event, but please give us a call to let us know you might be coming so we can be sure to plan ahead for the kids!

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Ok gang, I’m super excited about this group project that I’m organizing. I’m sure many of you have seen and been totally inspired by Margaret Wilhielm’s crochet hyperbolic coral reef projects. Well me too, but we don’t live in a place that is known for it’s coral reefs. Being a New Englander through and through and a die hard beach, ocean, shore, sand and sail kind of gal, I’m putting my own twist on it.

Muscle Shells

Muscle Shells

In September we will be constructing an underwater environment inspired by New England Waters, sort of like The Seed Stitch Sound. We’ll be creating many of the elements that will go into this shop exhibit but we’d like to involve all of you. So put your thinking caps on to see how you can manipulate fiber to create some wonderfully New England underwater gems. Think eel grass, jelly fish, lobsters (uncooked of course), felted rocks, cod, minnows, periwinkles, spider crabs, etc. We’d like to try to stay true to marine life of our area, but of course we always welcome a bit of creative license around these parts.

Cod Fish

Cod Fish

We’d like to have all submissions as of September 1st. We’ll be posting an inspiration board in the shop in the coming weeks. As well to really make this a community event, we’ll be hosting a lecture series throughout September, every Friday night, with different local experts talking about some super cool marine focused topics. Schedule in the works but this series is not to be missed and open to non-fiberholics too so please spread the word to all your other eco-conscious NE friends.

Eeegrass

Eeegrass

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We were so excited to come home to a package at the door.  Oooh what was it?!!!! I giant pile of buttons!

yarn-crawl-buttons

This is the first year we’re offering buttons to crawlers for purchase $1.00. Quantities are limited and will only be on sale during the crawl itself.

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