Monday, August 25, 2008

Sea Colors - my mission reactivated

When I started Circles one piece of the mission was to help connect knitters to the sources of their materials. In case you haven't noticed, connection is a big theme with me. Healing, generative activity, creativity, and compassion are all rooted in connection. In the case of knitters and yarn, I have seen how profoundly people are affected when they meet the person who dyed their yarn. Even more so when they meet the farmer who raised the animal that gave them the fiber.

For many, when we start out as knitters we're simply thinking about things we can make, or we're looking for a hobby, or we're trying to finally have a sweater with sleeves that actually cover our wrists. Perhaps we just need to keep our hands busy while we stop smoking or stick to a diet. So, at first, we don't really consider the yarn except as a cost of pursuing the craft.

It doesn't take long before we notice that some yarns are softer than others. Some result in sweaters we'll wear a lifetime and even hand down as an heirloom. Others leave us with garments that pill or stretch out of shape irretrievably or shred readily leaving big holes in our work. Still, we might be looking for yarns that serve us best, at the best price, without really thinking much more about it. Until we meet a farmer.

Upon spending time with a farmer, particularly if you get to experience the farm, you gain a deeper sense of what it takes to get that yarn from the animal to your sweater. The birthing, the herding, the shearing, the feeding, the health management, the land management, the spinning, the dyeing, the fairs, the festivals, the shipping. Training dogs, moving fences, hauling water, keeping out predators. Worrying about it all. All year long. 365 days. No breaks. The dedication of the farmer is unmatchable. Once you are near someone who is living that, an appreciation of it rubs off onto you like osmosis. At some point, what you're looking for in your yarn changes. Price isn't necessarily the driving factor. You want to support the work that has gone into that precious skein. Work that is priceless, really.

Most often, you also learn a lot more about how the land, plants and non-farm animals impact the livestock and how that interaction effects the resulting fiber that goes into your yarn. A brittle life means brittle fiber. Lush land means luscious fiber. Once you realize this, the need to support sustainable eco-systems is tangible. You can feel the state of the planet slipping through your fingers as you knit. It's harder to support chemically processed yarn producers and eco-damaging, uncompassionate farmers. Knitting is part of the slow life and you spend a lot of time with that yarn, that tether between you and the earth from whence it came, rubbing along your skin.

If you're at all like me, a little personal mission sets in. One small thing that you can do to help the planet is use your knitting dollars to support producers who are doing what they can to keep the planet healthy - ecologically and socially. Hence the yarn buying criteria at Circles and the not-so-secret agenda behind the Travel Circles. (Hey, if my health keeps up, we'll back to those by Spring!)

Things have changed at Circles, as we all know by now. One thing that hasn't changed is my sense of mission. As I focus on the Pattern Collaborative for it's co-creative energy and the classes and workshops for the nurturing of craft, I'm still looking for ways to support the artisan producers out there and to continue building the connections between producers and knitters.

I just spent some time in Washingon, ME on Nanney Kennedy's Meadowcroft Farm. We all know her as the "Sea Colors" yarn lady. It definitely soothes my soul to soak up a bit of the farm life. (It was fabulous for my daughter, too!) Watching all the activities that Nanney has to juggle to get through a day, one realizes that it's a bit magical that she manages to create such finely crafted products out of all that "chaos". (It's not really chaos, it's the unpredictable alchemy of working with living things.) Her commitment to eco-sustainability, compassion and artistry are evident in everything she does. She's inspiring. (The hot tub on the deck is, too!)

As I pay closer attention, I realize she's doing all of this scrambling just to make ends meet. She's raised two boys as a single mother on this farm. The youngest just graduated high school. For the first time in over 20 years, she has a little breathing room to take stock and figure out how to make all of this more securely self-sustaining. When she does, she realizes she can't do it alone. She's up at 5 each day, out to feed the animals, move the sheep to pasture, check for eggs, make sure coyotes haven't breeched the pasture fences and other critters haven't gotten into the vegetable garden. Is it a sunny enough day to get some dyeing done? Do the dogs need to be wormed? How are the hooves on the sheep? Why is that one limping? And the day is off.

But this is just the on-farm work. The production of raw materials. She oversees the spinning of the fibers for the yarn and the blankets at a mill in Canada. She supervises the blanket weaving. She specs the details for the custom knitting. Coordinates a lesson for some crochet finishing. Sells at a farmer's market every week and travels around to craft fairs and sheep festivals. She's a one woman tour de force. And it isn't really enough. It's a hard, though exquisitely beautiful life.

So, here I am, the woman who is all about making connections, looking for ways to keep my mission alive. And here's Nanney looking for ways to create outreach to more customers. (She isn't moving nearly all the product she's creating. Or maximizing the production quantity for, say, the blankets.) Nanney has an internet partner developing a new web site for her and they need to drive people to that site, learn about her work and be inspired to buy her products.

I can do that. Can't I? What's a girl on a mission to do? I offered to help.

I'll add to my writings here the topic of how I'm doing on my mission of connecting people to Nanney's work and her products. For everyone's sake - mine, Nanney's, the consumers and the planet - let's hope these entries are mini-chapters in a minor success story.