Five Green Acres Mary Jo + Andrew Borchardt Poynette, WI
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The Squam Art Fair was a stunning lesson in abundance.

The Squam Art Fair was a stunning lesson in abundance.
September 27, 2013 Mary Jo


Join me for the official launch of This is Wool. + From Drought next Friday, Oct. 4, 2013.

I started preparing for the Saturday night Squam Art Fair before my official registration hit Elizabeth’s desk in July.  It would be the debut, I decided early on, of the next harvest of This is Wool., the limited edition finewool yarn I make from my small flock of sheep.  It was a lofty goal.

This batch of wool actually comprised two harvests – the shearing from last year as well as this year.  It’s a departure from the First Harvest, to be sure, not being hand spun or dyed from locally-gathered plants, and I wanted the name of the yarn to reflect that.  “From Drought” I decided to call it, a sort of ‘make lemonade from lemons’ allusion.  Because of the drought we endured, there were no dye plants to harvest.  Just keeping the sheep fed was a hell of a challenge, and unexpectedly expensive. The value of hay surpassed the value of gold last summer, I think.  (Kidding. But only a little.)  From Drought, then.  A fitting name and a welcome opportunity to explore acid dyes and mill processing.

Working with a mill to process your wool into yarn is a task that requires significant lead time.  One should expect to be parted with her wool for at least 4 months.  That’s a light estimate.  In July, I had significantly less than four months before the proposed Art Fair debut, which made the choosing of the mill to use quite easy, based heavily as it was on lead time.  You may or may not remember a road trip earlier in the summer to drop off the wool at the mill.  It was with nothing less than lightning speed that the fine folks at Zeilinger’s processed that yarn and before I could settle on a viable color palette, I had the giant box of yarn back in my hot hands.  Then came the dyeing, and dyeing, and then packing.  I stayed up till the wee hours in the morning on the eve before Squam packing.  For my booth at the fair.  My clothes and few personal things were thrown in carelessly.  The yarn was what mattered.

Because it mattered so much.  This showing at the Art Fair was to be my way of standing on a mountain top shouting, “I want you to know who I am! I make beautiful yarn from sheep I midwife and shepherd and shear myself! I blog! It’s such a pleasure to meet you!”  I wanted my mad design skills to be reflected in the clever set-up of my 3′ x 6′ booth.  “You did all of this from what you carried onto a plane?!” I wanted the throngs to ask.  “Yep.” I would say, “And it was no easy task.”  I packed collapsible tent poles and had a vision of weaving a backdrop and sourcing a few key things while at Squam to pull it all together, like the string of lights I sweet-talked out of Elizabeth.  Oh – it was such. a. big. deal. to me.  This booth was to be a catapult to launch me into wild career success.

Surely, from your vantage point, you can see how this is the start of crazy-making.  Right?

I arrived at Manchester Airport in NH on Wednesday ready to begin the adventure, but my giant, oversize suitcase full of yarn did not.  No matter – I didn’t need it for another 3 days and welcomed the opportunity to have someone deliver it to my door and not have to schlep it through the woods myself.  When it didn’t arrive later that night, I didn’t worry.  Much.  When it hadn’t arrived the next morning, I become only mildly worried.  Upon returning from my day of adventuring in the New Hampshire countryside, I found it waiting for me on the porch. Oh, sweet relief!

On Friday morning, I tested my iPad’s WiFi signal in the hall where the fair was to be.  I set up a web page to handle the transactions.  Not my first craft fair rodeo, I knew it was imperative to accept credit cards; I’d do that and Paypal too!  (I was a genius.) My cabin mates helped me to come up with names for all of the colors, and I wrote out the tags for each skein as we chatted before a cozy fire.  Oh, that I also attached the tags to the yarn at that time!  But they’d get bent up as I transported the yarn to my booth, so I didn’t.  The hour and 45 minutes to set up before the doors of the fair opened seemed plenty of time to tag it all.

Surely, from your vantage point, you can see the folly in this, right?

Saturday came, a free day to spend as we wished.  I climbed a mountain (literally), did my laundry, then prepared for the fair. I was in the throngs of preparing when supper time snuck up on me.  I was in the throngs of eating supper when the fair setup time snuck up on me.  I was in the throngs of a panic as I threw it all into the suitcase.  An angel swooped down and offered to drive me and my bulging suitcase to the hall.  The angel’s daughter came along to help.

The hall was mass hysteria.  Extension cords were flying, movement all around us created a blur that was accentuated by my growing panic.  Sarah was there to help me set up (oh, sweet angel!) and she began tagging the 90 skeins of yarn I hastily pulled out of the suitcase.  The tent poles were discarded right off the bat – they didn’t work in that space.  The sign I had printed off over 9 sheets of paper, the one to announce who I was, what this yarn was, was missing a half inch of information on each side of each sheet of paper.  It looked like garbage.  I strung up a half-ass clothesline above the booth, using the hall’s structural post on my left and the vendor’s generously offered display on the right.  Another vendor contributed some tiny clips to hold the crappy sign in place.  Angels, all of them.

What I needed more than anything (except maybe another 2 hours to set up) was to gain some height on my table.  90 skeins of yarn + patterns + roving + First Harvest would not fit on a 3′ x 6′ table unless I made some tiers.  I dumped everything out of my giant suitcase and then everything out of my carry-on suitcase and covered them with the white bedsheets I had packed as table coverings.  The clock was ticking and I barely got all of the yarn stacked by color before the doors opened.  Sarah was only able to physically tag about a third of the yarn in that time; the other tags we placed by their corresponding colors in a pile.  I shooed her out the door with a panicked squeak and my undying gratitude just moments before the masses filled the hall.  I put on my vintage apron with pockets, with which to hold my cash, and then began a frantic search for that cash.  If you price a skein of yarn at $24, you should expect to hand customers a lot of ones in change, right? But the envelope of cash was nowhere to be found.  I had no money, save the ten, five, and one in my own wallet.  I pulled out the iPad – Paypal will have to be king that night, I reasoned, with no cash to make change.  But I couldn’t connect.  Couldn’t even get a signal.

By now people were starting to make their way to the back corner where my booth was and I was swiftly descending into a full-blown panic attack.  I HAVE NO MONEY! I HAVE NO PAYPAL! MY BOOTH LOOKS LIKE A 6-YR-OLD PUT IT TOGETHER! All of the planning, all of the build-up, all of the expectations came to a head in that instant before the first customer arrived to fondle my yarn and I nearly lost it.  But what could I do?  It is what it is, a f&^%ing disaster.  And there’s nothing more I can do.

Cabin mates were the first to arrive.  “I’d like this one.  And these.” I was handed a credit card.  “I’m sorry…” I apologized.  “How about you send me a Paypal invoice?” she suggested.  “Yes! Yes, I will.” And I made my first sales.  More came, with cash in hand.  They must have had exact change, because my ten and five and one grew to include blessedly more ones.  And so it continued, over the course of the two and a half hours.  Only once did I need to change a five with five ones from the gracious vendor next to me.  Only once.

If you know me even a little, you’ll know me to be unlikely to make such a reference, but the whole event was rather like that biblical parable of the loaves and fishes – starting with so little and multiplying to feed the masses.  I started with no cash, no clever booth design, no grace.  In the end, none of the packaging mattered.  It was the yarn that I was selling, and the people loved it.  That I had no packaging to wrap it with (having left that in my cabin by mistake), that most of it was without a tag, that folks had to make several mental leaps to read the sign above my booth….none of it mattered.

And my roaring success, I later learned as I did my math, was significantly born by the support of my cabin mates.  Their excitement for, support of…me…made it a night of great riches.  I curtsy with profound gratitude to the lovely ladies of the El Dorado cabin.

* I found my envelope of cash tucked inside the giant-suitcase-turned-display shelf when I was tearing down my booth after the show. Sonofa.

And now, with the Art Fair and soft debut of From Drought behind me, I’m working like a honeybee to launch it into the online world, for the rest of you to see.  One week should do it, should give me enough time. (she said with unfailing naivete)  Join me for the official launch of This is Wool. + From Drought next Friday, Oct. 4, 2013.


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