Sunday, August 3, 2008

Textile Delights in Portland/Astoria/Seattle

David's quilts hanging in the Blue Scorcher Bakery in Astoria, Oregon

Warren and I spent the weekend in Seattle. We were there to interview and photograph Margot Lovinger and Boo Davis for the Quilting Art book. I’ll tell you about each of them in posts later this week. For now, let me say, Warren and I LOVE Seattle. We were there less than forty-eight hours but during that time both of us announced, numerous times, how much we’d love to live in such a cool city. (And we know from cool cities—Austin is fabulous in its own right.)

I actually flew to the Pacific Northwest earlier in the week, to Portland, to meet up with my ex-brother-in-law, David, who is a quilter. He’s got a place in lovely Astoria, a couple of hours from Portland, and he’d invited me to stay there with him. Astoria is where the Columbia River meets the Pacific. It’s also where Lewis and Clark finished up their little walk. The views there are stunning and many of the quilts David makes are inspired by the view out his second story bay window at an every changing, multi-layered horizon, a sandwich of river and tree line and mountains and sky. For my part, I got to sleep out on the deck in a tent, in weather that included rain and temperatures in the 50s which was such a welcome relief after leaving 100+ degree Austin.

This was my third trip to Astoria and so I’m starting to remember how to find my way around town, and the names of some of the locals. On the flight to Portland, I finished listening to the audiobook version of Julia Child’s, My Life in France. I keep meaning to file a gushing book report here about that book. I found it so compelling. Okay, wait, let me stop the Seattle report for a minute and deliver the mini book report, since I want to relate it to my Astoria trip. Here we go:

So Julia Child and her husband Paul worked for the US government and Paul was eventually posted in Paris. They arrived when Julia was in her mid-thirties (and Paul in his mid-forties) and she spoke no French. Nor, in fact, was she much of a cook. But she fell in love with the city instantly, determined she would learn the language and, as time marched on and she was seduced by all the amazing restaurant food, she set out to learn French cooking methods for herself. This led her to the Cordon Bleu School.

There was a lot to love about the book—Julia comes across as pretty ballsy and pretty brassy but that was fine, not annoying. Because when she dictated the book to her co-author, she was in her eighties, and it wasn’t like she was telling tall tales of her plans for taking over the world of cooking. She’d already proven herself. This was recounting, and reminded me of Isadora Duncan’s ballsy, brassy autobiography, My Life, which, though far more tragic, shared thematic elements with My Life in France. Namely, both women got it in their heads to change the face of something that already existed with deep, cultural roots—French cooking and dance. And each did it.

The passion exhibited by each inspired me to no end. To the point that, while I’ll never be a dancer, I did spend a lot of this weekend fantasizing that I might become a food writer who travels the globe in search of the next gastronomical orgasm, getting paid handsomely to write about my experiences while Warren, ever my accomplice, snaps gorgeous photos of food so obscenely beautiful and delicious that eating it fills me with the perfect amount of guilt, which I compensate for by giving 75% of my hefty celebrity-food-writer salary to hungry children around the globe, children hand selected for me by my close, personal friends, Brad and Angelina and their seventy-five children. Yes, that is how inspired I was by Julia Child, and inspired even further that she didn’t really get going on her career til she was about 45.

OK, wait. Where was I? Oh, I was passionately praising authors who are passionate about their work to the point that their passion inspires passion on my part. This is not unlike what I experience when I meet and talk to art quilters around the country. I am reminded of the many parts—good and bad—of leading an artist’s life. This in turn rejuvenates me when I am fighting to reclaim time for my own creativity, or when I am struggling to express myself creatively in a way that really represents what I want to say, and doesn’t go treading into commercial waters. That’s not always easy, since I do so much commercial work there’s bound to be a little leakage.

As I listened to Julia C’s book, I was struck by this low grade jealousy I sometimes feel when I read/listen to accounts of people jet setting and partaking in the sorts of rituals that seem forever out of my reach. I just don’t think I’ll be building a country villa in Provence anytime, soon, you know? Or hanging around in my kitchen mixing up some duck blood and veal hearts for internationally renowned chefs and over eager magazine writers from Vogue.

That said, it did dawn on my that my yarn buying ritual in Astoria is the sort of experience that, if I think about it, is my own version of an annual pilgrimage to France, the stuff that exciting memoirs are made of, the sort of accounts that make others appropriately jealous. Because each summer, for three summers running, I have taken advantage of a chance to buy yarn from Margaret Thierry. Margaret used to sell at the Astoria Farmer’s Market. That first time I met her yarn, I didn’t meet her. Her booth was being run by Shannon. More on Shannon in a minute.

The second year, last year, I did meet Margaret. I bought some hand dyed mohair from her, bright red, which I made into a top-down sweater. Actually, being a sloppy crafter, I mismeasured my arm length calculations and so fixed things by renaming the sweater a shrug. It’s just beautiful if I do say so for myself. I also got some cool green worsted weight stuff from her, which I made into a scarf for Warren even though Warren, being a guy, said something like, “I already have a scarf, what are you making me another one for?” when I started the project, not understanding the importance of letting one’s girlfriend make one a nice homemade scarf.

Me modeling Warren's scarf which he now appreciates and which matches his eyes perfectly

This year, when I got to Astoria, I was standing in the Blue Scorcher Bakery (which I wrote about here and here), when I spotted a woman who looked familiar. I could’ve sworn I’d seen her the year before knitting outside the cafe.

“You’re a knitter, aren’t you?” I asked.

She gestured at my hand-dyed Manos sweater, which I’d made myself, and said, “So are you.”

That was all we needed to get the conversation started. I asked her, over coffee, if she knew Margaret. She laughed and said not only did she know Margaret, she was living in Margaret’s house with her two kids when the house burnt down. Shannon and her kids made it out safe. Margaret, it turned out, had moved away to Washington before the fire.

Though I hadn’t known about the fire, I actually did know already that Margaret had moved away since, on my way down to the Blue Scorcher, I’d called the number on her website. Margaret told me her Astoria days were over, but that she’d be in Seattle on Sunday. My heart leapt. I would get to stock up on her beautiful mohair after all.

Meanwhile, I still had some time in Oregon to enjoy. Shannon and I reconvened the next day and she said to me. “Hey, the first time you bought Margaret’s yarn, was it two years ago? And were you with a guy?”

Bingo. When she asked that it came back to me. She’d been working the booth, I’d bought a bunch of chartreuse-ish mohair. I was with my then-husband and we were on our honeymoon, no clue that the marriage would last less than a year. She described the yarn I’d bought before I could. And then I remembered out loud that she’d been knitting a bra when we met, a memory she confirmed. I told her what I’d done with the yarn I bought—it was far too beautiful to give away or throw away, but it reminded me so much of my ex so I couldn’t keep it around the house. Since I worked with the yarn during therapy a lot, knitting away as I sorted through the hell of divorce with my therapist, when I finished the lap blanket, I asked if I could leave it at the office. And that is where it remains, there to offer comfort and warmth to other people working through stuff.

I bid Shannon good-bye on Friday and David and I headed up to Seattle where Warren flew in that night. Saturday morning Warren and I wandered off to Pike’s Market, the famous tourist spot with live music, acres of fresh cut flowers, piles of lavender and, yes, fish being thrown around. There I met another Margaret, who makes these cool bags that look like those old pot holders I made as a kid, or like rag rugs. She also makes bags on a simple loom using bulky wool. Here are some pictures. I was in textile heaven.

A cool rag rug style bag

cool bags

more cool bags

Margaret who makes cool bags

Then we visited Boo and Margot and, like I promised, more on them soon. The crowning moment came Sunday when we went to the Ballard Farmer’s Market, totally bustling on a gorgeous, just-barely-chilly morning, and found Margaret and her yarn. Margaret is a trip. She’s seventy, an artisan and craftswoman. She’s got the long gray braids I always fantasize about growing (though, once again, I just cut off all my hair because that’s the kind of girl I really am). We had such a lovely time and I got all of this very cool yarn.

Margaret The Yarn Dyer at Ballard Farmers' Market in Seattle

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