An Unexpected Discovery In Ma’ale Gamla, Israel

Did you ever make a small discovery that brightened up your day? It doesn’t have to be a gold-filled-chest kind of a discovery. Just a little, surprising encounter that made you happy? If so, then you must know how I felt when I found a yard full of art at a most unexpected place!

On my latest trip to Israel several months ago, my family and I were staying at a Zimmer in Ma’ale Gamla in the Golan Heights (a “zimmer” is how Israelis call cabins for rent). Ma’ale Gamla is a tiny residential town overlooking the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). Its population consists of about one hundred families, and the only store in existence is a little grocery. Tourists mostly use it as a base for exploring the surroundings.

Early one morning during our short stay in the town, my husband and I decided to go on a little morning walk. My husband, a veteran Pokemon hunter, already explored the place the day before. As we walked, he slowly stirred me towards a side street he thought I might find interesting.

Neat houses and greenery lined the narrow, unassuming street on both sides. It was very quiet in that early hour. Suddenly, I noticed a life-size sculpture at the entrance to a driveway.

Turned out this was a Poke Stop called “Peres in a Bathing Suit,” and that this was how my husband found the statue in the first place.

On the other side of the driveway, still along the main road, I saw yet another life-size sculpture, this one of a dancing girl:

A more careful inspection revealed a small cat-sculpture in the corner:

As we walked on, we realized that the entire front yard was packed-full of art: sculptures big and small made out of plaster, metal mesh, clay and even fabric; reliefs; paintings. We stopped to admire them.

As we were standing there, the front door opened, and a man came out to collect his morning paper.

We felt a bit embarrassed, to be caught gawking like that. But the man turned out to be very friendly. When I told him how impressed I was with all that art, he explained that  the artist was his wife. He then invited us over to see the back yard.

The back, too, was full of life-size sculptures:

It also had some small ones, like those two metal ants I found charming:

And, there was an entire collection of oven-glazed clay figurines:

Even the plant pots had faces!

We learned that this artist occasionally exhibited her works in local galleries. After we left, I realized I never asked for her name. Unfortunately, I was unable to find out more about her afterwards.

Seeing her fun work, however, really made my day. Her creativity shaped the space around her house, dotting it with cheerfulness and joy. Looking at everything she made was truly inspiring!

Next time you stay at a guest house, make sure to take a little walk around the neighborhood. You never know what you might find!

Sure, You Can Probably Do the Inca Trail, But Should You?

I wrote extensively about our December trip to Peru, because … well, there was a lot to write about! I absolutely MUST write this one last Peru post, though, because trekking the Inca Trail was an experience of a lifetime.

Why I’m Sure You Can Do It, Too, Unless You Have a Serious Health Issue:

I first read about the Inca Trail a few decades ago, as I was procrastinating instead of writing my dissertation. It looked thrilling and fun, but seemed like one of those faraway things one can only dream about. Except that last December we did end up going to Peru…

We HAD to sign up for the trek, of course. But to tell you I wasn’t worried would be a lie. For one, I was a lot older than I was when I first read about it. A lot more out of shape, too. AND I was recovering from a second bout of debilitating back pain, the kind that rendered me nearly immobile for several weeks… I was terrified to hurt my back again, two-days into the trail, with no way out but a helicopter airlift… I went back and forth, trying to decide whether I should go or not. Then, at the last minute, I decided to go for it.

Now, my kids are in much better shape than I am. Several hours before leaving for the trek, however, we needed to take two out of the three to a clinic. One had an ear infection. The other–a bad stomach virus that involved sever vomiting and diarrhea. They went on the trek sick, each with their own antibiotics, and a small arsenal of additional medications.

So, folks, if we could do the Inca Trail, you could, too!

What to Expect

The classic Inca Trail is a four-day, 25-kilometer trek. It leaves from km 82 of the railroad, heads north towards the Amazon, and ends in the famous city of Machu Picchu.

The Trail

This is what all the guide books tell you: The first day is an easy warm-up. The second day, which takes you up to an elevation of more then 4,200 meters, is brutal. The third day is all downhill, and the fourth day is easy, with a short hike from the park entrance, up to the Sun Gate and down to Machu Picchu.

The reality: The first day is an “Inca Flat.” “Inca Flat” means lots of ups and downs. It might be easy if you’re in great shape. Otherwise … not so much. During this day you will walk through some pretty wilderness:

But also through many little villages that offer drinks and snacks for sale, as well as bathroom-use for a small fee.

You will also see your first Inca ruins, and realize, to your amazement, that there’s a ruin on almost every hill!

The second day is, indeed, brutal. Because if “Inca Flat” can be steep, just imagine what “Inca Steep” is like… Think an entire day of these:

And how grueling it can be to actually climb them…

My legs got so wobbly, that I needed to use walking sticks (those are life-savers!):

Don’t believe all the smiling Dead Woman’s Pass blog-post pictures you see everywhere. This is what it REALLY feels like to climb up to the highest part of the trail:

And yes, I, too, have a smiling picture from the Pass. But not because I felt great. I was smiling because, against all expectations, I made it there ALIVE!

That night I barely managed to crawl out of my tent to eat dinner…

The third day, I thought, would be super easy. What can be easier than going downhill, right? Uhmm … WRONG! Because this wasn’t down, it was “Inca Down.” That means starting the day with a twenty-minute upward climb. Then going down Inca steps, which  are STEEP. Some are knee-high. It rained. And everything was slippery. Going down those stairs was almost worse than climbing them!

The “leisurely” fourth day started with a 3:00 am wake-up call. We had to pack in the dark. Then we sat for two hours, in the dark and cold, along with five hundred other people, all waiting for the gate to the national park to open.

The minute the gate opened, at 5:30 am, the Great Race began. People were running, overtaking, almost pushing, only to get to the Sun Gate first. My family disappeared with the first rush. I walked as fast as I could, which wasn’t very fast. The view was beautiful, but I had no time to enjoy it.

Then, right before the Sun Gate, another set of stairs, which the guides jokingly call “The Death Stairs.” Some people literally crawl up…

From the Sun Gate to Machu Picchu was actually rather easy, though quite packed with tourists even early in the morning.

The Weather

Because of the high elevation and the fact that the trail goes through several climate zones, weather on the Inca trail can be very unpredictable no matter when you go. We went in December, which is the dry season. It didn’t rain on our first day, but, as you can see from the pictures above, it drizzled, rained, poured and hailed on the second and third days. It got quite windy sometimes, too.

And it was mostly foggy for two entire days. We were told there are breath-taking views beyond the trail, but this is all we could see:

Early mornings, evenings and nights were all cold, requiring coats, warm hats and gloves.

The Ruins

The Inca Tail passes near several small Inca settlement. Seeing those up-close and walking around them was one of the highlights of the experience:

Once, we even saw a black lama, which are quite rare!

Your Fellow Trekkers

The Peruvian government allows only 500 people a day on the trail. That number includes 200 tourists and 300 porters. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but since all these people walk at about the same pace, the trail feels rather crowded most of the time.

People overtake you constantly. Rows of porters go by, carrying ginormous, heavy loads. Each company has a different uniform for its porters, and the guides jokingly call the porter-rows “caterpillars.” During the day you see “Red Caterpillars,” “Green Caterpillars,” “Blue Caterpillars,” “Orange Caterpillars” and so on.

You meet other tourist groups at lunch stops, and several groups share a night camp.

The Food

Every group travels with a chef. Porters carry portable kitchens and all the ingredients. Meals are cooked on the spot. Despite the minimal facilities, the food was incredible! It not only tasted good, but was also presented beautifully, like at a high-end restaurant. I am vegetarian, and got some vegetarian dishes cooked just for me.

There is even a waiter, who serves everything restaurant-style:

On the last day, we actually got a freshly-baked cake!

The Bathrooms

Bathrooms on the Inca Trail are far between and far from perfect. On the first day, there are bathrooms you can use in the villages you pass. You need to pay a small fee. Those are very simple and not super clean. For the rest of the trip, there are few public bathrooms along the tail, and heavily-used-but-rarely-cleaned bathrooms in every night camp. I’ve seen worse in China a few decades ago. My kids were appalled.

When no bathrooms are available, you are allowed to use “Pacha Mama (=Mother Earth) Bathrooms.”  The problem is, that finding a private place is hard. The trail, as I mentioned, is crowded, with people passing you all the time. Even if you find a secluded spot, you never know when someone will appear from around the bend… As usual, things are easier for men than for women.

Some porter companies take portable potties along. I think that making porters carry heavy potties (not to mention cleaning them!) is unnecessary and inhumane. We chose a company that didn’t do that.

Why I’m Not Sure You Should…

I’ve been dreaming of doing the Inca Trail for decades, and although it was hard, I’m really glad I did. The trail was physically challenging, but pushing myself through it felt rewarding. Seeing the different landscapes of Peru up-close was interesting, even in the fog. Walking is the only way to see the many Inca ruins along the way. And Machu Picchu was everything I hoped it would be!


It IS hard!

Even fit people find parts of the trail challenging. If you’re the kind of person who suffers greatly while hiking, this isn’t an experience for you!

There is no helicopter

It turns out that the rumors about a helicopter airlift are a myth. There is no good place for helicopters to land along the trek. If something happens on the first day, while you are close to villages, you can hire a horse or donkey and ride out. After that, you need to walk out, no matter what.

The bathrooms suck

You might be grossed out if you’re not used to it…

You might feel guilty about the porters

I know I did! It’s true that the Inca Trail trek provides many jobs to people who might otherwise not have them. It’s also true that these jobs pay better than some others. However, being a porter is really hard work! Porters carry huge backspaces and heavy loads. Once, there were no regulations and they were made to carry whatever tourists wanted them to. Now, the weight is limited to 20 kg, but it is still a lot.

The porters who pass you are constantly sweating. They chew coca leaves to keep themselves going. The porters have to get to camp before you, and set everything up so it’s ready when you arrive. They have to take everything down once you leave, and then rush to catch up and overpass you, so they can be there to set up the next stop…

Some porter companies don’t provide their workers even with basic equipment. We’ve seen porters wearing flip flops. And some companies make them carry portapotties…

The porters all sleep together in the dining tent once you are done eating. The food they eat is not nearly as sophisticated as what they make for you.

You don’t sleep a lot

On the first day, the guide comes to pick you up from your hotel at 4:00 am. On the second day, since you need to climb up quite a bit, wake-up is at 5:00 am, with a 5:30 departure. The third day isn’t so bad, with a 6:00 am wake-up call. But on the last day you need to get up before 3:00 am. That’s because the porters need to catch a 7:00 am train back to Cusco, and need to be able to pack camp and hike all the way down to make it to the train in time.

And so…

When you finally arrive in Machu Picchu, you’re exhausted!

Machu Pichhu was a city, and it is much larger than all the ruins you see along the way. So although by the end of the trek you think you’ve seen a lot of ruins, you are STILL awed when you get your first glimpse of Machu Picchu! I, personally, felt elated once I actually made it there!

Even early in the morning, Machu Picchu is swarming with tourists. You can immediately tell who hiked there, though. The Inca-Trail veterans have an air of superiority to them. They feel a bit … hardier than everyone else (“The Lazies,” as our guide called them). They also have black circles around their eyes. And they certainly smell more … fragrant. Wearing, hiking and sleeping in the same outfit for several days feels OK on the trail, where you are surrounded by people who do the same. But once you come in contact with civilization again, you become a little self-conscious…

Then there are a few additional hours of touring the place. Our guide had a lot to explain, but I found it hard to listen. I just wanted to sleep. I was wondering if getting there on an early train, after a nice breakfast and a shower, wouldn’t have been just as good…

Taquile Island, Peru: A Place Where Knitting is Men’s Work

For the last few weeks a video has been circulating on Facebook. It keeps showing up in my feed, shared by different people and to different groups. The video depicts a tough-looking guy knitting on the subway. The sight of a man knitting, apparently, is so unusual in our society, that a grainy video about it goes viral.

But who said knitting was a womanly craft? Apparently, for a long stretch of history, men dominated the knitting world. In the Middle Ages, for example, men-only knitting guilds prohibited women from joining. At that time, a teenage boy needed to train for over six years before he could join a guild. Knitted goods were mostly reserved for the upper classes. During WWII, which was not that long ago, boys in the USA and England learned to knit at school, and made woolly goods for the troops on the front. Wounded soldiers, too, were taught knitting, to keep themselves busy.

After my family and I stayed on Amantani Island on Lake Titicaca in Peru, we went to visit a tiny island nearby. On the beautiful Taquile Island, women weave and men knit. That’s just the way things are.

Boys learn knitting when they turn eight. They knit their entire lives, making mostly hats for men. When a young man wants to get married, he is expected to pass a knitting test of sorts: he has to knit the finest hat he can, and present it to his potential father-in-law. He needs to knit the hat so tightly, that water does not seep through it. If the father-in-law approves of his work, the young man can then go ahead and marry his chosen bride.

Men’s hats come in different patterns, which depict a person’s age and status. Baby hats have ruffles:

Single men wear mostly white hats:

Married men wear red hats:

Only community leaders wear the colorful hats (mostly with ear-coverings) that we associate with Peru (the knitter above is a leader):

The knitters are very proud of their work, and aim for small, even stitches:

It often takes a man two months to knit one hat.

When wearing a hat, a man signals his mood by flipping it to one direction. A hat flipped to the left = happy. To the right = sad. This guy, for example, must have had a rough morning:

Nowadays, the Island inhabitants rely on tourism for a living. The hats men knit for tourists don’t follow the traditional rules. Tourists get all kinds of colorful hats, and also gloves. The islanders sell their knitted goods, along with the women’s weaving, at a store on the Island’s main square:

Apparently, the Spanish Conquistadors were the ones who introduced knitting to Peru in the 16th century. The craft spread to different parts of the country, and is still practiced by men even outside the Lake Titicaca region.

There are many articles about the soothing, health-benefiting effects of knitting. The craft is slowly making a comeback, sweeping men as well as women. With time, perhaps, even in Western countries we won’t  have to get excited about seeing a guy knit in a public place…

ANY Texture’s Gray and Red Period

It’s that time of year again… Teachers are rejoicing, school kids are elated, and parents … well, parents are flooded with mixed emotions, I guess. Yep. The last day of school is upon us!

Next week my kids will be home full time. I’m looking forward to spending the long summer days with them. I’m old enough to realize how fast the years go by, and to appreciate every moment we still have together. But that also means I need to wrap up my sewing, which makes me a little sad. My many partially-conceptualized, half-started, unfinished, and almost-completed projects will all have to wait for fall. Sewing Season is over. Summers are for family.

So this week I’ve been busy finishing up one last thing: my throw pillow series. When they were all completed, I noticed a recurring pattern.

If you’ve seen my work, you know I love colors. Strong, vibrant colors in non-primary hues. I love purples, maroons, magentas, mustards and teals, to name some. But lately, it seems, I also started liking the combination of black, grays and terracotta-reds.

I think it started with my Dare! quilt:

Dare! My New Moths and Butterfly Quilt

Then I made a mini-messenger bag in that combination:

This was followed by a cross-body bag in those same colors:

A while later, I found a beautiful piece of textile in … you guessed it: black and red!

I sewed it into a Renaissance Tote, and really loved how it turned out!

Slowly, small scraps in blacks, grays and reds, leftovers from all of the above projects, started accumulating on my sewing room’s floor. Consequently, I started playing with them. I just couldn’t help it:

They ended up as cute, small artsy messenger bags:

When I made my unisex messenger bags, I realized I was still enjoying the same combination:

The pile of scraps kept growing. All the accumulated pieces gave birth to my latest new collection of gray-and-red patchwork throw pillows, the ones I finished this week:

I suppose you could call the first half of 2018 my “Gray and Red Period” 🙂

Wishing you all a wonderful, restful summer!

On Real Very Hungry Caterpillars

A few weeks ago some cute caterpillars started appearing in my yard. I was busy preparing for my craft fair at the time, and hardly spent any time in the garden. I noticed the little crawlies, but didn’t pay them much attention.

At one point I took a break from sewing to peek at the newspaper. Our local paper mentioned a caterpillar-epidemic in my town. Somehow, I didn’t connect this tidbit of information to MY caterpillars, and just didn’t think much of it.

Anyhow, I have this agreement with wildlife, you see. Critters of all sorts are entitled to live peacefully in their own habitat outside, as long as they leave the inside of my house to me and my family. How they conduct their lives is their own business.

As the days went by, however, I found more and more caterpillars crawling all over my windshield when I drove the kids to school. When I got out of the car, more and more of them stuck to my hair. They were dangling from the neighbor’s oak tree, whose overhanging branches cover most of our driveway. It started getting a bit annoying.

One day my daughter made an atypical demand: “Mom,” she said,  “you should kill those caterpillars.” But how could I kill caterpillars? I’m vegetarian! And, like everybody else, I raised my kids on “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” story. Caterpillars are cute. They’re fuzzy and hairy. And they turn into butterflies… OK, not always butterflies. Some turn into moths. Like those very caterpillars in my yard, which, I later learned, were all western tussock moth caterpillars. But I like moths, too. When I was working on my Dare! quilt, I did research on moths and realized some were as beautiful, if not MORE beautiful, than butterflies. I just couldn’t kill them.

A few days later I happened to look out of a second-floor window. I saw my neighbor’s oak tree from above, and noticed something was off about it. It took me a while to realize what it was: all the ends of the branches, even the ones on the very top, were chewed to the bone. The new spring growth was all eaten away, about 20 inches of it on each and every branch! Someone badly chewed many of the old leaves as well…

That was when I realized that caterpillars weren’t that cute after all.

But I was still busy preparing for the fair.

Another week went by. I was bringing the garbage bins back in from the curb one evening, when I noticed my dwarf avocado tree. I planted that tree about three years ago. It didn’t grow much the first couple of years. Early this spring it finally spouted new branches and leaves! I was looking forward to seeing the tree grow. But when I saw it now, it was completely ravaged!

The tender, new leaves were entirely gone. Most of the old ones were badly shredded, too! I suddenly knew what Pharaoh felt like when the plagues hit!

This was not cute AT ALL! This, my friends, was a declaration of war!

The very next morning I drove to a hardware store, where I bought a bottle of an all-insect pesticide. I returned home promptly, and sprayed the tens of caterpillars on my avocado tree. Then, I sprayed their comrades on the nearby bush. I sprayed the ones feasting on my roses, and on the plant next to those. In fact, I sprayed any caterpillar I saw! I came back in the afternoon and sprayed some more. Came out again the next day, and the one after that…

By the end of the week I could find no more live caterpillars. I thought I won. Then my neighbor pointed out the cocoons. Western tussock moth cocoons now cover his oak tree like a cream-colored fuzzy blanket. They are high up, of course, on the trunk and upper-most branches, way out of our reach…

Soon moths will hatch, I know. They will lay more eggs. And next year, new caterpillars will crawl all over my plants… But worry not. I will be ready for them this time! Me and my spray bottle.

You might wonder what became of my avocado tree. I was sure it was done for. In the last few days, however, it started showing signs of new growth. There’s still hope for it, it seems! I’m watching it closely, just in case…

Ten Reasons Why Selling at Craft Shows is EXHAUSTING!

You might have noticed that I didn’t write a blog post last week. One reason for this was that I was still recuperating from my big craft fair the weekend before. Here’s one thing many people don’t realize about craft fairs: selling at them is EXHAUSTING!

The fair two weekends ago was my second ever big show. Last year, when I did the first one, I came home after the first day, fell on the sofa and could barely move for the reminder of the evening. My back hurt, my legs hurt, and I was utterly drained of energy. I attributed that to inexperience, to my being an introvert, and to my too-low chair. When the show was over, it took a while to get back into a routine.

This time, however, I expected things to be different. I had more experience. I felt more comfortable being around people all day. And, I even had my brand-new IKEA bar stool! I was happy with my booth and its updated setting. Indeed, when I came home after the first day, I wasn’t completely wiped out. In fact, I really enjoyed the overall experience this time around.

Imagine my surprise on Monday, then, when I realized I wasn’t in the mood for sewing. Or designing, or even for doing much of anything…

Since then I realized that this is a common phenomenon among craft-show vendors. Even seasoned vendors, extroverts and/or people with a lot of people-experience seem to be utterly worn out after a show. Some people even have a name for it: they call it “Event Hangover,” or “Show Hangover.”

So what is so tiring about craft shows?

1) There are a LOT of preparations!

Whether it’s your first or one-hundredth show, craft fairs require a ton of prep work. You need to have the right equipment, which might be different from show to show. Every single time, you need to make sure you have enough inventory. You need to organize and price everything, make lists, label, make sure you have the right licenses, and so on.

2) Many vendors probably don’t sleep well the night before

A few of the vendors I met at the show drove up to twenty-four hours to just get there! Some slept in hotels. Others in their vehicle. Many of those that came from home had to get there very early, as the first set-up shift started at 5:00 am. Me? I was just too nervous to sleep well. My brain kept going around in circles all night long, wondering whether I didn’t forget anything, worrying about this thing or that…

3) There’s not much time for breakfast, if at all

Since even the last shift sets up at 7:20 am, you need to be out of the house early. Many people don’t have time/energy to eat breakfast.

4) Setting up is a lot of work in as of itself

Artists need to load heavy equipment and boxes into their car, then unload them out of the car and haul them over to their spot. They have to put up a tent. Attach the tent sides. Build and arrange their display furniture. Put up their inventory in the most attractive manner possible. Make sure all the price signs are where they should be.

And all of that before the show even opens to the public!

5) Being immobile the entire day is tiring, too!

Being in a booth all day long is hard. It’s hard not to be able to walk much, or move a lot. On a normal day, most of us move all the time. We walk from place to place, move from task to task. But while selling at a booth, you can either stand or sit in a 10’x10′ space (or less!). You might be able to go stand outside every now and then, but can’t go very far. If you’re lucky enough to have someone help you, you might be able to take a bathroom break every few hours, or go grab some food. Otherwise, you’re put in one place.

6) Artists have to be “on” all day long

While in a booth, a vendor needs to be alert to everything that goes on all around. S/he needs to be aware of the many people passing by. Greet and smile at the people coming in. A vendor needs to offer help, but not too much help. Answer questions, but not scare potential customers. It’s a delicate, energy-sapping balance! And there’s a lot of talking involved, more than most people are used to, especially artists who are mostly used to working alone in their studio for hours at a time! A vendor needs to be on the alert for shop lifters. Constantly tidy up the mess that visitors make. Every now and then a vendor might have to deal with some strange or even scary encounters. Last year, for example, early one morning, I felt trapped in my booth when a babbling man walked in and wouldn’t leave… There’s a lot of sensory overload!

7) Trying to disconnect yourself from your handmade product isn’t easy

For an artist, selling at crafts shows is very personal. Your art, after all, is an extension of you. You worked hard on the design. Made each item with your hands. Spent months or years crafting enough items to fill a booth. The act of art-making is intimate. It’s you and your materials, shaping things with your hands. You like your products. Each of them is almost like your child. It takes courage to show them to strangers. More courage to offer them up for sale. And so it can hurt if people pass them over, or even worse–belittle or insult them. It’s hard to separate yourself from your products, and not get insulted if someone doesn’t like them.

8) The financial part can be stressful

Craft-fair visitors are entirely oblivious to the finances involved with selling at a show. Many fair goers grumble about the prices of handmade goods. What they don’t know is that selling at a fair is expensive. Where I live, booths at craft shows cost somewhere between $300-$900 or more. A vendor has to sell a lot to just cover the booth fee. Then there are additional costs: buying the tent and furniture, paying a percentage of the profit to the fair organizers, paying for gas, having a brand-new fire extinguisher every year. It all adds up. Not to mention taxes: sales tax, state tax and federal tax come off the price of every single item sold. There’s also the cost of making the item: materials are expensive; electricity, overhead costs such as maintaining a sewing machine or other equipment. And all of that before counting the time an artist put into making the item, and schlepping it, and sitting at the booth to sell it… No wonder many vendors stress over whether they will make up some of that cost, and worry about whether they can pay their upcoming bills! Once everything is deducted, in fact, many artists are left with very little profit, if at all! Some even lose money.

9) Adrenalin!

Yes, the body’s natural reaction to the sensory overload is releasing Adrenalin. It helps keep you going while at the fair, but leaves you wiped out when you come home…

10) Take-down is as effort-consuming as setting up!

After a long day of being in a booth, artists need to pack everything up, fold and take furniture apart, and take down their tent. Then they need to drive back home. No wonder they’re exhausted!!

As for me, it took more than a week before I was able to even look at my sewing machine. What did I do in that time, you wonder? Well, many other tasks get neglected when you prepare for a show: the house, the cooking, the laundry, the kids. Not to mention the garden. So I slowly started catching up on some of those. I spent a lot of time in the garden, where the spring weeds rejoiced in my absence! Some of them grew taller than me!

I spent hours weeding:

I over-filled two large garden bins!

But after being confined to a booth an entire weekend, moving about outdoors was refreshing 🙂

Craft Show Season is Back, and There’s Always More to Prepare!

It’s been a year since I did my first (and so far, only) big craft show. Preparing for it was a ton of work. I had to design and then purchase an entire booth display: tent, furniture, bag racks, and so on. I had to paint and sew, cut and glue, and think of all the little details. During that fair, I was mostly happy with the way my booth looked.

Well, this year I signed up for not one, not two, but for THREE big shows! Naively, I thought that since I already had most of the necessary items, I was mostly ready. However, an entire year passed since the last show. An entire year of not thinking about shows…

As the date for the first one snuck by (it actually starts TOMORROW!), I suddenly realized that I still needed a couple of items. Predictably, acquiring them wasn’t straight-forward…

In Pursuit of a Folding Chair

Last year, the only noticeable problem with my booth was the chair: I used a camping chair, which turned out to be far too low. While sitting on it (it’s hard not to sit every now and then during a ten-hour show), I almost disappeared behind my table. A new chair, therefore, was at the top of my to-buy list.

I needed something tall, black and foldable. Foldable since I don’t have room in my house for more furniture. I needed a chair I could easily store away most of the year. At last year’s show, the jeweler in the booth next to mine recommended a folding IKEA bar stool she was very happy with. But when I finally got around to buying it, IKEA was out of them! It was out for WEEKS, and I was getting rather worried. I spent hours online looking for alternatives, but couldn’t find anything else that seemed as good. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I was desperately checking IKEA’s website once again, and was surprised to see they finally restocked. I was there that very afternoon!

Mirror Mirror

I was packing my inventory when I suddenly recalled a not-so-pleasant encounter with a customer at last year’s show. That lady was looking at my bags, and wanted to try one on. Then she wanted to see herself in a mirror, but I didn’t have one. Since I personally never need mirrors for buying bags, it never occurred to me that other people might want one! The lady was very upset. She literally yelled at me for not having a mirror, and then stormed out of my booth empty-handed.

Well, since this year I’ll be selling textile jewelry in addition to bags, I figured that a mirror was a must. Hence many more hours of research and contemplation. I was thinking of getting a full-length mirror, but realized there was no room for one in my booth. Also, a large mirror like that would be a nightmare to transport to shows safely. So I bought a table-top mirror that I hope will do the job.

Fire-Resistant Equipment

Different shows, it turns out, have different requirements for their vendors. One of the shows I signed up for this year notified me they require a fire-resistant table cloth. I didn’t have one. I do now. It was a good excuse to get a purple tablecloth, which I think might look better in my booth.

I was all smug about having a large, fair-approved fire extinguisher, since I bought a brand new one for last yea’rs show. I knew those were good for several years, and assumed mine was still perfect. When I got a letter from the show organizers a week and a half ago, however, detailing all the final logistical details, I learned that I actually needed a NEW fire extinguisher. Fire marshals, it seems, require one that has this year’s date stamped onto it! I didn’t even know fire extinguishers had a date stamped onto them. Live and learn.

I had a busy week, so I left that one to the last minute. I figured any hardware store will have them, right? WRONG! When I finally did go to the nearest hardware store a couple of days ago, it was–how not?–out of this specific kind of fire extinguishers. They told me they will have them next week, but that is too late for me. So yesterday I went on a small expedition in search of a fire extinguisher. I did find one, in the end, but it took a good portion of my morning. I checked: it really does have this year stamped on it 🙂

So, am I ready for tomorrow? Possibly. Hopefully. I guess I will find out for sure in the morning…

If you’re in the Bay Area, come by to say hello. It’s always nice to see friendly faces, and I have a booth-full of great Mothers’ Day gifts 🙂


Sorting Fabrics at FabMo

I bet you don’t know what “gack” is. Well, if you’re curious you have one of two options: 1) Volunteer to sort fabrics at FabMo, or 2) Read this blog post all the way to the end (no cheating, please!) 🙂

FabMo is the amazing non-profit organization from where I source most of the luxurious designer home-decor fabrics I work with. Many people in my area know what a fabulous resource FabMo is, and purchase fabrics there. Only a few, however, realize how much behind-the-scenes work goes into making these fabrics available to the public.

After I wrote a blog post about Hannah Cranch’s weekly trips to the Design Center in San Francisco, quite a few people–including long-time FabMo customers–told me they were amazed to learn how hard the collection work was. Many others wanted to know what happens to the fabrics after they make their way to FabMo’s warehouse. Well, today I want to fill you in about the next step in these fabrics’ journey: the sorting.

I already mentioned that, while at the Design Center, Hannah collects all the fabric samples into big plastic trash bags (which she reuses over and over again):

Hannah and a mountain of fabrics

She hulls these full, heavy bags into her truck, and packs them tightly:

Hannah organizing the half-loaded truck

Hannah and her volunteer helper then drive back to FabMo’s warehouse in Mountain View, where they unload the truck’s content into a back room.

The bags wait there for the next sorting event.

Bags Full of Fabric waiting at FabMo headquarters

Regular Sort

Every week FabMo hosts a few hours of “Regular Sort.” This “Sort” is a gathering of several volunteers (usually around eight), who open the bags Hannah brings.

Opening fabric bags at FabMo's facility

The volunteers spill the content of these bags onto big tables at the center of the room.

Fabric bag content revealed! FabMo

Then they start unfolding the pieces and sorting them by size.

Opening folded pieces at FabMo

Sorting rescued fabric samples at FabMo

Sorting fabric rescued pieces by size at FabMo

Sorting fabrics by size and kind at FabMo

Neat sorted fabric piles at FabMo

Fabric piles at FabMo

A “Regular Sort” typically lasts three to four hours. The volunteers stand on their feet for most of that time. I can attest that this sometimes takes a toll on the body, especially if you have back issues!

Once the volunteers arrange everything by size, they carefully place each pile into a plastic box, which they clearly label. They store the boxes on shelves with similar-sized fabrics.

By the time the volunteers complete a “Regular Sort,” they have emptied all the bags Hannah collected on Monday, neatly sorted and packed all of the fabric pieces she brought, and placed all the boxes on their rightful shelf. The fabrics wait there for the next step in their journey: The Regular Selection Setup.

A Few Words on Gack

So what is “gack,” you wonder… Well, not all fabrics are created equal. Many textile designers design beautiful pieces. Some, however, come up with textiles that are … uhmm … less exciting… For every beautiful and luxurious piece that comes from the Design Center, there is one that is just … not. Some pieces are so drab, in fact, that they are unlikely to find forever homes even among sustainable-fabric enthusiasts. Those usually come in shades of beige and brown, are synthetic or have boring textures. Some are torn, cut or stained. FabMo jargon (yes, there is such a thing!) refers to these as “gack”.

Hannah, by the way, assured me that “gack” was a real word. There is even a story behind it. If you know it, there will be brownie points for the first person to write it in the comments 🙂

FabMo volunteers put gack pieces aside during the sorting process. This, for example, is a gack bag:

FabMo customers never see these pieces. The larger ones go to resale stores to be sold there. Some are left on “free” racks outside FabMo. Volunteers take some pieces home, to use for things like pet bedding, stuffing or as rags. Everything else goes to a fabric recycling facility.

How You Can Help

If you live in the California Bay Area and are interested in supporting FabMo’s efforts to save fabrics from the landfill, consider volunteering a few hours of your time! Sorting is fun, and an entire community will thank you for it!

If you don’t live around here but would still like to help, there are other ways to support this amazing organization:

And, if you want to take a look at the kinds of things that can be made from small, rescued upholstery fabric pieces, stop by my booth at the upcoming A la Carte and Art Festival in Mountain View. I’ll be between Evelyn and Villa, and will love to see you 🙂