Saturday, October 28, 2006

Spinrite or is that Spinwrong?

Here is the story of the other dust bunny that crossed my path last week. I came home Friday night to my Oct. 23 - Nov 5/06 issue of Canadian Business and lo and behold there was an article about Spinrite under the heading "Spun Wrong". Now anyone who has ever knit with Patons, Bernat, Phentex or Lily has worked with a Spinrite yarn. Spinrite is a Canadian institution based in Listowel ON, a small farming community about 2-3hrs north of Toronto.

Actually Spinrite started under another name - Perfect Knit Mills sometime before WW I . It capitalized on the demand for wool to manufacture soldiers' uniforms and thrived until its owner, Max Beck, sold out in 1933 - I guess he believed that this was the war to end wars. The new owner renamed it Maitland Mills, which did well during WW II but flounder shortly after. At this point - 1952, David Hay bought it and named it Spinrite Yarn and Dyers Ltd. Spinrite prospered for many years as a producer of yarn for the clothing industry - the "craft industry" - that's us - was a small part of their business.

Well things change. The clothing industry moved their production off shore and Spinrite was forced to take a closer look at their craft side. They bought Patons of Coats Patons to expand the line and started to take a real interest in us!!

The magazine article was actually about private equity firms, income trusts etc. These are large investment houses that buy up firms with money and potential. The Hay family sold Spinrite to one of these trust companies. The trust company then increased the debt on the business substantially- no doubt to pay themselves a lot and their shareholders a little. They based all this refinancing on Spinrite's yarn sales of 2004. That year the company earned revenues of $105 million - everyone was batting eyelashes - so to speak!

Surprise, surprise the next year revenues dropped off sharply and no one could understand why all these woman had suddenly stopped knitting!!! Did I mention that the company was run by businessMEN. They may be able to take out the trash, but they can't take out the stash! Spinrite could no longer support its massive debt.

What amazes me is that they based the success of a multi-million dollar corporation on their divination of the female knitter's psyche, believing that:

1. Female boomers would be knitting more.
2. Younger women, learning to knit, would go on to knit larger projects - scarves to afghans - for example.
3. Fancy yarns would define and drive the market.

I guess that they had never heard of, or chose to ignore, concepts like: fashion trends -very fickle, hand dying, hand spinning, specialty yarns, breed specific yarns, the impact of independent designers, the knitting lists, the knitting blogs, the discounters, China - the list goes on, in a very specific, highly specialized market. And we're the ones who knit all the time. Many pick up the needles once and never do it again!

They gambled on slotting us into a business template and guess what - they lost. At the height of Spinrite's success, their stock traded at $14.00 a share. It is now under a dollar a share.

Time for the CEOs to take a knitting class or at least to understand that although we work with wool, we are not a flock of sheep. We are individual artists creating in our own unique ways. Perhaps our paths just happened to cross in 2004; but now we have moved in different directions.

The pictures are, at top, the Raj Shawl by Dorothy Siemens of Fiddlesticks Knitting. It is knit in Fiddlesticks Knitting Raj Silk, which is a handspun recycled sari silk from Nepal. This is our nod to novelty yarns. It is not eyelash and it is not acrylic. Purchasing this yarn pays disadvantaged women in Nepal enough money to support themselves and their families - a novelty in deed.

The other - the Russian Ballet Capelet is also by Dorothy Siemens. It uses Raj and Fiddlesticks Knitting Country Silk. I think what Spinrite missed can be summed up in these two garments. Knitters are not sales generators. They are real people, with real feelings. They understand the needs of others and work through their art to enrich their lives and the lives of those they meet along the way. We are romantics, creating our own special worlds. How could anything this ethereal be captured and manipulated on a spreadsheet.

Dream on, Spinrite. I think that you should have "stuck to your knitting" and run the business, sensibly, as your previous owners had done, rather than lining your pockets with cash, fleecing investors, compromising livelihoods and well destroying a community.


Big Business...what do they know?

I've said before, - I love it when "things", interesting "things" happen in clusters, criss-crossing, like - well I would like to say ligtening bolts, but really my life isn't that exciting - how about dust bunnies - in an otherwise ordinary day....well week.

On Wednesday I took my father out to lunch for his 92nd birthday and he insisted I take his copy of Forbes magazine home because it had an article on organic cotton in it. Now I have been fascinated with naturally coloured, organically grown cotton since I first read an article in the late 1970s about Sally Fox and her work developing the natural colours that cotton grows in. (I know I should have said "in which cotton grows." ) The concept and the ability to grow, harvest and spin cotton without chemicals, has been around in North America for at least 35 years - it's been in Peru and other developing nations for over 4,000 years - seems we're just catching up. Well here was an article in the October 30, 2006 - are we there yet? issue of Forbes on organic cotton. Now I know how they claim to be leading edge - they post-date (is that the right word?) everything.

So the article - a wopping 2 pages long - listed the big business names that had helped to get organic cotton where it is to-day - companies like - Patagonia and Levi Strauss. I mention them because they were there in the early 90s and lost a lot of money in their attempts to move organic cotton into the mainstream. Once there, of course, the others like Nike, Walt Disney and Wal-Mart picked up on it - no need to lose their money. The article went on in detail about the nasty chemicals used in the growing and processing of what is often referred to as "white" cotton and suggested that you may want to pay the premium for organic cotton - given - and they didn't say this- that the growing of white cotton accounts for 50% of world pesticide use!!

The article was written by Megan Johnston. Sally Fox was driven out of California by a lobby of white cotton growers. She was hassled for her work until, it appears, she had to give it up. I haven't googled Sally or looked her up in Wikipedia. I will and report back. I mention the author's name because this lobby of white cotton growers can be very subversive. Not that her name would actually show up in the "obits", it might just, well, never show up again.

More on Sally and the story of the other dustbunny that crossed my path.

And as a foot - err - hand note. Infiknit has had organic cotton as a hand knitting yarn since the early 90s and yesterday I just placed my Spring 2007 order for hundreds of kilos of soft - naturally coloured(5 shades), chemically free yarn. They also serve who only sit and knit - I've said this before too.

Enjoy October - just 4 more days until we can chill out in November - I can hardly wait!


Saturday, October 21, 2006

Endangered species...?

I never thought that I would feel badly about the demise of a plastic ornament, most specifically a pink plastic falmingo. But there he (or she) was on the front page of the business section of Saturday's paper looking a little forlorn under the heading "endangered species" and I thought "oh no!" I never really liked them. However, they were humourous in hordes - let's say 50 - surrepticiously set out on a front lawn to the surprise of a birthday celebrant! - fun for a day and then gone. It's the ones that hung around that looked tacky.

Well apparently the company that created them from a picture in a 1957 National Geographic magazine had its last run of the bird in June of this year and is closing shop - Bye, Bye Birdie!

Ooops, maybe not! I read on. It seems that a Canadian company may be interested in purchasing the rights to manufacture the beast. I shall withhold comment. If you do own one, make sure that it is an original. The bird's clay molds were designed by Don Featherstone - this may actually be his real name - genuine Featherstone Flamingos have his name on the underside of the bird. Union Products in Massachusetts produced 20 million original birds - who knows how many knock offs there were. Also the originals were always sold in pairs - breeding pairs??

In 1996 Featherstone was awarded the Ig Noble Prize in Art for inventing the plastic Flamingo. It's nostagia; it's kitsch; but is it Art? Can I then elevate these knitted pink Flamingos to the sublime? You've seen them before - post Tues., Feb. 28, 2006. Should we be knitting them as icons of an age that gave us Gidget movies, pet rocks and crocheted ponchos? According to the article in the paper, the plastic Flamingo owes it's renewed popularity to aging boomers, hoping to recreate the pleasanter aspects of their past. As flamingos go, I love the real ones, enjoy these felted ones and will miss the pink plastic ones - in small doses, in just the right place at just the right time.

Enjoy Carol

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Lock down....?

The times, they have changed. "Lock out," I understand. It's a union "thing" or an anti-union "thing" - I was once a teacher and I paid dues to a union - I believe in community support. Even now that I am self employed - I know that it is my knitting community that supports me and I hope that I support them in return - everything that goes around - comes around.

But a lock down?.... this is not what your landlord does when you don't pay the rent. His is closer to a lock out - of a different kind and for different reasons, but still you are on the outside of a closed door.

You, like me, yesterday, may not know what a lock down is....ask your children, your grandchildren or your neighbour's children...they, chillingly, know.

Once there was a time when we were in school and there were fire drills - great for a break from a gruelling math test - not so great in gym shorts in the middle of February - still it was one of those things, we prepared for, that rarely, if ever, happened. There were false alarms - mischievous souls, bored with routine, would pull the alarm and run. There were even bomb scares, when I was teaching. At the sound of a P.A.(public annoucement) code, we would search our area, with as little disruption as possible, and life went on. We never had "lock downs."

Lock downs, alas, are now routine drills, like fire alarms, that schools enact in preparation for an "inside intruder". Students at the sound of the alarm know to lock the classroom door; keep the drapes open and the lights on - so that the police can see in- and to crouch under their desks only when they hear gunshots.

They may even be called "lock ins". I refuse to imagine a "lock up". Time to disappear into a needlework project and try to put everything into perspective.

I am in awe of the Amish who reacted so, quickly and so generously in their time of need to the needs of others in their tragedy. It speaks volumes. Time, maybe, to unlock our souls.


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Dressing for Art

It is a week after Nuit Blanche and all the reviews are in. It was a huge success ! In spite of the rain, almost half a million people came out to visit Art installations both in doors and out doors - all through the night. Well done Toronto!!

I mentioned in my last post that our favourite installation was Fog in Toronto #71624 by Fujiko Nakaya. It was also the favourite of the photo-journalists - it showed up in all the newspapers. The second favourite was one that we had hoped to see first. "The Apotheosis of the Shadow" by Mario Martinelli- Shadow art against the facade of the Bata Shoe Museum. We were too early - the artist was still setting up - albeit late about 30 minutes after the slated beginning of the "show". Basically the artist trapped passersby between a flash of light and the screen on the front of the building - held their image on a phosphorous panel until another image came by - simple but very effective. The museum itself was closed for a wedding reception - well apparently at about 2:00am, the bride and groom came out and danced in the shadow art - magical!

The third most effective piece, according to one reviewer, was Freeze, 2006. It was presented in a car wash and consisted of 12 waist high blocks of ice. Each block was inscribed with a letter. The letters spelled out "Stonechild", the name of an aboriginal youth who was driven out of a Sasketchwan town one winter's night and froze to death. The blocks of ice, melting into nothingness at dawn, were a chilling statement on a heartless act.

So much of the Art that fascinated us was transitory - shifting fog, fleeting shadows and melting ice - an interesting comment on the human condition!

I had actually chosen to dress for the night in a black skirt and black velvet jacket which I had trimmed with bits of crocheted lace from my mother's sewing basket. Some pieces were done by my mother and others by my grandmother. These are tiny pieces of needlework art that had not only endured, but had found a new life - another magical quality of art - to give permanance to our fleeting time upon this earth. Knit on; create things, many things; be immortalized through your art!

Oh, I almost forgot the sheep. These woolly grazers were projected on the dome of the planetarium in a video loop. Once they reached the edge of the frame, they turned and headed back. It was called "Counting Sheep" by Michael Snow. Evocative of English pastoral paintings - proving again that escape is only a dream away!



Sunday, October 01, 2006

Nuit Blanche

Nuit Blanche - white night - or in our case - wet night (it rained) was an all night "art thing" presented by the City of Toronto with major funding from Scotiabank. Nuit Blanche is staged annually in several European cities - most notably Paris as a way of having a city, its residents, streetscapes and general atmosphere interact with Art - very cool!

I loved the idea and was determined to support it, in spite of the rain. Anything that moves Toronto into the realm of those other special cities is a plus with me!

Basically, downtown was organized into 3 "artistic zones" and artists - many internationally acclaimed - presented their works at various points within these zones. A good number of the exhibits were outside - all the better for that feeling of casual interaction. There is always the hope that once a person is exposed to Art, they will actively seek out more opportunities to interact with it; artists will thrive and the world will improve by embracing artistic vision - well it was worth a try!

Our favourite work was "Fog in Toronto #71624" by Fujiko Nakaya. It was an atmospheric sculpture created by artificially produced water fog. We were children again, amazed at the surreal effects that a little cloud could produce. We had to stand in it; peer through it; move in and out of its folds. It was awe inspiring. This surely was the epitome of Art- to physically and mentally change us.

The sculpture was installed just behind the museum in an already sanctified area known as "Philosoper's Walk". The undulating terraine, the dark, and the light rain falling all added to the magic of the experience. Here I am looking more like Mary Poppins than her charges - then again she herself was a magical creature. - now where is that kite?

More on Nuit Blanche later. There were sheep and, of course I had to dress for the occasion which would involve some sort of needlework - art - I use the term loosely.