Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Home Again, Home Again!

[Our beautiful, misty valley]

[One of my favorite autumn trees]

[Gorgeous colors that pop from the background without a flash]

I'm so glad to be home! I love the fall colors and the beauty of the mists as they rise from the valley. It was quite a trek getting here, though!

I stayed with a friend in San Leandro for a few days after the Renaissance Faire. This let me have dinner with my friends on Wednesday night and see the Peaches show on Thursday. Having been up 'til the middle of the night, I wasn't ready to travel the following morning.

On Friday, I met a new friend and stayed up too late again. (Ah, the social opportunities of the city!) I intended to leave at 10:00, but awoke at 5:00 with a start, "what if it snows on the Siskiyou Pass?" My van is barely powerful enough to pull the trailer. There's no way I could control it in the snow. The trailer would just pull me right off the road.

I checked the weather prediction and saw that it might snow as early as noon. The pass is seven hours away from San Leandro. Eeek! I needed to leave RIGHT THEN! And so I did.

The drive was harrowing. Every hill would find me in the slow lane, down in second gear, going about 30 miles an hour. On my first downhill descent, I learned that I cannot brake significantly or the heavy trailer would push the van at whatever angle it happened to lie. I really thought it was going to push me off the road. I took a break at the next rest stop to recover my wits.

After that, every descent was also taken at about 30 with the van still in second gear to provide engine braking. There were no more scares.

When I got to the pass, the weather was nasty: pouring rain and very cold. It didn't feel quite cold enough to freeze, thankfully. As I crested the summit, the raindrops started splattering on my windshield. It was turning to snow. Oh, crap! At the slightest sign of slipperiness I would pull off the highway and stay in a campground until it passed. This would be a few days according to the weather reports.

Five minutes after I passed the summit the weather broke and the highway was dry. The weather hadn't crossed the mountains. Hooray! I was home free! About twenty minutes later I saw two snow plows rushing up the mountain in the other direction. The snow really wasn't my imagination. I was VERY lucky!

I've been home a few days now and the rain hasn't let up significantly. The trailer is tarped to keep the plywood on top of it as dry as possible. The booth and merchandise get delivered to Annie tomorrow. Hooray!

Last year was a mild winter. This year looks a little more serious. At this rate, we're going to have a year's worth of rain by Thanksgiving.

The roof of my cabin has a leak, but it can't be fixed until the roof is dry. It's just too high and dangerous to attempt until then. We'll have to make due with a bucket until it can be fixed. It's no big deal. I just don't want to cause structural damage by letting the ceiling stay wet for too long.

When I return from Annie's, I'll have another beam to weave. I have no idea what color it will be. Brown? Peacock? Joy red? I'll find out tomorrow!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rewind: The Faire Is Over

[Monday afternoon: the neighbors are gone, the garments are still drying]

[Tuesday afternoon: packing the trailer is a puzzle.]

[Wednesday morning: all packed up!]

The Northern California Renaissance Faire ended with a bang! I think I was the only booth manager who was pleased by the rainy last day. Why was I pleased? Well...

Casa de Fruta in September is HOT! We are selling beautiful and warm handwoven outerwear. When people can feel them on their shoulders and appreciate the luxurious quality of the cloth, they fall in love and readily understand why they are expensive. The key is that they have to feel the cloth and love it.

In the heat, it was all we could do to convince people to even touch the cloth. Very few people would let us try garments on them. Sales were extremely slow as a result. On the Friday before the last weekend, I was wondering how I was going to pay all of my expenses.

And then Saturday came. It was overcast in the morning and we thought it would burn off. So did the customers who left their jackets in their cars. Perfect! We had more people eager to try on garments than we had at the whole show. And trying them means loving them and buying them. Our sales were great!

Sunday morning looked just the same, but there were whispers of rain on the way. Thankfully, this didn't keep the customers away. There seemed to be fewer people than Saturday, but there were still plenty and they were happy. Sales were trucking along nicely and then it hit. At about 2:00 in the afternoon the sky opened up. After a couple minutes of scrambling to keep brooms and back stock dry, it was time to focus on sales. We had two attractive things: a huge waterproof pavilion and warm outerwear. A wonderful street performer called "Lady Ettie" came in and provided entertainment, making our booth "the place to be" while the streets turned to mud.

This when it paid off to have 3 sales people. I went into the street and started throwing cloaks on wet shoulders, pulling people in to dry off "until the rain passes". Vibrant and Wonder were inside the booth closing sales and swiping credit cards as fast as they could. People didn't want to let go of these beautiful and warm garments.

When the rain left, so did most of the customers. By 4:00, the streets were quiet, but we didn't mind. We had already closed more sales than we had on Saturday. The final weekend brought as much income as the previous three weekends combined. The show was saved! Bear in mind that I don't make enough to get rich, but at least the show wasn't a bust.

On Monday came the teardown. I could only pay the assistants for one day of work, so we did as much as we could and they left. I stayed with the tent flaps rolled up, rotating garments in the open air until they were all dried and packed away. On Tuesday, I dried the tent itself and began carefully packing the trailer.

This was a real puzzle. The biggest problem lies in the fact that it's an 8' trailer. With the back door, the usable space is only 7' 10". The broom booth is made of 8' timbers. Uh-oh. Well, I came up with a method of packing the timbers diagonally and using them as a wall. The back side of the wall was packed with the tent. The front side got sticks, brooms, and everything else.

The 8'x4' plywood was strapped to the top of the trailer and the 10' tent poles were tied to the van's roof rack. It's a stretch, pulling that much weight with my tiny van, but it's done and off we go!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

All About Evil with Peaches Christ

[16th & Mission looks like a blur]

[Waiting in the rain]

[Peaches' Pre-show]

[Debórah's Number]

[Q&A with the stars]

Tonight was strange and amazing! After six months in the woods and five weeks at the Renaissance Faire, I found myself thrust into San Francisco for Peaches Christ's first showing of All About Evil at the Victoria Theater. If you are in SF and can get tickets, it's an event not to miss.

The plot of the movie centers around The Victoria and a woman who inherits it and a midnight movie show from her father. She takes her horror films a little too seriously and gory hilarity ensues. There are many scenes that were shot in that theater, and quite a few of them on that stage. It was a little surreal to see images of the stage and screen projected back onto that same screen. When they pan to the ceiling, we naturally looked up and, of course, there's the Victoria's ceiling, looking just like it does in the film.

Peaches has put together an amazing pre-show. It had a silly polish that was as jankety and jarring as we've come to expect from her. There were technical problems, missed cues and all of the things that make us scream with laughter. There were (uncharacteristically) well-rehearsed dance numbers and lots of special effects to wow us without detracting from the raw and real show that we love.

This show was a special treat for me. The last time I was in that theater was for the filming of the movie. It turned out that they needed extras at the exact times when I was available — late nights and days off from my occult retail job a year and a half ago. Well, making myself extremely available with such a flexible schedule does have its benefits. My bearded, cowboy hat-wearing visage made it into most of the scenes during the climactic theater sequence. The back of my head, in a wool skull cap, even appears right behind Cassandra Peterson (aka Elvira) when she's having a tiff with her son while waiting in line.

The film was great! It was expertly conceived and executed. There were many nods to the horror films that inspired it, but somehow they all became hilarious. John Waters told Peaches that she'd have a tough time finding her followers, but that they'd be extremely loyal once she did. A-yep! This film definitely has a limited appeal, but for those of us who "get it", we can't wait for more.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Craftsman Research

[The beautiful hills look like a painted backdrop]

[Another gorgeous sunset]

Whenever I have the chance to see these beautiful California hills, I am always reminded of my first exposure to them - in illustrations of Craftsman design and architecture from my art school days. These hills were the setting of many beautiful craftsman homes, and a design feature in a number of beautiful decorative elements - clay tiles, murals, pierced tin screens and more.

As my life progresses, I realize that I will eventually need to create a style separate from my weaving master, develop my own line of products and strike out on my own. At the same time, I'm caught up in my vision of a fellowship of craftsmen living together on a sort of monastery and seeking a better way of life through our craftwork.

And so, with the realization that I'd have a lot of time on my hands, I picked up an old thread of research: the Craftsman movement of the early 20th century and ways to incorporate its motifs in my own work. This movement, typified in the work of Stickley, Morris, and many others was much more than a design style. It embodied a philosophy of human happiness and a way to work together toward the betterment of society.

In my research, I stumbled upon a fantastic resource. The University of Wisconsin in Madison has scanned and organized every issue of Gustav Stickley's periodical "The Craftsman", published from 1901-1916. (They've got a lot more, too.) This is an unbelievable resource, a treasure trove of design tips, technical courses, and best of all, essays from the movers and shakers at the beginning of this important movement.

To browse the collection yourself, click HERE.

It is amazing to me how much craftsman thought and politics match my own. There's a pervasive belief that people are made to work and to engage in creative endeavors. These papers were written before the epidemic of fruitless work and the resulting depression that are the hallmark of our society, but they predicted it all.

They also had strong beliefs about how the work should be accomplished and how the business of craftwork should be structured. I have so much to learn and can't wait to read more.

[A page from The Craftsman, displayed in Evernote for iPhone. Click HERE to see the original.]

If you recall from last week, I don't have good access to electricity here. That means I can't use my laptop much. I've found someone with power who will let me charge it in trade for letting him check email. That's great, but I can't sit and do research in his camp all day. Here's what I do instead...

With my 3 hours of battery life while surfing, I scan through the Craftsman archive. I grab snapshots of every page that interests me and upload it to Evernote, in my Crafts Research folder. Then, I can read the pages at my leisure on my iPhone, which recharges from my van's lighter. This gives me about 6 hours of reading and note-taking with only an hour of electricity access.

As an added benefit, Evernote reads the text in all of the page images I upload and makes them searchable. And, this week they rolled out a new feature in the Chrome browser plugin. When I perform a Google search, the plugin searches my Evernote account and displays things that I've already clipped along with the regular web search results. This is great! I've been using Evernote long enough that I can't remember evrything that is already stored there. Isn't that the point? Well, now I don't have to do an Evernote search before I Google a topic. It's done automatically, reminding me that I'm duplicating my research and should just re-read what I have.

Sorry, Safari. That's the last straw. Yesterday I changed my default browser to Chrome.

Beautiful Gift

[Closeup of Tien's beautiful shawl. See the blue/purple iridescence?]

This last week was calm and relaxing. I met my friend Tien for dinner last week and she gave me a beautiful gift and a project.

She has been studying dyeing and weave structures with a zeal. Where most people would just dye a color wheel and maybe interpolate it to 48 hues, Tien has taken it to a scientific level. She's turning herself into an expert on the nonlinear strengths of various dyes and developed precise systems to get the dye colors she wants. It was her blog that got me interested in studying Munsell's system of color classification from about 100 years ago.

In the course of her studies, she designed and created an absolutely stunning double-weave shawl. Well, in the process she wove two others as tests. In her words, "I don't think they're nice enough to give as gifts, so I thought you might like one in trade for your lime tree. All you have to do is finish it."

Wow! I can't believe it. I'm the luckiest guy in the world. It's true, this shawl is not as beautiful as the one she wears herself, but it's just gorgeous. The colors are some that I actually wear: deep purple and dark orange.

I've begun weaving in the stray threads and tidying up the misweaves and realized two things: 1) I need to wait until I get home to my good thread shears and 2) the weft is cashmere! This shawl was spectacular enough when I thought it was all silk, but the realization that it's double-woven silk and cashmere puts it on another whole level. I think this will become my wintertime reading shawl for all those chilly nights by the wood stove.

Thanks again, Tien!

(Tien's blog is a great read. Go read it for yourself: http://travelingtiger.com)