In April of 2009 I wandered into Tess' Yarns in Portland, Maine totally by accident. My best friend Mary Jo and I had attended a matinee at the Portland Stage Company and we had dinner reservations for six o'clock. We had an hour to kill and it was a gloomy, rainy day. We stumbled into the small shop primarily to escape the weather. Just inside the door, we saw bins filled with ribbon yarn. Neither of us could make a connection between these skeins of colorful nylon ribbon and the gorgeous knitted creations hanging above them. The colors were the same, but how could these cheerleader pom-poms morph into such amazing tops and scarves? We wandered through the rest of the cozy shop, met Melinda (the owner, who dyes ALL the yarn in the shop), Max the cat, and Deuce the dog. But we kept returning to the ribbon - marveling at the range of colors, touching the unwound skeins and the knitted tops. Such a great feel! Such wonderful color combinations! I was entranced.
Mary Jo and I were both knitters. But, since I had left the busy world of medical practice behind, I had much more time to spend on the craft. Mary Jo was still working as an Occupational Health physician. I was a somewhat new knitter and loved to challenge myself; I enjoyed trying unusual patterns and experimenting with new yarns. Mary Jo sensed my intrigue and offered to buy the ribbon and pattern for me to make a top for myself. "It's a birthday present," she said. Hmmm.....my birthday is October 1. It was only April. She explained that I had six months to finish making the present. Well, I was not about to turn down such an offer/challenge!
I knitted the top (pictured here) in about two months. I absolutely loved knitting with the ribbon. The pattern was actually fairly simple to knit (just knits and purls, no complicated lace or shaping) and I was fascinated as I watched it evolve. It started with four central stitches (just below the v-neck) and spread out from there. It is the most striking thing I have ever knitted and it never fails to evoke comments. Mary Jo saw it in progress, but did not get to see the finished product. Sadly, she was killed in a car accident in June of that year.
That is why this knitted top is so very special to me. I wear it on my birthday every year in Mary Jo's honor. I consider it my good luck top - I wear it when I attend my son's performances and when I do craft fairs. And I wear it on those days when I just need to feel Mary Jo's spirit.
I made the first wavy scarf to use up leftover yarn. I gave it as a gift and immediately received requests for more scarves. I was happy to expand my product line and have an excuse to visit Tess' Yarns frequently. Melinda's color palette is ever-changing; browsing in her shop is always a visual delight. I began experimenting with other accessories - necklaces and bracelets - as a way of using up smaller amounts of leftover yarn. Every ribbon product is knitted in Mary Jo's memory. Mary Jo, who somehow knew to give me my birthday present six months early that year. I miss her every day!
In the beginning, I named purses simply so I could identify them in conversations with customers. The names were boring and practical: Pink and Blue and Paisley or Maroon and Green. But over time I came to see each purse as an individual work of art. The process of combining ties was trickier than I originally thought. Sometimes the colors matched perfectly, but the patterns on the ties contrasted too much. Sometimes the colors were not quite right, but blended surprisingly well nevertheless. Sometimes the colors and designs were perfect, but the dimensions were slightly off.
Good colors, but the geometric pattern fights with the soft floral design
Colors slightly different, but they blend together well
Good colors and designs , dimensions slightly off
I believe I have learned from experience and I strive to make each purse a visual treat - a practical work of art that you can carry with you.
I am fortunate to have a friend who is a writer. She helps me name the purses and eReader cases (in fact, she came up with the idea of naming the cases in the spirit of Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys books: The Case of the.....). Finding the right name has become an eagerly anticipated ritual for both of us. Sometimes the names are obvious, other times we take twists and turns and end up with a name that even we have a hard time explaining. Sometimes the process is organic, other times it is fanciful. Always, it is fun and creative. Here are a few of my favorites:
Started as It's Black and White. Then Red All Over. Then Ebony and Ivory. Ended up as Perfect Harmony. Perfect!!
Stream of consciousness: Winter Scene, On the Slopes, Skiing, Downhill Skiing........... finally: It's All Downhill
For my brother, Mark, the Baltimore Ravens fanatic, there was only one option: The Case of the Raven Lunatic
I have found that people are drawn to objects which have names. The names help create human connections to inanimate objects. The names also emphasize the one-of-a-kind nature of the products. Naming my necktie products helped me to understand and acknowledge that each piece is a work of art. I hope my customers see this as well.