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Monday, July 09, 2007

Splurges, Silk, and Southern Ghost Songs

Sometimes a little getaway feels like you've been gone forever--in a good way. On Thursday, I boarded a plane to Chattanooga, TN, the first part of the journey toward the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC. (If you haven't already read David Rakoff's great piece in the NYT about his week at the Folk School, do take the time to give it a glance. While my friend, SA, and I only dipped our toes in the water for a weekend experience, he dove in for the week-long adventure. It's a great read.)

SA drove up from Tuscaloosa to meet me in Chattanooga and the fun began. First stop was dinner at the Back Inn Cafe. Set right by the river, the Cafe is surrounded by an incredible array of sculpture. Everything was quite delicious, from the Salmon Cakes with Pickled Green Tomatoes to the Shrimp and Grits to the wine our waiter recommended for us. The menu only listed the wine by the name of the producer, Tait, so we were in for an unexpected surprise when the bottle showed up bearing a more interesting name:

Yeah, it says Ball Buster. Did they see us coming or what?
After a good night's sleep, SA and I ventured out to hit some of Chattanooga's hot spots before heading east to John C. Did we go to Lookout Mountain? Nope. The Lost Sea? Uh, uh. See Rock City? We did not, nor did we buy the t-shirt. Not even Ruby Falls. We went yarn crawling.

First stop, Great Balls of Yarn. Only trouble was it no longer exists. Oh, well. Then, across town to a new shop, a co-op called Yarn Works. It has only been open for a couple of weeks, and it is still seeking its identity. It is a great space in a former saddlery. There are big, comfy chairs, a large workspace they intend to use for workshops, and their neighbors are galleries and working artists. It has the potential to be a very nice destination, but because it is not intended to be strictly a yarn shop, the selection of knitting-related items might not be what you would normally expect. I bought a few skeins of colorful yarns for hats and such, and a lovely beaded necklace. I'm going to keep an eye on their progress and I hope that they develop a supportive clientele. We then headed across river to the AVA Gallery to check out a show that was opening later that night. One of the artists featured is a felter who does unusual wearable pieces. Last stop before heading out of town was Genuine Purl. This shop features needlework supplies as well as a good selection of knitting yarns. They had a nice selection of Koigu, including a newly arrived shipment still in the box that they let me paw through. In brief, Genuine Purl is a jammed-to-the-rafters kind of place that's great for getting many of the basics. Yarn Works has the potential to be the kind of place that you want to hang out in, sipping coffee or wine all evening, talking and working with friends. I recommend both places if you are in town.

After a fun morning of poking around, it was time to head toward our destination. It is a lovely two-hour drive, much of it through the Cherokee National Forest and along the Ocoee River. We passed a bazillion companies that arrange rafting tours and we stopped to watch the rafters at the starting point. (SA and I know nothing about rafting, nor has either of us been rafting, but we both noticed that Wildwater seemed to have the nicest looking equipment, including first aid kits for each raft. Some of the others seemed...well, less nice.)

We arrived at the Folk School at 3:30pm. We checked in, got our schedule for the weekend and our room assignment, and we headed to our home for the next two nights, Rock House. The rooms were clean but sparse. Fortunately, the house was air-conditioned because it was hot and very, very humid.

After making our beds (!), SA went in search of a grocery store while I wandered the grounds. I fell in love with this espalier bench by the flower garden.

After a group orientation, everyone moved to the dining hall for supper. All meals are served family style and are begun with a non-denominational blessing or song. The food was good, basic, homestyle fare. It reminded me of eating at my grandmother's house. Since there were no assigned tables, we met different people at each sitting. Most were from the southern region and most were returning visitors. I heard over and over again how the Folk School was practically an addiction.

Friday night was our first class in Nuno Felting with instructor Geri Forkner. In a little twist of irony, the assistant teacher, Annie, is a partner in Yarn Works and she recognized my new beaded necklace right away. We started learning the technique of working the wool fibers into the silk backing by making little dolls. We quickly leapt into making scarves. Most of us made two or three over the course of the weekend, but SA concentrated on one, painstakingly laying it out, felting it (she used cotton gauze as the background, a more difficult backing to use than silk), needle felting it with Geri's machine, and embellishing it with beads, rusty washers, and other findings.

It was something to behold. It was so wonderful to see how different each piece turned out given that each of us started with the same choices of materials.

In a very short time, I learned a lot about creating different looks and what I liked and didn't like about certain effects. Of the three I made, I would wear two, but it was the one I didn't like that I learned the most from. It was the perfect amount of time to gain just enough knowlege to be dangerous!

We also hit the knitting/weaving/spinning shop in town, The Yarn Circle. Pam, the owner and a resident fiber instructor at the school, has a bit of everything. We went in specifically to stockpile of some of the Merino/Silk roving (Ashland Bay) that Geri had brought for the class.

Our work studio was just below one of the music studios where a musical saw class was happening. It was a mournful sound which inspired the "southern ghost music" comment from SA. They were a dedicated group, and a big hit at the closing ceremony where each group displayed their work from the weekend.
These are the woodturning instructors whose hats are, in fact, made of wood:
There were displays of glass beads, bookmaking, quilts, basketry (incredibly impressive, I must say), bonsai, rug hooking, and more. It was a very productive weekend in Brasstown. (I had a special moment when Merike Saarnit admired the sock I was knitting. She was there to teach the rug class.)

SA and I were in agreement that we would like to go back, but next time we might stay at a hotel in Murphy (a town about 5 miles away) for some additional amenities. It was nice to be so removed from "normal life" and not have television, but the shower was the smallest one I have ever been in--smaller than on a cruise ship--and the beds were a little sprung. (They did offer bed boards if you needed one!) There are a limited number of rooms with two beds and a private bath like the one SA and I stayed in. Many of the accommodations are 4-6 beds and a shared bath--not for me, I gotta say.

We had a fabulous time, and I'm really happy that we went. Now, I've got to get online to buy scarf blanks to use up all the fiber that came home with me! (Nuno felt scarves for everyone this Christmas.)


The_Add_Knitter said...

That is one of the most interesting blog posts I've read in a long time. What a cool destination, I can think of several friends that would really enjoy it a lot. Thanks!

ikkinlala said...

It sounds like a wonderful trip!