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lchemy: Yarns of Transformation is committed to community service. We believe it is the social and ethical responsibility of a conscious business/art practice to engage in meaningful support of community. Please check this page frequently for community updates. Included here are current projects.

Here are some links that we like and hope that you will like too. If you know some great links, contact us and let us know:

Afghans for Afghans
www.afghansforafghans.org
Dedicated to getting needed knits to people of Afghanistan

American Craft Council Online
www.craftcouncil.org
Non-profit education organization promoting understanding of contemporary American craft

Bust
www.bust.com
Great resource for women with something to get off their chests.

Craft Emergency Relief Fund
www.craftemergency.org
One of a kind organization providing support to professional craft artists suffering from career-threatening emergencies

Get Crafty
www.getcrafty.com
Fun site for cool crafting. Check out the Church of Craft

Knitty
www.knitty.com
Neat knitting magazine with fun patterns

Knitter's Review
www.knittersreview.com
Review yarn and books with helpful "how-to's"

 

 

The Mother Bear Project

One morning, my right hand assistant Marilyn came bounding into the studio, excited by a story she'd just heard on NPR. She described an organization she thought Alchemy needed to investigate, feeling the values and intent of the organization so clearly paralleled Alchemy's criteria in selecting community partners. Immediately after hearing Marilyn's information, I wrote an introductory email to the Mother Bear Project. Founder/director Amy responded to my request for donating fiber to her organization, and we are proud to say we have now established a wonderful relationship with Amy and the extended Mother Bear community.

For those of you who are not familiar with this remarkable organization, The Mother Bear Project is a grass-roots, non-profit group dedicated to providing comfort and hope to children, primarily those affected by HIV/AIDS in emerging nations, by giving them a gift of love in the form of a hand-knit bear. Individuals all over the world are participating in this project; there are groups devoted to the making of these bears, as well as opportunity for the individual knitter to participate in this meaningful expression of love. The very simple pattern for the bear is available from the MBP site, as well as other helpful and inspiring information. Please visit The Mother Bear Project to see how you can make a difference.

The three bears pictured above were knit by members of the Mother Bear collective, and are made exclusively in Alchemy fibre. They now belong to children in Africa, and were hand-delivered by Amy.


They Come in Three Sizes: The Canine Compendium
Part Three: Lou, The Man of the House

We are dog people. Though we have shared our lives with mostly large and the occasional mid-size canine, our oldest daughter Dylan has begged for a tiny lap dog most of her life. She has long made a habit of studying the spectrum of small dog breeds, until she creates something that takes the suspicious shape of an obsession - she can recite liturgies of the extraordinary offerings of the Pomeranian, wow us with her knowledge of the development of the modern-day Chihuahua, or give us hope that she might not continue her obsession of the tiny breeds when she dives deeply into passionate research of the English bull terrier.

When Dylan turned 16, I decided if I was going to make her dog dream come true, I had but two years of her at home before she left for college. I told her to start looking for a small dog. Her endless Internet searches turned up numerous amazing rescue operations; she quickly became interested in mixed breeds. Interestingly, all of the hybrids that intrigued her were mixed with poodles. There was the Hava-poo (Havanese/Poodle), the shit/poo (Shih-Tzu/poodle), and the Pick-a-poo. I realized she was possibly more interested in making up a funny name that involved poo than she might be in the revered qualities a poodle would bring to a hybrid dog.

In the meantime I mentioned to my sister, also a dog enthusiast, I was looking for a pup to give Dylan. She worked with someone whose toy poodle had just had puppies - two little males. She sent me a picture - and a little dog stared back at me, eyes bright, chocolate brown, leaning hard to the left. I recognized him at first site.

I secretly made arrangements to fly this impossibly small puppy from Florida to California (at 1.5 pounds). He arrived two days after Thanksgiving on a very rainy Northern California day. And though we had a house full of family for the holiday, I contrived some story about one of our mills sending fiber to the airport, that the fiber was detained in customs, and would Dylan and Clio, my daughters, please keep me company on the ride to the airport to retrieve said yarn. I started knitting a tiny sweater for the puppy the morning of his flight; at traffic lights through San Francisco, I would knit a row, while waiting for the light to change, and hoped the girls would pay no attention to the shape of my ever-present knitting.

When we arrived the airport, the girls stayed in the car. I found the cargo department, requested my "freight??? and the airport attendee went into a back room, emerging with a kennel. Inside was the tiniest, sweetest, happiest puppy I have ever seen - he looked at me like, "Yes!! We meet again!" I walked out to the car with the tiny soul inside the carrier. The girls told me later their first impressions when they saw me with the crate. Clio, my younger child, thought, "Oh, I bet Mom is going to show us someone's kitten." Dylan wondered, "Why would the mill send Mama yarn in a dog crate?"

When I told the girls he was our new baby, they both cried, and welcomed the incredibly tiny and sweet puppy. Dylan named him Lou, for singer/songwriter Lou Reed, of Velvet Underground fame. Lou fit perfectly in the family immediately. The only drawback - he fell in love with me in that deep way dogs often fall for one person. Dylan was incredibly compassionate and mature when Lou made his choice. Though he adores her and all the family, his world turns with me.

More specifically, his world turns with my shoes. His whole life seems to be sorted out by my footwear selection. Think about it. At almost 2 years old, he is 7" off the ground at the peak of his ears, with head upright, and he weighs 4 pounds. His line of vision includes shoes. So if I put on studio shoes, he is delighted, because he knows he is going to work with me. If I put on walking shoes, he is even more thrilled, because that means we're going to the park. If I put on cowboy bots, that's a maybe. He might be going; he might not. But if I put on heels, he is depressed and sulks. He knows he does not go with my fancy shoes.

And go with me he does, every opportunity. I have become a woman who carries a poodle. Now before we go too far down that road, please suspend your prejudices if you have them, and may I suggest you think of him as we do. He is a (please choose one):

- Poodlfarian

- Rastapoo

To call him a poodle is simply not enough. He's not groomed like a poodle; he hates to be brushed. Instead, we leave his hair long and wild on top, as well the tip of his tail. The rest of his hair (and it is hair, not fur), I just causally trim him with my knit scissors when it gets too long, or when he gets a mean dread going. He is wild-maned and wonderful, and often even poodle owners do not recognize him as one of their own!

To talk about Lou's personality - that is another entry entirely. There will be more stories about Lou, rest assured. I am trying to figure out how to embed a little YouTube video of him doing his "Hail, Caesar!" dance.

In the meantime, I hope you will not judge me too harshly as a woman who carries a Rastapoo. He keeps me grounded. He brings joy in a way I truly have never experienced, as he celebrates every moment of every day, greets each experience as if it's a new beginning, and inspires me to live life's questions. As Lawrence Ferlinghetti says in his ode, Dog:

"...a real live barking democratic dog
engaged in real free enterprise
with something to say about ontology
something to say about reality
and how to see it and how to hear it
with his head cocked sideways...
and looking like a living question mark."


They Come in Three Sizes: The Canine Compendium
Part Two: Rio

Since I was a kid, I held a dream that one day a special dog would find me. Not that I would find the dog, but the dog would find me. On Flag Day, 5 years ago, our family was swimming at the Russian River in Monte Rio, near our home. A large but very thin and scrappy white dog with random rust red spots wandered up quietly to our youngest daughter. We fed him, discovered he loved to play ball, and when it became dark outside, took him home thinking we would keep him safe until we could find his proper owner. After all, he was an amazing Frisbee dog, knew all his commands, possessed exquisite manners, had been neutered, was incredibly funny and gentle. He had obviously been loved, and surely someone was looking for him. Newspaper ads and signs posted all over Sonoma County never turned up his owner.

Thus began the mystery. Why would anyone ever abandon a dog? How could he have been left to fend for himself, scavenging for food along the river? Our vet told us that the Monte Rio Bridge at the Russian River is a common local dumping ground for dogs. She found that several of his teeth were broken, an ear was torn, and there were other signs of the dog having lived a hard life on the street.

When it became clear that no one was going to claim him, we named him Rio, for all the obvious reasons. He responded to the name immediately. Our dog Zulu, who at the time was about 2, wasn't thrilled initially when we brought Rio home. However, only a short time passed before the two of them became the best of friends. They have taught me that, if possible, I will always have at least two dogs. They need one another.

Rio is the Alchemy dog. He loves to work, and perceives himself as the keeper of all things Alchemy. He waits outside my paint studio, lying in the doorway with a ball at his feet, always in-between me and the rest of the world. He takes in all the day's activities at the Alchemy studio, and adores all the folks who work with us. He greets everyone who comes to the farm with a rousing, persistent bark. There have been a few times that visitors were reluctant to get out of the car, as he is a big dog with a very loud bark, and can look totally intimidating.



Rio sneaks a nap in Zulu's bed in Studio A.

In truth, I have never known a more gentle being. His heart is so big, his grasp of human emotion so immense, it is hard to fathom. When I am about to cry, he comes to comfort before the tears arrive. He offers his broad white back as my pillow, and stands perfectly still as I cry holding my arms around his neck. And when he thinks maybe I have cried enough, he pulls his face back where I can see it, smiles, and then stands on his head. For real - he puts his head on the ground, lifts up his back feet, and falls over in a thoroughly silly way. This trick has never failed either of us.

Rio is mostly white in color, but on any given day, he might have purple spots, green spots, or a virtual rainbow of color on his back. When I am painting fiber, he intentionally stands under me as I walk to the stem pot, allowing the drip of the non-toxic pigment to hit his back. I am certain he does this on purpose. I suppose the way dogs roll in things to mark themselves with a scent, Rio marks himself with my paint, creating some kind of identity, some sense of belonging. He comes in colors. So he is a mystery, very much so, in the way he changes the color of his spots every day.

Rio loves to play ball. Part of the job description for everyone who works for Alchemy is the responsibility of throwing a few balls daily for our boy. He knows how to round up cattle, which comes in handy when the neighbor's herd knocks down the fence and we have unexpected company in our pasture. He is terrified of smoke detectors and thunder. And he has deep issues with abandonment - not a surprise, given his experience.

Rio is what my daddy would call a "traveling salesman." Who knows what breed he is, .though there is definitely a good bit of Border collie, a touch of Pointer possibly, and maybe a sprinkle of pit bull. As the vet said, "He's whatever you want him to be."

Rio is my mystery. Why he came to us, I'll never know. There are times when I stare in his eyes and know I have known him over lifetimes. He knows, too. He is the dog I waited for all my life, and he makes every day at Alchemy even more colorful.

 


They Come in Three Sizes: The Canine Compendium
Part One: Zulu

The first question we ask any visitor to the Alchemy studios is, "How do you feel about dogs?" Our canine compendium greets every guest, represents a very important part of our Alchemy family, and indeed, comes in three sizes: x-small, medium, and large. Meet Zulu, our noble red dog, aka the medium size guy. Zulu perceives himself as alpha, and we have had him the longest; thus, his seniority beckons the first introduction to our cherished canine crew.

Known affectionately as The Garbage Man, Zulu is a basenji, an ancient breed that hails from Africa. This odd dog has no bark, though he is far from mute; when delighted, he will throw his head back and yodel. Basenjis have no odor (making them great tracking hounds, not to mention fabulous companions); they bathe themselves fastidiously like cats, and are known to cry tears. One dog trainer once remarked to me, "Oh, you have a basenji? That's the world's most untrainable dog." True, asking Zulu to do something he doesn't want to do usually provides an exercise in futility. Certainly, our Zulu is thoroughly stubborn, aloof and independent. However, he has become the quintessential farm dog, with an inherent ability to watch over the homestead, performing a valued task that cannot be taught. What's more, this loyal guy is a true homebody who brings adventure and silliness to our daily life.

Zulu loves warmth and food. He is a slave to his creature comforts, and will defend each of these primal needs. In Studio A (a converted sheep barn), where all Alchemy fiber is twisted & tagged, we have a small space heater. Pity the fool who gets between Zulu and his urban flame. He will growl, puff up, and tip toe around the heater mumbling until the offending person (or animal) moves away from his pleasure source. Any food brought into or near the studio is fair game, from Zulu's perspective. If he can reach it, he will eat it. Recently, there was a Darth Vader metal lunch box on our doorstep (no doubt nabbed from a nearby elementary school kid), and we know who brought it home. May this serve as a public apology to the child who went hungry as a result of Zulu's fondness for packed lunches.

Zulu's contributions to Alchemy are many, though subtle. He alerts us to the arrival of all delivery and shipping services (especially those individuals who carry cookies, like our UPS friends). Of course he doesn't bark when the trucks arrive, but he scrambles across the slick wooden floor of the studio, and tears off down the long driveway, which lets us know someone is coming. Last week, as we were ready to ship out a gorgeous box of fiber to the UK, we turned to see Zulu had climbed very neatly into the open box and sat quietly, facing forward, all focused and ready to go.

Though very sensitive and, subsequently, a bit contrary, The Garbage Man loves all the Alchemy girls, and he adores his family. He is a great dancer, and will perform little pirouettes when asked (something he taught himself). When pressed, he is a fierce guard dog. An unannounced electrician once tried to enter the paint studio when no one from the Alchemy team was here. Zulu bit him - not breaking the skin, but forcing the guy to wait in his truck until someone arrived to give him authority to enter the studio. Not bad for one who cannot bark.

The red dog's favorite activity is basking in the sun. On days when the coastal fog settles in our valley, or it's particularly cold & windy, he lays near the stoves where we steam our fiber - every now & then we smell a little singe when he gets too close to the fire. Zulu, proud warrior, is the keeper of the Alchemy hearth & flame.

And for those individuals who were wondering - I talked with a good veterinary friend, Dr. Bill. He just laughed and shook his head when asked the Possibly Immaculate Conception question, and without missing a beat, said, "Incest, but don't worry about it."



Life On The Farm - The Possibly Immaculate Conception

On the last day of November, I took a late-morning break from the painting studio. I ran up the garden path to our house, with the intent of checking on our daughter who was staying home from school with a cold. As I was stirring Vitamin C into her orange juice, I happened to glance out the kitchen window, which overlooks our pasture. Grazing under the giant oak tree at the west end of our land were our two miniature donkeys, Arabian horse, and pot-bellied pig Purl.

As I took in this familiar bucolic site, I noticed what initially appeared to be a very long-legged dog standing next to Skeet, one of the donkeys. Suddenly, with absolute amazement, I realized this was no dog. I ran screaming through the house (the sick daughter popped up out of bed immediately, and trailed in her pj's). My partner Austin and assistant Marilyn were in Studio A - they heard the ruckus and came running. The dogs joined in the fray. Soon, a trail of us was sloshing through the wet pasture, with me leading the way and hollering non-stop about a new baby.

Indeed, a "jenny" had just been born. The baby donkey was still wet; as testament to her just-been-born status, one of the dogs found the placenta under the oak tree. No one could believe this baby had come. We haven't had a male donkey on premises for nearly a year, and the only male ever to grace our pasture was Skeet's first-born offspring, Rufus, who was adopted out to another family as a young "jack."



We named our baby Clementine. I have always wanted to name a family member by such name; additionally, just before the discovery I had been listening in the studio to Elliot Smith's excellent first recording, and must have had his song "Clementine" stuck in my head. The name certainly suits her.

So here's the contest question...was this birth A) an Immaculate Conception, B) backyard incest, or my hopeful choice C) a back-bred donkey?

I know goats, sheep, and other farm animals can be back bred; meaning, the animal is inseminated, a baby begins to grow, and then a re-insemination occurs. The 2nd "plant" (as it were) remains in utero, in some sort of zygote suspension (this is my all-too novice understanding, remainders of fragmented memories of growing up in the rural South). Here is the contest part: If anyone knows the answer to this back breeding question, write, explain, and we will award a free skein of fiber - your choice! But don't bother asking Jeeves - he doesn't know. Even if you don't know the official answer, you can espouse on possible explanations of conception, and we will consider award!

We don't think the son Rufus was the father. This is not just our displeasure over the thought of son impregnating mother; he was still quite young when we sold him, still nursing his mom. Further, Skeet WAS pregnant with Rufus when we brought her home to our farm. A donkey's gestation is a whopping 13 - 14 months. So if back breeding is, indeed, a known phenom in this species of miniature donkey, it could follow that Skeet was twice inseminated before we adopted her; and once Rufus left the farm, and Skeet was no longer nursing, she began growing the 2nd baby, aka Clementine.

Regardless of origin, we have a beautiful, healthy, vibrant and robust unexpected new addition to our Alchemy family!!! Blessings and bounty abound...



Purl

Alchemy is an honest to goodness farm - sort of. We farm fiber and color, and plant seeds of inspiration, in the hope of harvesting opportunity to support fiber artists worldwide. We have a host of animals like any self-respecting barnyard- though no sheep, goat, alpaca, rabbit, or any other fleece-giving, yarn-supporting four- legged creature walks our pasture. Rather, we are blessed with an odd menagerie, an assortment of creatures bearing gifts other than fiber.

In an attempt to share a bit of our daily experience here on the farm, we thought it would be nice to introduce some of the amazing animals that grace the Alchemy community. After all, they are a part of the creation of our special fiber. And we begin with Purl.


We rescued Purl as a 2-week-old piglet, one day after Christmas 2003. She was dehydrated and quite literally starving, having been too early separated from her mother. As you can see in the picture, she had no trouble growing into a robust young lady, full of mischief and love.

Purl has many favorite activities, most of which involve eating. However, she also appreciates a good scratching (she loves it when Austin sweeps her - yes, he literally sweeps her big belly with a broom). She also is passionate about gardening, and has an uncanny ability to distinguish weed from wanted growth. But the highlight of Purl's day comes about 4pm in the form of a big brown truck. UPS.



Purl, Zulu and Rio meet Darla for an afternoon cookie break.


Nothing thrills that pig more than the music of large wheels crunching down our gravel drive. When Purl hears that sound, she stands perfectly still, except for the ears a' twitch and snout in motion. Once the truck is parked and the brake is set (she is, after all, supremely intelligent and safety conscious), Purl high-tails it up the hill to greet one of her cherished friends: Darla, the UPS driver.

Every box of Alchemy yarn is sent off this way. Purl hangs out with Darla (and our two beloved dogs), sitting patiently and obediently for a "cookie," while Darla collects the outgoing shipments. We think this ritualistic send off is yet another manifestation of what makes Alchemy unique. Really, a pig is a very special gift. And we are happy to share our good fortune.

 


Other Community News and Projects

 

Kai's Goldfish

We had a lovely visit from Kai's mum, Kathryn, recently. She came by the studios to share a beautiful photograph of Kai, as well as to drop off a vat of natural indigo dye she'd made for our experimentation. We were able to make a healthy donation from sales of Kai's Goldfish, which Kathryn and her son Aidan deeply appreciated. They are currently building a straw bale house (literally, building it themselves) here in Sonoma County. Kathryn asked that we communicate her deepest gratitude, not only for the financial assistance, but also for keeping thoughts of Kai in our daily life.

One inspiring connected story ' last fall, during the New York City Knit Out, one of our clever retail friends, Knit New York, held a most creative fundraiser. Setting up a large goldfish bowl filled with multiple textures of Kai's Goldfish, onlookers were invited to pay $1 to knit a row with the fiber in an effort to make a community scarf. The piece was later raffled, and many enjoyed the effort. Thanks to Knit New York for caring and creating this original experience in Kai's memory.


Our dear friend, Kai Atticus Skaarup, brought happiness, love and beauty to all individuals fortunate enough to experience his incredible lightness of being. Though only 10 years old, Kai left this world on Easter Sunday 2003. Currently, his family would benefit from financial support, as they strive to pay a large hospital bill incurred during Kai's illness, preceding his passing.

Alchemy created a special color, Kai's Goldfish. All proceeds from this color, inclusive of every yarn type, go directly to Kai's family. We look forward to helping other families in times of crisis, in memory of Kai, once we have helped this sweet family in a time of need.


Thank you for your support.


 

E.A.S.E.L.

This collection of caps knit by E.A.S.E.L. was gifted to The Children's Hospital of Montefiore.

During 2004, I received an email from Grace Yu, a young woman in the Bronx. As a student at Albert Einstein Medical School, she was founding a knitting community for a group of interns as an off-shoot of an on-campus organization known as E.A.S.E.L. ' Einstein and the Arts: Enriching Life. This group of doctors was interested in knitting for their patients ' primarily children with terminal illness, as well as adults undergoing chemotherapy. Grace asked for a donation of fiber with which to make hats, toys, and other nurturing items for the patients. We gladly obliged, sending a wild assortment of texture and color, along with our hope of being informed of the project as it develops.

Three shipments of fiber later, I am happy to report this Knitting Club is thriving! Grace and the other doctors are building meaningful community in New York; the work they are doing is stunning and deeply appreciated (see picture for examples of work they are making and gifting to their patients). We have a special basket in our studio where we now collect fiber for this project ' sometimes we experiment and create a new color (which we have them test!); other times, they get our 'seconds,' those odd little quirks of happy color variation that naturally occur; or they might get a selection of 'orphans,' the odd solo skeins that appear on our shelves.

Everything about this project fills my heart with hope. The thought of a doctor knitting for her/his patient astounds me, and validates my belief that love is healing. When we deeply care about one another, when we risk enough to make it personal like Grace and her circle of doctors, may we all be healed.

 

 

 

 

 
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