The first time I saw Clara Parkes was at my first TNNA (the hand knitting industry’s trade show), in the lobby of the hotel where lots of designers and yarn people were gathered in small groups and socializing. I was standing with my friend Julia feeling utterly overwhelmed. Clara passed through the lobby stopping to say hello to friends and sharing a few of her famous handmade caramels (Claramels). At that point I had been a regular reader of Knitter’s Review for a good 10+ years and had been keeping my copy of the Knitter’s Book of Wool within arms reach. So when Clara handed Julia and I each a Claramel, I was so starstruck I’m not even sure whether I stammered out the appropriate thank you or if I just blushed.
I found myself face to face with Clara a year or so later, at the New York Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck New York. With my friend Julia again, along with a few other mutual acquaintances, this time in an actual conversation with her (I was still unbearably nervous). That’s when I learned that Clara is funny, really funny. I had so much reverence for her wealth of insight into the qualities of one fiber over another or the merits of various varieties of tools, I had created a completely different picture in my head of who this person Clara Parkes was. Not only incredibly sharp, with a keen eye for observation, she is sidesplittingly funny with a sly wit that sneaks up on you in an unassuming manner.
Fast forward a few years to last June, and I am teaching at the Squam Arts Workshops. Clara is the keynote speaker for the weekend. The entire camp is gathered around a large fireplace and Clara is seated in a rocking chair facing us, and she tells us the story of her journey through the wool world. Clara is a riveting story teller. Over the course of her talk she brought us all along on the journey from the sheep to the skein, the arc of the industrial revolution in the US to the wane of the domestic textile industry, her adventures and misadventures in yarn production, and the incredible resiliency of wool fiber (an anecdote related to an unfortunate incident with a kayak earlier that day). I have rarely sat in a more attentive audience, the room still but for the sound of needles clicking, the fire cracking, and Clara speaking, but then the calm was punctuated with eruptions of laughter.
Chances are very good that if you are reading this blog, you are already a fiber arts enthusiast, maybe even a knitter. I’d even go so far as to wager you may have read one of Clara Parkes’ books before or wandered online into Knitter’s Review. If you haven’t, you should. The evening I heard Clara Parkes speak was one that I’m going to carry with me as one of a few a high-water marks in a career that has been blessed by an immeasurable amount of good luck and good timing. If you ever have the opportunity to see Clara talk in person, I strongly encourage you to go, no excuses. But if you can’t get there, Knitlandia is the next best thing. This book is like carrying a pocket Fiber Festival in your knitting bag but better because its a chance to travel the world’s festivals and retreats through the lens of the knitting world’s best story tellers. Armchair travel-knitting at its best.