Sunday, February 8, 2004

Tales of TNNA: The Inside Story

Last week I left the frozen tundra of Maine for the sunnier skies of California and TNNA, the venerable behind-the-scenes show where people go to buy for their yarn shops. The goal was twofold: To present my paper products for wholesale, and to connect face to face with all the knitterly figures who have until now resided only in my imagination.

I did an official show report in Knitter's Review, so here's the "everything else you wanted to know" report.

the grand canyon

This being January, of course my flights were all delayed because of bad weather. I missed my connection in Chicago and was re-routed through Denver. But this meant I got a clear view of the Grand Canyon. Beautiful!

Now, I've spent more than a decade in Northern California, and I'm no stranger to Southern California either. Still, I was immediately struck by the enormous crowded freeways, the abundant palm trees... goodness, are those people driving with their windows open?! In January?! How quickly I'd forgotten all this.

I flew in and out of Orange County, which meant a $80 cab ride in either direction. When I arrived and headed to the hotel, my Korean cab driver was astounded when I told him of my affection for kimchee.

He insisted on taking me back to the airport Tuesday morning, even though it meant he had to start his day an hour and a half earlier than normal. The reason? So he could give me some of his wife's homemade kimchee.

the viewThe show took place in Long Beach, and I managed to get a room right at the hotel connected to the conference center. The room looked directly out onto the water—rollerbladers, Queen Mary, palm trees, and everything else Californian right there to remind me where I was and what I'd left far behind.

Soon my booth babe for the event arrived. Theresa, my oldest and dearest friend, is a physician and practicing fiberaholic who was also cohort at Rhinebeck last fall. The fact that she was willing to join me for TNNA, and that she actually enjoyed the entire experience, was proof beyond a doubt that she is a true, true friend.

dinner!On our first night, we took care of the most important business: Mexican food. (Remember, I live in the land of butter and iceberg lettuce.) We were not disappointed.

Then it was back to our room where Theresa showed me some exquisite swatches of yarn spun up from fibers that are part of her Top Secret Enterprise, to be discussed more at a later date.

Before I could think to ask, "But how does it wash up?" I fell sound asleep, jetlagged and filled with visions of angora-clad sugar-plum fairies dancing in my head.

Our booth was near the back of the hall, somewhere between the seismic bracing posts and an enormous loading dock, which meant we were structurally sound and in the direct path of constant Teamster-driven forklift traffic during Friday setup and dismantling on Monday night.

The open dock meant a constant breeze of fresh warm air from the outside, which in turn meant that our booth was constantly being blown apart. Finally the doors closed, all my rental items arrived (did you know you can rent a plant?), and we put the booth to bed before heading out in pursuit of yet more Mexican food.

would you like an umbrella with that?That night called for serious sustenance: more Mexican food, this time accompanied by girly drinks. We returned from dinner to catch the last of the galleria reception, a hors d'oeuvres-driven schmooze-fest for vendors and attendees. It was my first warning that this was business, not play.

The majority of the displays at the event were needlework related, although several yarns were also present. One needlepoint vendor in particular got my attention: RiverSilks. They showed needlepoint canvases that had been completed using thin strips of silk instead of embroidery floss. The added dimension and texture of the silk was gorgeous, and I longed to see the silk put up on larger hanks for knitting.

The reception was brief, and as soon as it was over, vendors had just a few minutes to dismantle their displays or face a fee (on top of the fee they already paid to display in the first place). Those needlearts folks don't fool around.

Room service

Saturday was the big day, so we kicked it off as one should always kick off a big day when you're staying in a hotel: room service!

A mass of people was waiting outside the hall for the official ribbon-cutting ceremony (or were they just there for the free breakfast?), but I managed to pry my way through and trek across the show floor to my booth, where our two rental plants were eagerly awaiting my arrival. Theresa soon joined, and we were ready to rumble.

the boothThe most heart-warming part of this whole experience was how people came to our booth right from the beginning—despite its considerable distance from the entrance—to introduce themselves and wish us luck for the show.

Ann Cannon-Brown, Nancy Bush, Jackie Erickson-Schweitzer, Melissa Leapman, and even Interweave's Pam Allen all paid us a visit. Knitter's publisher/photographer Alexis Xenakis came by with his second photographer Michael Winkleman, who you can see discretely posing on page 73 of the Winter 2003 issue thanks to a model failing to show up.

Although I spotted Knitter's editor Rick Mondragon, looking ever so snazzy in a trim pair of leather pants, we never actually got to meet. Ditto for Lily Chin, who was teaching a class on how to work with the press; and Nancy J. Thomas, once-editor of nearly every knitting magazine and now editorial director of Lion Brand Yarns, who was staffing the booth directly across from ours.

Show-goers were focused and serious, most on a mission to hit every booth, gather every catalog, study their options, and then return on Sunday (or even Monday) to place their orders. While consumer shows are filled with impromptu lunacy ("I don't need 15 fleeces! Really I don't!" says the woman as she carries 15 fleeces gleefully to her car), this was all business.

Theresa was brilliant, having memorized the names of every single notecard, greeting card, correspondence card, holiday card, and gift enclosure. Not only that, but she also memorized all our various pricing schemes. I could relax and know that my baby—KR, that is—was in very good hands. Any patient of hers is lucky indeed.

Everybody was abuzz about Alchemy Yarns, which was directly across from Soy Silk. The co-owner (whose name eludes me, and to whom I apologize for this oversight) was in brilliant spirits considering she'd shut her finger in a door on her way to the show and had spent several hours in the emergency room getting it sewn back together.

Not too far from Alchemy and SoySilk was Interlacements, another hand-dyed yarn company whose Toasty Toes I reviewed not too long ago. I chatted with Judy Ditmore's son, who showed me their newest yarns and designs and said, "We've got great stuff, and if I have to kiss a little ass to get the word out there, I'm willing to do that."

(Clara looks suddenly quite uncomfortable.)

Then suddenly the announcement came, "Ladies and gentlemen, the show is now closed." Where'd the day go?!

A benefit of being located at the absolute end of the show hall is that we could peek into all the booths on our way out. The Habu Textiles booth made us stop in our tracks. The booth itself was rather bleak, but the contents were stunning. Delicate, unusual, bold, sculptural, elegant and nontraditional. I want to open a yarn store simply so I can carry their yarns.

But we were in a rush to meet Kelley Petkun of KnitPicks. Our original restaurant had a waiting time of 110 minutes (we all paused to scratch our heads and try to do the math), so we headed uphill to an unexpectedly wonderful Greek restaurant. Just as we were finishing our meal, the music was cranked up and a beautiful voluptuous belly dancer swooshed out onto the floor. It was a perfect evening.

The next day was more of the same. Many orders, many introductions, many handshakes and hugs. And many cups of convention-floor coffee (provided by Starbucks but tasting more like the floor itself).

Great fun was had at the Anny Blatt booth, where I got a chance to chat in (albeit halting) French with company president Jean-Christophe Tarazona before being taken on a tour of their yarns by Marjorie Ford Johnson.

Most people don't know this, but I actually buy most of the yarns, books, and tools I review in KR—I'm not constantly being shipped box after box of yarns to try. To have a yarn vendor take an active interest in KR—while fully aware that they have no control over what I actually say—was refreshing and encouraging. I felt like a kid in a candy store.

I mentioned in my KR write-up that I fell in love with the Susan Todd Designs bags, and I wasn't kidding. She uses gorgeous retro 1940s fabric paired with cheerful lining and unusual buttons. I snagged sample swatches, and Theresa and I proceeded to agonize over a KR boutique order until finally, on Monday afternoon, I made my choice. I cannot wait for the totes to arrive, and the first one out of the box is for me, me, ME.

Photography on the show floor was strictly forbidden, but if I were to photograph some of the booths, say, the Reynolds and Noro booths, just theoretically, they would have looked something like this.

what the Reynolds booth could have looked like   what the Noro booth could have looked like

But more than yarn, there was booth after booth after booth of needlepoint canvases—not all of which were what I'd call... um... attractive. Had I been able to bring a camera to the show, I would have photographed booths like this one...

can we take your carpet, please?And then poof, it was Monday. Theresa left to catch her flight home, and then 3pm came, time to close up shop and leave.

We had only three hours to pack up. Because of my booth's prime forklift-traffic location, however, they immediately began dismantling my booth as soon as the show closed.

They took down my walls, unplugged my lights, and started carrying everything away, making my humble booth quickly look like what you see here.

The last night was uneventful. Delicious room service and a rented movie, "Love Actually." I didn't sleep at all, and I missed not only Theresa but her electric tea kettle and tea. Those ghastly packets of hotel coffee just don't do the trick.

I had my doubts that the cab driver would remember me, but sure enough 7am came and there he was, smiling, with a carefully triple-bagged tub of kimchee that had been made the day before, just for me.

This was a serious business journey, with much at stake, but I'm proud to say that humanity still prevailed. I'm exhausted and very busy filling orders and replying to the 1,300 emails that were waiting for me (everything from "what's my username and password?" to "so-and-so said such-and-such in the forums, make her stop!" and "please send me 15 skeins of such-and-such yarn" - in other words, the usual).

But it was good. Life is good, I feel hopeful and fortunate.

Thanks for listening.

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