Critters: A Carding Chronicle

SH-CrittersRuth Goodwin, who delivers Carding’s mail in her distinctive red Jeep, is one of those folks who are happiest when creating.

But when it comes to the selling side of things…well…she’s never liked that much. So why has she reserved a booth to sell her “Critters” at the Carding Fair?

This is the second of four stories about the Fair. By the way, the Carding Chronicles are based on my Carding novels, which will soon number four. That fourth one, Lights in Water, Dancing, will be sent off to the printer this morning!

And another note: the colorful critters in the photographs accompanying this Carding Chronicle were made by a woman who refers to herself as “Aunt Wanda.” She lives in Quechee, Vermont and all of her creations are made from recycled sweaters. That’s right, everything is upcycled.

Wanda is a regular vendor at the extraordinarily well-attended Norwich Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings. Her website is here: World of Wanda

You’ll find the links to all of my Carding, Vermont novels at the end of “Critters.”

“Makers just gotta make,” Ruth Goodwin was fond of saying. She should know. She’s one of the most creative people in Carding, Vermont.

Ruth makes great jelly. She quilts and sews and knits. She’s always got a sketchbook and pens in the Jeep she drives on her rounds for the Carding post office because “you never know who or what you’ll see.” She’s dabbled in oil painting, refinished furniture, and loves to wrap her fingers around “those damn weeds” in her gardens.

Like all creative types, Ruth has bins and boxes full of great stuff that needs to be saved, reused, refurbished or recycled. Every once in a while, she decides she’s got too much stuff that she’ll never use, and in a fit of organization, she sorts through it all in anticipation of downsizing.

The problem is, of course, that nature and Ruth Goodwin abhor a vacuum, and no sooner does a space open up than she finds something to fill it.

This past winter, a just-opened empty space got filled by a box of old wool sweaters and socks.

“I’m going to wash them and dry them until they shrink and felt,” she told her best friend Edie Wolfe.

“Then what?” Edie asked, not out of cynicism but interest. You just never knew where Ruth’s impulses would take her.

“I’m not sure yet,” Ruth mused. “I’m just going to work with the felt until something hits me.”

Seventeen loads of wash later, Ruth contemplated her pile of shrunken woolens. What had been sweaters and socks were now pieces of felt full of intriguing patterns and colors.

As she fanned them out on her large dining room table, Ruth played with the designs, mixing them and folding them in one combination after another, waiting for one of those “aha” moments that she lived for.

It wasn’t until she found herself fondling a child’s sweater (now infant-sized) that she felt the spark of an idea. It was a medium blue, a little on the aqua side of the spectrum. She encircled the top part of one sleeve with her fingers, pinching it closed like a balloon, and held it upright.

“Huh. Look at that,” she murmured. The little sleeve’s shape reminded her of an illustration in one of her daughter’s favorite children’s books about a mouse in search of Christmas. Ruth remembered one drawing in particular, of the yearning mouse sitting back on her hind legs gazing up in awe at lights on a tree.

In a flash, Ruth’s scissors clacked, and the sleeve became a tube. She turned it inside out, stitch the cuff closed, and then went in search of the sack of wool fleece she used to stuff toys.

It was way in the back of her supply closet, of course. Whatever you are looking for is always tucked in the most inaccessible place—high on the highest shelf, in the bottom of a purse or in that infamous “safe place” that we all have but can never remember when it counts.

In Ruth’s case, it was just as well because on the way through her supplies, she came across a bag of fleece scraps in bright reds, oranges and pinks.

“Oooh, ears,” she said. Then she grabbed her box of orphaned buttons. “And eyes.”

Ruth’s first critter, her blue mouse, was finished by suppertime. She stared at it while making a salad to accompany her quiche. She turned it from side to side while she ate. By the time she was ready to fill her dishwasher, a whole line of funky stuffed creature ideas had filled her sketchbook.

There were fish pillows with bulging eyes and supine frogs, stuffed hearts made of scraps, red mice, green mice, and a few quirky aliens with smirk expressions.

“So what are you going to do with them?” Edie asked when Ruth showed off her creations. It was a question that stopped her cold because, for Ruth, all the joy was in the creating.

“Ummmm…,” she began.

Edie laughed as she looked around her friend’s critter-filled sewing room. “Why don’t you consider taking a booth at the Carding Fair? If you don’t, you’ll have to move out of the house to make room for these.”

“Good idea.”

Now Ruth Goodwin is renowned among her friends for her ability to make quick decisions. She never hesitates over a color selection in a quilt, whether to turn right or left at an unfamiliar intersection or what she should buy someone for their birthday.

But those were creative decisions, the type that Ruth liked. Business decisions required a completely different set of neurons, ones that Ruth very seldom exercised.

Faced with the necessity of setting prices and planning a display for the Fair, Ruth found herself dithering. Edie reminded her several times about the deadline for reserving a vendor space—they go fast for the Carding Fair—but Ruth could not make up her mind about either its size or location.

So Edie finally made the arrangements for her.

“It’s a double space,” she told her critter-making friend, “not too close to the food sellers. I figured you didn’t want a lot of sticky fingers too close by.”

“Yeah. Right.”

“Are you all right?” Edie asked.

Ruth grinned. “I have no idea why I am such a ninny about this. I’ve worked any number of sales for the library and the Carding Academy. This isn’t any different.”

“Actually, it is,” Edie said. “Because this time you’re selling your own work. Now make yourself a deadline to finish the critters that leaves you enough time to price everything so you’re not doing it all at the last minute.”

“Pricing.” Ruth sighed. “How much do you figure a handmade fish pillow is worth?”

“Oh gosh, I don’t know. Pricing handmade items can be so difficult. We know how much work goes into them but buyers don’t always take that into consideration. Why don’t you bring a few of them to the next guild meeting and ask what folks think,” Edie said. “Or bring them over to Andy at the store. If anyone knows pricing, it’s him.”

“Yeah. That’s a good idea.”

But one of the most stubborn truisms of life is that we all procrastinate when we’re faced with something we don’t like doing. So somehow, Ruth’s critters never made it to a guild meeting. Nor did Andy Cooper see them.

And now faced with the imminent arrival of the Fair and with over a hundred handmade toys to price, Ruth is starting to panic.

Will she make it?

You can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Lights in Water, Dancing, will be available for your reading pleasure in August 2018.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.

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