Audrey Couloumbis on Yarn, Sweaters, and the Long Internship

My virtual writer friend of over 20 years, Audrey Couloumbis, read my post on knitting and revision and wrote to me about a time when she sold sweater designs to magazines. I asked if I could use part of her email in this blog post. Because it’s Audrey, (author of Getting Near to Baby, dramatized since its original publication, and lots of other titles) this reflection on crochet and writing and life reads like prose poetry.

came up with a sweater that could be done in a mohair with a huge hook. half hour sweater. took it to woman’s day and the editor there, lovely motherly woman whose name escapes me at the moment wanted four in different colors, all with a different yarn than i had used.

she said how much? i figured two hours work, plus the time on the sample piece that couldn’t be sold to another magazine and i said 350. i figured i did well. 

when i got home she called and said she wanted to offer these designs as kits and since i had a shop (on my front porch) could i do the kits. i could and we settled on using my mother-in-law’s nyc address as the order point.

i had a mental picture of maybe two or three months of possibly 30 orders a week. 

ha.

Here’s a crochet time-warp! Image courtesy of Audrey Couloumbis

it was fall going into winter when the magazine came out and the orders were many more than expected and my mother in law enlisted her sister, aunt adrienne to do thanksgiving that year. i came in from the country with apple and pumpkin pies 2 kids and a dog to find mama nicky sitting at her dining table awash in paper and a laundry basket system (u.s, canada, and i think military bases, 4 or 5 baskets) for the order forms.

Letter from a museum director. Image courtesy of Audrey Couloumbis

she looked fairly stunned but also deliriously happy. she said she was giving thanks for every one. i asked how many hours did this take her and gave thanks for her, bcs i never could have opened that many envelopes in a day and set up a system to keep track.

we spent three day weekends stuffing envelopes and slapping on the labels, then trips to ups with the station wagon crammed with envelopes. this went on till spring, slowed to about 100 orders a month in warmer months (mohair) and picked up again the next winter.

we got orders for about six years. by the end it was a trickle of one or two a month. i think we sold abt 2500 of those sweaters at 28ish dollars.
i know this isn’t the kind of writer’s progress you were looking for but the thing that got me thinking,

that editor didn’t pay me 350 for the sweaters as a whole she paid me 350 for each 1/2 hour sweater. and when i asked her about it, she said when she pays her doctor she isn’t paying all that money for the ten minutes she spent with him, she paid for his years of learning to have the answers to her questions.

that too is what writers are paid for–a long self-imposed internship. 

Hunkering down in the era of Covid-19, a self-imposed internship, its rigors offset by yarns real or imaginary, seems like a desirable option. A chance to lose oneself in texture, form, and style.

The Practice of Art

Back in 2008, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a New Yorker article titled Late Bloomers: Why Do We Equate Genius with Precocity? In it, he writes:

A painting done by Picasso in his mid-twenties was worth…an average of four times as much as a painting done in his sixties. For Cézanne, the opposite was true. The paintings he created in his mid-sixties were valued fifteen times as highly as the paintings he created as a young man. The freshness, exuberance, and energy of youth did little for Cézanne. He was a late bloomer—and for some reason in our accounting of genius and creativity we have forgotten to make sense of the Cézannes of the world.

img_0205Years later, in Paris, in the Cézanne room at the stunningly beautiful Musee D’Orsay, I remembered the article. It took the artist practice. More, it took mentoring and seeking. It took years of experimentation. In the end he produced works that are now judged to be masterpieces, but he himself was sometimes  dissatisfied with them.

If Gladwell’s examination of genius and its realization means anything, it is that art will find meaning in its own way, in its own time. Much like architecture, in fact. When they built this train station, after all, no one could have foreseen that it would end up as a museum!