Thankful for handmade improvisation (November 24 newsletter)

Yesterday I was at WallaSauce on the top floor of the Beaver Mill, so high the view out the window feels level with the next ridge. The room is full of cloth, bins stacked to the ceiling, a sewing machine on the counter.

We’re talking around a long table filled with fabric, all carefully sorted — bright swatches of blanket, squares woven in yellows and reds and blues. Sarah Defusco is ironing linen as she tells me how she upcycles clothing from all kinds of places and creates shirts and sweaters and bags in a cheerful patchwork.

She’s saying she would rather give new life to an old sweater, re-use it sustainably and turn it into something colorful. She would rather see something that looks individual, as though someone put some thought into it. This whole studio began when she made a gift for her partner. And she’s planning holiday markets this year, December 4 and November 26 and 27, with local artisans.

Her fervor is warm on a frosty afternoon. In this uncertain holiday season, when larger creative places are still often subdued, local makers are humming with energy. And then I learned a word for it. I headed up back roads, through the Green Mountains to the Bennington Museum, to see the new show inspired by Wilson Bentley’s magnified photographs of snowflakes.

Ahmad Yassir was talking with me about his work there, calligraphy and geometry fluent with natural improvisation. He is an artist and teacher and a Bennington College alum who has come from Lebanon to North Bennington. And he told me why he called the work Local Abrash — in Arabic, abrash means the unique irregularities that come from making something by hand.

He told me Arabic has many ways to say thank you, too, and they’re specific and supple. One you might give to someone who has done something for you that takes time and work — you would say I thank your hands. And so, this week, I do.

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

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