Saturday, November 11, 2006

Back on Track

Warning! Long post ahead! Pictures at the end...

Sorry for the long intervals between posts. It seems as if the blogging muse has left me. I haven't been able to find much of interest in getting up, going to work, coming home, eating, and going to bed.

Stitches East, however, provided a welcome change of pace and lots of blog fodder.

Way back in July, I registered for The Works, which gave me the opening session with Kaffe Fasset, the opening luncheon, 21 hours of classes, the dinner and fashion show on Friday night, and the student banquet and fashion show on Saturday night. It's a lot and it wasn't cheap, and it was worth it.

I left early on Thursday in time to make it to the opening session. My sense of direction in large cities is not so good and I tend to get flustered by the one-way streets and fast driving in small spaces. But I arrived at the Baltimore Convention Center without incident, parked for $20, and registered. Alexis Xenakis opened Stitches East and said that there were 1600 students registered! That surpassed the Stitches West registration. That figure is pretty amazing. Kaffe (pronounced kafe; I've been saying kaffee) Fasset talked for an hour or so and showed slides of his work, mostly his needlepoint and quilts, although there were a few slides of his knitted work. His use of color is incredible. The talk was enjoyable; he has a good sense of humor. It would have been better, I think, if he had talked a little less about how incredible his work was and provided more tips about how to work with color. At the end of session, a woman wanted to show the blanket that she knit using his colorwork as inspiration. It was huge and it was stunning and it will be available soon in kit form at a yarn store near you. Unfortunately, I don't have pictures and I couldn't find any pictures on the web.

The luncheon was surprisingly good, although the service left a bit to be desired (I think they were training staff). They served a Maryland crabcake that was quite good; mine had a huge lump of backfin in it. The food was good at the rest of the meals, which says a lot about how the Baltimore Convention Center does business. The Convention Center staff was extremely friendly and helpful, too.

My fear going into the Stitches classes was that I'd be overwhelmed and end up with a migraine for the entire weekend. That didn't happen. My first class was with Barry Klein and dealt with slip stitches and how different colors and textures can take advantage of them. Barry owns Trendsetter Yarns, so we got to play with a large variety of those yarns (I gravitated towards the cashmere). The class atmosphere was very relaxed and I had a lot of fun experimenting. As usual, though, my lack of color confidence with choosing yarns came through and I had to ask for opinions. I left class with some new stitch patterns and interesting swatches and no headache!

I met my friend Gina, who ran a knitter's flophouse that weekend, and went to dinner with some of her knitterly friends. As was to be expected, dinner was a bit expensive and although good, was not quite that good. It was a trip to watch people come into the restaurant and identify them as knitters. After dinner, we went back to the convention center for the market preview. Our friends Jill and Susan from Y2Knit had a booth, so when the doors opened, we made a beeline for it. They had a perfect location, at the end of the aisle, near the food court. And once again, I was totally overwhelmed by all the yarn that was available. And I was totally overwhelmed by the prices.

The booth across the aisle from Y2Knit was Susan's Yarns and they had spinning wheels. I had to try out the Ashford Traveller. It was very nice. But I've already got a wheel and I don't even want to think what Tom would say if I came home with another wheel, when the first one doesn't get used all that much. As I was sitting there spinning (or attempting to), I glanced up and nearly fell off the spinning chair. Standing behind me was Kaffe Fasset and his partner Brandon. Sitting next to me was Vivian Hoxbro, and over at the book table was Sally Melville. I was surrounded by knitting luminaries! Oh my...

After I could tear myself away from the wheel, I tried to find the shops I had wanted to visit. Habu was high on the list. I saw their yarns at the Stitches Market last year and vowed to go back this year. I was disappointed. Gone were the soft, shimmery yarns that I remembered from last year. In their place were very crunchy, paperlike "yarns" made from linen. The yarns that weren't paperlike were still kind of crunchy. They didn't call to me to take them home, which is a good thing, as they were put up in really small balls.

Class started at 8:00 on Friday. This class was all about sewing seams and was taught by Margaret Fisher. It was an excellent class. I now know how to create seams that are invisible and smooth, both on the vertical and horizontal. After a short break for lunch and shopping in the Market (I was on a mission for a drop spindle and some fiber), the De-mystifying Gauge class started. I was positive this class would give me a headache, since it involved math. But once again, the class atmosphere was relaxed and Beth Walker-O'Brien presented the material so that it was impossible to get confused. She also gave us a handy-dandy gauge worksheet for future use. I'll never ignore gauge again!

I met Gina after class and we got in line for the fashion show. The doors opened at 6:30, but the line started forming early. We sat in line for an hour or more, drinking wine and knitting. It felt so good to be among like kind. Everyone was stopping each other and exclaiming over their handknits and touching and feeling and talking technical. And truth be told, even though I was at a knitting convention, I accomplished very little knitting. Finally the doors opened, we secured a table, and the evening's activities commenced.

The fashion show approximated a professional show, with professional models, music, and lights. The commentary was provided by Rich Mondragon, the editor of Knitter's Magazine, and one other person. The garments modeled ranged from classic to edgy, and I circled quite a few in my program for future consideration. Throughout the evening, they gave away door prizes, which were quite nice.

After the show, we headed back to Gina's for more wine, conversation, no knitting, and finally, bed.

Once again, Gina and I had 8:00 classes. First up, Design Your Dream Sweater, with Leslye Solomon. I was very excited (and nervous) about this class. Excited because I've had visions of sweaters dancing in my head for years now and I'd like to make them. Nervous, because the class would undoubtedly involve my old nemesis, math. Leslye also had some gorgeous sweaters in Friday's fashion show. The class started with a long discourse on gauge, and swatching, and why we want to wash our swatches. After looking at how gauge changes with washing, this is a step in the swatching process that I won't skip. Leslye then handed out some nifty knitter's graph paper, specifically designed for graphing sweaters, and walked us through the drafting all of the sweater components. Voila! I now know how to figure out increases and decreases for armholes, sleeves, and necklines! And, I didn't get a headache!

The afternoon class was Creativity, with Sally Melville. It was essentially a lecture class, but she talked in detail about the creative process and how to help it along. Sally is an engaging speaker. One of the first things that she talked about was the difference between the right and left brains and how those differences manifest themselves in our personalities. It became very clear to me that our illustrious President, Dubya, is not in his right mind. He's very much a left-brain kind of person. Or perhaps there is a stunted or broken connection between his left and right brains. That little bit of information explained a lot about why the current administration is doing what it's doing.

I took the opportunity of being in a class with Sally to ask her about my disaster with the Too-Many-Choices Top. Interestingly, she said that someone else approached her a month ago with the same problem. Yay! It's not me! She thinks that an error crept in with the most recent reprint. That's encouraging, but I still have to figure out how to fix the problem.

The culminating event on Saturday was the student banquet and fashion show. Once again, we got in line early, and sat and knitted and talked and drank wine. As we were waiting, who should show up but Little Orphan Annie?

That's the incomparable Lily Chin! Even her wig was knit!

The doors opened at 6:00, dinner was served at 6:30 and the fashion show started at 7:30. We had Maggie Jackson, of Maggie's Ireland fame, at our table. She currently lives in a cave in Spain. Go figure. She's also a hoot. The entries in the student fashion show were stunning. One woman modeled her wedding gown, which she knit. The fit and the lines were perfect. There were a lot of entries, and it took forever. Rich Mondragon was again the emcee. He definitely needed to pick up the pace. The one thing that was very apparent was that most people don't know how to walk. Most of us walk like sacks of potatoes, shifting our weight from side to side. It drove me crazy. I wanted to take these women, shake them, and say "Chin up, shoulders back, swing those arms!" To be fair, though, they were in the light, the runway was painted black, and they were in front of hundreds of people. But they could have injected some energy in their walk.

There was a gift for everyone who attended the banquet and lots of door prizes. The banquet finally ended at 10:30 and we collected Jill and Susan, who had been patiently been waiting for us in the lobby. Fortunately, they had their knitting with them. I didn't get into bed until after midnight and I was so tired that I didn't fall asleep until after 1:00 (at least, that's what it felt like). Fortunately, our classes didn't start until 8:30 on Sunday. I could get up at 6:30 instead of 6:00!

Yawn! The final day of class and the end of Stitches East. The morning class was Learning to Love Intarsia with Sally Melville. This class involved hands-on work, which was a good thing, because if it had been a lecture class, I would have fallen asleep. I was sooo tired! Sally did an excellent job of teaching intarsia and I learned quite a few tricks that prevent the holes that can happen. The afternoon class was Flat to Circular and Back Again, taught by Gwen Bortner. She's a great teacher...still energetic after four days of teaching and socializing. If you can, take a class from her and ask her about knitting aerobics. This class was extremely useful because I want be able to choose stitch patterns from my stitch dictionaries and turn them into socks. I now know how to do that.

Over the course of the weekend, there were some very interesting connections going on. At lunch on Thursday, I sat with several women who know Jill and Susan. One of the women lives around the corner from a friend of mine. In one class, the woman who sat behind me lives around the corner from me! The web that is woven (or knitted) through our shared love of fiber and color and knitting is immense. I do think it's true that knitters can change the world. Not only through charity knitting but through our openness and kindness. That's not to say that we are the only ones who are open and kind, but as a group with a shared interest, we're pretty big and we're pretty consistent.

Recent Stash Acquisitions
Finally, a logging of my recent fiber acquisitions. I'm really going on a yarn diet now!

First up, here's the variety of the Mountain Colors yarn that we were gifted at the Hunt Country Yarn Pajama Party. Aren't they gorgeous?

Unfortunately, the camera batteries died as I was photographing the Mountain Colors yarn that I bought. It's Mountain Goat and Moguls in the Northwind colorway and is destined for a vest. The Moguls will be an edging. Go to their website to see the yarns and the color. I'll try to post a picture in the coming days.

This is the fiber and drop spindle from Stitches. I think I'll be spindling some sock yarn for the Twisted Knitters. I need to perfect my spindling technique though. I'm finding it much harder than I remember.

Here are my door prizes: a sock pattern and some Cascade Fixation (one of my all-time favorite yarns) and some Boku yarn and a felted bag pattern.

And finally, some Malabrigo. I think this color combination is stunning and it is destined for a cocoon, assuming the swatching goes well. I'll give the details as I work out the design. I love the way the Malabrigo feels. It's softer and less expensive than Manos and it seems to be spun more consistently.

And lastly, here's the Spirit Trail sock:

I'm very pleased with the way it's working up. The yarn is a dream to work with. I've made a few mistakes while knitting; the wraps show on one side of the heel and the stitch pattern isn't quite centered on the instep, but I don't think anyone is going to notice. I'll fix that when I write up the pattern.

Stitches East was a pretty incredible experience for me. I learned a lot, much of what I think I know was validated, and once again, I see how far I've come as a knitter. I finally have enough confidence and technical skill to start developing my ideas. If you had told me three or four years ago when I took my first sock class (from Jill and Susan) that I would be designing my own socks and knitting without a pattern, I would have fallen over laughing. But here I am, designing my own short-row heel sock and not really using a pattern except to jog my memory. Many thanks to Gina for getting me into knitting again, and to Jill and Susan for providing incredible support and encouragement throughout this journey.


Sheepish Annie said...

I know I've said this before, but it bears repeating: You do the coolest stuff!!!

That is some lovely yarn and fiber. I see so many possibilities there! Glad that you had a good time. I was tuckered out just reading about it! ;)

msubulldog said...

Wow, it sounds like you had an incredible experience! How wonderful that all your classes were so successful. Stitches apparently picked teachers who not only know their stuff, but know how to teach it (without giving anyone migraines!). Congrats & thanks for posting about it--this was a fun read. :)

Gwen said...

Thank you for the nice comments about class. Luckily for me, the extrovert, I get energy being around all students when I am teaching. You were a joy to have in class and I am glad you are ready to go on with your sock designing!! Good luck!

Anonymous said...

All I can say is... Wow!