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Once Upon a Time We Gathered in Groups

I'm a relatively old person, so I can remember, long, long ago, as far away as February, we used to gather in groups. The border was open, we'd travel long distances to be together, we'd even knit at the same table. I once met a lady who let me touch her spinning wheel, without gloves. Ah, those were the days. It was the first year of Red Alder ... and I can only hope it won't be the last. (Their timing was possibly perfect: I had to cancel/postpone my upcoming musical theatre production, unfortunately scheduled for June).

I wasn't sure what to expect: would it be like Madrona, which I'd always thought was the most fun thing ever? Sadly diminished, or subtly altered? And I can assure it, the feeling is almost exactly the same, with fewer registration hiccups. Same hotel. Same tables. Same free coffee and tea, even for non-registrants (I've never seen that anywhere else!). Same marketplace set-up, but give-or-take a few vendors. Same amount of vendors. Same number of classes and instructors (and they sold out just as quickly). If anything, I felt that there were only just slightly fewer random knitters at the tables, but since all the money is made through the classes, marketplace, and banquet-type events, I don't suppose not providing additional free coffee is going to harm them any.

I took three delightful classes. I forget what they were called, but I remember them as:

  1. You Suck at Spinning

  2. Listen to Franklin Habit Talk Funny

  3. Give Yourself a Heart Attack while Janine Bajus watches and laughs

Class 1 "You Suck at Spinning" began with a drop spindle and an attempt to turn fluff (which apparently is called "roving," perhaps because it would rather wander off anywhere else rather than wind nicely around my spindle) into yarn. We were taught different methods of making the fluff become yarn, and for the first hour I settled into the unusual position (for me) of being approximately Worst in Class. I was almost in tears—it was so strange—I've seen this in other people (and on Project Runway, and Project Runway-type shows—the feeling of "I can't do this, I shouldn't be here, I should never have come, I'm a failure," which, to reiterate, I almost never feel. I'm a winner, baby! So that was particularly unsettling.

Luckily after hour one I tried the second method, and it worked. Instead of not being able to spin at all, I was now bad at spinning. There was a spindle. On it was bad yarn. It was thick, it was thin, it was all over the place, but it was there, and it was a reproducible effect. I'd learned to spin! Plus, it really hit home how hard it is to produce a standard even yarn. I'm amazed it's even possible. There are people out there doing literally the impossible, and selling it to me for a measly $25 a skein, sometimes. I bow before them.

Once word gets out that you're possibly a beginning spinner, no matter how horrible you are, advanced spinners will give you free roving. They're like drug dealers trying to get you hooked, although I'm not sure what's the payoff for them. They must just really like it and want you to like it too, like people who watch Tiger King. Here is my pile of free roving once the event was finished, plus my spindle with the terrible, terrible yarn on it:

Class 2, "Listen to Franklin Habit Talk Funny," was fabulous. To be fair, that was only a third of the course, the rest of the time he spoke normally, but he's naturally funny even when speaking normally so the whole thing was a joy. He was explaining the different ethno-historical lace knitting styles, and had even provided patterns for distinctive motifs, so that the keeners among us (that's me!) would have something to knit while spoke. I particularly liked the Estonian "Silvia" motif:

(As an aside: I later met a lovely woman who was apparently completely insane. She too loved the Silvia motif, and showed me an example of her work, and no, she doesn't have miniature hands):

There are people out there who paint the Sistine Chapel on grains of rice too, I expect. I'm sort of a worsted-weight guy, so this is not for me. It's amazing, but just contemplating it makes my empathy ache.

Anyway, lace knitting. Franklin talked about Elizabethan, Shetland, Estonian, and Orenburg lace knitting, and the most interesting bits were when he described the construction techniques each culture had used (or still used--the Elizabethans are long gone). You know you're a hard-core knitting enthusiast when a shawl schematic gets you all excited.

The Pushkin of lace knitting (I'm not making that up—here's a magazine to prove it) is Galina Khmeleva:

She's the Western World's expert on Orenburg Lace Knitting, and she sounds like the love child of Bea Arthur, Elaine Stritch, and Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle, if they were heavier smokers. Franklin has her down pat, though (and he admits) he can't quite get his own voice low enough. So for the entire Orenburg lace knitting section of the course, he frequently channeled her. It's a loving but hilarious homage.

She was at the event, in the marketplace. If you look under the glasses you can see samples of her work. It's gorgeous. Orenburg lace is just lovely—it's this incredibly fine, rather organic-looking style, the kind of thing you'd expect miniature mermaids to knit (if they were bored, had months to spare, and knew how to do it). Other styles look so much more man-made and intentional by comparison. I always buy some new lace yarn from Galena's booth, in the vain hope that buying lace yarn will somehow propel me to being able to knit a lace shawl, again for no other reason that to be able to point to a photo on my iPad and say "See, I knit that!" in the hope of praise. I'm a bit of a praise whore, I'm afraid. Oh, and she remembered me from last year, which is lovely, since all I did was speak to her once, so she's a brilliant knitter and has an astonishing memory too.

Sorry, going astray. So that was the Franklin Habit class, and I'm proud to say I managed to knit all four samples during the class. I did not block them, because the point was practicing the knitting, not having a lace-knitting sampler, this is just to prove I did it:

Class 3, "Give Yourself a Heart Attack while Janine Bajus watches and laughs" was perhaps the most practically useful, since it was an introduction to steeks. And not just steeks (which are extra stitches on your garment), but cutting into the steeks (that's what they're there for) which is the heart-attack-inducing part.

In a nutshell, stranded knitting is hard/awkward/impossible with flat back-and-forth knitting, so if you want a cardigan, you knit a pullover (with a steek!) then you slice through it. It doesn't immediately disintegrate your garment, because (a) you thoughtfully crocheted a chain stitch connecting the outer strand of the central stitch to the stitch beside it, and (b) apparently knitting doesn't really want to come apart sideways, at least not nearly as much as it likes to unravel downward.

It was very comforting cutting through a purpose-knit swatch, rather than through a finished sweater, so only a minor cardiac event.

After cutting through your knitting, you then pick up stitches and knit a band wide enough to cover the mayhem. I thought it was brilliant. I know, I know, everyone's always said "it's easy, it works, just go for it," but it was so much better having the expert watch over you when you attempt it for the first time. I would never have done it on my own. But it worked! Phew!

The Banquet speaker was Clara Parkes, which was great (she's as engaging a speaker as she is a writer), there was a silent auction of samples from the instructors, which I should have been willing to spend more on (these weren't swatches, these were shawls, sweaters, vests, etc.), and the spirit of knitting (and crochet, and spinning and weaving and ...) bonhomie that I hope, hope, hope we'll be able to have again. Thank you, Red Alder.

Oh, and for recapturing that feeling of togetherness: I recently joined the Dishcloth of the Week club (more on that later), so lots of Dishcloths on and off my needles.

Off the Needles:

  • Slouchy Entrelac Hat #2

  • Lace Hearts Dishcloth

  • Delightful Dishcloth

  • 3rd Week of March Dishcloth of the Week Mystery KAL (I'm finished, but have no idea what it's really called!)

  • Trellis Dishcloth

  • Random Dishcloth (I started in a corner, increased, and decreased, with occasional YOs and matching decreases for some interest)

  • Grandmother's Favourite With Heart Dishcloth

  • 047 Hat (I take a stitch pattern from one of my Japanese stitch pattern books, cast on a suitable number of repeats, and eventually decrease to nothing-ness).

  • Christian's Hat (and here it is—I think this is technically the wrong side, but I preferred it):

On the Needles (and actively being worked on):

  • Sprightly Dishcloth (about halfway)

  • Persian Dreams Blanket (round 37 of Hexagon 13)

  • Docking (Sweater by Martin Storey, about row 20 past the ribbing)

  • Bow Tie (Cloche) Beanie/ Chemo Hat (for a colleague, just beginning the ribbing)

  • Slouchy Entrelac Hat #2 (almost finished! on 4th rectangles)

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