Monday, May 31, 2010

" Takkin' and Makkin' "

I never imagined knitting would give me once in a lifetime experiences that would fill my heart... until I began having them. And last weekend, another jewel was added to my treasure chest in the form of a three day Fair Isle knitting class held at the Nordic Museum in Ballard with Elizabeth Johnston, spinner and lace & Fair Isle knitter from Shetland and Martha Owen, artist-in-residence from the John Campbell Folk School in North Carolina. I signed up for the class immediately upon learning about it, and was alternately thrilled and filled with nervous anticipation about knitting in such company. There were 13 students in the class, including very accomplished Fair Isle knitters along with those of us with less experience and a lot of interest.

The teaching style was relaxed and unassuming, beginning with a brief biography of Elizabeth's and Martha's history, a circuit around the room about student hopes and expectations, fair isle patterns discussion, and we began knitting color study swatches. 

Elizabeth's swatches are gloves, hats, mittens, fingerless gloves, tea cozies... never wasting a minute or a piece of yarn on a useless item. She was all about economy of motion, of time, and of effort. I've heard all of that before, then somehow having her in front of me, living and breathing that way of living, I understood it in a whole new way. Everything about knitting, about colors and patterns is second nature to her, and isn't necessarily the same sort of joy to her that many of us feel. She is perfectionist about the things that need to be perfect, and has let go of the things that don't need to be perfect in order to create perfectly beautiful knitted items (like tying knots instead of weaving in ends: "takes too much time, and the knots and ends get felted anyway").

I was surprised to hear her say that a Shetlander will always choose natural colors (did you notice her wonderful cardigan, above?), and no more than 5 tones are necessary - 7 at the most. A new way of thinking about the patterns and the colors opened up for me since it was sort of reduced to the amount of contrast from one to the next. Martha was knitting a vest for her husband in natural colors with just a shot of a beautiful teal, and I was inspired to choose my Jamieson's Spindrift colors in the NIghthawk tones. I showed my choices to Elizabeth and watched her deft movement to judge the contrast and tones together before pronouncing them a good assortment.

My stranded technique requires my full attention and although I'm fairly slow, I manage to produce a nice fabric. I want to develop the skill of knitting with both colors on the throwing hand since my picking is labored and I get easily frustrated. Still, I love my swatch, and plan to keep going with it for color and technique practice. I also enjoyed knitting the egg cozy - it was going to be a little sweater, but such small knitting in the round was distracting me from the color and pattern studies. I do love the color family and especially that Paprika color - I want to try more of that and to practice more patterns.

Martha was a lot of fun while adding stories, clarifications, and American perspective to Elizabeth's information. Martha describes herself as willing to be random and to try nearly anything. She is interested in all things sheep and brought yarn for dying. Fun for me since I've been thinking about dying without taking any action... on Saturday, we tried for variegated by adding natural coloring in piles instead of sprinkles on top of layers of yarn. She had cochineal, red onion skins, and madder, and the yarns were quite a variety of tones. It makes dye lot a lot easier to understand. Not like mixing paint for the house!

Jan (left) used the practice pattern Elizabeth wrote on the board for if we had no pattern in mind. With the colors she chose, it was very sophisticated and current - she plans to make a hat with her swatch. Andrea (right) is a very accomplished stranded knitter and tried different swatches - her color combinations are so elegant! I can see Barbara's colors in a sweater to wear with jeans, and the wonderful brown-gold will be fingerless gloves.

It seemed everyone in the class was affected in similar ways at our different levels - the things that were produced while there were beautiful and quite different. I've included a sampling here, but my photos don't really do the colors justice - you need to buy a Jamieson's color card from distributor Karen Campbell to really see the new range.

While I can't really do justice to the experience, I wish every knitter this sort of inspiration. And I'm looking forward to taking my inspiration into real knitted Fair Isle treasures! 

Sunday, May 2, 2010

2010 is 1/3 behind us!

We had a false spring start here in the Pacific Northwest - it was just beautiful in February and reminded me why I love living here. It looked like March or April, and even the plants thought so. And now here we are with temperatures in the 50's in May... we won't have the same berry crops as last year!

A great trip to Tacoma for Madrona filled me with joy and optimism! I was one of the lucky students in Jean Wong's Tailored Knitting class, and learned quite a lot while there. It was a perfect in-depth update to learn how to design a sweater for my specific size - my high school and college training was in tailoring and clothing design due to my sewing background, so to gain this knowledge specifically for knitting was wonderful. Melinda and Naomi talk about not needing a pattern to make any sweater they want to make, and I had a rush of that joy. There was a time when that was true for me with sewing, and I'm inspired again about both skills.

After two intense days in class, I was on a relaxation retreat. After a tough January at work, the enjoyment of fiber enthusiasts, and knitting were perfect therapy. It was a great strategy, and I enjoyed every minute, including spending more $$ than I intended on so many beautiful yarns. My friend, Pam, even came down to just to shop!

Melinda and Naomi have been nudging me toward spinning and I've been resistant because I can't imagine taking the time away from knitting; I said if I win some roving, I'll try spinning, knowing that I never win anything. So wouldn't you know I would win some beautiful Blue Faced Leister?

In March, we celebrated some 1st quarter birthdays with an intimate brunch and a lot of laughter! Melinda, Joni B and Joni O gave us a reason (as if we need one) to get together with fiber and food! Joni B and I had first tries at spinning on Naomi's e-spinner and then I tried with one of Melinda's spindles... for me, it's going to be a slow process. That didn't stop me from going and completely enjoying the spin-in at Oak Harbor on April 10 with Melinda, Naomi, and Amy - when I wasn't socializing with Andrea, Rebecca and Peggy (just to name a few) I just knit and limited myself to the purchase of one skein of Blue Faced Leister sock yarn. What fun we have!


Stepson Nick's wife is due to have their third son, Joshua, in July. I decided to knit a simple baby blanket for him using Berrocco's Comfort in the denim blue color - it really does look like jeans. While I'm usually committed to natural fibers, our daughter-in-law has three boys under 6 and constantly uses the washer and dryer. The hand of the blanket's fabric is just great - it actually feels like jeans! The pattern is a customized version of a paneled blanket from a book, and this is my thought process:

The first row is a heart because from the first moment, he is there. The second row is evergreen trees because although they live in California, his parents are from the Pacific NW. The third row is his initials JJB with sailboats on either end because he will grow up with water sports. The fourth row is lightning bolts because he will be brought up with superheroes. And the fifth row is stars because he will be taught to reach for them.

The socks from yarn my friend, Pam, gave me last August are just what I was hoping for: sort of bulky and relaxed. The pattern is adapted from the Cascade Yarns B & B sock. After experimentation, I found myself using size 0 needles for the ribbed cuff, size 1 needles for the basket weave; cable stitch pattern, and size .5 needles for the sole of the sock. I'm paying more attention to the texture of the knit fabric I create. And when I was afraid of running out of yarn, Naomi gave me a wonderful coordinated yarn to use for the toes, and I think it looks planned instead of emergency fixed.

Currently, I'm in the midst of the Chevron socks from Sensational Knitted Socks using Aussie Socks Spanish Fiesta. Once again, the fabric was too dense so larger needles were in order. The result now is very comfortable and I'm ready to blaze through the 2nd sock.

My other current project is Cocoknits Marta knit from Lana Grossa's Eco. This was my lesson in finding the gauge while paying no attention to the needle size indicated. I finally am using US 9's instead of the US 5's my usual tension would call for, and the fabric is heavenly soft. Her pattern-writing is clear and simple and includes some new techniques for me. I'm going to love this cardigan! The body is done and I'm working on sleeve #1 when I'm not knitting on my socks.

Next up, I'm planning to restart the lace panel shawl because the lace edging was much too tight. I'm not an experienced lace knitter, so I had no idea I was having a problem until my lace turned out to be half as long as it should have been by the end. Yes, I should have swatched, even in lace! Painful lesson with 890 cast on stitches! I've been calling it my stupid shawl, but this is clearly not the shawl's fault.

And, speaking of swatching, I'll be doing more of that for Mitch's Irish Moss. My previously always-loose knitting seems to be getting tighter, so I can't count on having to go down two needle sizes any more. Perhaps it's just nervousness at beginning my first Alice Starmore pattern. In any case, it's worth the price of extra yarn to have enough to knit a large swatch without worrying about running out of yarn.