And Now For Something Completely Different

Taking a short break from ducks and ice crystals, I headed down to Tacoma, Washington to attend Madrona – a knitting and spinning retreat.  Madrona is like graduate school – with superb teachers, advanced topics, and serious students.  For me, it’s a treat to spend a long weekend with other crafty people, sharing and learning and inspiring one another.If you don’t think knitting is cool enough to blog about, just check out this picture I found from the Winter Olympics.

Knitters (and spinners) are women, men, young, old, and everything in between.  Everyone wears their hand-knits, and the variety is staggering, ranging from very traditional items to contemporary asymmetrical garments in vibrant colors.  Everything goes.  But the absolute BEST part about the knitters and spinners is the rampant kindness and consideration.  The world needs a gigantic dose of knitterly polite-ness!  People go way out of their way to be gracious to one another – it renews my faith in the human race.  I think the reason for this is that a knitter (or a crafter of any kind) appreciates the effort another crafter puts into their creation.  It might be the ugliest color or style you’ve ever seen, but the person who made the thing obviously likes it and worked hard to create it.  Knitters appreciate that effort and pride in the finished product – they express their genuine admiration based on empathy.  This spirit of kindness and support creates a magical environment – it makes you feel like you can do anything.

Tacoma is one of the top spots in the U.S. for art glass, and the Hotel Murano does a great job showcasing an amazing array of glass works throughout.  Even the sinks in the ladies room are beautiful pieces of glass.This is my third Madrona, and it’s always a challenge to chose just a few classes to take.  Each one is like drinking from a fire hose – covering background and history as well as pure technique, so it’s best not to overdo it 

My first class was to learn about Roositud (pronounced “rosey tood”) – an Estonian inlay technique for embellishing knitted items.  Here are some examples from our teacher Nancy Bush.Each student got some different colored yarns, and we knitted little cell phone bags to practice creating the inlays.  On a more serious project, we would probably use slightly thicker yarn to cover better, but here’s what my finished sampler looks like… I think I need a lot more practice!In between classes I enjoyed taking a break and drooling at all the pretty yarns in the marketplace……and I actually resisted buying any (because I have plenty at home). The effects that dyers are creating these days boggles the mind.

It’s also fun to see all the different spinning wheels – a lot of people spin fiber into yarn with a simple drop spindle, a traditional spinning wheel, or a small tabletop electric wheel.It’s not easy to travel with a spinning wheel, but plenty of people brought theirs so they could take classes, and it was interesting to watch people sit and spin by the hotel’s fireplace.

I took a class from one of my favorite teachers – Stephanie Pearl-McPhee – to learn to fix more complex knitting mistakes without unraveling days of knitting (which I have done plenty of times!).  We started with a plain swatch of knitting and tortured it in various ways.  What a confidence boost!  There are so many things that can be fixed after-the-fact, even adding forgotten cables or lace stitches.  It’s hard to believe that the mangled mess in the photo below was restored so you couldn’t tell that anything untoward had happened to it.  It’s a big time-saver, and reduces the amount of salty language that is sometimes needed to get through the creative process.Near the yarn market was an open area for a variety of demonstrations and expert Q&A.  My favorite was watching the lady who produces “knitted glass”.She does it by weaving wax pieces together to form a knitted “fabric”, then forms a mold around the wax, heats the mold to remove the wax, and casts the glass.  Yowza!In the photo above, the red is wax, and the light blue piece is glass.

The class I was most excited about was six hours learning techniques for constructing traditional gansey sweaters taught by a teacher that my Mom took a class from years ago – what fun!There are a lot of interesting and practical techniques used in this type of British fisherman’s sweater, particularly the cast-on edge, underarm gussets, and the decorative strap that connects the shoulder seams.  Each student created a tiny gansey as we worked through all the construction elements, and the lecture was dotted with bits of history.  Wonderful!  I’m inspired to design a gansey for Jim now, with motifs that reflect where and how we live.  The teacher – Beth Brown-Reinsel – also teaches other types of traditional European knitting styles, and I enjoyed the various samples she had for us to look at.My head is buzzing with inspiration, but my favorite part is the wonderful people I’ve made friends with at these Madrona gatherings – amazing people from all walks of life!

3 thoughts on “And Now For Something Completely Different

  1. I had a friend who lives on her sailboat in Sitka at that same conference! Do you know Fran? I also have a friend who has opened up a fiber mill in Fairbanks, I’m going to send her this blog entry, in case she doesn’t know about this opportunity. Looks like you had tons of fun, I may have to learn to knit.

  2. Hi Robin, Glad you are knitting safely back at home. It was so wonderful having dinner together at Madrona this year. Loved reading your post and your pictures. Can’t wait to see the gansey you design! Warmly, Janet

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