Wallowing in Creativity

The Madrona Fiber Arts Retreat was held over the President’s Day weekend in Tacoma, and I attended for the second year in a row.  It’s a smaller conference with classes and a yarn and fiber market for knitters and spinners.  More importantly, Madrona is a chance to spend a few days with creative people, learn new techniques, and get inspired by what other people are doing with fiber.This busy mother of two young children is making an afghan with complex 3-D trees and cables – wow!  I feel like a wimp.

I caught a few photos in the yarn market before it got too crowded, with lots of hand-dyed higher-end yarns, spinning wheels, and specialty notions.All the different colors and yarns and samples were mind boggling, and it’s such a treat to be able to touch the yarns and see the colors in real life.  We don’t have a yarn shop on the island so I have to mail order yarn for projects, and hope the color on my computer screen is remotely similar to the real color (it usually isn’t – don’t ask me how I know that).

The classes were excellent – from the shorter technique workshops to the more in-depth sessions.  I learned how to deconstruct a knitted garment to make pretty significant changes to it (ninja-knitting!), and how to use embroidery to embellish knitting (level 2).This hat is an example by our teacher… my embroidery skills need a lot more practice before I could execute something as nice as this! 

The teachers were superb – encouraging, enlightening, energetic.  Franklin Habit – one of my very favorites – a teacher, writer, artist, and all-around interesting guy – was thrilled with our embroidery attempts so he sat on the floor to photograph our practice pieces.  I won’t tell you which one is mine – but we all have to start somewhere.Many of the teachers are colorful characters, fun and funny as well as talented.  I adore the Yarn Harlot from her hysterical blog, so my friend Katey and I had to pose for a photo with her while we wore our newly knitted sweaters…

…and I was happy to get into a class taught by Lucy Neatby, another great teacher who happens to look like a unicorn vomited all over her.The photo doesn’t show her mis-matched Doc Martens in equally vivid colors, but after listening to her for just a few moments it’s easy to forget that she’s a walking riot of neon color.  I love to be around people who are comfortable in their own skin, and I love that the knitters and spinners just go with the flow and accept everyone on their own terms.  I think the world could learn a lot from the knitters.

I’m pulled in a million different directions with knitting – so many techniques and challenges I want to explore or dive deeper into, but my favorite class was the Fair Isle Color class with Janine Bajus.  It was 6 hours of hands-on work beginning to learn how to choose the gradient colors and combinations unique to Fair Isle knitting, such as these examples from our teacher:The yarn we were using comes in 212 different colors – enough to achieve the subtle variations, though all those choices makes it harder to choose well.I think it’s important to challenge oneself, no matter what the context is.  It’s so neat to see all the different ways that people create things – texture, color, design.  We might not like the colors or styles that someone else chooses, but we can appreciate that they are expressing themselves and we appreciate the effort they put into their creations.  There’s joy in sharing, helping one another, and in the discomfort of learning something new.

It doesn’t hurt that the conference is held in the Hotel Murano, loaded with art glass of every style and technique imaginable.  Inspiration is everywhere – exciting and energizing, and I’m so grateful that I could attend.

One more thing that makes Madrona special is that it puts an emphasis on supporting charities.  Knitters bring caps, scarves, and baby sweaters to donate to local charities, and the Thursday evening program is a Teachers Talent Show with an amazing array of “talents” (we are sworn to secrecy – if you want to know what happens there, you have to come to Madrona), all in support of three major charities:  Doctors without Borders, Heifer International, and The Global Fund for Women.  I can tell you that amazingly trivial and silly things are auctioned off for these charities, and the generosity of the knitters and spinners would shock you and bring tears to your eyes.  The teachers willingly embarrass themselves (and worse) to raise money for these charities, and the enthusiastic support of everyone involved is a great reminder of all the goodness in our world.

Winter Beauty

Daylight is increasing by five minutes per day now… it really makes a difference!  As much as we all look forward to spring, people around here actually like the winter – hoping for snow for cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, and taking snow machines up on the logging roads.  We have different birds in winter than in summer, including some trumpeter swans that are frustrating to photograph.  They eat weeds and things on the bottom of the creek and they can hold their breath for a long time, which is a good thing if you’re a hungry swan but a bad thing if you’re a photographer holding a heavy lens.  I was lucky to get one marginal shot of an adult swan with two cygnets (young swans, still in their light gray feathers), but most of the time they just looked like headless lumps in the water.While I watched the swans a little squirrel chittered loudly at me, as though I was invading his personal space!  I was enjoying the first sunny day in a long while, amazed at how vivid the world looked after two weeks of very gloomy, rainy weather.  The arrival of sun also meant that the temperature dropped, but the crisp clear air made everything sparkly with frost and ice.  I went crazy looking at all the patterns at the edges of frozen water.Of course the funny part of admiring the ice is that it looks black and white, even though the photos were shot in color.Frost touched everything that the sun couldn’t reach, making everything in the landscape sparkle.I had a marvelous day out the road, visiting with the swans, squirrels, ducks, mergansers, grebes, goldeneyes, buffleheads, and kingfishers.  Winter hiking is peaceful, and it’s a treat to be able to savor the quiet and the beauty.

On the way back to town I had to stop and admire the view from South Harbor.  With so many overcast days we don’t get to see the Devil’s Thumb peak as often as we would like.Cold clear days also mean cold clear nights, and a chance to see the aurora.  The forecast for activity was higher than usual last week, so I ventured out after midnight.  We’re lucky that we live at a latitude where we can see the aurora, but it means bundling up in warm clothing, scraping the frost off the car windows, and hoping that I remembered to set the camera up correctly.  It’s no fun troubleshooting a camera in the cold and dark – don’t ask me how I know that.  I watched and waited (and shivered) until 0130 and the lights never lived up to the forecast… but still, it’s a beautiful sight.A few days ago we had some wicked NE winds, but Tammy and I were determined to go for a long walk to enjoy the sunshine.  We got out to the point and found some nice sized bergy bits grounded on the beach at low tide. You can see Tammy standing to the left of the long bergy bit, just to give some perspective of the size of these things.  You just never know what you’re going to see around town.