This weekend I had the amazing fortune to be at Port Ludlow for the Strung Along lace retreat. Three solid days of classes and hanging out with other knitters. Other very geeky knitters, as one pointed out!
Day one, my group was with Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, who can talk for hours about the history and sociological context of knitting (it will blow your mind) and at the same time impart so many technical details so subtly that you hardly even notice it happening.
Chart 3, though? You will notice chart 3 happening, because it will make you want to cry. Or maybe not you, but it did me! (And I was not alone.) These delightful little rings, they require patterning on every row. That is, reversing the chart in your head and doing everything just right on the purl side as well as the knit side. Worth it? I think so. I love little rings.
Day two, we were with Nancy Bush, who just so happens to be the author of the first knitting book I ever owned (Folk Socks, it was; it's just been updated). I love coincidences like that! She had us knitting as fast as we could, trying to finish a tiny sample Estonian scarf in the six hours of class time. And yet, not a stressful class at all! She showed us technique as it came up, as a whole class and in small groups or one-on-one, and made everything very clear. Even nupps, which I had never attempted but several others had (and cursed them), were delightfully easy. (Nupps are a classic Estonian feature, those little bumps in the diamond centers; they are more subtle and easier to execute than Aran bobbles.) When she wasn't teaching technique, she was sharing all kinds of tidbits about Estonian history and culture and telling wonderful stories about the people she has met on her research journey into Estonian knitting and her many visits to Haapsalu, where they make these shawls. It was a wonderful day.
Finally, a day of spinning with Judith MacKenzie. True confession: this was the day I was least looking forward to. I got a wheel (an Ashford traditional in kit form which I finished and assembled) for Christmas the year before I went to college. I spun on it some. I made enough thick brown yarn to knit my roommate a hat, if I remember correctly. But I never had a lesson and spinning didn't grip me. In fact, I was considering letting my wheel go to a more loving home after the move this summer and before I signed up for the retreat.
Here's what I learned: an in-person lesson makes all the difference. I had the idea from books, but never did I imagine the extreme gentleness of everything that Judith imparts to her students. After watching her at first, I couldn't wait to get to the wheel and effortlessly draw out thread like she was doing! Check out her demo yarns in progressively finer diameters (those are all two-plies!):
When she came around and adjusted my wheel, I couldn't believe how low she put the tension on the drive band and especially on the scotch break on the bobbin (that determines how hard the wheel pulls the yarn you're spinning). My driveband was slipping ever so slightly on every treadle and it felt like I almost had to push the yarn into the orifice to get it onto the bobbin. But this all made the process so gentle and so relaxing! I was totally zoned out for hours, I'm sure. Spinning, I have decided, is my new meditation. It doesn't matter that I produce anything (though I will, it's unavoidable), it produces relaxation in my sometimes-overly-busy brain.
In the end, I spun up the whole piece of purple dyed top (blend of yak, silk, and cashmere or merino, I can't remember, but heavenly!) and produced a yarn that thrilled me so much I pinned the mini-skein to my sweater for the rest of the evening!
And then it was the end. One more great meal, one more chance to chat with new friends, and the most fun activity of them all — everyone shares "the best thing I ever made". There were amazing pieces of handwork (of all kinds) and touching stories to go along with many. A really wonderful way to end.
I hope someday I get to go to one again! I was lucky this time that I saw Stephanie's tweet that they were going to be announcing something and if you were sure you wanted in, send an email. The retreat filled up that day with emails from quite sure people before the retreat was ever officially open for registration! So, if you want to go, I guess you've got to be crouched like an online tiger from midsummer on!
One last photo: the accumulated yarn-bombing of a hallway sculpture at the Inn at Port Ludlow (don't miss the leg warmers!):