30 April 2013

Unwinding in North Carolina

Even before 2013 began, I knew April was going to be a busy month. STITCHES South and Unwind are just two weeks apart. I didn't get to teach at STITCHES South, but I did get to teach at Unwind. And I am very glad I did.
Contents of Unwind Goodie Bag. Everyone got this.
Unwind is a knitting retreat weekend in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Nancy Shroyer of Nancy's Knit Knacks and Sue Homewood are the organizers. The theory is that many knitting shows are big and busy. This is all fine, but sometimes you just want a quieter experience. You want to come back from the weekend rested and rejuvenated. You want to make new friends rather than just hang out with the friends you have. Unwind is exactly that sort of weekend. It is a smaller gathering in a little resort town way up in the mountains. The views on the drive up are spectacular. The town has delightful shops, including the yarn shop Unwound, and delicious restaurants, including an ice cream shop with fudge and candy apples and chocolates. The gathering itself is about 25-50 people, so not overwhelming crowds. There are only three or four instructors. And students are encouraged to take three classes but not four -- in other words, you are expected to have a rest period to just relax or wander the town. Our name badges were color-coded so you could see who had the same rest period. Even the teachers had a rest period.
Door prizes and swap prizes. :-)
Since the teachers all roomed together, I got to meet Michelle Hunter and Debra Lee. Both are delightful people and fine teachers. Michelle Hunter of course is Knit Purl Hunter and the author of Building Blocks.  This afghan book is a great way for beginning knitters to move up the learning curve. Knitting is the most fun when you can knit what you want, rather than being limited to knitting what you can. Debra Lee is both a teacher and true fiber artist. She is especially brilliant at bags and color work. It was fun each day to see what the other teachers were wearing. Michelle, of course, wore her wonderful sock-opus tights made from leftover sock yarns. Debra wore beautiful jackets with lots of complex patterning.

The only thing unkind I can say about the weekend is why don't people south of North Carolina know about this?! There were quite a few ladies from nearby in North Carolina and a whole van load from the Washington, D.C. area. Miss Babs' had special open studio hours nearby, and I think the ladies in the van went home with their weight in yarn. Everybody participated in the door prizes and games, even the teachers and organizers. I was being a well-behaved munchkin and not spending money and I came home with yarn and books. The donations were a wonderful chance to see some of the products offered in our industry. There was also a stash swap opportunity to pass your less-wanted yarn, books, and materials off to someone else -- perfect if you actually did some spring cleaning.

For a quiet weekend of knitting in a lovely locale, Unwind!

15 April 2013

STITCHES South 2013

I am very fortunate that there are several weekends I look forward to each year. One of them is, of course, STITCHES South. The older I get, the more I know the calendar lies, because it can't be possible we've just finished the fifth STITCHES South.

I signed up for Almost the Works. I've done The Works once, and while I love taking classes, that is a lot of classes even for me to soak up in one weekend. I'm finding that Almost the Works is the right pace for me.

This STITCHES got off to a bit of a bumpy start for the organizers, as some of the nice XRX people were stuck in Sioux Falls SD due to a late-season snow! I know everyone was very grateful to arrive in Atlanta, and not just to see proof that spring does exist. Rick Mondragon was one of those delayed, so Laura Bryant gave the Opening Day talk instead. This did not bother me at all, as I had immediately acquired her new book Artful Color, Mindful Knits. Those of you who have many hand-painted yarns in your stash will find Laura's book to be essential for figuring out how to use those yarns to good effect. Laura has lots of discussion and helpful illustrations about magic numbers and how to make yarns pool intentionally in a good way. She discusses yarns that are dyed around the skein versus across the skein; and explains when they will and won't pool. She also discusses color "weight" (heavy versus light), which is a topic she covers in her excellent Interweave video A Knitter's Guide to Color. Pair Laura's book with Lorna Miser's The Knitter's Guide to Hand-Dyed and Variegated Yarn, which focuses on breaking up pooling rather than controlling pooling. With those two books in hand, you are ready to make your hand-painted yarns sing, dance, and jump through flaming hoops with no clown barf in sight.

For the Thursday afternoon class I took Beth Whiteside's "Loops with Fringe Benefits." I had heard good things about Beth's teaching skills, and although I probably could have figured out the loops and fringes on my own, it was nice to sit down for three hours and try them out. I was impressed with the exhaustive research Beth had done on this topic and I can definitely recommend her as a teacher. Our class swatches demonstrate a wide variety of loops and fringes. I especially like the little bows. Wouldn't those be fabulous in a ribbon yarn against a background of plain yarn?

On Friday morning I took Charles Gandy's "Pattern Pitfalls." I've taken classes before with Charles. He is a delightful teacher and a Southern gentleman. Again, I knew most of what Charles mentioned, but it is nice to double-check knowledge. As I am self-publishing patterns, I do not want to be guilty of creating pitfalls! The one really brilliant thing I must remember from Charles -- if you print a book, be sure it is on paper that will accept pencil and pen annotations.

Friday afternoon was Merike Saarniit's "Microwave Rainbow Dyeing" class. This was my fifth class with Merike. Again, microwave dyeing isn't all that hard, but it was really nice to do it in a class with someone who could show you that, yes, it really isn't all that hard. And I was thoroughly impressed with how we managed to do this in a conference room in a hotel! The first skein I dyed blue, bright apple green, and deep maroon. The second skein is dotted with purple, orange, and green. It came out a bit weak.
When playing with dyes, the color mixing is not the same as the paint color mixing many of us learned in grade school. I plan to over-dye the second skein with more purple, orange, and green and with more overlapping of colors to make it more interesting. I'll probably just do that on a hot summer day and let the skein bake in the sun to set. The microwave makes the process faster, and the speed can be especially useful if you are dyeing colors that you don't want to bleed together. As with so many techniques in crafts, the questions is not so much, "What is the right way?" as it is "What effect do I want to achieve?"

Going into the weekend, the class I was most excited about was Esther "Jazzturtle" Rodgers' "Corespinning for Fun and Function." I so wish I had taken this class before Jacey Boggs' workshop last spring. Jacey's two-day workshop had lots of technical information, but no handouts. In Jacey's class we spun several different types of yarn using a variety of techniques. By the end of the weekend, my recollection of what I'd spun and how I'd done it was poor. If I want to spin art yarns, I still having to go look up techniques in Jacey's book or video. If I took Jacey's class again, I'd definitely take notes and clip samples to a piece of cardstock. In contrast, Esther's class was three hours of basic corespinning. For a $30 materials fee, Esther supplied students with one of her fabulous jazzy batts and some Teasewater and Wensleydale locks. It was wonderful to spend the morning just becoming comfortable with corespinning. And the bobbin on my wheel just got prettier and prettier. As you can see, I ended up with an awesome skein of art yarn, and enough of it that I should be able to use it in a project. Because of my experience in Jacey's class, I was careful to take notes in Esther's class. Bottom line: Sequence is important! Become proficient at basic corespinning, then take a technical weekend workshop on making art yarns.

Saturday afternoon was devoted to Susanna Hansson's "Lovers and Runders." This is the third class I've taken with Susanna. Many of her classes are devoted to traditional Nordic techniques. Again, the little braids are something I probably could have figured out on my own, but sometimes the most efficient learning occurs when you just decide to go spend three hours in a class. Plus, Suzanna gives you a nice mnemonic so you can remember how to make the braids without having to keep looking it up. As you can see, I ended up with a nice reference swatch. (The change from white to green is only because I ran out of white yarn.)

On Sunday morning I wrapped up the weekend with Anna Zilboorg's "Surprisingly Special Techniques."  This is basically a tips and tricks class. Anna's knowledge base is somewhat different from that of most other knitters, so I was confident her approach would be unique. We covered several techniques, but the best part was making her perfect buttonhole. It is worth the class just to learn the buttonhole. A word of caution: I am a very visual learner. Anna is not a visual teacher, and her handouts are not visual, either. She is also very opinionated. So go into her class ready to happily follow along the path she leads you, and don't be afraid to ask very specific visual questions if you are a visual learner. I was lucky Susan Duralde sat next to me, as she is also a visual learner and the two of us had mostly the same questions.

I also did some shopping in the market. I bought some yarn and spinning fibers. Some of it was less about "I need/want this" and more about "I like this vendor and want this person to have a good weekend and come back next year." The most unusual fiber I bought was carbonized bamboo. This sounds to me as if maybe the plant fiber is burned before being reconstituted? The fiber is not as slippery or as shiny as bamboo rayon often is, and it is the matte black of a black hole. If Darth Vader spun, he would spin this! It is the yarn version of the Dark Side of the Force! I was also thrilled to see Yarn Barn of Kansas back in the market with the books. As good as I have become at resisting the siren songs of yarn and fiber, Japanese stitch dictionaries are Kryptonite for me.

The weekend included plenty of other fun, too. My friend Marilyn (of Marilyn H's zipper) came for a visit and we stayed up way too late talking about knitting. I saw lots of friends in class, at the banquets, and in the market. For the first time during the fashion show, I won a door prize! It is a pineapple crochet shawl in a bright spring green. The prize includes the yarn, pattern, crochet hook, project bag, and even a blunt tapestry needle for weaving in the ends. How's that for complete? And Ivana Knitsolotta, double agent for double knitting, made an appearance at the Student Banquet. So all and all, a fine weekend!