Sunday, May 02, 2010

Lessons Learned at Stitches South

It's hard for me to believe that, one week ago today, we were watching the Knitter's folks close Stitches South up around us. Booths were being packed, security guards were ushering last-minute shoppers out the door, and knitters from around the country were stuffing their cars and suitcases full of yarn they didn't arrive with.

An event like Stitches or SAFF or Maryland Sheep and Wool (missing you guys today!) is something to be looked toward to all year, like a long fibery gestation period, where the final result is bags of yarn, not a squawling infant. (Some of the yarn in my stash is older than my grown children, but I digress.) We wait and wait, checking off the months and days until the big event and then .... push, pant, push again and ... It's Wool! It's Needles! (Now when is someone going to invent the foldup stroller for fiber, the one you pull out of your tote bag like a tiny umbrella, so we can push our skeins and balls around in front of us, proudly showing off the new purchases to all who pass by and reach down to pat our little yarnbabies?)

And, contrary to Mr. Pug's secret worries, Stitches South isn't simply an excuse to buy yarn. It's a Learning Experience, a Foray into the Knitting Community, an opportunity to Explore Trends in Fiber. The shopping is simply a side effect like ... well, like that condition that lasts more than four hours if you take a little blue pill. A side effect with benefits. (That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.)

As for the Learning Experience, I took three classes and, yes, I learned from the teachers but there's more to it than that. First, Stitches was an opportunity for me to assist at the registration desk and welcome participants to Atlanta. Plus, it's always a temptation to sign up for many more hours than you can actually hope to survive but, as an experienced knitting event-goer, I've learned that ugly lesson the hard way. At a certain point, major blood vessels in your brain start to explode like Dollar Store fireworks and the next thing you know, you can't remember your dog's name, much less that amazing technique to make knitted jewelry out of Chinese takeout boxes.

(As for that technique, first remove the little wire handle thingies, run the boxes through a cross-cut shredder, mix all the pieces together in a giant vat of llama saliva and spit splice the whole thing, then .... oh, never mind. This is probably why the Knitter's folks keep rejecting my emails!)

First I took a great class on entrelac from Gwen Bortner. I've taken entrelac classes before -- in fact, when I moved to Atlanta in 2001 I took a class at Cast On Cottage and actually made a lovely Noro vest that never, ever, even for one minute, fit me and now makes a fabulous wall hanging. But over the years, I haven't used the technique much and I wanted to take a class with Gwen and, there you have it! Anyway, very enjoyable class, a very skilled teacher, and a great, truly fabulous, handout. There's a slim chance that I might actually remember how to do it again, she was that good.

Then ... OMG! Jewelry with Betsy Hershberg. Let me say it again ... OMG! We made little knitted and beaded beads--that's not a typo--they were beads wrapped in beads and used as beads. I don't know what could be more fun than that! Now it also turns out that they're somewhat fiddly to make ... okay, they're a lot fiddly ... and I'm not so much a fiddly person. But you only need 9 for a necklace and I've already got 2, so ... it's SO do-able, if, say, I break my leg in three places tomorrow and have to sit in one place for weeks at a time surrounded by ribbon yarn, beads and DPNs. But completely do-able. But not if the docs give me good drugs. Then all bets are off.

But Betsy is wonderful--she's the person I want to be, sort of Hot Grandma with spiky hair and big funky jewelry and psychedelic readers. Definitely got a little of that '60s thing going! And I also learned that when you forget your DPNs, the person from Tennessee sitting next to you who loans you a set might be really fun and a friend for life. (Third eye, Lindy719!) We also learned that there's always one loud person in the group who thinks they should be teaching the class. Oh, well.

Finally, Jane Slicer-Smith. Okay, this was what I was there for. Yes, yarn, yes, camaraderie, but Knitting on the Barbie? Yeah, baby!

I missed the opening day ceremonies which everyone said were wonderful, but my class on Sunday morning was terrific. Not so much technique, but more like inspirational and design-oriented. We learned which designs will look really fabulous on you if you're 6' tall and thin as a rail and which ones will flatter you ... or me, for that matter, if you're tall and a little lumpy. Or a lot lumpy. Turns out her swing coats are designed for women like myself for whom the term "60s Hippie" doesn't just refer to our time in a VW bus spray-painted with peace signs. The swing style distracts from the "hippie" aspect and swirls around them.
But she also talked about changing needle sizes to create the swing look (or to widen or narrow a more traditional cabled area or such) and to create more strength at the top of the garment where it hangs from your shoulders. Who knew?

And I don't want to say I was inspired by Jane but check out the picture on the right--the first five squares of a Swagger vest from her book Swing, Swagger, Drape.

And just to keep you wondering, I'll tell you that once I finish this tier (28 squares), the whole thing gets turned upside down and then the next tier (the bodice) gets picked up from that bottom edge. Didn't I say she was amazing?


Gwen said...

Thanks for the nice comments about my class. You know -- if you want to remember something, you have to practice it once in a while! ;)

Seriously, even I had trouble getting started until I had a fair bit of entrelac under my belt. So practice, practice, practice!

ddknits said...

If you can figure out that fiber stroller thingy, you'll be a millionaire. I'd buy one in a heartbeat! I wish I was mechanical enough to figure it out. I love the idea of showing off what you've bought as you parade around the market.

Betsy said...

I have to second Gwen here! Those first couple beads are always the hardest... I mean, who does this??? Oh! That would be me! ;-) Don't ask what condition I was in when I invented these techniques, but if remember correctly, wine might have been involved......

Hopefully you'll find the time to make more beads, but if not, think earrings! Glad you enjoyed the class AND made a new friend. Lastly, my kids are going to love the "hot Grandma" line. :-)