Surprises Madrona

This was my third time at Madrona in four years, sharing a room with Yvonne as for last year, hanging out with knitting friends from Vancouver which was great and an improvement over last year, taking lots of classes as usual. None of that was surprising, but each of the classes had a surprise or two in store for me.

Last year I went down on the train, this year I drove as the schedules didn't allow for an early-morning departure. After having made Bitterroot with beads on it, I wanted to know a bit more about beading techniques so I signed up for the Thursday afternoon bead class with Betsy Hershberg. I didn't expect much more than to learn a couple of techniques that I could use when I choose, sparingly since my image of myself doesn't include a lot of bling or beads.

Bead Knitting Sampler: Betsy’s incredible beadwork is a testimonial to the beauty of combining beads and knitting. She will guide you through an introduction to all that you need to begin adding beads to your projects and her enthusiasm will be contagious. You’ll learn beading techniques while completing a sampler from a pattern Betsy supplies. With your sampler and written materials, you will have a reference for future work.

Betsy started off by telling us she was our dealer and sure enough by the end of the session I was off buying yarn she recommended (Aziza 5/2 tencel from Just Our Yarn) and ordering her patterns. As if I don't already have enough hobbies... (I did manage to restrain myself from getting into weaving, saving that for another year).

The surprise in Evelyn Clark's session on Icelandic Modern--traditional lace patterns and new techniques for an Icelandic Lace shawl was a little different.

Icelandic lace shawls are wonderfully wearable and fun to knit. Since the stitch patterns are simple, the knitter can focus on colors--either traditional or contemporary. In class we will talk about the characteristics of Icelandic lace, discuss how the design probably evolved, and look at the characteristics of wool from Icelandic sheep. Students will knit a small shawl to practice a provisional cast-on, a sewn splice to change yarn colors and a chained crochet cast-off with tips on reading lace charts. The same pattern can be used later to knit a full-size shawl.

Here what was surprising to me was the way the Icelandic shawls use doily and tablecloth edgings similar to the German ones in Niebling designs, or the designs collected by Marie Niedner. Somehow I didn't expect Icelandic shawls to be (apparently) influenced by German tablecloths, although there's no reason for them not to be when I stop to think about it.

I learned a few tips (cast-ons, the sewn colour splice, how to stop the top of the shawl going in the wrong direction), but mostly it was just a joy listening to Evelyn's stories of visiting Iceland, and the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle. I felt a little sorry for the relative beginners in the class who were trying to concentrate on knitting from charts (new to some of them) and listen to Evelyn at the same time; it was much easier for those of us who were familiar with charts and knitting lace. A very enjoyable day and I have a shawl on the needles that will eventually be a reminder, each time I wear it, of Madrona 2011.

Next up, on the Saturday, was the "powered bling" class, a.k.a. eTextiles, taught by Syne Mitchell. The (minor) surprise here was just that I decided none of the things I'd started knitting were suitable for use with LEDs and EL wire, so I have to create something else. Also, that the multimeter I bought on the way down, not having been able to find mine, needed a 12V batttery. This is not a standard size.

eTextiles for Knitters and Weavers: Learn how to design textiles that light up, sense temperature, play sounds, and more! Imagine a sweater that glitters with a hundred LED stars, socks that count how many steps you take, a scarf that tells you how cold it is outside, laptop bags that announce when you’re in a wifi zone, etc. Modern eTextile technology makes creating this sort of interactive garment easy, attractive, and fun!

Students will learn the basics of eTextiles by either knitting or weaving LEDs and a battery into a scarf or hat. We’ll discuss additional ideas and examples while you work.

Fun was had, I have a bunch of wires and LEDs and more than a few ideas, I managed to avoid being sucked in by the weaving bug, despite Syne's best intentions, and I've finally got the right battery for that multimeter. I suspect the kids will have glowing outfits for Halloween this year.

The biggest surprise in store for me was in my Sunday class. I managed to get into Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's class on Knitting for Speed and Efficiency: So Many Knits So Little Time!

Here’s your chance to learn Stephanie’s perspective and secrets on knitting with speed. Want to knit faster? How about smarter or more efficiently? This class examines the various techniques, attitudes and history of the most productive knitters, and is designed not necessarily to change how you knit (unless you want to) but to help you become the most efficient knitter you can be on your own terms.

Stephanie knits on straights, with the right needle tucked in under her right arm. I'm not going to go into the details of what she teaches; other people have covered that. For me what was surprising was the personal reaction I had. My Mum used to knit with the needle held under her right arm, I suspect my great-aunt did as well (although they typically didn't knit in front of me, I think that was mostly kept as work for when the children were in bed or at least not around). When I started knitting that way, it felt like coming home, creating a connection to people I've lost. My great-aunt died many years ago, my mother in 2009; in some ways it's odd how a simple thing such as the style of knitting can create emotional connections. But maybe it isn't, maybe it's the small daily things that are the core of our memories. Something to think about as I consider my current family life, and not something I was expecting to be confronted with on the last day of a knitting conference.

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