MKG Cable Gram - Volume 20, Number 3
What I Did On My Summer Vacation --Went to Stitches Midwest!
Thursday, August 19
After months of anticipation, it’s time for my first real vacation in two years--a trip to Stitches Midwest. Would this four-day weekend live up to my expectations?
I see the 94 East sign and I’m on my way. The Red Sea of road construction parts with hardly a slow down. This is a good sign. After seven hours and one wrong turn, I arrive at Pheasant Run Resort, the site of the 2004 Stitches Midwest. The fact that the resort doesn’t look a bit like the website advertisement is disappointing but I’m not here for the resort features. I’m here to pick up some new knitting techniques, experience the classes, meet other knitters--and, oh yeah, shop!
I’ve missed the Meet and Greet due to my wrong turn on the freeway but do manage to make the Market Preview, when the vendors open their booths just for the 800+ Stitches participants. And who should I meet when I enter the Market but Elsebeth Lavold, my Swedish knitwear designer friend! Things are looking up! We get reacquainted, promise to meet later for tea and off we go on our separate ways to explore the market at our own pace. The sights are overwhelming but most memorable are: a visit with Francis Chester of Chester-Cestari Farms (his yarn line, Cestari, consists of wool from his Italian-American family-run sheep farm, processed and dyed in his own mill); the Habu booth--with fibers of silk, bamboo, paper, and soy using such unusual construction (I’ll be back there later); and ponchos, ponchos, ponchos. The two hours pass quickly and it’s time for tea with Elsebeth!
Friday, August 20
My first class is at 8 am with Beth Brown-Reinsel--Norwegian Purl. Bob (our MKG President) is in my class! We really enjoy Beth’s teaching style. She has excellent handouts with great written instructions on how to execute the technique when she’s not there to hold our hand. We leave knowing how to Norwegian Purl in one AND two colors.At lunch I run into Elsebeth again! We sit with knitwear designer, Chris Bylsma, who, like Elsebeth, is also teaching at Stitches. I have a very insightful conversation with her about the ins and outs of the knitting design business from her own experience. She is a kick--full of creative energy. One of her specialties is showing people how to creatively use up their stash. I make a mental note to take a future class from her.
Time for my afternoon class. Another class with Beth--Twined Knitting. Again, it’s a full house and excellent class with great handouts. We begin wrist Warmer as our learning sample. Beth gives us a small ball of z-twist yarn (used in traditional twined knitting) that Black Water Abbey Yarn donated to our class so we each can complete one sample with authentic twined knitting yarn. There isn’t time in the three-hour class to finish the sample but I can certainly finish it later by following her notes.
I go back to Market to try to take in more specific interests and decide to pick up a couple of skeins of Black Water Abbey’s z-twist plied yarn for a future twined knitting project.Time for dinner already? As luck has it, both Bob and Elsebeth are free so we head into St. Charles, the nearby town, for a lovely alfresco dinner at Erik & Me beside the Fox River. We talk of knitting and life, as a live jazz quartet plays in the background and the water drifts by. Heavenly.
I can’t believe that only one day has passed. I have learned so much and met so many interesting people--both students and instructors. This is a dream vacation for sure.
Saturday, August 21
8:30 class with Susan Lazear--20 Pattern Guidelines.I get a real cup of coffee this morning and it’s a good thing. This class is not something to sleep through. Susan Lazear is a Professor of Fashion at Mesa College in San Diego and the founder of Cochenille Design Studio (the textile design software company that created the programs Stitch Painter and Garment Designer). She keeps us hopping while giving a mini college lecture on knitwear pattern design. Susan uses her software program, Garment Designer, to show us what structurally happens with different pattern shapes. Since I recently purchased this software, I am especially enjoying the opportunity to see it in action. What a fabulous way to start the day!Lunch--but instead of lunch, I make a mad dash to the Market to catch the noontime style show put on by Stitches organizers, XRX. We see fashions from two new books by XRX, Module Magic by Ginger Luters and Maggie’s Ireland by Maggie Jackson; and fashions from a recent issue of XRX’s Knitter’s Magazine. The clothes are worn by real models so we get a good look at how they drape and fit.Time for my afternoon class: Traditional Shetland Scarf, taught by Candace Eisner Strick. Our lesson involves knitting a motif from a cockleshell Shetland scarf with real Shetland wool that Candace got from the Shetland Islands. The class yarn kit includes enough yarn to later knit a complete Shetland scarf based on the pattern we have learned in class. I brought needles with too blunt of a point to work the super fine wool to my satisfaction. A lesson learned. Always have a sharp pointed needle handy when working lace! But I am successful anyway and leave with quite a nice cockleshell sample. Candace also shows us slides from her recent trip to the Shetland Islands plus demonstrates how to use a needle belt, a traditional tool that fits around the waist and supports the long double-pointed needles that Shetlanders use when knitting lace. They say the belt encourages faster lace knitting.
I’m exhausted from the last two days of nonstop activity and treat myself to a hot stone massage at the resort’s spa. Have I been away for a week now? It certainly feels like it. This is a good way to spend a long weekend. Only one more class left.
Sunday, August 22
I’m back with Candace Eisner Strick and The Art of Knitting Backwards. This turns out to be a very useful technique for doing short rows and avoiding purling when working a flat piece. After practicing knitting--and purling--backwards, Candace has us add a border to a sample we had knit in advance to show us how knitting backwards can help us when working borders and mitered corners. I can see how helpful the technique will be for adding lace borders. This class is the icing on the cake of this wonderful marathon weekend.
I conclude my Stitches experience with one last visit to the Market, to take in the wares at a slower pace and catch some demos. I get an up-close look at bead knitting and some pointers to make my future attempts at bead knitting more successful. Did you know you can needle felt on denim? A vendor at Susan’s Yarn Shop is doing just that. The Habu booth gets more than a few of my dollars. I can’t resist their little yarn gems and unique fibers. At another booth I find the wire rods that Candace recommended for blocking fine lace. But the best visit is with Susan at the Tongue River Farm booth. We talk about the joys of Icelandic fleece and I pick up a knitting job to make a sample to showcase their yummy new bluish-grey Icelandic lace-weight wool. I float out of the Market--which is quite a task in itself considering I am weighed down by bags of yarn, projects and books.
Time to leave. I chase the sun home and reflect on everything I learned and saw at Stitches. I met the most wonderful people. My stash may have increased by only a small amount but my enthusiasm and joy for our art has blossomed more than ever. I had fabulous teachers and plan to use some of their excellent teaching techniques in my own classes.Stitches is our MKG Yarnover event on steroids! I make a note to keep the 2005 Stitches Midwest weekend open on my calendar, August 11-14. It’s a real "vacation" for the knitting spirit!
Wendy J. Johnson, the (volunteer) designer for the Minnesota Knitters’ Guild, is an art director and graphic designer. She is the founder of Elder Eye Design, a design firm that conducts audits of existing design for companies and organizations using Elder Eye Best Practices for the aging eye. In her spare time, Wendy works on new creations for her knitting design business, Saga Hill Designs.