Every year when I get home from the Madrona Fiber Arts Retreat I send Suzanne Pederson an email telling her it was the best one ever. This year was no exception. Franklin Habit was certainly the most entertaining speaker in front of whom I’ve had the pleasure of banqueting. Catherine Lowe is possibly the single most inspiring knitting designer/instructor I’ve yet run across in terms of her ability to put across concepts of design and construction. Nancy Bush is old gold, glowing with an enduring passion for her craft and thus planting a new spark in every knitter, without fanfare or drama, that is likely to flame slowly and burn forever; and Susanna Hansson has me reeling over the history of Bohus, eager to learn more and desperate to start knitting one of my own.
The retreat is like an old friend you see once a year, met with anticipation and delight and left with reluctance and good memories. And like a Matryoshka doll, it contains other old friends within its body. I tried to count how many friends I re-met over the weekend and stopped when I reached 60, knowing there were many more. Making and meeting new friends– such as my roommate Liisa, designer and online friend Stephanie Tallent, Ariel, and Jennifer– is an equal part of the charm that is Madrona. If you have never been to this retreat, I hasten to encourage you to anticipate and register for next year. There is room for many more friends, and much knowledge to share both in classes and out.
So, you want details? I’ll do my best.
I arrived Thursday before the market opened at 8:30. Liisa needed to get to her class by 9:00, but I had purposely not scheduled any classes so that I could take full advantage of the market. Trust me, booths like Blue Moon are like cornfields under a swarm of locusts, beautiful in their bounty on the first day but desolate wastelands by the third. But the object of my first debit-card bombing was as it always is, the wonderful Blackwater Abbey, presided over by the ever-wonderful Marilyn King and her friend and assistant Jennifer who, as it turned out, is a shirt-tail relative. Marilyn has introduced some new colors of the sportweight, of which I bought the absolutely gorgeous Ash Violet, along with worsted weight in Seafoam and beautiful buttons. By the way, Stephanie has some gorgeous designs using BWA yarn, including the Manzanita mittens.
Blue Moon got my attention next, because I wanted some Woobu with which to knit Karen Alfke’s Traveling Sweater. To my intense pleasure, they had a beautiful new stainless-steel silver called Midnight At The Oasis and I snatched some up quickly. I made my way around other booths, some familar and some new; all beautifully set up and stocked. Though at least five of my friends bought a Hansen MiniSpinner, I successfully resisted and now I’m glad I did, since I have Bohus on the mind and would rather invest in kits from Sweden.
After my patriotic attempt to single-handedly boost the economy of my country (you’re very welcome), I settled down to knitting and chatting with old friends, had lunch with Pam to try to lure her into living near me, checked into the hotel room and frittered the rest of the day away knitting and talking, talking and knitting, shopping and talking and knitting and so forth. (Those who know me well know that I am not an extrovert. To voluntarily spend this much time with people is a testament to how wonderful Madrona is).
Friday I took Catherine Lowe’s class, “Full Fashioning for Design and Fit”. Catherine is a tiny, timeless lady with huge eyes and dainty features. To draw conclusions based on her appearance– those conclusions possibly being that she is shy and uncomfortable with people– would be a real mistake. She took center stage and delivered a phenomenal performance. Her handout was the most professional I have ever seen. With the vocabulary and grammar of a respected Ivy League academician, she walked us through the history of full fashioning, its relevance to handknitting, the various modifications from most basic to most structured garments, and more– much more. Each of these points was demonstrated through words, speech, pictures and example. If you are interested in couture knitting, in exquisitely simple detail, in explicit and lengthy knitting and construction guidelines, I urge you to buy a copy of Catherine’s book The Ravell’d Sleeve.
Friday evening Amy, my friend and Nihon Vogue partner in crime, arrived. We all had a fabulous dinner at the Hotel Murano’s restaurant, Bite, and later retired to get a good night’s rest in anticipation of Saturday.
One of the purchases I made in the market on Thursday was an ear light from Churchmouse Yarns and Tea (a beautiful shop run by the lovely and gracious Kit and her husband John). This ear light is not for looking into yours or other peoples’ ears– it is for hooking onto your ear so that you may direct a light into your lap by which to knit when lighting is poor. This little $16.00 purchase was worth its weight in gold when I went to Susanna Hansson’s class on Saturday: Bohus Stickning. After getting us started knitting a pair of Blue Shimmer wristlets at 10 stiches per inch, using 2-4 colors per row and occasionally seeded with purls, she promptly turned down the lights to give us a slide show and lecture on the history of Bohus knitting. I was a happy camper, listening and knitting in the dark! (yes, she had told us to bring a portable light, but I didn’t realize exactly why she had done so until that moment!)
After viewing the slides, we were able to don white gloves and explore Susanna’s extensive and wonderful collection of original Bohus Stickning sweaters, gloves, hats and scarves. I have often seen pictures of Bohus garments, but believe me when I tell you that photographs cannot possibly capture their exquisite three-dimensional beauty. Layers of subtle color shifts drift via a delicate angora halo into the next color, producing intervening gradations that glow. Kits for many of the Bohus designs, faithfully reproduced in the exact colors of the originals, are available via Solveig Gustaffson directly from Sweden (click on “Bohus Stickning” to see photos of garments that are available). Susanna has translated the instructions into English, for which labor of love she would simply ask that the knitter contribute a donation to Doctors Without Borders.
After the Bohus class, my dearly beloved Brian met me, dressed in his Valentine’s Day Irish Moss and looking fine. Here is a somewhat fuzzy picture, I’ve had computer problems and have not reinstalled my photo editing software, so it is what it is.
Along with a record crowd, we attended the banquet where Franklin Habit gave a presentation entitled “B Is For Purl” that was both humorous and educational, about historical (and often hysterical) knitting pattern history. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Franklin, given his escapades with Dolores the Sheep, but as it turns out he is extremely well-spoken, well-prepared and knows the value of leaving an audience wanting more. For a small taste of what we experienced, see his article on Knitty, here.
At Madronas past, I have inevitably told myself that I would not overbook myself. Specifically, that I would not book a class for Sunday because by Sunday one has hit one’s saturation point and cannot possibly be alert enough to benefit from one more class. And, as inevitably as I admonish myself with this sage advice, I ignore it. So it was that I, a professed no-sock knitter, signed up for Nancy Bush’s class, “As the Heel Turns”. It was lovely. Nancy has some magic charm that causes her class to seem unhurried, relaxed, a friendly gathering. We knit a round heel, a square heel, a Welsh heel and a band heel. We learned a new cast-on and a new bind-off. We heard stories about her love for Estonia, about why she might have been seen crawling around the floor taking pictures of men in kilts (to see their kilt hose, of course!) and other equally entertaining glimpses into the life of a person who was key to bringing sock-knitting back to life.
So there you have it: my Madrona 2011 experiences, which were so much more than I could ever get into words. Come join us next time!