For the second time, I have had the delightful opportunity to attend a workshop in Youngstown, Ohio called “A Knitter’s Fantasy”.
The workshop has, in the past, been run as a rotation among three Ohio knitting guilds. I understand however that the event has become too much work for one of the guilds involved, and it may no longer occur at all in future years. It is too bad, because it is a wonderful event for attendees, although I can’t imagine the amount of work that is probably put on a few individuals from each guild.
The format of the workshop is what makes it really amazing, it’s like a mini-convention or expo (comparing to my other niche-hobby frames of reference: boardgaming and quilting). For $45 (this year), you get admission to a charming “Yarn Market” of about 20 or so vendors, access to a morning class and an afternoon class, and a lunch. There is also a fashion show at lunch, door prizes, a “swap” table where knitters can destash and other knitters can pick up free yarn, tools and patterns, and, for the two years that I have attended, there has also been a demonstration room for machine knitting hosted by a machine-knitting guild.
The classes themselves are what really make this event great. As far as I understand, all of the teachers are volunteering their time. The cost of attendance is included in the $45, but some classes cost an additional small fee for materials or extensive hand-outs. I find the quality of teaching and/or expertise of the teacher has varied widely, but all the classes have still been a lot of fun. One year, for example, I took Tunisian crochet and the intended teacher had gotten sick, so two very enthusiastic volunteers learned the skill the night before, printed lots of handouts, and ran a great class! It was tough for them to answer questions of any depth, however, I really felt that they made the class fun and I did successfully learn the basic Tunisian crochet pattern.
This year, I learned the Broomstick Lace knit stitch. I was hoping there was a little more to the class than just the one stitch, as I have tried a little crocheted broomstick lace and there is a lot you can do with the crocheted version. I’m not sure if there’s a lot you can do with the knit version, because the class really only covered the one stitch. It was a tricky stitch to learn though, so I’m glad to have had the class to help me get into it. If you’re curious, there is a very good video on this technique here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GerQQRmTuc0
Her written knitted broomstick lace pattern actually makes a little more sense than the version I was given in the class, which caused a lot of confusion for myself and other class participants. Luckily, the teacher was able to straighten us out.
The Freeform Knitting class was really my favorite of this year. The teacher, Sandy Hardy, was enthusiastic and very knowledgeable. Someone had volunteered a load of plain and novelty yarns, and everyone was encouraged to bring in yarns to share as well. This is the first time I’ve seen novelty yarns really go to an amazing and versatile use! Usually, I think of “novelty yarns” as the uni-taskers of the yarn world – they might do one thing really well, but you’re probably not going to want an every-day sweater out of it, and the appeal of the item you make might be limited to just a year or two before the look is out of style. Normally I approach novelty yarns with extreme caution, but after this exciting class I’m wondering where I can get a grab-bag or someone’s destash!
Sandy began the class by trying to establish a relaxing atmosphere for creative exploration of a knitting form that is really versatile. She then encouraged all the students to grab yarns from the share table, and gently pushed students with more subdued palettes to add in bits of yarn with more sparkle and contrasting color.
We received a handout with lots of resources as well as a few basic stitches, and she coached us through starting a mitered or garter block as a foundation, and then picking up stitches to make small units that could be pieced together later for handbags or other items.
Sandy had the most amazing example piece that she had created.
She used a purse-form from a local yarn store (River Color Studio, which is my favorite yarn store, in Lakewood, OH, just sadly not very local to me anymore), but mentioned that plastic needlepoint canvas should work as well as a stabilizer and foundation to sew on the modular units. I did admire the purse-form she had, as it was more flexible than rigid plastic canvas, however, I haven’t found the exact same thing online yet. [Update: Sandy emailed me a link to the Lacis catalog, search TM22 to find the plastic mesh frame she used in her example.] I think I might do ok with buckram (a stiffened linen) for my purposes.
From the resources in Sandy’s handouts, and the books she passed around, it seems like one of the luminaries of the freeform knitting arena is Prudence Mapstone. Check out Ms. Mapstone’s inspiring freeform knitting gallery!
To add to the spirit of adventure, Sandy walked around the room and dropped small crocheted buttons or contrasting bits of yarn on the students’ desks and encouraged them to figure out how to add these extra bits. I was very impressed by how she really got everyone to move beyond their comfort zones, and I found it quite liberating myself to stop thinking about pattern or count, and just pickup and add stitches, decrease and increase willy-nilly!
Just one more testament to Sandy’s skill as a teacher: in addition to teaching veteran knitters, there were actually two brand-new beginning knitters that had just learned to knit in a morning class and she coached them with equal finesse in the art of freeform knitting. I think I remember that the brief teacher bios said that Sandy holds a TKGA educator certificate of some kind. I’ll have to find out more about this, as I would like to try my hand at teaching again some day after I’ve gotten a little farther in the Master Knitter program.
The final dose of inspiration in the freeform knitting class was that one of the students happened to have a needle-felted handbag, which prompted a lot of discussion about the possibilities of needle felting by machine (either dedicated machines or with a needle-felting attachment to a regular sewing machine). Thinking about this in context with freeform knitting had me visualizing all kinds of fun hybrid pieces with knit, crocheted, needle-felted, and sewn embellishments.
My mind has been whirling ever since! I hope I can capitalize on this momentum and have a great project or two to share in the next few months!