Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Knitter's Thanksgiving

Although I try to remember to thank people and the universe at the time that good things come my way, there are a few special days in the year that I make a point of sitting down and listing the many good things in my life that I am grateful for - my birthday, our anniversary, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. So when thinking about this blog entry, I realized that I would like to list the knitterly things that I am grateful for this year...

1. Kiwi Knitting Co. & Lynn Davis: Well, this one is a given! Lynn and her shop came along at a time in my life where I really, really needed a knitting shop to go for work and fun to that had a pleasant and welcoming atmosphere. Over the last 3 and a half years my association with Lynn and Kiwi has afforded me wonderful opportunities for learning, for teaching and for growth - both personal and professional. And I will always be grateful to Lynn for letting me work on this blog for the shop!

2. My students: I have the great good fortune of being able to meet wonderful people through my work. In addition to the occasional classes I teach at Kiwi, I also teach private lessons, and run the Friday morning Knit Doctor sessions at Kiwi. And I have to tell you this - what lovely people you all are! You are intelligent, humorous, eager to learn, and as infected by knitting as I am. It is such a deep pleasure to teach something you love to people who really, really appreciate what you have to share. To me, that 'Aha!' moment, that light bulb moment when it all suddenly clicks for a student, is what makes my teaching world go round. There is amazing camaraderie that develops between a group of knitters in a class that takes place over the several weeks it takes to complete a project. There is something cathartic to the soul about knitting, and I find that students in the classes not only open up their minds, but also their hearts, and bonds of friendship are formed between students and with me that you would never think about when pondering whether to take a group knitting class. My private lesson students and I get to know each other over the weeks that we work together, and I have the chance to tailor my teaching to an individual knitter's needs. Again, I have made wonderful friends this way, and I am grateful to have you in my life. The Knit Doctor regulars... what can I say to you women that you don't already know? I look forward each week to seeing each and every one of you. I love seeing new faces join us, as well. I love how everyone hangs out even after their own questions are answered, knowing that they can learn from other people's questions as well.

3. Old Pueblo Knitters Guild: I've been a member of Tucson's knitting guild for about five years. The guild, I find, is stuffed full of women of all ages and of all skill levels who simply share a great love of all things knitting. OPK sponsors several guild projects and charities, such as Project Linus, Operation Gratitude, Precious Pals, and the Navajo Sweater project. A number of our members are also involved in the community, teaching knitting to children in local schools and libraries. I find our monthly meetings - the 3rd Thursday of every month from 9:30 til 11:30 at the Murphy Room at St. Philip's in the Foothills Church - to be a wealth of information about knitting and what is going on in the Tucson knitting community. I've made good friends through the guild, and through their guest workshops I have attended classes taught by incredible teachers and learned an amazing wealth of techniques that have contributed towards making me a better knitter.

4. The person - probably named Kitchener - who discovered how to graft sock toes. Dang, you have made my life infinitely simpler and happier! And I thank you anew each and every time I finish off a sock with that seamless toe. You even convinced me, a year or so back, to use a provisional cast-on a center back seam so that I could Kitchener it invisibly together,when finished, instead of having a seam running down my back as the designer dictated. If I seemed not so grateful one-hundred-and-something black yarn stitches later, then I hope you understand that I do thank you each time I wear that vest and lean against a chair back.

5. Whoever invented crochet: And I suspect that your name is not Crochet. I may not be as devoted a follower of your craft as I was in my younger days of nimbler wrists, but you are the first one I turn to when I need an edge trim on any project. Without you I would be far less adept at fixing my dropped stitches. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Every knitter should know how to crochet! Whole new worlds of creative possibilities will open up before you.

6. And speaking of edges - Nicky Epstein: Your 'Over the Edge' books are a treasure, and every knitter or crocheter should have them in his or her library. If you want to personalize your projects with a different take on ribbing, or by adding ruffles, or by adding a unique fringe, or with a picot edge - you name it, Nicky can show you how to do it with knitting needles. Nicky Epstein is turning out to be American Knitting's answer to Debbie Bliss in that she churns out so many knitting books so often that you begin to suspect she never sleeps. But each of her books is of great value to knitters who want to explore what they can do with their craft. 'Knitted Embellishments' will always be one of my favorites, as is 'Knitting Never Felt Better'. Both are must haves!

7. Ravelry: This is an incredible source of info mixed with fun for knitters and crocheters alike. If I see a new pattern and I want to see it made up by a whole host of life-size crafters around the world in every possible permutation, I can see those pictures in Ravelry. If a pattern calls for a yarn that I'm not familiar with, I can look it up in Ravelry. If I want knitting or crochet information or to improve a certain set of skills, I can find it through a forum on Ravelry. This is what the world wide web can mean for needleworkers.

8. You Tube: Anytime I hear about a new technique, I look to You Tube as a source for videos that will show me what I want to know. There are millions of knitters world-wide who just want to share what they know with others. Want to learn a new cast-on? Go to You Tube. Want to learn about decreases from Cat Bordhi herself? Go to You Tube. Like Ravelry and Google, it is the connected crafter's knowledge resource.

9. Addi Lace Needles: Although Addi Turbos have long been thought to be the cat's meow of needles among knitters, I was never wild about their cold feeling or blunt point. Then came the Addi Lace needles and I am a fervent convert. The warm brass needles are invisibly joined to a very flexible cord, and the needle tip as sharp enough to allow you to work K3tog tbl without batting an eyelash. I LOVE these needles, and they are my go-to needles for every project. I am gradually building myself a stash of 2 pairs each of every size. As I told someone once, these are my work tools. It's worth the effort to get the best. But what the heck, it's no effort at all! Lynn carries them at Kiwi in every size and every length. I know that as a new knitter starting a project, you are probably hesitant to buy a more costly needle when there are several less expensive choices open to you. Take it from me, all those needles I bought when I first learned to knit are long since sold on ebay, and I hoard these Addi Lace beauties instead. I would have saved a fortune had they been available when I took up knitting again - and had I been as wise then as I am now.

10. Knitting: Knitting saved my sanity, and it continues to do so each and every day. When I first developed adult onset asthma, I had to give up my career of 24 years and close our shop. I spent four long months gasping on the couch before we found the combination of asthma medications that made something approaching normal life possible for me again. In that time, when I was experiencing the worst symptoms, knitting got me through. I would be too distracted to read, often finding myself re-reading a sentence or paragraph over and over again without absorbing a thing. Reading is my first great love, so this was alarming to say the least. But knitting was something I could do during those difficult attacks that was relaxing, soothing, and allowed my brain to wander as much as it wanted while I still could knit and knit and knit.

Since that day knitting has bought me a new career, allowed me to earn money from writing about knitting, allowed me to meet a world of wonderful people, allowed me an outlet for expressing creativity that seems to be endless. It has brought me great joy and some danged nice knitted items. If I am able to share with you at least some fraction of the joy and creativity that I am able to derive from this craft, then I have had a blessed day.

Happy Thanksgiving Day to all!

PS- The next two videos in the cast-on series are not forgotten! Somewhere in there we made a very sudden decision to move house, and I am just this week able to see large expanses of carpeting and table tops in our new home. Videos are now possible without cardboard boxes lurking in the background. And I now know where the camera and tri-pod are. Life is good.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Galina Khmeleva

Tucson knitters have a rare and wonderful educational and cultural opportunity available to them this week. Old Pueblo Knitters Guild, with the help of Kiwi Knitting Company, is hosting Galina Khmeleva. Teacher, knitter and designer extraordinaire, Orenburg lace expert and cultural ambassador - would be just some of the titles that first spring to mind that could be applied to this amazing woman. Galina hails from Russia and has, over the years, become arguably the most knowledgeable source of information regarding traditional Orenburg lace knitting techniques, as well as the history of the lace knitting tradition of the Orenburg region.

At the foot of the Ural mountains, the Orenburg region has long been famed for the ethereal, gossamer lace shawls traditionally knitted by the women of the region from handspun fibers gleaned from a special breed of cashmir goats. In the early 1990s Galina became involved with helping the women of the region to sustain the craft by exporting the shawls for sale. She also had the opportunity to learn from the experts the traditional patterns and techniques that make the shawls of this region so costly, so coveted and so unique.

I had the incredible opportunity this past weekend to take part in a small 3-day workshop that Galina presented. In addition to the history of Orenburg, the history of her involvement with the knitters of the region, and the stories of her family history under the regime of the USSR - all of which makes for a fascinating running monologue as we knitted - we were taught the basic design elements of the Orenburg tradition.

We were also taught new cast-ons, bind-offs, and a very different and very easy method of grafting that is unique to the knitted textiles of the region. The incredible edgings that are part of the Orenburg lace shawls were great fun to learn and knit, as well as being amazingly beautiful. I think I can speak for us all if I say that Galina is an excellent teacher with a deep grounding in her material and a clear and precise teaching method that makes all that she teaches easily attainable. And let's face it, short of going to the expense and the trouble of traveling to the Orenburg region yourself, spending years establishing a rapport with the local knitters - not to mention learning to peak Russian so that you can communicate with them - taking a class with Galina is the only way to learn these techniques.

Galina is teaching three classes at Kiwi this week - new cast-on, bind-off and grafting methods; Russian Continental knitting; and knitting textured designs, or mooshky. These classes have been posted at the shop for some time now, and are all full except for Thursday afternoon's class on knitting mooshky. The cost is $40 per class, or $35 for Old Pueblo Knitters Guild members and Kiwi Klub members. If you are free on Thursday afternoon - even if knitting mooshky doesn't sound like your thing - I encourage you to give the shop a call at 881-1319 and sign up. I promise you that you will learn more than your money's worth.

Galina will also be speaking at the meeting of the Old Pueblo Knitters Guild on Thursday morning, November 20th at 9:30 at a.m. The guild meets at the Murphy Room at St. Philip's in the Foothills Church, located at the north-east corner of Campbell and River. Guests are always welcome and the meeting is free for guests, so do make a point of dropping in if you have the chance. There will be a short business meeting first.

To the great delight of the spinners in the group, Galina also taught an afternoon of traditional spinning techniques. Apparently, Asthma Woman here has an allergy to the raw fleeces used, although I had no such problems with the finished shawls, and trust me, she has many stunning examples for you to pet and try on, and I did!

Nonetheless, I had to duck out when the itchy face spread to include itchy lips, so I was sorry to miss even a second of what this wonderful woman had to offer. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to seeing her again at the guild meeting on Thursday. I hope to see you there, too.

Warning, she has gorgeous Russian crafts to sell, as well...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Pattern of the Month

If you frequent Kiwi Knitting as we hope you do, then you will have heard of our Kiwi Klub,and the wonderful benefits it gives members. In addition to a free Tech Class of your choice as well as other fun monthly benefits, members of the Kiwi Klub get a free Pattern of the Month. These patterns are exclusive to Kiwi Klub members, and every month there is something completely different, fun and challenging. This month, for the November Pattern of the Month, there is the Cozy Baby Cozy pattern.

The Pattern of the Month for July 2008 is called Catharine's Cap, designed by Lynn Davis, Kiwi's owner. Intended as a chemo cap, it is lined with a smooth stockinette stitch lining that is meant to be worked in a very soft yarn to comfort those sensitive scalps.

One of our favorite shop customers, Virginia Levinson made the version you see here using Silky Tweed from Elsebeth Lavold for the lace patterned outer cap, and a soft silk blend for the inner lining.

Virginia is a great fan of the Pattern of the Month feature of the Kiwi Klub. She tells me that this is one of the most challenging patterns she has tried, and also one of the most unusual patterns. It seems that no matter where she was working on the hat, lots of people had questions about how it was worked and compliments on her progress. Her daughter is now the proud owner of the hat and loves it.

Virginia tells me that she learns something new from all of the patterns of the month, and she finds the projects patterns to be very sophisticated. I know that speaking for myself, when choosing my next project I most often look for a pattern that is going to challenge me and teach me new tricks, as I firmly believe that this is one of the best ways to expand my skills as a needle-worker. This past summer and fall I have been knitting socks as holiday gifts for everyone in my family, and while you may think that there are only so many ways to make a sock, you'd be astounded at what you can learn from working a toe-up instead of a top-down, a different heel, or a new stitch pattern.

One of the other wonderful perks of Kiwi Klub membership at the moment is that it gets you the guild rate for classes sponsored by Old Pueblo Knitters guild. These classes are coming up next Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and are taught by Galina Khemeleva, one of the premier lace knitters in the world today. It seems that the Thursday class is full, the Wednesday class has one opening left, and there are still openings in the Friday class.

Next time you stop into Kiwi Knitting, take a moment to talk to Lynn about the wonderful benefits of Kiwi Klub membership. You will probably find that it is ideal for you!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Southwest Fiber Festival

Well, my fellow fiberholics. Right now my house looks like a bomb has gone off and they just need to bring the dogs in to search for survivors. This is entirely due to the fact my house is in a different place than it was last time we talked. The good news is that the chaos cannot possibly last forever. The bad news is that it sure feels that way. The other good news is that now I have taken over the second bedroom as my studio. We'll talk more about that when it is all put together and ready for public viewing.

First, let's catch up by chatting about the Southwest Fiber Festival. I have to say, for a first time event of what I hope will be many more to come, it was really well organized. Setting up seemed to run smoothly and all the vendors seemed happy with how things were going. Having done booths at farmers markets longer than I care to think about, I just knew that I could sail down to Amado that morning and get all set up in half an hour. Piece of cake. Unless, of course, one forgets to bring one's table. I thought someone else was bringing it, she knew she wasn't and knew that I was bringing the table. But thanks to the kindness of another vendor I managed to locate a sub and my very panicked start to the morning went smoothly.

My friend Monica and I were right next to Lynn's booth for Kiwi Knitting. Lynn brought lots of roving, some hand-dyed yarns, baskets from Lantern Moon, and some great books. We saw a lot of our shop regulars there, as well as new faces that were excited to hear about Kiwi.

And, of course, her knitting bag. During down times I would look across to Lynn in her chair as we both sat in the shade and worked on Christmas gifts for family.

I had the great fun of sharing a booth with my friend and knitting student, Monica Durazo. Monica, I'm delighted to say, was a huge hit with her nuno-felted silk organza blouses. Some where all white, others started with her hand-dyed rovings and/or hand-dyed silks. They were just gorgeous, and it was great fun to see her hard work so appreciated by the festival goers.

My side of the booth was all about my knitted and fulled pieces, which were then embellished with some combination of hand-worked embroidery, beading, crochet or needle-felting.

Because of the heat, I didn't explore the other vendor booths as much as I would have liked, but here is one that I really loved. The business is called Bags by Coral Lou. They had wonderful hand-made felted bags. The bags themselves are knitted by Coral Lou, and her husband does the needle-felted embellishments. I think the man is an incredible artist.

They had a number of bags at their booth, in a wide variety of styles. Once her husband finishes embellishing the outside of the bag, he hand paints the fabrics for the lining. Next Cora Lou sews the painted fabrics into the most meticulous, detailed linings.

As you can tell, I was really inspired by their pieces.

This design, of bamboo, really caught my eye with the wonderful detail.

Then she flipped the bag over and I saw that the other side of the bag has another panel of needle-felted bamboo.

And I just had to get another picture of both of them together with their wonderful art piece.

The dates are already set for next year's show with vendors and classes, and I hope that you will keep an eye out for it. I'd love to see more people from Tucson make the trip down. Amado is only a very easy half-hour trip once you are on I-19, and it would be nigh unto impossible for you to miss seeing it from the freeway. You just couldn't get lost. This year I was a vendor, next year I'm planning to take the classes that I drooled over enviously this time around.