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...

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