(Continued from here.)
Thursday Afternoon: Estonian Lace
I am sitting and waiting for Nancy Bush’s “Knitting Estonian Lace” class to begin. I finger my "Dale Baby Ull in a light color" and check out the competition.
Of course, this is not a competition. This is a class. But the two are forever confused in my mind, try how I might to separate them.
I could knit to calm and distract myself, except for one thing. I forgot to pack a project to work on. At ground zero of the temporary epicenter of American knitting, I have nothing to knit.
Immediately to my left is a gorgeously dressed Japanese woman with perfect hair. She is already working a piece of lace. She has the fastest fingers I’ve ever seen. Zoom, zoom, zoom. I think I hate her.
The student to her left reaches into her own bag and takes out a jumbo skein of 100% acrylic baby yarn in beer-piss yellow. Is this really, as the class syllabus specified, the equivalent of Dale Baby Ull? I think not, yet I admire her chutzpah.
A bunch of other students are also knitting lace and talking to each other, activities that to this point I have considered mutually exclusive.
Nancy Bush comes in. She doesn’t look mean.
She hands around bright yellow packets of course material. I open them and see lace charts. My heart sinks. This is going to be dreadful. I cannot read charts. I have tried. I have failed. My print-out of the “Branching Out” chart is stained with blood and bile.
Nancy calls role. I am the only man, and when she calls “Franklin” the whole class looks at me. I resist the urge to say, “Actually, my name is Doris.”
She has one of those soft-as-silk voices that seem unusually appropriate for a fiber artist. She launches fluidly into brief introduction to the history of Estonian lace. I’m fascinated to learn that it’s not a centuries-old tradition as I’d thought, but a clever attempt by the women of the village of Hapsalu, Estonia to cash in on the tourist trade that arrived in their town after hot springs were discovered there in the late 19th century. You go, girls.
There is even a pattern called “Greta Garbo.” Could there be a more perfect lace for a gay man to knit?
Nancy pauses. She explains that she has suddenly come down with an upset stomach, and is going to leave us for just a moment. She asks whether we can all amuse ourselves by looking through her pictures and maps of Estonia. Silly question, as by this point the ace lace knitters in the class have already dug into her handouts and are casting on.
Nancy returns and soldiers on bravely, in spite of apparent food poisoning, leaving us occasionally for a moment or two. We are calmly and concisely introduced to the basic techniques and patterns of Estonian lace. When she pulls out a shawl made up in the “twig” pattern I thank God I was put on this earth with two hands that can knit. This stuff is beautiful.
Much to my surprise, I manage the Estonian cast-on without difficulty and make it through two rows of two repeats of “peacock” with no mistakes. Then four rows. Then all the way to the end. I’m not sure what is different about this day or this room, but suddenly I am enjoying lace knitting. When I pause and stretch out the fabric I’ve made, I want to shout.
I relax. We begin working on “nupps” (small, flat nubs that accent some Estonian patterns) and jokes begin to fly. I throw out a remark and everyone in my corner of the room laughs. Nancy stops to check my work and gives me an approving nod. I am the king of the world.
I glance over to my left, and my Japanese classmate has finished about half a shawl in perfectly-done “twig.” She’s not even sweating.
The class comes to a thrilling (you non-knitters can just stop snickering, please) conclusion when Nancy teaches us to bind off our swatches with an incredibly elastic, marvelously simple Estonian technique that eliminates the need to tie a final knot. Applause.
I’ve so seldom been the recipient of good teaching that when it happens, I have trouble controlling my gratitude. With class finished, part of me wants to offer the teacher services as houseboy/love slave/sycophant-of-all-work. However, I keep my feelings in check, say “Thank you very much,” and do my part to let Nancy get the hell back to her room in peace.
Then I remember that after dinner comes the students-only Market Preview.
To be continued.