The greater part of the American Midwest was stifled by a blanket of severe cold this past weekend, but I didn't feel it. I was at Threadbear Fiber Arts Studio, surrounded by knitters, wool, knitters holding wool, knitters covered in wool, and wool wrapped around knitters.
On Saturday, the Tomten Jacket class was packed once again. Such is the genius of Elizabeth Zimmermann, that a pattern she wrote in 1961 still draws a crowd. I loved watching the faces of the students as the little coat unfurled under their fingers. Knitting Elizabeth's best patterns is like reading a cleverly plotted thriller, and the Tomten is enough to make you drop your popcorn.
After our brief lunch break, I got a surprise–a giant birthday cake topped by a strikingly true likeness of Dolores.
It was delicious. Pity I had to sue them for copyright infringement.
Much better, let me tell you, to have Dolores on the cake than to have her pop out of the cake, which happened last year on Tom's birthday. Seven visits from Stanley Steemer and we are still trying to get the icing out of the carpet.
If you gotta get older, this is the way to do it.
On Sunday, I hung out at the shop and signed copies of the little book. It was very jolly.
Knitters just kept coming and coming in nice, steady stream so I wasn't pining alone in the corner.
Some I had met last year at the 1,000 Knitters shoot, some I knew from Ravelry or the comments, and many had no blinking idea who I am but figured it was either me or another afternoon at home watching the "Rock of Love" marathon on VH1 and decided to give me a shot.
For the first time ever I was asked to sign a boob, which puts me into the same club, I believe, as Willie Nelson, Kaffe Fassett and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. Ma will be so proud.
I am indebted to Matt of Threadbear for taking and sharing these sweet souvenir photos.
Something About Alice
On Saturday night I was hanging around with the bears themselves, Matt and Rob, and our conversation about the current crop of pattern books took a detour onto books no longer available, including the bulk of those written by Alice Starmore.
Now, I've been knitting since 1992, but I spent most of those years completely out-of-touch with what was going on in the field. I didn't know any other knitters, and could barely find yarn, let alone pattern books. By the time I joined the dance, Alice had already pulled her work off the shelves.
As a result, I'd never seen any of the books myself. Not one. Everything I knew of them was secondhand. I would hear how wonderful In the Hebrides, Pacific Coast Highway, Tudor Roses and all the rest had been. I would read of exorbitant prices paid for old copies, of knitters begging local libraries to re-shelve them with the rare books so they wouldn't be stolen. I encountered a few garments knit from the patterns, though never using the original colors. They looked complex, yes. But there are lots of complex patterns out there.
So my opinion of Alice Starmore was that she was probably an excellent designer, and her books had probably been good ones, but the hysteria and the high prices were likely no more justified than the ridiculous sums that changed hands during the Great Pink Chibi Mania of 2004.
As for Fair Isle, I'd seen great heaping piles of that. Most of it either looked dowdy–the kind of ho-hum, shapeless stuff that almost killed knitting at the end of the 20th century–or was so busy it induced seizures. I remember one vest which sported such a gamut of vibrant colors between the hem and the neck shaping that it looked like an abridged version of an acid trip. "You can do anything you want," said the perpetrator, "and it's perfectly okay!"
I beg, madam, to differ.
So when Rob began to pull his copies of Alice Starmore off the shelf I was curious, but not overly excited. Then I sat down with The Art of Fair Isle Knitting and almost wet myself.
So this is what makes people gaga over Fair Isle. The tension, the incredible chill-giving tension, of vibrant colors rippling in counterpoint to vigorous patterning, the two constantly pushing and pulling like opposing voices in a Baroque orchestral suite without ever tipping the balance.
I kept on poring through the books, with their solid writing and their wildly creative variations on a theme, and I realized that for maybe the third time in my life I'd encountered an artist who was actually worthy of the hype. It's tough to design one good sweater, let alone a book full of them. It's damned near impossible to crank out a whole string of terrific books without going stale. And it's rare to find a scholar, a writer, and a designer all sharing the same body.
I hear tell that Alice may be ready to come back to the playground soon, and I certainly hope so, because if not the loss to the knitting world is immense.
Once upon a time, after dreaming over lace as presented by Nancy Bush, Galina Khmeleva, and Sharon Miller, I set out to knit a shawl of my own and came up with this.
Now, having seen what Fair Isle can be when it's well done, I'm in the mood to cook up a vest for myself. In this I was aided and abetted by Matt at Threadbear, who knows from color and helped me put together the shades of Rauma Finullgarn you see at right. (By "helped me," I mean I watched in amazement as he deftly assembled the palette from a huge basket of yarn. Then, at the end, I took out the ball of cream.)
I'm swatching right now to figure out my gauge, and then it's time to chart. I haven't been this jazzed about a new project in ages, and you know I'm easily excited. Will I knit a decent vest or will I crash and burn? Time will tell.