Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Stitches Midwest Diary, Part Five

(Continued from here.)

Friday’s Class: Lace Knitting the Russian Way

Class starts at 8 a.m. I am sleepy. After spending half a week’s salary on a cup of tepid hot chocolate at the hotel coffee shop, I join Robert for the trek over to the convention center. This requires walking through a glassed-in connecting passageway I have christened the Habitrail.

For reasons known only to them, the proprietors of Rosemont have air conditioned the Habitrail to a temperature most suited to long-term fur storage. Dr. Zhivago would feel right at home, as would a side of beef. I worry that the slow-moving old ladies trying to make it to class will die of hypothermia before reaching the other end.

Robert and I make it to the classroom just in time. Our teacher, Galina Khmeleva, is as passionate about Orenburg-style Russian shawls as Nancy Bush is about their Estonian counterparts.

In a thick but charming accent, she introduces us to the basic pattern dictionary of Orenburg lace, which she says includes (among others) “mouse prints,” “honeycomb,” “strawberries,” and “pizz.”


A look at the class materials confirms this last to be “peas.”

We are each given cute bobbins of brightly-colored Zephyr to work with. I learn yet another way to cast on, this time a modified long-tail around two needles.

The woman to my right has for some reason brought only a US10 circular to knit on. I offer her my straight US 2 3/4s, which she gratefully accepts.

I have brought my US 3 10” set from Nancy Bush’s class, and rapidly discover I will not enjoy knitting Zephyr with them. They’re far too large and heavy. I am normally a fairly quick knitter and they’re slowing me down. It’s like trying to knit dental floss with a pair of Lincoln Logs.

Aside from that, however, I’m once again on a lace cloud. My first pattern, strawberries, looks good in spite of the wonky edges of my swatch. I’m not used to slipping the first stitch of each row, and instead of the neat loops Galina has promised, I have chewed-looking bits of string.

No matter. I keep going. “Diagonals” is the next pattern. While we knit, Galina gives us tells us terribly candid, entertaining stories about her life in Russia (when she bought her first Orenburg shawl for the equivalent of almost two months’ salary, her mother-in-law nearly kicked her out of the house) and about Russian shawl knitters and why they do things the way they do.

As lunch approaches I am beginning to droop. I’ve had enough of working with aluminum fence posts. After a hot dog and bag of chips which cost as much as a barrel of crude oil, I take advantage of a sale on rosewood needles at The Yarn Barn and get a pair of US 1s. I notice, once again, the Elizabeth Zimmerman videos. I pick them up. I put them down. I pick them up. I put them down.

I also buy Galina’s book at her booth. What the hell. It’s not at Barnes & Noble in Evanston, so I can’t get a university discount on it. I know perfectly well I’m going to keep knitting lace, so I might as well have a nice, signed copy on my shelf.

I go back to the classroom early to get in some more practice. The change in needles is just what the doctor order. My edges look pretty now, almost plaited. My second go at “diagonals” is spot-on. I move along to “pizz” feeling very good indeed.

Galina comes around, checking our work, and asks how long I’ve been knitting. I tell her aside of from mittens and scarves, only about a year. She seems, dare I say it, mildly impressed.

We bind off. Our bind off is the purl (Galina says “pyu-url”) version of Nancy Bush’s Estonian cast-off from the day before.

And then we have a blocking demonstration. I wish lace didn’t have to be blocked. Blocking scares me. When Galina does it, however, it looks about as difficult as folding clean underwear. Of course, she’s working with a sampler-sized shawl. When she says that one can very well block lace on the living room floor, I realize the only way I could do that would be to move out of the apartment first.

I don’t know how soon I’m going to tackle a full-scale Orenburg shawl. The yarn alone would be several hundred dollars, the knitting would take about a year, and it’s not exactly a practical garment for me. Maybe a babushka? My grandmother might like a new babushka for church on Sunday.

When class is over I’m grateful to Galina. Two good teachers in a row. I’m impressed.

Dinner is not imminent, so Jon and Robert and I head back to (where else?) the market, which is positively seething with students and day-trippers. The three of us have together seen about 10 men, including ourselves, who are actually knitting and not holding purses. It’s an upward trend. Very good.

Meanwhile, Jon is getting requests from all sides for his t-shirt, the one I made with C’s slogan beginning “I have two needles, you have to eyes…”. I decide that it’s going on sale online as soon as possible after I get home. [Note: It's available. Click here to see it.]

We are in the vicinity of The Yarn Barn (did I mention they have Elizabeth Zimmerman videos?) when Jon says, “There she is, behind you. Your friend Lily.”

And I turn around see Lily Chin, in the flesh, signing books. She is so animated that from thirty feet away her vivacity gives me a sunburn.

Instead I scoot off in the direction of Cheryl Oberle’s booth. She’s there in person. Her work is so good that it eclipses the neighboring racks of eyelash and kitten entrail. I am drooling on the samples when Jon reminds me that Cheryl wrote a book on shawls and that one of the designs sounds like the wrap I’m want make for Susan, but for which I haven't found or formulated a satisfactory pattern.

He walks right over to Cheryl and asks about it. She pulls out a copy of the book and, sure enough, there it is. The perfect wrap. But it’s too long. Aha, says Cheryl, you’ll notice there are instructions for figuring out a shorter length.

I would kiss her, but we’ve only just met and I've been eating onions. Instead I just buy the book, which she signs for me.

(Supporting good design isn’t shopping, it’s philanthropy.)

We have to go now, because it’s getting late and the dinner and fashion show are imminent.

I can hardly wait.

To be continued.

(Rick’s in the next installment. Brace yourselves.)


Elizabeth said...

Have you thought about submitting your Stitches Diary to The Reader? I think there could be enough general interest because you write so well!

goblinbox said...

Damn, boy, you write so wonderfully. Keep it comin'!

Anonymous said...

FRANKLIN! It's not "The Yarn Barn of Kansas City." It's "The Yarn Barn of Kansas," based in Lawrence, Kansas, and it is MY LYS!!! I bought those exact same US1 rosewoods just before vacation!!! That store is like 15 minutes from my house!

Remember I said that I was always deathly afraid of small wooden dpns because I was scared I'd snap one? Well, I did snap one on vacation. The US0s I bought are still in their package.

Karma, man. Karma.

Oh, and thank you for the wonderful comment about my kids' pic on my blog. What a flattering thing for YOU, of all people, to say. I am humbled.

Anonymous said...

"(Supporting good design isn’t shopping, it’s philanthropy.)"

Well said. Sounds like you need to find more recipients for beautiful knitted shawls.

Anonymous said...

I love how you make every word sound so wonderful. You make a person feel like they are right there with you. I so happy you had a wonderful time.

Anonymous said...

If someone here didn't already have that shirt, I'd be on cafe press buying one already.

I want to go next year, it sounds like fun.


Connor said...

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