Those who can do also teach, and sometimes they teach teachers

Today, I am launching a new project that I am really excited about: I’m designing a series of teaching modules for knitting teachers. Each module gives detailed instructions about how to prepare for and teach a knitting class on a specific technique.

My first release is a module on how to teach stranded knitting. The module is a PDF that includes six pages of detailed instructions about how to prepare for the class, what materials the teacher and students need to bring, a step-by-step schedule of what to do in class, and how to explain and demonstrate different techniques. Also included are a one-page handout to give to students and a two-page pattern for the fingerless mitts pictured above.

I am really excited about this. I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I can contribute to the knitting world, and it suddenly dawned on me not too long ago that — hey — I have a lot of teaching experience. Perhaps I could do something with this besides simply teaching classes myself — which I also love doing.

A few months ago a history department at another small college paid me handsomely as a consultant to develop a Science in World History teaching module. At the time, I was so shocked that anyone would pay that much for my syllabus and teaching notes. (Audra, I know you’re shaking your head right now at my naivete. I’m learning. I’m learning.) But then I realized — well — why not? It took a hell of a lot of work to develop those materials and I do teach an innovative class, if I do say so myself. Maybe that’s a niche for me.

So I thought I’d try it with knitting. And guess what? In the time it has taken me to write this post, I’ve sold two copies of the module. Woot! Chalk one up for the freelancer!

Fiber College!

It’s been nearly three weeks since I returned from Fiber College, so it’s really time to get down to writing about it!

Above all, I want to say that you cannot beat Fiber College for a beautiful and socially warm setting in which to learn some fiber skills and socialize with your fellow fanatics. The event’s organizer, Astrig Tanguay, is an incredibly gracious host. No sooner had I arrived than she (1) had told me I was beautiful (which is never a bad thing to hear) and (2) dragged me by the arm to join Mary Jane Mucklestone‘s class on styling knits for photos. Even though I hadn’t registered for it. And it had kind of already started. But no matter. Mary Jane is one of those fabulously confident people who just rolls with it.

In this photo, Mary Jane was showing us how to style a shirt so that it sets off — but does not detract from — the knitted garment that you’re photographing. The lovely model is Ellen, who designed and knit that delicious sweater. Ellen has been my virtual friend for a while, so it was glorious to get to spend time together in person. And I enjoyed Mary Jane’s company immensely, too. Both of these women are so talented, and you can learn a lot from them without ever feeling like you are being schooled.

That above is another amazing Ellen design. It was all I could do not to snatch that adorable yellow cardigan right off of Girlfriend’s back. Oh, and yes, she did sew that sweet shirt with her very own hands. You would be mad at her except that she is the kindest soul imaginable. So you can’t be mad at her. Stop it.

I also adored Michelle (pictured below), who — as it happens — took Mary Jane’s class and both of mine, so we got to see a lot of each other.

The beer that Michelle is holding is all in the name of art. I had never thought about this before, but when you’re photographing knits, you want the model’s arms to be above her hip line so that her hands are in the shot. When her arms are hanging down straight, it apparently looks weird. If Coors Light is what it takes to keep a photo from looking weird, then so be it, I say.

How were my classes? Oh, thanks for asking. They went pretty well, actually — especially the second one on cardigan closures. My history of knitting class felt like more of a mixed bag. I was trying to teach knitting technique and history at the same time, and that proved difficult. That class needs more work.

My uncle Bill even came to film the proceedings for his TV show on one of the Portland stations. Since we in the Green family grew up in the Land of the Giant Dorks, Bill even interviewed me for the program. I made the smart move of eating some ribs right before show time. I’ll let you know when the Sloppy Teeth Extravaganza is available for viewing.

Getting to spend time with my aunt and uncle on either end of Fiber College was a real treat, too. I don’t get to see them often enough, so it was quite a luxury to have them all to myself.

It was just a lush weekend all around. I’ve tried to keep this last picture in my head ever since — it just doesn’t get this verdant here in central Texas. Oh, Maine, I love you and I’ll be back as soon as I can!

Fiber College, here I come!

Remember how I was drooling over the possibility of teaching at Fiber College in Maine this coming September?

Well, guess what? I submitted two class proposals and both were accepted! I was so pleasantly surprised, especially after I saw that many of the other teachers have recognizable names and a lot more experience than I do.

OK, I have a lot of experience with teaching, but usually I’m talking about things like Chinese astronomy in the Ming period or T. E. Lawrence’s masochistic sexual fantasies or the freak-out that European men had in the 17th-century when Leeuwenhoek told them they had “worms” in their semen. You know… stuff like that.

So this will be a big change of pace. Here’s what my two classes will be about. Each class will last three hours:

  1. “Knitting Our History”: We are going to make a hat project that replicates some of the history of knitting techniques. We’ll start at the base of the hat with naal-binding, a precursor to knitting that’s done with just a tapestry needle. It will be like a knitted walk through the past.
  2. “Beyond Buttons: Learn New Ways to Close a Cardigan”: Many cardigan patterns call for a simple button band with button holes, but I often prefer something that looks more tailored. This class will talk about how to properly sew in a zipper, snaps, hook-and-eyes, and how to make frog closures. Here are some examples from projects that I have knit (some from others’ designs):

I’ve dyed and gone to heaven

You may ask yourself: what is this luscious clothesline of feather boas? Or are those giant clown wigs?

These, friends, are giant hunks of Corriedale and Romney wool fleece dyed by me and the rest of my sheep-to-shawl class last week at the John C. Campbell Folk School. What an amazing experience that was. A whole week of bankers’ hours devoted to wool — the washing, dyeing, carding, spinning, plying, and admiring of wool.

Our wonderful instructor, Martha Owen, started us off on Sunday night with some information about various sheep breeds, and on Monday we got down to business, dumping an enormous sheared fleece (from her farm) into the washing machine to clean all the what-not out of it. (Most of the really gross what-not is “skirted” off before that, but there’s plenty of plain old dirt what-not left on the rest of the fleece.)

Then the really fun part started. Martha’s into natural dyeing, which I was interested to learn more about. Now, look again at that photo above. Can you believe those are natural dyes? I had this image in my head of natural dyes being quite muted, but Martha taught us how to get shocking, deep pinks (from mashed-up cochineal bugs, in the middle and on the cart), fluorescent yellows (from osage orange bark, on the right), and rich orangey-yellows (from onion skins, on the left). You can even get this funky, verdigris-ish blue:

…by plotzing a piece of copper pipe into a jar of ammonia and water for a couple of weeks, and then chucking in some wool. The ammonia eats away at the copper, which creates a dye. So cool!

We even collected a whole bunch of these lichens from the woods surrounding the school:

… and made a gorgeous bronze dye with them.

All right. So now you’ve got mounds of technicolor sheep fleece. Now what? Time to card and spin. This was the part I was less enthusiastic about initially. I came to the class convinced that I would find spinning frustrating and/or tedious. I mean, really, just how far can a lazy girl go down the Back-to-the-Land path?

Well, friends, apparently spinning is not my limit. I loved it. The first day was frustrating, but when you are spending six hours or more every day working at it, the learning curve tends to be a lot steeper. By the end of the week, I was spinning worsted like a champ.

OK, like a decent novice, but it’s much more than I expected.

Here are some of the skeins that we wrought. Mine’s closest to the camera. It’s enough yarn for me to knit for about 20 minutes, but I love it anyway. Can a wheel of my own be far behind?

Stitches South

For my birthday this year, my very generous mother paid for the full-works registration at Stitches South, the first fiber convention that XRX (the publishers of Knitter’s Magazine) has put on in the southeast U.S. It’s also the first time I’ve been to a big fiber event like this.

Mom and I had a fabulous time, as much because we could spend it together. Here’s what I learned:

  • You can find all kinds of gorgeous yarns at fiber festivals that you cannot feel up anywhere else. If you are tempted to order Sanguine Gryphon or Creatively Dyed yarns because of what you have seen online, I can guarantee you that you won’t go wrong. Not only are their products unfailingly gorgeous, but the owners/dyers are lovely people as well.

  • Beth Brown-Reinsel and Karen Alfke are the most charming, knowledgeable, patient knitting instructors imaginable. This was an especially delightful discovery for me, because in some ways they represent such different parts of the knitting community. Beth has done decades of research on traditional knitting, and in an utterly charming and unassuming way will teach you the precise, authentic techniques. Karen is a raucous, hilarious young woman (well, she’s the same age as me, so that’s young… shut up) who believes that knitters should bend the rules in order to make garments that most suit them. They are both treasures.
  • Knitters really are a great culture. Several staff members at the convention hotel told us that the Stitches attendees were the nicest group they had ever hosted. “You knitters treat us like people,” said one waitress. Isn’t that pathetic that that’s what passes for good these days?
  • Our economy really is in the crapper and it is affecting the craft industry, even if not as desperately as — say — the American automobile industry. When we asked Steve Elkins, one of the owners of the yarn megastore WEBS, how things were going at the market, he looked like he was about to tear up.
  • Atlanta has the most physically beautiful yarn store that I have ever seen. Knitch is tucked down a little alleyway in a bohemian neighborhood. It’s interior is all exposed brick and simple shelving. There’s an enormous table in the center of the store where you can sit and peruse books and patterns. They stock not only beautiful yarns in virtually every color that exists (Rowan, Noro, Debbie Bliss, Socks that Rock, etc.) but also fabric, buttons, roving, needle felting kits, and other fiber-related goodies. The whole place is thoughtfully and beautifully laid out. They even gave us cupcakes, which admittedly does endear a store to one’s heart.
  • If you thought that knitting and crochet were mostly white chick things, then you should go to Stitches South and re-educate yourself!

Like knitting, only faster and with more apparatus

Kind of gives whole new meaning to “sticks and string,” doesn’t it? As part of my plan to become more of a well-rounded fiber artist, I took a twill weaving class last Monday at Hill Country Weavers, the largest of Austin’s local yarn stores.

The class was great. It was taught by the lovely, patient owner of the store, Susanne. She spent four hours with me and two other women, both of whom were more experienced than I was. Still, before the class was over, I managed to get all the warp strung up – a formidable task, I discovered – and did a few rows of the weft.

I’m using Blue Heron Soft Twist Rayon for the warp (that’s the rainbow-colored variegated you see run vertically) and Alchemy Bamboo for the weft (that’s the chartreuse-colored solid running horizontally).

I’m really pleased with how it looks so far. And it’s relatively fast, though not as fast as I thought it would be. (Might just be my novice-ness.) But I don’t think that weaving is going to intrude very far into my first love of knitting, because of the portability factor. I can pick up my knitting with very little fanfare or prep time. And I can take it with me. Weaving on a loom requires some commitment. I’m happy to give it that for now….