February 11, 2006


Finishing. Ah, yes, if only I had more finishing and less starting, in my life....

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While at the Madrona Fiber Arts retreat on Friday, I got to spend a little time with some of the knitters I know from the Fiber Traditions list. Left to right, Denise, Laura, Vanessa (wearing her version of Donegal), Angela, and yours truly.

When Vanessa and I finally caught up with each other face-to-face at the retreat, her first words to me were, Did you get all those homework swatches done?

I'm sure you're wondering the same thing, Dear Reader. Well, wonder no more:

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You see that pile of purple swatches in front of me? Those are the infamous homework swatches. And if I look tired in this photo, it was because I'd burned the proverbial midnight oil, getting those swatches knitted. I stayed up until 1:30 in the morning, by which time I'd knitted swatches 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7, from the list of 8. (You'll recall that some swatches, such as numbers 2, 3, and 8, weren't single swatches but required knitting a pair -- 13 swatches in all.) I skipped 5, thinking to myself that in class we might manage to get through our finishing work -- if we were really cooking -- on swatches 1, 2, 3, and 4 before the lunch break, and I figured I could knit number 5 at lunch. Swatches 6 and 7 were knit in the round, and as time was passing into the wee small hours of the morning, I was very concerned with getting those done. When I stopped at 1:30 AM, I figured I could get swatches 5 and 8 knitted at the lunch break or during spare moments in class time. I could tell from the instructions that Swatch[es] #8 was for Japanese short rows for shoulder shaping, and since that is the technique I've already learned and the method I do use for shoulder shaping, I did not feel it would be a loss if I didn't go through the exercise of short rowing in the class. (In other words, I felt I could justify blowing off knitting the pair of Swatches #8.)

So you can imagine my surprise when Jean Wong began the class by saying, Take out swatch #2.

Swatch #2 was a 1x1 rib, and the finishing we learned was an invisible bind-off. I'd never done this before and it was valuable to learn. The technique is to sew through the stitches that you are binding off, sewing them in the pattern as if they were being knitted or purled (similar to Kitchener stitch), and binding them off as you go. It makes a very stretchy bind-off, and would be useful for a toe-up sock. Jean Wong recommended it for binding off button bands, for binding off ribbing on a top-down sweater, and many other uses.

Swatch #2 was one of those for which the homework instructions had read: Make 2. After I and my classmates had struggled along for an hour or so learning this bind-off, Jean indicated that the second swatch of the pair was for us to practice what we'd just learned. Did she hear the groan that passed between Anne and me, or did she notice the two of us rolling our eyes? So much homework, just to have an extra swatch to practice on--?! Jean Wong then said that we'd do seaming in the afternoon, and would seam the pair together.

I was a little unsettled when we'd finished with Swatch #2 and Jean Wong told us to then get out Swatch #4. Clearly my imaginary timetable for the class was unraveling fast.

By the time we were finished with Swatch #4, somebody in the class observed that we had only 15 minutes until the lunch break. There was perhaps that hint that we might wrap up what we were doing and leave for lunch. But Jean Wong believed in making every second count -- and instructed us to next get out . . .(drumroll, please!) . . . Swatch #5.

That was, of course, the swatch that I'd counted on knitting during the lunch break. So much for my theory that we'd use our swatches in numeric order! So while everyone else in the class who'd done their homework was working on their Swatch #5, I used those 15 minutes of class time to go back to my first, deplorable attempt at an invisible bind-off on Swatch #2, rip it out and try again.

When we did break for lunch, I knitted my Swatch Pair #8. And I was glad that I did. Later in the afternoon, when it came time to do the Japanese short rows on that pair of swatches, I got through those in record time. No new learning for me, there -- until Jean Wong had us put the right sides of these two pieces together, and taught us the Japanese method for 3-needle bind-off. If I hadn't gone to the trouble of getting Swatch[es] #8 done, I wouldn't have learned this technique. I'd never seen anything like it! Far superior to the typical 3-needle bind-off. And it makes a very firm shoulder seam, which is a desirable thing.

Jean Wong knows her stuff. She had brought some of her sweaters to show us -- and the inside of the sweaters was just as beautiful as the outside. Her seams were invisible. The most minutest details were accounted for. I aspire to that level of knitting competency.

I admired the buttons on the blue vest she'd brought. She explained that she'd knitted the whole vest, including its button bands, and then went shopping for buttons. She loved these buttons (a swirl of blues and silvery grays), but the store had only three. But she'd knitted 5 buttonholes. So she bought the three buttons, went home and ripped out the button bands, and re-knitted them with only three buttonholes. She got pretty excited about talking about buttons, and wanted to show us a red cardigan. "You can have fun with your buttons," she said. The red cardigan had a closure of seven buttons. Each of those buttons was actually a pair, a small black button stacked on top of a larger red button. Every other button pair was sewn on with red yarn, and the alternating button pair was sewn on with orange yarn. I wouldn't have noticed this alternating red-orange-red-orange-red sewing if she hadn't called my attention to it. "You can have fun," she said. It made me smile, that she described this as fun. Yes, wild and craaazy times, sewing on buttons with orange (instead of red) yarn. (When I used to teach high school drama classes, I would sometimes tell my students, "Take a risk!" Somehow, Jean's admonition that "You can have fun!" seemed emotionally on the same par, for her.)

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Jean Wong, at right, demonstrates the invisible cast-on for 1x1 rib. Anne, at left, prepares to follow along.

At the end of the day, we finally got around to closing that hole in Swatch #1, that I showed you the other day. We learned how to duplicate stitch on the wrong side of the fabric to weave in ends. This was an easy exercise -- most everybody knew how to do this already -- and it brought the day to a nicely non-taxing closure.

Tomorrow's class is "Color at Your Fingertips" with Sally Melville. The homework involves pulling together three or four different colors of yarn, an art book, a piece of cardboard -- and knitting only one swatch (and that one's only 5 rows tall). I think I can handle it.

In Two Swans Yarns news, I'm continuing to work on adding to the site the yarn packs for the Fabulous Felted Bags book. I have a bunch of them listed already, but haven't yet got all 15 listed. If you're looking for a particular one but don't see it yet, just ask. And the books, by the way, arrived on Thursday.

Posted by Karen at February 11, 2006 10:21 PM

I was in such a knitting/spinning/friends/yarn daze that it took me about two hours to remember who said hi to me as I ran up the stairs. Sorry for the blank stare. :) What a weekend!

Posted by: Jessica at February 12, 2006 08:10 PM

That retreat sounds fantastic. I can't wait to hear about your class with sally melville. Does Jean Wong have a book that teaches her techniques? I'd love to learn more.

Posted by: Linda at February 13, 2006 05:41 AM

Jean Wong doesn't have a book, but she does have a DVD. If you go to her website, www.knittingwithjean.com, you can read about it and order it. (I ordered one.)

Posted by: Karen at February 13, 2006 07:47 AM