June 06, 2007


In further pursuit of knitting mastery, I have enrolled in the Nihon Vogue certification course, taught by Jean Wong. This is a year-long series of classes that will give me and the 14 other people in the class a firm grounding in tailoring knits to fit; ultimately we'll be designing sweaters and other garments. If I want to be a master knitter, this is a whole 'nother avenue apart from the TKGA program.

I know myself well enough to know how I learn. I do well in a classroom situation, for the structure of it (for this amount of time my body is in this chair, and the focus is on this material -- no distractions). Hearing information often makes that information stick in my brain better than reading, and there's nothing better than having techniques demonstrated live and in person. And yes, I also do well in a classroom situation for the social aspects of it. Human beings are social animals; we like to talk in order to process what we're learning, and we also like to observe how well others are getting the same material -- a little peer pressure can be a good thing.

In advance of the first class, we were given a homework assignment, to knit two 6" x 6" swatches, which could be plain stockinette or could incorporate a simple stitch pattern. Swatch #1 would be for a round-necked pullover vest and Swatch #2 would be for a top-down raglan sweater; these are our first two projects in the class. I selected some yarns, then got out all seven stitch dictionaries I own and thumbed through their pages for days and days. I suffered what I can only describe as Knitter's Block. Despite that new leaf I'd tried to turn over, when last month I managed to get my homework swatch done for Janine's Fair Isle class a whole week ahead of time, this month I kept having Knitter's Block.

How simple is a "simple stitch pattern," I wondered. And I could not wrap my mind around what these garments would look like, so it was further difficult to choose a stitch pattern and figure out if it would be appropriate for a round-necked vest or for a raglan sweater. I did think that I wanted a small cable down the center of my raglan's sleeves, and started swatching for that, about five days before the class was scheduled to meet for the first time.

The days passed one into the next, with my Knitter's Block getting worse and worse, the pages in my stitch dictionaries getting more and more dogeared and pocked with post-it flags. That cable swatch I'd started? I decided the color wasn't what I wanted for a raglan pullover, and I ripped it out.

Finally, Thursday evening, with the class scheduled to start Saturday morning, I thought, Screw it, and just opted for stockinette. I'll admit I was also thinking, "Wait and see what other people in the class do," not to copy them, but to see how they interpreted the "simple" of simple stitch pattern.

Although I worked some on both Swatch #1 and Swatch #2 in these stockinette versions, I didn't allow enough time to get both done. Forced to choose, I chose to finish Swatch #1, because how I imagined the class would go is that we would work on the vest the first day, Saturday. The vest is Project #1, after all. And I imagined we'd work on Swatch #2, the raglan pullover, the second day, since that's the second project. I figured I'd have enough time during lulls in the class, over the lunch break, and certainly over Saturday night to get Swatch #2 finished in time for Sunday's class.

Saturday morning, Jean Wong made a few introductory remarks, and we got our textbooks and other supplies:


Textbooks! Is this like knitting university, or what? So what if they're in Japanese. The illustrations are clear, and Jean's instructions are very precise.

And then Jean said to the class, "I want to see your Swatch #2."

And it was like deja vu all over again. Dear Reader, you'll recall when I took the Japanese Finishing Techniques class from Jean a year ago, and didn't allow myself enough time to knit all homework swatches, so I chose to delay the knitting of that class's Swatch #5, figuring that we couldn't possibly get that far before the lunch break, and that I'd knit that little swatch over lunch. Then, to my surprise, Jean took the swatches out of order. And I had no Swatch #5 to work on.

Coming back to the Nihon Vogue class this past Saturday -- At the point when Jean asked to review our swatches, my Swatch #2 was only about two inches long. I was honest and told her that I hadn't finished. For the purposes of learning, I used my Swatch #1 as if it were the yarn and gauge I'd intended for the raglan pullover.

While there was at least one other person in the same boat as I, with no Swatch #2, I will say my eyes popped out when my classmates pulled out their swatches. Most of those overachievers had multiple swatches, not just two. Most people had chosen stitch patterns, and some of those were very elaborate. (My "wait-and-see" attitude paid off in that Jean told some people that their elaborate stitch patterns were going to be very difficult to work the calculations for.)

We did some calculations for the top-down raglan pullover. I've never made a top-down anything, so both conceptually and in terms of techniques there were things for me to learn. After making our calculations, Jean got us started on the knitting of the project. That was Saturday morning. You can tell that she kept us hopping, all weekend.

After lunch, we spent Saturday and Sunday drafting the pattern for the vest.


(Jean designed and knitted that sweet little blue pullover she's wearing in the photo . . . it was just the most perfect fit, invisibly seamed, and we all were chomping at the bit to be able to make projects like that.)

Because the Nihon Vogue program originated in Japan, the measurements are, of course, all in centimeters. (I'm a petite person, so it cracked me up when we took our measurements and my bust measurement came out to be what would be an incredibly impressive number, were it in inches.) Jean instructed us through the drafting, and we each were making our custom pattern on our own graph paper. Here's a picture of Melinda, working on her pattern drafting:


At one point, Jean told us to draw a line that was four centimeters long. I drew my line, then continued knitting on my still-unfinished Swatch #2 while waiting for the next instruction. Jean circulated past my table, and said, "I don't think that's four centimeters long." She picked up my ruler and showed me -- my line was only four millimeters long.

"Oh, I think in inches," I said. She looked at me, puzzled. "I am going to learn centimeters. Thank you for checking on me."

"Yes, I like to check," she said, in her slightly accented English. It was very cute.

* * *

IN MEMORIAM: Brandy Lambertsen was the bubbly, sweet young woman who managed Mail & More in Kent, where Two Swans has its mailing address. She was always laughing, always helpful. She was a part of my day, 'most every day, for the past three-and-a-half years. I will miss her very much, as will her other customers. I had spoken to her on the phone last Friday at 1:00. "You don't have any mail, " she'd said, "Get out and enjoy the sunshine. See you tomorrow." I had the radio on, as I usually do, as I was packing yarn orders for my own customers later that same afternoon, and I heard the breaking news at 3:15. It was very troubling, very sad news.

Posted by Karen at June 6, 2007 11:43 AM

I was waiting to see your post on Jean's class! Your recap was making me laugh out loud here in the lobby of our hotel. Jean is a great teacher and she has a way of corralling her students in a very kind way, doesn't she?

I hope to see you on Sunday - hope the scheduling works out.

Sorry to hear about your mail lady friend. These kinds of things really put the important things in life into perspective. Take care.

Posted by: Naomi at June 6, 2007 03:04 PM

Wow! That sounds like an amazing class!

And, wow. What a horrific thing to happen to that poor woman and her kids. What's scary is that there are people among us who are so very sick and twisted and you never know it....

Posted by: Romi at June 6, 2007 08:33 PM

You are so right, Naomi, that the sudden and unexpectedness of Brandy's death puts a different perspective on things. There was a thing or two, here and there, that I was going to complain to her about, stuff I thought could have been done better in how the store was run. But I'm glad now that I just kept it to myself and didn't burden her. She was one of those rare people where every interaction with her was positive. May we all be like that.

Posted by: Karen at June 7, 2007 09:06 AM

Oh my goodness, that is so sad about Brandy. How scarey. The class sounds really interesting!

Posted by: Jen at June 7, 2007 11:56 AM

How incredibly sad to hear about Brandy. After reading the link all I could do was think about how most of the boxes I have received from you were shipped from there. Life is precious and short and Brandy's advice is something I will do today - "Get out and enjoy the sunshine."

Posted by: Jewel at June 11, 2007 07:56 AM

How are the projects going?

I'm sorry to do this to you but in the same breath, you've been memed!

Go to my blog and read the 7 random things about me and what you need to do!

Don't kill me, ok?

Posted by: Naomi at June 16, 2007 10:38 AM

What an opportunity! I am doing the TKGA program. I would love to go to Knitting University!

Please keep us updated on your progress.

I am Jenni, by the way, stopping by from the Master's Knitting Ring.

Posted by: Jenni at June 29, 2007 08:25 AM