The Thursday of the Retreat rolled around and as registration wasn’t until late in the afternoon Kent decided that we should spend the morning doing a little more touristy stuff… who was I to complain! The cunning plan was to drive into Seattle and head down to the waterfront and catch a ferry over to Bainbridge Island. The not so cunning part of the plan was that the freeway traffic was a little busier than we had anticipated and it took us longer than expected to get there. We knew we were cutting it fine but Kent managed to pull off some very classy driving maneuvers that would put your average NASCAR driver to shame (it’s always the quiet ones you have to watch when they get behind the wheel of a car!) to ensure that we triumphantly made it onto the ferry with mere seconds to go before it departed.
It was a slightly overcast day but it was lovely heading out over the water and watching the shoreline, and sports stadiums, fade away into the distance behind us. Moving to the foredeck I was somewhat in awe of Kent who was wearing a striking orange headscarf which was billowing in the wind. When I made a comparison with Isadora Duncan he was a little offended but I wasn’t implying that the scarf would lead to a nasty demise, I was instead likening it to her legendary diaphanous scarves famed for blowing in the wind. As we approached
The Island serves as a beautiful escape from the city and has many beautiful shops and boutiques including… Churchmouse Yarns and Teas. Oh dear, I didn’t realize just how dangerous this quick trip was going to be… dangerous to my credit card that is. I did push the boat out a little in Churchmouse and spent about US$150 on yarn, earl grey tea flavoured candy and some very cute teaspoons with a teapot shaped top… I could have easily spent another $500 there without blinking aneye. Kent was bewitched by some stunning yarn by Alchemy and he even allowed me to fondle it once it was paid for. We stopped for a bite to eat at the Blackbird bakery (if you want delicious cakes… this is the place for you) and browsed through a few more stores. Browsing became purchasing when I spotted a stunning set of pate knives with Murano glass handles which I thought would be ideal for Ian. Feeling financially spent we headed back to the ferry terminal and after using my super human strength to break the ties around it, I wound a hank of
In the end we didn’t make it to the Retreat until about by which time most of the guys were already there. We were met by WonderMike at reception and shown to our rooms before heading over to the activity room which overlooked the grounds and on out to Pugent Sound. Upon entering the room I was greeted with a type of birdsong… well not really, it was just Joe chanting ‘kiwi, kiwi’ and sporting that mischievous grin of his. Then after finding a seat I was given an enormous sports bag and told it was my goodie bag! I was rather bemused to read recently that people were disappointed with the contents of their Goodie Bags at the Air New Zealand Fashion week this year…well I don’t think that anyone could possibly have been disappointed with what they found in their goodie bags at the Retreat. The bags were enormous and bursting with fibre delights from around the world… here is just a taste of how well we were spoiled.
The evening got underway with a round of introductions where everyone said the usual stuff like who they were, where they were from and how long they had been knitting. With almost thirty people there my head was spinning trying to remember everyone. Luckily I already knew a few people from their blogs or from Ravelry. I decided to be just a little different and exceed my time limit by making my introduction bi-lingual. There’s nothing like talking in a foreign language such as Maori to a group of people to get their attention… but I think some of them thought I was speaking a different language even when I was speaking in English!
This was followed by a game where clues were read out about people in attendance and in turn you had to try and guess who the clue related to. Let’s just say that I wasn’t feeling very insightful because I didn’t guess anyone whenever it was my turn to guess… I could guess when it was other people’s turn to answer but that didn’t count for anything except smugness. It was however one of those egalitarian games where every player wins a prize and as people guessed correctly they got to choose gifts from a table full to overflowing with donated gifts and then clueless people like me got to choose a prize at the end. This is what I chose…
It was a very busy evening as I was a participant in the drop spindling workshop WonderMike was teaching. All the workshops were limited to 90minutes and were scheduled so that there was only ever one workshop in progress at a time to ensure that people could attend all of them if they wished. I thoroughly enjoyed the class with WonderMike and he proved to be a very clam and encouraging teacher… I have tried to drop spindle before but with no success but in this class I’m pleased to report that I did manage to create some yarn and here is the proof!
I need to explain this next picture… I bought a beautiful drop spindle from Mike and here you can see what it looks like today. When I packed my suitcases to come home I carefully packed the spindle to protect it but somewhere along the way security people searched my bag and did not repack it as carefully as I had. After arriving home and opening my suitcase I was a little upset to find that the spindle was damaged. I guess it was someone’s way of telling me that I should stick to my knitting and not take up yet another fibre activity.
I had to leave Mike’s workshop early as I was teaching the next workshop, “Bi-Tone Honeycomb”, and the two workshops were being run back to back. While it was a great space to teach in, the lighting wasn’t the best and as it was late in the evening, (the workshop started at 9.30pm and went until 11pm) most people were quite tired from their travel and the excitement of the evening. We did however have fun in the workshop and I handed out mini crunchie bars to everyone for a sugar rush boost. Crunchie bars are a candy bar which has a crunchy honeycomb centre coated in chocolate… very appropriate for a bi-tone honeycomb class. I can confirm that the candy went down rather well with the talented knitters in the workshop. Everyone quickly mastered the stitch and by the end of the class it was great to see the broad mix of colours in everyone’s swatches. After the workshop ended I did a spot more of knitting and retired somewhere around midnight… desperately in need of some beauty sleep.
Day two (Friday) started with an almost embarrassing mishap of my heading to the women’s shower room by mistake. I don’t know who would have got the bigger fright if I hadn’t discovered that the men’s shower room was actually along the corridor and down a flight of stairs. It’s always nice to meet new people but everything has it’s proper time and place… and your morning shower just isn’t it. After abluting it was back to the activity room for a wonderful cooked breakfast, actually all the meals were wonderful, and a spot of knitting with the guys before the day’s workshops began.
First up was “Photographing your Fibre” with Franklin and this was without doubt the most popular workshop of the Retreat. I didn’t take part but I did eavesdrop and managed to pick up a few tips to improve my usual point and click… and hope for the best… technique.
The next workshop was “Hip Hems for Him” with Stephen and because the weather was so inviting he held it outside in the sunny courtyard.
After lunch we headed off on our first field trip which turned out to be a car rally out to Kent to have a tour of the head office of Skacel. I made the sensible decision to ride with Kent as being a local he went cross country and got us to our destination well before the others. But picture this… numerous vehicles in convoy, filled with enthusiastic knitters almost wetting themselves with the anticipation of being able to visit a yarn distributor with a warehouse full of yarn which we could peruse and fondle... oh and they also stocked addi needles. I don’t think the people at Skacel had ant idea what they were letting themselves in for. This was the first group of Knitter’s they had ever received as a ‘tour’ so our visit was as much a novelty to their staff as it was to us.
Karin, the owner and daughter of the founders, gave us a talk about the history of the business and an insight into what the current knitting trends were before we were split up into groups to tour the facility. We got to meet all the staff and quickly understood the scale of the business… it’s big already but the possibilities for further growth are incredible. Then we were allowed to enter the yarn lovers holy grail… their warehouse. Think of your typical double garage and multiply the floor space by at least twenty, add shelf after shelf after shelf and add yarn to each and every shelf. Scale is a wonderful thing and there was something quite special about seeing so much yarn in one place. Skacel were unable to sell directly to us as individuals but luckily for us one of our group, Morgan, just happened to own a yarn store and we were able to select yarn from the warehouse and purchase it at a discount from Morgan who would then be invoiced by Skacel. It was a win win situation for everyone. I’ve never seen so much yarn go onto credit cards in such a short space of time before! And yes, sigh, my credit card got used too… I just couldn’t resist the Zauberball sock yarn.
After dinner we then settled in for the evening and were treated to a guest speaker… none other than the sock maven Cat Bordhi. Cat is of course a ‘she’ but as Mike was introducing her he presented her with an apple and said that it had belonged to a guy called Adam and since she was now in possession of an Adam’s apple she was an honorary ‘guy’ for the evening. In a refreshing change from how a speaker normally talks about themselves, Cat instead talked about us and the importance of ‘men who knit’. She sees us as the future of Knitting and was very focused on encouraging us to develop our talents and to delve further into design and teaching to make ‘men who knit’ more visible to the greater knitting community. She also expressed her desire to help anyone who wanted advice on getting designs published. Her talk certainly inspired a few of us… however, as with all things it comes down to one’s desire, commitments and time… but watch this space, who knows what will result.
After Cat’s talk we had a show and tell session where we each were able to show two or three knitted or fibre related items we had created or owned and explain to everyone what made each item so special. I showed my well worn Persian Poppies vest, freedom scarf and the first sock I designed. We saw a range of items from the group and what struck me was that every item was unique… there was no following the crowd here or knit-a-long overkill. We got to see what people had invested their time and love into creating and got to appreciate the passion we all share for the craft which had brought us all together. It was proof the great level of skill and talent gathered in the room.
Day three (Saturday) started after breakfast with me putting my teaching cap back on and leading a class in Kaffe Fassett’s “Persian Poppies”. It may seem a little strange to teach a floral design at a men’s knitting retreat but I’ve always loved the design and it was a delight to have so many men in my class who also appreciated the design for it’s colourful simplicity. 90 minutes isn’t nearly long enough to knit up much of a swatch but a few of the participants continued working on their swatches through the rest of the day and it was great to see how their colour choices developed. Whenever this class is taught it’s amazing to see how different everyone’s colour selections are.
We were then treated to a machine knitting demonstration by Morgan. I have to admit that I’m one of those people who really only ever thought of machine knitting as a faster way of knitting stocking stitch and a lazy way of knitting. Morgan however really knew his stuff and it was quite incredible how he was able to manipulate the fabric he was creating. I’ve always loved texture in knitting and had no idea there were infinite possibilities for texture in machine knitting. I’m not sure I’ll ever switch from needles to a machine but it was fun to watch Morgan enjoying himself so much as his creative juices were flowing.
After lunch the second field trip took place, this time it was out to a local fibre farm called the Moodshadow Alpaca Ranch. I opted not to go as it had been raining and I thought my shoes would probably get soiled which would be a pain when I travelled home. Border security rules returning to New Zealand are very strict and require that you have to declare if you have been on a farm in the last 30 days during your travels… and if you have they make a point of taking extra care in checking your shoes and luggage. It’s really not worth the annoyance factor when you have connecting domestic flights to catch. I did however regret my decision not to go when those who did came back raving about the experience.
I was able to use the time constructively though and managed to finish the scarf I had started on Monday. Not bad for less than a week of knitting.
I decided to catch a quick 40 winks before dinner but I must have been a little more tired than I thought as I ended up sleeping through dinner and most of the presentation made by Carl Brittain and Michelle Comancho of Toots LeBlanc. Their presentation was a case of bringing the fibre to the people. They had a wonderful selection of natural yarns including alpaca, angora and pygora from their farm. They proved to be a hit and their presentation ended up lasting more than two hours instead of the allotted one hour. Time sure does fly when you’re having fun… or when you’re displaying bad manners by sleeping like me!
Next on the agenda was a movie night and PJ party… except that most people were too comfortable already to go off and get changed into PJ’s… that and probably because many didn’t have any PJ’s to wear! I terrified all by wearing my blue nightshirt with cartoon sheep on it, a paisley robe, a bi-tone honeycomb night cap, Win’s world famous tartan tights and a pair of socks. It was a sight which should never be repeated… total maximum fashion faux par… but the ensemble was really comfortable to wear.
Terrified is perhaps not the best word to have used as the movie we were watching was a Norwegian vampire flick dubbed into halting English. I didn’t really get into the movie, choosing to believe that a little something had been lost in the translation, but there were a few scenes with some unexpectedly good special effects which kept me watching it. I continued to knit through the film when I wasn’t being distracted by Stephen and John who were hiding underneath one of the tables watching video clips on a laptop. I’m not sure what video clips they were watching but there was much giggling and bum wiggling going on… The giggling and bum wiggling was coming from Stephen and John… I think I enjoyed their performance more than the movie.
Day Four – Sunday – was our final day together, really it was only a half day, and it started after breakfast with a workshop on Fair Isle with Barth. Despite a few rain showers I took the opportunity to pop outside and take a few pictures around the Retreat venue.
Everyone then went off to pack their bags and prepare to leave… but not before we all posed for a group photo. Here I present to you a good looking and talented bunch of Men who Knit… the MFKR class of ’09.
For a bit of fun I’ve listed everyone’s name, in no particular order, who was there and provided a brief description of the impression they each left on me. Most have blogs of their own so just click on their name for a little sight seeing.
Joe W: The gay knitting man’s ultimate piece of crumpet and one of the men who worked tirelessly to start the Men’s Knitting Retreat Movement… Joe we owe you so much!
Wonder Mike: Well they don’t call him a wonder for nothing… super organizer, drop spindler and podcaster extra-ordinaire… but sometimes geographically challenged like me
KENT: A global ambassador for the colour orange and he called me his BFF bonus brownie points for that man (Best Fibre Friend I’m guessing)
Joe E: From
Stephen: Gives good face and can work it like a supermodel…has a mischievous smile that never stops
John: Likes to pronounce Kenny as Kinney but everything else has a beautiful southern lilt. Wore a cute Ernie and Burt t-shirt with the caption F is For Friends… and John is friendly
Paul: Newly coupled and completely loved up ♥
David: The other half of the newly coupled and completely loved up couple ♥
Ray: A sweet guy who never stops smiling… easy convert to the delights of Persian Poppies
Kerry: A ‘gnew’ knitter with a good eye for colour, a ‘gnew’ friend to all… gives a mean bear hug too
Jeff: Loves meeting people but doesn’t love multiple introductions. Has traveled to
Brian: Individual, indominatable and masochistic… knitting 14 socks at one set of circs. Also likes to wear pink… and it suits him.
Morgan: Machine knitting maestro and yarn store owner.
Keith: Local boy, quiet achiever, amazing tattoo on his arm and he actually liked the vampire flick we endured.
Andy: He’s from out of this world (Klingon most likely) but I’m glad he slums it on Earth so that we could meet.
Michael: A bear of a silver fox if ever I saw one, he has a big appetite for life and an even bigger heart
Harry: Slight in stature but a giant when it comes to spinning talent… his knitting is impressive too.
Daniel: Has a mind which is constantly processing everything around him… another talented quiet achiever
Brett: Captivating San Franciscan… great smile and great moustache.
Barth: Fearless Fairisler from
Geoff: Late to arrive but was easily able to make up for lost time, can project his voice like a teacher should
Nigel: A well traveled exotic beauty, well versed in all things knitting and able to engage in considered conversation on just about anything
Kenny: The cute Asian sensation from Houston who was piecing together a new sweater… also answers to “Kinney”
Chuck: Soda swilling, sweet smiling, swift stitcher from the South… hard to believe that he’s a newbie knitter
Ron: Insightful, creative, eyes that sparkle when he laughs and the possessor of a damn fine moustache.
James: Well I guess you know all about me already
After the photo was taken Mike then took Franklin and I aside and took us to a back room… hmm no, not one of those!... to interview us for a new pod cast he was about to launch. My interview centred around my having travelled so far to attend the retreat and what my experience of the event had been. I kind of rambled and bumbled my way through the interview unlike Franklin who was a true professional who even sketched a cartoon while being interviewed. The great news is that the pod cast, called Fiber Beat, has now been launched and you can click here for the very first episode. If you enjoyed the Y Knit podcast he and Stephen produced you’ll love Fiber Beat.
I enjoyed getting to know everyone at the Retreat and I was a little sad that our time together was coming to an end. As a male knitter who has spent most of my knitting life knitting alone or with groups of women it was a pleasure and delight to knit in the company of so many other men. Thank you to Brian and Mike for organizing and hosting such a wonderful event and thank you to everyone who attended the Retreat and made this Kiwi boy, with a funny accent, feel so welcomed and accepted. I would have loved to spend more time with everyone but I guess that’s a good reason for me to start saving my pennies so that I can attend another one… soon.
Then again perhaps I should just pull finger and organize a Men’s Knitting Retreat right here in Aotearoa, New Zealand… watch this space!
(p.s. Thanks Mike for letting me steal some of your photo's of the event!)