There’s a first time for everything and last week saw for the first time in New Zealand a Men’s Knitting Retreat.
The Men’s Knitting Retreat movement was started a couple of years ago in upstate New York by two of my fibre friends Joe and Ted. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend one in Seattle last year and I enjoyed myself so much that I was determined to bring the movement to New Zealand. After several months of planning (and nervousness) it finally all came together last week at the Silverstream Retreat Centre in Upper Hutt where I was proud to host the inaugural Aotearoa New Zealand Men’s Knitting Retreat.
It all started on Thursday afternoon with my mad dash to Wellington airport to collect our international contingent... yes that’s right, our international contingent. Kerry came all the way from California, Peter came from Perth in Australia and Lee left behind all the fun of Mardi Gras season in Sydney to join us. Making up the numbers were Justin, Jaimie and Matt from Wellington and of course Ian and myself. So there we were, eight men who knit, who were all excited at the prospect of an extended weekend of fibrous fun and manly knitting abandon... and that’s exactly what we had!
The Silverstream Retreat Centre is nestled in the Hutt valley and overlooked the Manor Park Golf course and Hutt River... we were also overlooked by the impressive Haywards Hill power station. The complex was originally built to house the American forces who were based here during the Second World War and since then has had many different owners and uses including being a hospital. The entire complex is slowly being renovated and refurbished but is still very much a work in progress. That being said we were in the Stonewall Lodge with our own lounge and kitchen and enough space to have our own individual rooms. What was the first thing we did upon arrival???
We re-arranged the furniture of course! We decided it would make more sense to have all the comfy couches together so that we could sit, knit and talk together. The sun poured in through the windows of the lounge and I had brought along my halogen standard lamps so that knitting into the night once the sun went down wouldn’t be a problem. We were also introduced to our mascot for the Retreat... ‘Whatu’ the (inflatable) Kiwi. I resisted the temptation to use an inflatable sheep... which proved to be a good decision given the content of the film ‘Black Sheep’.
After a delicious evening meal in the dining hall we were given our Goodie Bags which were crammed full of knitting related delights. This included sock yarn from Morag of Vintage Purls in a colourway exclusive to our Retreat called ‘Whatu Tane’ which means Men Who Knit in Maori. A ball of Supreme Possum Merino yarn. One ball of Peaches and Cream knitting cotton and an exclusive dishcloth pattern called ‘Awa’ which means river in Maori from Nanette of Yarnz. Two balls of John Q heathered yarn and a coffee voucher from Knit World. A Regia magazine featuring designs by Kaffe Fassett from Lynn of Impact Marketing the NZ Regia distributor. Kerry’s friend Sabrina gave each of us a generous amount of her hand dyed ANZULA Luxury Fibers. Joe even sent a gift from America on behalf of the Men’s Knitting retreat movement. It was a handy nylon pouch, able to fit in a ring binder, containing a pair of folding scissors and assorted knitting findings. Also included was a folder I prepared which included a welcome message for everyone, a schedule, J.O.Y. newsletter and a selection of patterns designed by Men who have attended previous Men’s Knitting Retreats including Kent Turman, Franklin Habit, Ivar Asplund, Joe Wilcox, Andres Nevarez and some guy called James Herbison.
The remainder of the bag was made up of items I had donated including Kiwi themed badges, lanolin soap, a paua patterned double pointed needle case, a sheep themed tea towel, knitting themed coffee mug, pen, pencil, candy and a knitting project bag I sewed myself. Everyone was very impressed with the contents of their Goodie Bags. The remainder of the evening was devoted to knitting and getting to know everyone. It was a perfect way to end our first day.
Day two started off with a late breakfast before heading off on a yarn crawl. We started off at Knit World in Lower Hutt and after a very exhausting stint of yarn purchasing (the staff were pleased to see us!) we popped next door to the John Q Cafe to redeem our coffee vouchers and indulge in cake and muffins. I did restrain myself and limited my purchases to this new lacy fillatura di crossa yarn and a skein of Touch Yarns 4ply... the day was still young. (That didn’t stop Lee and Peter from purchasing entire sweater amounts of yarn). We spent so much time there that we had to cut the yarn crawl short and head back to Silverstream for our lunch.
After lunch we headed off to the Wool Yarns factory/mill for a tour of their facility. We got to see every stage of yarn production from bales of fibre arriving all the way through to finished balls of yarn labelled and ready for dispatch. We were all suitably impressed with the scale of production and found it very hard to keep our hands in our pockets with all that yarn everywhere. Peter jokingly suggested to John our tour guide that people should be weighed as they enter and again when they leave. We also learned a few interesting things... a possum is easier to pluck if it has died in shock (i.e. run over by a car), basically it’s fur falls out. Not sure that I’m going to jump out of my car if I hit a possum and pluck it though... there are too many crazy drivers out there and I don’t want to get run over standing on the side of the road plucking a possum. We learned about VM in yarn... we don’t want it. VM is of course vegetable matter or grass and it was great to see how the carding process eliminates most VM. The other interesting thing we saw was the technology which deals with a knot in yarn... it cuts, slices and splices the yarn so you would never know there was a knot in the first place. NORO please take note... the technology is available!
We then headed further up the Valley to Thimbles and Threads... which ended up being a bit of a scenic journey of parking lots as I made a couple of wrong turns before we finally made it to our location. Thimbles and Threads is primarily a quilting store but when the local yarn store (Fenton’s) closed down in Upper Hutt a couple of years ago they decided to increase their yarn selection. It was a wise decision as the temptation proved too much and we all ended up making purchases.
We headed back to the cars and then drove back to Wellington to have a look at Nancy’s, another quilting, come tapestry, come knitting, come craft store. We didn’t make any knitting purchases but I did see Peter and Lee purchase some fabric and tapestry kits as gifts for friends. Once outside we discovered that both vehicles had received parking tickets... I guess time stands still when you’re in a yarn store, I think parking wardens should take this into consideration! To ease our parking sorrows we headed over to Glengarry wines and made some liquid purchases for the evening... we were all smiling on the way back to Silverstream.
After dinner we settled in for an evening of knitting... and more knitting. We were meant to watch a DVD but unfortunately there was no DVD player... there was however an impressively sized flat screen TV so we had that on in the background as we chatted and got to know each other a little better... the wine helped this too. We also let Kerry in on a secret... that Australia is actually better known as New Zealand’s West Island. Being an extremely well mannered and experienced international traveller Kerry merely raised an eyebrow, flashed a bemused smile and played along with us. Kerry appeared slightly out of the loop when we all kept quoting lines from ‘Little Britain’ and the ‘Catherine Tate Show’... but he didn’t seem too ‘bovvrrd’, perhaps his polite smiles were more about trying to interpret kiwi and aussie accents badly imitating common English ones.
After a much needed sleep in for everyone Saturday started off with a trip to Craft 2.0 which is a modern take on the traditional craft fair and is held in the New Dowse Art Gallery. A strictly enforced rule for stall holders is that everything available for sale must be handmade or hand finished in New Zealand. It’s the first time I had been to Craft 2.0 and I was very impressed with all the amazing creative talent which was brought together in one place... including Knitsch Yarns. Hand dyed yarn... Men Who Knit... perfect combination, do I really have to tell you that purchases were made.
We decided to have our lunch on the Petone foreshore next to the Petone Settler’s Museum. From here we could look across the harbour to Matiu Soames Island and behind that was Wellington itself. As you can see it was another beautiful day for us and it became the perfect opportunity for Matt to give himself up as an offering to the Sun Gods.
That's all I have time to blog about for now... we've got to head out to the airport to catch a flight to Christchurch to meet up with my Mother and attend the Ellerslie Flower Show. Part Two of the Retreat review will include our visit to Experience Stansborough with it's associated foam party, Paretai Alpaca Farm, Sunday Knit-Tea and Mr Congeneality.