Thursday, February 24, 2011

Carol J. Sorsdahl: The Madrona Fiber Arts Retreat

The Marketplace at Madrona Fiber Arts Retreat

I arrived at the Madrona Fiber Arts Retreat at the Hotel Murano in Tacoma, Washington, Wednesday afternoon in eager anticipation of another great event. There was a wide array of well-known teachers again this year: Sally Melville, Vivian Hoxbro, Margaret Radcliffe, and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, to name a few. I decided to go with a couple of teachers who were new to me, Jared Flood and Franklin Habit.

Jared was billed as a teacher of traditional hand-knitting techniques and garment construction, so I signed up for his 6-hour “Seamless Sweater Workshop.” I love knitting seamless sweaters, and I was eager to learn more. Jared got my attention when he talked about swatching “in the round.” I confess I've never thought about that, but now I know how to do it. Using Elizabeth Zimmerman’s percentage system, Jared took us through the process of constructing a seamless sweater from start to finish. I was intrigued by the idea of using short rows on the back of the sweater to create neck shaping, and I got a new perspective on “ease” as we considered the difference between the inside and outside measurements of a sweater, which are affected by the thickness of the fabric. We finished by discussing various yokes, raglan and round. I came away from the class with enough information to confidently create an original garment without a purchased pattern.

The “Advanced Cabling” class with Jared was the perfect follow-up to the workshop. I’ve never tried knitting cables without a cable needle, but I can do it now! From there we went on to learn how to plan out our own cable sweater, something that definitely takes planning. Did you know that a cable sweater takes about 130 percent more yarn than a plain sweater? With that information under our belts, Jared showed us how to plot the cables, filler, and gutter stitches. He talked about swatching for cable work and blocking the swatch. Then came the moment for using the cable swatches we had knit as he talked — STEEKS!! Then I knew why he had us bring feltable wool to work with: you can only do the crochet steek with feltable wool. I had done steeking in a Madrona class several years ago, but Jared’s technique was way easier, and when it came time to cut, I did so without fear or trepidation. With the information from these two classes, I was eager to design.

While I had seen Jared’s name recently, I knew nothing about Franklin Habit except what I read in his blog, “The Panopticon.” He certainly sounded as though he would be an entertaining teacher, but it was his class title that hooked me: “Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Tomten Jacket and Garter Jacquard.” Yeah, I was right there for that one! During the 6-hour class, he walked us through the process of knitting a doll-size jacket. We learned how to do garter jacquard and incorporated a simple pattern into the jacket. I was only able to get started on the hood in the allotted time, as seen here.

The view from the hotel window

No trip to Madrona would be complete without several visits to the Marketplace. There were 36 vendors from eight states and Canada offering a variety of things, including unique yarns and fibers from around the world, all kinds of equipment, accessories, books, patterns, and kits. We won’t talk about how many goodies followed me home. The anticipation I felt at the beginning of the retreat was most definitely realized. What could be more fun than 4 days in a luxury hotel with hundreds of other fiber artists? I eagerly await Madrona 2012.

Carol J. Sorsdahl lives in the country outside Gig Harbor, Washington. She sold her first sweater to a local department store while living in Ketchikan, Alaska, in the early ’70s. Over the years she has sold hundreds of children’s sweaters in area boutiques and gift shops. Her patterns have appeared in Machine Knitter’s Source, Creative Knitting, Luxury Yarn One-Skein Wonders, and Sock Yarn One-Skein Wonders. These days Carol knits mostly for friends and family, as well as for such charities as her local Caring for Kids and Afghans for Afghanistan.

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