Last weekend, I attended the Knitting in the Heartland conference as a birthday gift for Querido, for whom I may need to knit another sweater after all the fiber I’ve bought. It was a fabulous birthday present, and a wonderful experience. The members of the Sunflower Knitting Guild were numerous and friendly, the vendor hall was packed with delectable fibers, and the classes were suited to a variety of crafts and levels of experience.
I really wanted to refine my skills, so I skipped the project based classes and took classes on plying, finishing, and knitting for speed. Jacey Boggs Faulkner taught spinning, and managed to be quite entertaining while teaching 20-odd people different plying techniques. My fear of being unable to spin a continuous thread was not realized (perhaps practice actually paid off), but I still have a lot of work to do before I can sit down at my wheel and say “ah, yes, today I am in a worsted sort of mood.”
The finishing class was on Saturday, which meant that through a magical alignment of the planets and probably some stars, I was going to be taking my first knitting class from Stephanie Pearl-McPhee.
(Cue fangirl hyperventilation)
(Also, I was floored she would come to a little place like Kansas City, technically Overland Park, and mentioned as much to Querido, who insisted Kansas City is not small. The resulting search-off proved that Kansas City actually has close to 2.5 million people. That would explain the number of Whole Foods within spitting distance of the convention center.)
Two years ago, Mousie and I saw Stephanie speak at Changing Hands Bookstore, and her linkback to my post on meeting my blogging idol basically broke my blog stats. Her talk in Tempe was awesome, and I was so excited to be able to take one of her classes.
Oh my gosh. She is an amazing teacher. Yes, it is her job, but as an academic I can tell you that a teaching job does not a teacher make. At one pm two dozen women gathered with 14″ straights and a combined two centuries of knitting experience. By four pm, our minds were all blown. Stephanie talked about ergonomic movement, about the spread of knitting through Europe, about the Industrial Revolution and gender roles. She knitted for us, showed historic photos, and told jokes. She taught us methods for knitting and gave us homework: change our knitting.
Not what we knit, but how we knit. Pick, throw, lever. Don’t just knit one way, but (this is where my little mind exploded) know how to knit a couple of different ways, and consciously decide which technique to use for each project. I think if I’d gone home then, I would have already had plenty to think about.
The part of her talk where she discussed change, how people change, and what the process looks like, got me thinking this year. I am trying very hard to challenge myself as a knitter by completing my master hand knitted certification, and by taking classes, and even by juggling lots of different projects at once. Test knitting a sweater was a challenge, and I hope that project will be the first of many challenging projects I tackle this year.
I arrived at Stephanie’s keynote that evening in an introspective mood. I thought about how I’ve changed since I last saw her speak. In the past two years, my life has changed, for sure: I got married, got a big girl librarian job, and moved halfway across the country. I gained 60 projects and lost Melba. I’m still learning that if I want to be a better writer, I just need to sit down and write. I’m not always happy with myself, or my knitting, and I still hide behind my knitting and my blog mouse.
In her keynote (which was of course amazing), it sounded like Stephanie was giving us all more homework. She spoke of being advocates for our crafts, and for ourselves. Like, being ok with doing amazing things, and not telling others, especially non-knitters, that what we do is “nothing.” I don’t even know how many centuries of habit saying “oh this old sweater, you’re too kind” were in that keynote room.
The talk ended, which was sad, but then we got to queue up for her to sign her books. I stood there clutching Mousie and my copy of Knitting Rules, thinking about change and owning my mad knitting skillz as I watched the parade of knitters go by. If we’re changing, I could be bold, could ask to have someone take my picture with Stephanie. Standing in line, that seemed totally doable. Look, all those people were totally surviving getting their pictures taken. One woman even had her picture taken with a print of a picture she’d had taken the last time she’d seen Stephanie speak. Another woman had the super presence of mind to present Stephanie with a beer from Free State–so much better than Boulevard.
Then it was my turn, and the clear, cool introduction I’d practiced in my head totally vanished. Take a picture with my knitting idol? What was I thinking? “When you were in Phoenix there was this girl with a mouse…” I squeaked, holding out Mousie.
“…And you have a mouse” she finished for me. “You were a good student,” she added as I prepared to skedaddle away. To my credit, I did give in to my initial impulse to expire right there on the stage. My brain shorted out. It was nothing? I like learning? I summoned what few wits remained, and I came up with the best answer I could.