Have you ever looked closely at that sweater you’re wearing, into the weave of stitches? Your sweater used to be skeins of yarn, which used to be bundles of roving, and before that, used to warm the backs of sheep grazing on a hill somewhere. A sweater is knit one stitch at a time. Loops of yarn form interlocking stitches. Stitches make rows, and in time those rows take on the shape of a garment.
I don’t know if yarn can talk, but I like to imagine that as it is knit together, each loop encourages the others to stay connected, but to flex when necessary, because in the end they must all work together to form something that has never been made before.
And then there are the humans who knit the yarn. To envision a finished project, to choose or design a pattern, to be willing to join thousands of loops of yarn together into stitches and eventually into a garment takes a certain amount of risk. Knowing what the proper materials are is a job in itself. What if one chooses the wrong yarn, and one’s garment has the drape of a cement block? What if one does not adequately understand the directions, and one’s project resembles a long sleeved bra more than the sweater it was supposed to be? What if it is expensive? What if no one appreciates the hours of work and attention that went into the scarves one gave for Christmas gifts? Knitters perservere despite the risks, for the rewards are great.
Dreams come to life in much the same way. All our lives we entertain mental pictures of what we would like to do or make. So many times we have ideas, but get stuck in the wishing- we could- do- something- but- unfortunately- we- just- can’t- stage. But then there are those of us who know what we want and are willing to gather the materials and to do the work one single task at a time, investing emotionally and financially in an uncertain outcome.
Thanks to several stellar Memphis knitters doing just that, I had the opportunity this past weekend to participate in the inaugural annual Tenntucky Knitting Retreat at Lake Barkley, Kentucky. Three remarkable people, Ann, Joseph, and Rachel, saw a a creative black hole in our community and worked for a year to fill it.
I know this story because once upon a time I took a risk and showed up for a weekly knitting night, organized by the three above mentioned knitters, at a local restaurant. Let me say right now that although my knitting skills are literally laughable, I wanted to know other knitters. I wanted to feel the sense of community that comes from a gathering of folks looping yarn together one stitch at a time.
Despite my lack of skills, I was welcomed by a small group of knitters: older, younger, all more experienced then I was. No matter what silly mistakes I had made, I knew I could ask someone at the table for help. Though I could not help anyone in return, I satisfied myself that at least my knitting foibles added some humor to the gathering. Over time I came to feel accepted for who I was, not for what I knew how to do.
With my clever listening skills I learned that the organizers of the knit night had bigger goals in mind. They were going to organize an area knitting retreat ALL BY THEMSELVES, and they had never done it before. Since this Magpie is especially interested in big ideas and in what people can accomplish as a team, I was vicariously thrilled each time the Tenntucky Board accomplished another milestone in project planning.
Spots were filling quickly for the retreat. Surely I was coming, the organizers said. Moi?asked I. I can barely knit! But as I was assured that all levels were welcomed I decided to take the plunge, and invited my sister to accompany me. Maybe, I pondered shrewdly, HER knitting skills would prove as backward as mine, and I would not be the anomaly at the retreat.
This past Friday evening approximately fifty knitters from several states checked in to the lovely Lake Barkley Lodge.
And so began a magical weekend which included restful views, opportunities to commune with nature,
time to reflect,
plentiful food, friendly staff, informative classes, and color, color, color.
How delightful it was that our organizers had thought of everything! All of their advance planning, networking and plain old elbow grease came together just like a well knit sweater. I remembered snippets of conversation about vendors, goodie bags and the like. Now I would benefit from the fruits of their labor.
And the knitters? If you did not already know this, knitters are special people. They’re friendly and welcoming. They want you to sit for a spell and knit up a few stitches and share a story or two, or even sit in companionable silence.
Having never been to a knitting retreat I was unprepared for the exquisite l hand knit items worn by my fellow retreatants. I asked if I could take pictures of their stunning work and they all said yes.That’s how special knitters are! Take a look:
Whom did we meet? Why we met Kelly, who makes her own earrings out of knitting needles. And her brother, who surprised her with the gift of this retreat! We met Jo, who is studying to become a master knitter. We met Charlotte who didn’t learn to knit until after the age of 60. Charlotte wore a skirt she had knitted herself, by the way. We met the Haus of Yarn vendor who stayed up late Saturday night to felt our knitted slippers. No comment on mine, bet here are my sister’s:
I didn’t get a chance to meet everyone but I feel as though I did; that’s just the community vibe that exists among knitters.
On Saturday my sister and I took a gauge class and a crochet class.
One of the teachers evidently knew me, for she used phrases such as “the difference between homemade and handmade’, and mentioned how it feels to give disclaimers along with our knitted gifts. Here is your sweater, Uncle Alvin. Just don’t turn around while wearing it.
After the classes were over we met for a rousing game of Last Knitter Standing.
Full disclosure compels me to say that my sister’s and my singing during timed knitting contests did not help anyone at our table to win. Anyone for a couple of verses of “Twist and Shout?”
Lake Barkley is one of those places where the whole time you are there you are planning your return visit, for there is more to do there than can be done in one weekend. Every chance we got we sat in rockers on our balcony, gazing at the water and taking in the deep calming sounds of the natural world.
We just didn’t have time to do everything Lake Barkley has to offer. But we did manage to fit in some ping pong and pinball down in the rec room.
Too soon it was Sunday and time to go. But not before we shopped with the vendors who had kindly visited us. Knitters patiently waited their chance to run their hands over luscious hanks of yarn and choose their own patterns.
As we drove away we exulted in the success of the weekend. From door prizes to pencils on the tables to write down gauge measurements, our organizers gave great attention to detail and it showed. Packed in the back of the car were our goodie bags full of free patterns, needles, and yarn. Some participants went home with stunning door prizes.We were inspired by what we had seen other knitters doing, and eager to improve our own knitting.
Our hearts were full of gratitude to the organizers for having the wherewithal to do what many may dream about but never accomplish. How did this trio manage to put on this amazing weekend? I don’t have the slightest idea, but I suspect they did it together, one painstaking step at a time, connecting and bending as necessary, to form something that had never been done before.
P. S. : They’ve set the date for next year. Interested? Check out Tenntucky on Ravelry or contact Joseph at ACallToYarns. I don’t think he’ll mind my giving out his contact info. Knitters are neighborly like that.