Stitches West, Part I: The Classes

I’m going to write about Stitches West in two parts, focusing first on the classes I took, then later on the yarn and other sightings from the market.

Increases and Decreases (326) taught by Elizabeth Fallone
The increases and decreases we covered could, of course, be applied to any kind of knitting, but in class we focused primarily on how to use them in constructing garments. Since I’m more interested in applying these to lace designs, I had to keep moving mentally from the work at hand to my own purposes, but this wasn’t hard. The class covered many single and double decreases/increases, and I particularly liked some of the increases, which I hadn’t encountered before (most directions for M1 call for knitting through the bar between two stitches or knitting front and back into a single stitch; the instructor included some other possibilities that produce a much smoother finished piece).
We knit up whole handfuls of little triangular swatches so we could see how the different stitches looked. I realized quickly that I wouldn’t remember what each swatch contained without some sort of system, so I tied knots in the ends of the cast on thread quipu-like. I now have pages of notes reading more or less like this: “one knot in cast on thread, wide base = K2tog on R, SSK on L.” I’ll have to spend some time counting knots and adding proper labels to all those swatches, but the swatches will be an immense help later when I’m working on designs. In fact, I’d like to add to my swatch collection, working up samples using simple lace stitches to compliment the stockinette ones I’ve already made.
My main concern with this class is that the handouts briefly described in words most (but not all—and that’s another problem) of the stitches we convered, but included very few illustrations, so I’m a bit nervous about whether I’ll be able to work these stitches correctly in the future. I practiced with one of the increase techniques last night (on an adaptation of an ear-flap hat pattern that I finally gave up on—the yarn apparently had no interest in becoming an ear-flap hat). At first, my increases were a bit hit-or-miss, but they looked quite nice by the end, even though I wound up frogging the whole thing.
If you’d like to see more of her work, Elizabeth Fallone’s designs are carried by Shelridge Farm.

Chart Reading and Writing (544), taught by JC Briar
This was by far my favorite class, which I hadn’t anticipated, as I’d figured it was the class most likely to cover things I already knew. In fact, much of the material was familiar to me, but the systematic way in which the instructor laid it all out (wonderful handouts!) helped me mentally organize my own knowledge. In the future I’ll be able to approach charts with a set of questions in my head to ask and answer before I begin knitting. Yes, I would be able to follow charts without these questions, but I would wind up having to do more problem solving as I went along.
By the end of the class, the teacher had us working on a set of exercizes translating written instructions into charts. These grew increasingly complex and really forced us to apply the full range of material we’d covered in the first part of class. When I write up my own patterns—particularly more complicated lace or cable patterns—this practice will serve me well.
If you ever have the chance to take a class with JC Briar—do it! Her organization is impressive, and she anticipates and provides answers for many questions, rather than waiting for these to come up on their own.
As an aside, the instructor was wearing a gorgeous short-sleeved cardigan and tank set of her own design that features all sorts of slip stitch patterns. This pattern is for sale at her web site, and I’ll definitely be ordering one. If you don’t want to knit a whole ensemble, but want to practice slip stitches, you could order this pattern and use the cardigan front pattern to knit up some really beautiful throw pillows. (Note that the picture on the web site makes this set look as if it’s knit in sort of deep, dusty pastels. the actual colors are brighter and more autumnal, a real visual feast.)

Hole-Istic Lace (529) taught by Maureen Mason-Jamieson
The class provided a clear, useful introduction to lace knitting. Unfortunately, I wasn’t really looking for an introduction to the topic. Still, I enjoyed playing with the class project (a lacey bookmark/bell pull), which gave me a chance to see several different decreases worked with lace stitches.
I would recommend this class for anyone who feels uneasy about taking on lace. The handouts offered a clear, detailed approach to the topic, leading students through a variety of single and double decreases. I particularly appreciated this instructor’s explanations of running markers (a sort of basting strand used instead of ring markers) and safety lines (a strand of yarn or thread run through the loops of a row to “lock” the knitted work once you’ve verified that everything up to that point is accurate). I’ll probably stick to my ring markers, but will definitely use a safety line when working on complicated patterns.
Besides knitting lace, Maureen Mason-Jamison designs lovely, colorful garments, including the Marmalade Sweater, which is as yummy as its name implies. I fell madly in love with it in the market.

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