Another Masters Class

It was an early start to make a 9am Saturday am class
It was big weekend for knitters in New York - Vogue Knitting Live (VKL) an annual expo and I was there each day from a volunteer orientation (which was a HUGE waste of time) on Thursday. This weekend it was at the Marriott Marquis in Manhattan. As I type this, I find myself reflecting about the weekend, and wonder what I learned.

A few months ago I signed up to volunteer. It was - as often the case - a much bigger commitment than I intended, but rewarding nonetheless- as volunteering usually is. I spent the better part of 10 hours (spread over three days) winding yarn. It is a tricky thing - if you haven't seen it before - yarn sometimes comes in a hank (not in a ball).  Strands get pulled around a "swift" then over to a "winder" to be wound into neat and manageable balls. If you think I'm doing a poor job explaining the process, it's OK. I felt like a fish out of water using these machines to do something that I have been doing by hand for many years. But... after many hours' practice, I seem to have the knack of it. If you scroll down to the bottom of my friend Pam's knitting blog, you'll see a picture of me at work.  In fact, lots of people stopped to take pictures and I'm afraid that I may be on yarn blogs all over the place... on a days when I didn't even remember to wear lipstick.

Other than helping out, I was a very good girl - I didn't buy anything, despite the fact that there were booths full of beautiful yarns and needles, books, and accessories much of which I can't buy locally. Why not? Well, to be honest, I haven't finished (or started) most of the yarn I bought last year. And as I said in an earlier blog, I'm trying to live a bit more simply. I did treat myself to take an expensive knitting class. Vogue Knitting Live classes are taught by "knitterati" (famous folks in the knitting world but people who can walk the streets otherwise unnoticed) and I took a class from a teacher as well known as knitters get.

Here is the jacket to the swatch below
(Image from
Deborah Newton has been designing and publishing for several decades. She has designed more than 1,000 sweaters and last year she published a book called "Finishing School: a Master Class for Knitters". It reminds me a lot of a book my parents got me when I graduated from college - Julia Child's "The Way to Cook" which includes "Master's Recipes". Both books provide nuts to bolts of prep work, ingredients for a successful project/meal and finishing touches.

As class began on an early Saturday morning, I was embarrassed that my homework wasn't done. (Insert excuses, none good). But I finished it as she made her opening remarks, and I used it for a technique she taught in class. (Insert sigh of relief).

She advocates knitting swatches that tell it all
I own her book (which she gladly signed, twice - since she sent nameplates to knitters in a Facebook group). Which I used during my latest sweater challenge in which the instructions had virtually no detail. To fill in these gaps, I turned to her advice in Finishing School. A lot of the material covered in class came directly from the book, so the real treat was her explanation of her process as a designer. She is very technical - which I am not. So I had a lot to learn. She makes a big swatch - a test patch. Most patterns prescribe a small patch to test that your knitting is similar to the pattern so sizing will conform, but Ms. Newton suggests making them two or three times larger, incorporating all design elements of the object you are making- patterns, cuffs, neckline details or pockets. That way you see how the whole project will come together. And, of course, make mistakes that would be cumbersome to fix once you are mid-project. You can really see if the yarns you plan for make sense together or if the needles you were planning to use give the best sizing. I almost never ever swatch, so this was important advice for lazy people like me. I will always swatch now on anything even slightly complicated. Best of all - we got to touch and inspect many of her swatches and sweaters. One sweater she claimed to have sewn together while drugged up on post-op meds. The women around me and I still ooh-ed and aah-ed about the clean results. What did she say was her secret? Practice. A thousand sweaters of practice! Since I've only knit fewer than 10 sweaters, I guess my rough edges have a long way to go.

For many people finishing means the final work (such as sewing the last strands). I learned that finishing really is about planning. That lesson can be transferred to many aspects of life: proper planning, clear directions, prep work all make for a stronger results.

It's about the prep. (Recipe from Julia Child's Baking with Julia)
Getting geared up to run a marathon (or, in my case a half marathon) is a process. Success requires elements started months before the event. Finding the right shoes, with the best fit, combined with a reasonable training program, proper nutrition and periods of rest are key elements beyond "just keep running".

The first time you make something new, a special meal comes from a good recipe, well-picked raw ingredients, combined with plenty of prep work: cutting veggies, trimming fat, simmering without burning, etc.

In both cooking and knitting, you can sometimes wing it, but without a guarantee of good results.

My favorite kinds of experiences are just like this class. I go in thinking I am learning one thing. In this case, it's knitting. Then finding that new perspective on something else. Deborah's advice is so easily transferable: planning a trip, taking a class or anything else you do for the first time. She has knit a 1,000 sweaters - just as I've made 1,000 meals (over time). Planning and patience produce the finest results. Both Deborah Newton and Julia Child encourage their followers to learn from their mistakes, if necessary/possible fix them, and to carry on. Good advice for everyone, really!


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