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the inn

The 2008 Knitter's Review Retreat
Williams Inn
Williamstown, Massachusetts
November 21-23, 2008

A rolling retreat gathers no moss. At least that's how the saying could go, as our seventh annual Knitter's Review Retreat moved yet again—this time just up the road to Williamstown, Massachusetts. The good news is that we've found a home at the Williams Inn and will return there November 20-22, 2009.

We added a third workshop to our Saturday morning line-up and two new vendors for the marketplace, we had a record-breaking 98 people join us, we collected 111 beautiful knitted caps for chemo patients, we indulged in a full Thanksgiving feast, and we enjoyed our first dusting of snow. Could the weekend have been any better?

Thursday Arrivals

interesting innmates
The retreat runs from Friday to Sunday, but a few years ago I added a Thursday extension for those who want to make a long weekend out of it. This year we shared the inn with a group of fire chiefs. We felt well protected.

goody bags and nametags ready to go
The first order of business was to prepare nametags and stuff the goody bags. In addition to an assortment of Knitter's Review goodies, we also had cool hybrid circs from Skacel that had the nickel Turbo plating but with the pointy Addi Lace tips (sorry, these were limited-run prototypes that aren't available for sale). We also received a huge box of gorgeous Fresco from the folks at Classic Elite, bags upon bags of colorful yarn from Webs, just up the road in Northampton, and a whole stack of glossy sweater patterns from our friends at Lorna's Laces. Thank you all for your contributions!

The Addi Turbo Click Interchangeables people immediately started fighting over them

Skacel also sent along a final sample of their much-anticipated new Addi Turbo Click interchangeable needle sets, which I'll talk about in more detail next week. But I can tell you that competition for the Clicks was fierce.

Thursday night Thursday night

Once everybody arrived and we'd had our dinner, we migrated to our private meeting room, pulled out our knitting, and started swapping stories. For many people this was a reunion weekend to get caught up with old friends.

bunny slippers

Oh, and the dress code for Thursday night? Bunny-slipper casual.

Friday Morning: Lace

Shelia shows us a lace shawl
We woke up bright and early the next morning and gathered for our adventure into the land of lace, with Shelia January serving as our guide. We practiced our increases and decreases, we attached edging to our swatches, and—lest you should encounter this in a trivia game at some point—we learned that the correct pronunciation of the term "nupp" is "nupe."

the sprawl began
One of my favorite things about knitters is our tendency to sprawl when we congregate. After giving our brains a hefty workout in Shelia's class, and feeding our bodies with homemade chicken pot pies for lunch, we began to sprawl throughout the inn. Wherever I looked, happy little clusters of knitters were congregating. As the evening progressed, so did the clusters.

the stash lounge
Meanwhile, amazing things were transpiring in the Stash Lounge. Before the retreat, attendees are encouraged to perform a fearless inventory of their stashes and bring whatever they no longer need, want, or will realistically knit in this lifetime (or the next). This mass influx of yarn goes up for grabs in the Stash Lounge. Yarns are sorted by fiber type, and I even spotted cashmere, silk, and possum on the tables.

Show and Tell
Friday night kicks off with introductions and show and tell. This year I asked everybody to focus on one question: What's your knitting philosophy? Over the next two hours we managed to hear the stories and see projects that reflected the philosophies of 98 people. Some of the nuggets were just too fun not to write down.

Laurie shows off her beautiful Forest Path Shawl while Mary shows off her socks

"Things aren't always perfect," said one woman, holding up a blanket her husband felted by mistake. "But you just go with it."

Adrienne Martini showed us the Alice Starmore sweater that inspired her forthcoming book Sweater Quest. "Right now," she added, "it may be just a very complicated pillowcase."

Another woman confessed, "I knit so I don't kill people." (The scary part was how many of us nodded our heads in agreement.)

"I knit to make memories," said another attendee, rendering us speechless as she modestly detailed the 100 yarmulkes she knits for each grandson's Bar Mitzvah.

"This probably isn't the best example of what I knit, because it's done," said another woman, and again we nodded our heads.

Speaking of completion issues, one woman showed us a stunning shawl that she finished several years ago but still hadn't blocked. Offers to help came pouring in, as well as an exclamation from across the room, "You'll never finish it! Send it to me!"

The heckling continued when another attendee told of how she likes to buy local yarns when possible, and that she found one source that even includes pictures of the sheep whose fibers were used for each skein. "Who ate the sheep?" came the cry, again, from across the room.

Other quotables: "Knitting is all about finding a different way to solve problems." "Who says lace has to be in fine yarn? I say you can do it in chunky, you can do it in bulky, it doesn't matter!" "I'm so brand new that the only thing I've mastered is ripping out." "Never have a lifecycle event without a knitting component." And my favorite, "Knitting is disaster in slow motion." Who knew one simple question could elicit such insight?

what's so special about handknitted socks?
At one point in the evening my father made the mistake of asking, "What's the big deal about knitted socks? I mean...how much variety can you possibly have?" This prompted a mass stampede of folks wearing handknit socks which, in turn, prompted this blurry photo.

My favorite moment came later, after I'd said goodnight and was heading back up to my room. Walking down the long hallway I could hear the happy voices of knitters in their guest rooms. At one point a group of women exclaimed, "Yaaaaay!" I couldn't have said it better.

Saturday Morning

coffee, anyone?
The next morning I noticed that coffee flowed a bit more freely than usual as late-night revelers grappled with the consequences of their extended bedtime.

knitters milling about
Then it came time for the group picture. Extremely cold temperatures (especially cold for our friends from Florida and California) forced us to move the photo inside. The group congregated and we began bringing them to order.

knitters milling about

Of course some did not believe this was possible.

the class of 2008

But we prevailed and we succeeded. Introducing the KR Retreat Class of 2008!

Learning Time

Kathryn Alexander
After prying ourselves apart from our carefully constructed photo pose, we split off into groups and headed to our respective classrooms for the Saturday morning workshops. A happy stroke of synchronicity brought Kathryn Alexander to us this year. A master of color and texture, Kathryn taught a group of retreatees how to adorn their handknits with the colorful, whimsical "doodads" for which Kathryn is so well-known.

Happy hand-coverers
Meanwhile, right next door Shelia January was teaching another group the secrets of hand coverings—how to make mitts and mittens with any yarn, to fit any hand.

Happy hand-coverers
And in the third adjacent room, Melissa Morgan Oakes led folks on a whirlwind journey into the land of knitting two socks at a time on two circular needles—based on her book. We knew it was ambitious to try and teach this technique in just three hours (Melissa likened it to speed-dating), and many students ended up rejoining her after lunch for a continued tutorial.

Making the Market

Eva helps us set up the market
As all three classes were taking place, another part of the inn was quietly buzzing as we began putting together the marketplace. We were lucky this year to be rejoined by our beloved Spirit Trail Fiberworks and Foxfire Fiber, as well as Kathryn Alexander and my own LYS from Blue Hill, Maine, String Theory Yarn.

Donuts from home!
I was sure to sneak back up to the main room during the morning coffee break, though, to snag one of the homemade donuts my father and stepmother brought from my childhood hometown of Rochester, New York. Knitting is so much more fun when your belly is full of donuts, don't you think?

Hats for Hugs
Not too far from the donuts, another extremely happy thing was happening: Our collection of knitted hats swelled to the princely number of 111. All these beautiful hats go directly to cancer patients in radiation, chemotherapy, and oncology centers throughout Southern Maine.

People emerged from their workshops to discover that it had begun snowing outside. Stoked with fresh knitterly ideas and a belly full of lunch, folks once again sprawled about in happy, cozy groups inside.

Snow! More happy sprawling

But at 2pm sharp, the marketplace opened and a new adventure began.

browsing the marketplace browsing the marketplace

The rest of the afternoon we were free to relax, nap, peek at the stash lounge, and sprawl with new friends. Since the retreat was just one week before Thanksgiving, I decided we should rush the season and have a full Thanksgiving banquet that evening. On the menu were turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, roasted root vegetables, cranberry sauce, and last but not least, a slice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream.

I knew we'd be too blitzed on the tryptophan to do any serious thinking after dinner, so everybody gathered in the main meeting room to knit and talk. Kristopher's swift and turbocharged ball winder saw nearly nonstop use as he and other attendees wound hank after hank of yarn for their Sunday New Beginnings projects. (In the photo at right, Susan is actually being serenaded by friends as she nervously begins winding 2,400 yards of laceweight yarn.)

Kristopher and his swift Keeping Susan company as she winds 2,400 yards of laceweight silk

Sunday Morning Come-Together
The fact that the retreat falls so late in the year makes it a convenient bookend of sorts, a time when we can evaluate the past 12 months and recalibrate our compasses for the year ahead. The Sunday morning New Beginnings program was created with this in mind.

writing our letters and reading letters from years past
We begin by writing a letter to ourselves, expressing our hopes and dreams for the coming year. These can be knitterly hopes or life aspirations—however much or little we feel like sharing. The envelopes are then sealed shut and securely stored in a special box until the following year.

What's really fun is to return the next year and find your letter patiently waiting for you on Sunday morning. Those who can't attend the next year are treated to a surprise in the mail instead.

Next, I ask everybody to bring yarn, needles, and patterns for a project expressly for them—something that will challenge them in whatever way they choose. For me, the challenge was simply to start a project I knew I'd complete. Some found the mere idea of knitting for themselves a challenge, while others chose projects that would push their skills to the next level.

casting on for the new year
Once our letters were written, I asked everybody to pull out their yarn and cast-on for their projects. Folks were encouraged to seal the good spirit of the retreat into their projects by inviting others to contribute a stitch to the cast-on row. And so we wandered around the room with our yarn and needles in tow, swapping stitch after stitch and sealing memory after memory as the weekend came to a close.

Jen's trunk show
Years ago when people were packing up their cars to go home on Sunday, they convinced Jen to open up her Spirit Trail trailer for one final yarn indulgence before their trip home. This tailgate sale of sorts has become a retreat tradition. The only drawback of holding the retreat so much later in November is that the weather was simply too cold for a real tailgate sale—so we moved her bins indoors.

Jen's trunk show
After the last hug and the final farewell I, too, packed up my car and pointed it east for the long journey home. Our world is so virtual these days that I find it immensely comforting and inspiring to turn those virtual connections into real, face-to-face ones every year at the retreat. I can still feel the glow of our fellowship, and it gives me hope for the coming year.

Want to find out about the 2009 retreat? Details here.

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