Last weekend I went on an exciting adventure to my first ever knitting retreat!
I had heard about Joeli's knitting retreat last year (run by Joeli Creates), just after last year's had finished and thought how lovely a weekend of knitting and meeting fellow knitters would be, and when Joeli released tickets some time last Spring for the 2017 retreat I jumped at the chance.
And so it was that last Thursday I found myself sat on a cold railway station waiting for a train to Manchester. Normally that wouldn't be much of an ordeal - I had knitting and hot chocolate, and was very happy - but Thursday was the day Storm Doris hit the UK, and travel became notably more difficult. While I was at the station waiting for my train it went from being on time, to being delayed, to eventually arriving 50 minutes late (I was one of the lucky ones; all trains to and from London had been cancelled, and many other people on the retreat had much longer journeys than expected). I did note the irony that while I was glad to have my knitting while I was waiting for the train, the only reason I was having to wait was knitting... Once I was safely on the train I travelled uneventfully to Manchester, and made excellent progress on the yoke of a cardigan!
A knit night had been planned for the Thursday evening, but the event became rather low key as so many people's journeys had been disrupted. Those of us who had made it to Manchester in plenty of time did still meet up for the evening and had a lovely time chatting and admiring each other's knitwear (total fail on my part there - I managed to leave every single piece of knitwear I own at home. Every. Single. Piece. Including socks. Well done Vikki. This is the conclusive evidence, should it be needed, that I am a process knitter) while enjoying some more knitting time (turns out a Dotted Rays wasn't the best choice for social knitting. There is quite a lot of counting involved).
One huge advantage of being away without children for the weekend is getting a good night's sleep. I fell asleep instantly on Thursday evening and didn't wake until 8 on Friday morning. I then ambled to a coffee shop for some breakfast (knitting in hand) before heading over to the retreat venue for the first full day. The venue, Ziferblat, is a little unusual: rather than being a conventional coffee shop, hotel or coference venue, you pay for the time you spend there and drinks and snacks are provided freely. The largest room at Ziferblat felt rather like an oversized living room (or a University common room (it was reminiscent of my University common room anyway!)), with lots of dining tables and chairs, as well as comfy sofas. There was also a long table covered with cakes, biscuits, bread and croissants, with toasters, and a kitchen area in the corner. Nicely informal. The venue also had other rooms where the talks and classes were held.
Friday started with an introduction from Joeli, then the handing out of goodie bags. Who doesn't love a goodie bag?! And these were excellent, with stitch markers, a notions pouch, a project bag, a notebook and pen, a few badges, and lots of business cards, pattern sheets and special offers. So much fun, and a lot of "oohs" and "aahs" as people rummaged through them to find out what was inside. Nathan Taylor (Sockmatician) then gave a talk on how he started knitting and designing, and the psychology of knitters. Nathan is a very animated speaker and everything he said was very interesting. Everyone in the audience knitted their way through the talk, which was lovely (I wish I could get away with that at scientific conferences; unfortunately I would feel too self-conscious).
After a quick break for lunch I did the first of the two classes I had signed up for: Lace Knitting with Karie Westermann. The class absolutely deserves its own post, so it will get one; here I shall say that while I didn't know what I was expecting to learn, I learnt alot!
There was a small gap in the schedule between the end of the classes and the start of the evening event, so I went for a walk with a few of the other people on the retreat for some fresh air and to visit a couple of craft shops: Abakhan and Fred Aldous. Abakhan sells a huge variety of fabric and craft materials, with lots of end of lines and offcuts being sold by weight, something I'd not come across before. Fred Aldous was amazing, selling stationery in all colours, papercraft materials, a bit of yarn, buttons, pretty much anything you can think of!
In the evening everyone came together again for the evening event: more chatting and knitting; door prizes and the special skein swap. 'Door prizes' turned out to be a raffle that included everyone's names in a hat (an actual hat) and a large table of prizes, including yarn, needles, kits and accessories; if your name was pulled from that hat you got to go and choose a prize. There was some yarn from Phileas Yarns that I was lusting over, in shades of deep turquoise and blue, absolutely beautiful, and while I wasn't lucky enough to win that, I did win some Hiya Hiya interchangeable sock needles that I am looking forward to trying out. Before the retreat, Joeli emailed everyone telling us each to bring a skein of yarn of at least £15 in value for the special skein swap. I immediately knew that I would be donating a ball of self-striping sock yarn in pastel pink and yellow with a mini skein for the heels and toes, that while being lovely was far too pastel for me. All the skeins were put in a bag and we stood in a circle. Joeli offered the bag to the first person in the circle to take a skein from the bag without looking. The skein was then shown to the whole group before the second person was allowed to either take a skein from the bag or to steal the first skein. If a skein was stolen, the person it was stolen from got to pick again, and so on until all the skeins had gone. The only other rule was that a skein could only be stolen twice. When it came to my turn I decided to steal as there were already two beautiful purple skeins in the circle. I went for a skein of Colinette Yarns Jitterbug, which is a full 150g, so should make a good shawl or scarf, which is in shades of purple, pink and a little bit of dark green; I love it. The rest of the evening was spent chatting and knitting (again), and I had a great time getting to know people, and there are defintely people I plan to stay in touch with (espceially Jennie from Owl About Yarn, who is lovely, and our favoutite colurs have a huge overlap!). By the time 9pm came round I was absolutely shattered and was very glad my hotel was under 10 minutes from Ziferblat; again I fell asleep as soon as I lay down.
By Saturday morning I was flagging; it turns out that socialising, networking and concentrating is exhausting! Fortunately the schedule for Saturday was less intensive than Friday's, with a class in the morning, a break for lunch, then a marketplace in the afternoon. The class was on Portuguese Knitting (not something I'd even considered before the list of classes was released) and was taught by Julia Billings, and again I'll save that for another post. The marketplace in the afternoon was lovely: just a few select vendors, with enough variety that I could find the perfect souvenir yarn, but not so much that I was overwhelmed. I went away with two skeins of yarn: one from Owl About Yarn in shades of purple and black and one from Phileas Yarns - the beautiful turquoise and blue from the door prizes - it's called Fjord and is absolutely amazing.
As the afternoon wore on, people started to drift away, and eventually I decided that I should go home too. I walked to Manchester Picadilly in the rain, stopping by at a branch of Oxfam and picking up two of the Lemony Snicket books, and dozed all the way home. The weekend was wonderful and I would love to do it all over again (unfortunaley Joeli has said that she won't be running the retreat agin next year). It left me with a spring in my step and a smile on my face; if you've ever considered going on a knitting retreat (or even just taking a class) I would absolutely recommend it.