This post is dedicated to my brothers from the 2008 Men's Spring Knitting Retreat. Thank You!
Blooming under sable skies.
There my heart forever lies.
Let the world grow cold around us,
Let the heavens cry above!
In thy valley, there'll be love!
... in a very pretty area of upstate New York, 32 men gathered this past weekend to attend the Men's Spring Knitting Retreat held at the Easton Mountain Retreat Center.
Initially strangers, with only a handful of attendees being aware of each other through online knitting blogs and assorted groups, we traveled from all across North America on the hope that something interesting would take place.... this is a snippet of the weekend through my eyes...with thanks to Guido for additional photos...
The knitting community I am involved in is very web savvy and well connected. Knitters love information, love to shop, travel, gossip and seek each other out.
For years I have been reading the blog of Queer Joe and following his fibre related life. Joe is blessed with many talents including knitting, crochet and spinning. Joe lives in Pennsylvania and is connected to many other talented knitters and spinners throughout the world including a certain gentleman in Owen Sound, Ontario by the name of Ted aka Knitterguy. I encourage you to read Ted's blog if you have never visited. Prolific. Empowering. Educator. Creator. The man just blows me away.
I could never have imagined that one day I would be in the company of these two talented fibre artists. They may shudder at such a description but in my mind that is the place they hold.
Then about a year ago along came an online knitting and crochet community by the name of Ravelry. Think of it as Facebook for knitters (only better!) This online forum has really knocked the knitting world on it's ear by providing a well coordinated meeting place for fiber fanatics to easily connect and source information about yarn, patterns and other knitters.
I found myself joining the Men Who Knit group on Ravelry and lo and behold! there are Joe and Ted. Joe announced in December 2007 that he and Ted were organizing a Men's Spring Knitting Retreat. I didn't read of this until the beginning of January and by the time I decided to attend the event was wait listed and I thought I wouldn't get in due to space restrictions. February and March went by and then around the beginning of April I received word from Easton Mountain that space was made available and I was going knitting with the boys!
I'd never been "knitting with the boys" before and that was certainly part of the appeal. To put a different spin on the stereotypical idea of getting out of town to some remote place and just hang with the guys. I wanted to be a part of that experience. I also wanted to surround myself with people I didn't know and possibly broaden my circle of friends.
The Road to Easton.
One other motivator in my decision to attend this retreat was an acquaintance by the name of Alan. A customer of Village Yarns where I work in Toronto, Alan and I had only met a few times in the store and didn't really know that much about one another prior to this event. When I read that Alan had signed up for the retreat and that space was filling up fast, something inside me said "go for it"!
Alan was very enthusiastic about my deciding to attend the retreat and kindly agreed to have me as his navigator on the road trip. Through messaging each other we planned that I would come to his home in Jordan the day before so that I could overnight and be rested for an early start.
I left my Zoe in the care of good friends here in Toronto and traveled by bus to St. Catharines where Alan met me and then we were off to the lovely village of Jordan, Ontario. For the geographically challenged, Jordan is on the Niagara Peninsula of Southern Ontario. Alan and his partner John were so welcoming and treated me like a prince...and suddenly I was on holiday!
Alan and Rusty led me on a tour of their neighborhood to go buy milk and stop in on his friend Robin Loewen. Robin is proprietor of Mosaika Gallery which is a fabulous collection of one of a kind jewelery, art and home furnishing set on the main floor of her fabulous home.
Coincidentally, I met Robin at a yarn trade show in Toronto two weeks prior. She was looking for some specific yarn we did not have at our booth that day and mentioned she was from the St. Catharine's area. I quipped that I was visiting friends in Jordan shortly and too bad that she wasn't closer - I'd be happy to deliver the yarn to her. I mentioned Alan's name and was trying to remember his partner's name when Robin says "You mean Alan and John?! I live down the street from them. We meet at the local pub all the time!" We laughed! So I made good on my promise and Robin kindly showed me the renovations she was completing to her gallery prior to opening for a busy long weekend.
I love flora as much as fiber and Jordan is a wonderful example of a pretty southern Ontario town in the Spring. Especially when a house like this is on your street with Wisteria vines coming into bloom that stretch from this street....
over to the next....
Just unreal. This baby just keeps going, and going! There must be 8 mature vines planted along the pergola that runs the length of the property.... and the colour!
The real show stopper for me though was the home of my hosts. John is a Horticulturist by trade and has the kind of garden I really love - untamed. I will dedicate a separate post to this wonderful garden but for now a few teasers.
If you know me you know I love Pink!
We shared a great dinner that evening and then early to bed for the morning departure. Remember though that we are knitters first and foremost, so Alan and I had an impromptu knitting lesson over morning coffee where I demonstrated the Crochet Cast On method, the Crochet Provisional Cast On method and how to Cast Off using a crochet hook. Then we showered, packed the car and bid adieu to Jordan.
You could not ask for a better driver and a wonderful travel companion. Alan and I are both tall men so it was nice to stop frequently and stretch our legs. For two men who decided to go on a road trip/retreat having spent no prior social time together, we got along famously. There is something to be said when you can enjoy comfortable silences with someone during a 7 hour car ride.
I have never driven along the southern shore of Lake Ontario, through the Erie Canal and Finger Lakes district of New York State which is so pretty and lush this time of year. The weather was overcast but lovely with very little of the predicted rain and the only traffic we encountered was in Albany during rush our. Even then the delay was minimal and we soon found ourselves leaving Albany/Troy and en route to Easton, New York.
Two grown men getting giddy with anticipation of our arrival at Easton Mountain was pretty hilarious. Over the hills and through the woods and before we knew it - we were there!
Once we were on the property of Easton Mountain it felt to me as if we had stepped out of our reality and into another place...
...look at that expression on Alan's face! I love it. That describes how we felt to a T ...and I remember saying this is what Gene Kelly's character felt like upon finding Brigadoon...
The first time of any experience is always magical and with the season being Spring it just adds to the experience. When you live in this part of North America where 8 months of the year are greey, cold and without foliage (beyond Conifer needles) your eyes go bonkers for GREEN. Mine do...
The main drive from the parking lot leads you past the Upper Pond...
....past our accommodations...bunk-beds - who knew?!
...past two Geodesic domes...
...followed by the Main Hall...
...newly planted trees which slope down to three other ponds and Easton Mountain...
... I laugh every time I see the photo below because it was photographed so much by other guys ... I took a photo of it because it's Pink! Walking by that colour just calls to you ... even to butch, straight, tough guys like Guido... more on Sr. Fabuloso in a bit...
...and just behind the pink beauty is a Peace Post in four languages...
Many of us have been on retreats of various kinds before but this sign-post reinforced the overall tone for Easton Mountain. Peace. I like to think that we all experienced some peace during this weekend...
...and finally we reach the Main House and the mountain...
...the day was overcast but having finally arrived, I could care a less. The mist that was in the air made everything lush and fresh...
... ...after checking in and dropping our bags off in our rooms we gathered briefly in the Temple before dinner...
...and opened the doors to our fellow knitters who had already arrived...
We gathered for our first shared meal at 7pm and then congregated in the main room after dinner...
David Sledesky of Easton Mountain officially welcomed us and was followed by Joe and Ted who briefly outlined the facilities and weekend schedule. We were then free to sit, knit and socialize. Let me tell you that not having our time structured to the bitter end was bliss.
When commenting to friends, family and co-workers about my experience at this retreat I kept using the word Magic over and over. Some seemed perplexed that a group of men knitting together would be described as magic. Maybe for some of the participants it was just another weekend with the needles. I can only speak for myself.
If you do not live in a community where there are other male knitters, then to see, let alone be in a room of 31 others who share your passion for all things fibre at one time is a surreal experience.
The first evening together slowly unfolded as people settled into informal groups and mingled and became curious about each others work. The level of conversation picked up and stories were told and people relaxed into sitting, listening and knitting - I'm not forgetting those of you who Crochet!
I would catch myself just staring at people and admiring the work they were creating or how their hands moved as they formed stitches or watching the expression on their faces as they got into the zone of knitting and relaxing. I would look up at times and see similar expressions of what I was feeling reflected back at me on the faces of others.
There is a myth that in large urban areas there are other male knitters by the dozen who congregate at local stitch n' bitch groups. Not true. I live in a metropolitan area of 4 million and rarely do I cross paths with other men who knit. That was the case for many of the men attending. We are often alone in our knitting communities, if we have a community at all. It's one thing to be a part of a knit-night or structured class but to be amongst so many your own kind! A unique energy, a spirit if you will that was new to me was with us the entire time.
I've been to a few weekend knitting events before and personally I was glad there were no knitting "celebrities" nor those recognized in the knitting community for most blog readers, books published or events attended. We were fine without the distraction. No one took the attitude of know-it-all nor centre-of-it-all and as the night and weekend progressed, a spirit of selflessness and sharing just naturally unfolded.
It wasn't too long after we settled into our evening that I started to hear over and over "This is amazing" "This is so cool" "I never thought I would feel this way being with a group of other men"....and on and on. The fact that we allowed ourselves to express these feelings so openly was refreshing. My charming room-mate Paul would concur with this feeling as he was the one of the first to vocalize it as we sat knitting after dinner.
Paul (in the pink shirt above) is a fine example of a gentleman. Manners intact and not a snide word or remark to be heard which was very refreshing as we attendees who are gay know how quickly social situations can digress into a bitch-fest. Not that we didn't try to take the piss out of each other....
I just loved the variety of personalities in attendance. So many charming, polite, hilarious, talented and patient men. OH MY GOD! I can still think back to all the belly-laughs I had that weekend. The guys were a fucking riot. I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard. Just fabulous.
Speaking of fabulous, so was the weather which was predicted to rain but ol' man sunshine decided to hang with the guys for the weekend and we loved it!
Fabulous also describes this character pictured below. If you are fortunate to ever cross paths with Stephen, do say hello. Charming, witty and a mean sock knitter too. Though his hands seemed to be occupied in other capacities this weekend.... but "what happens at Easton stays at Easton" ... I know, I know!
Guido of Boston led an impromtu lecture on the importance of washing your knitting....
...hitting the message home with this image forever burned in my mind...
With no "star" teachers booked for the weekend, the MKR drew talent from within it's ranks to teach classes over the weekend. Another fine example of the spirit at work with these men sharing their skills and knowledge about all aspects of fibre related activities, including the Spinning of Cotton Workshop led by Chris from Vermont.
Respecting the fact that many of the participants had rushed through their days to get Easton and to then suddenly be bombarded by Q&A from 30 different guys had me putting on hold conversations that I had hoped to begin but decided would be better suited to "next time". There were men in attendance who I have admired from afar, and those whose recent changes in their professional lives closely echoed my own. "Would you please validate my feelings on this subject..." and pushing my agenda were suppressed in favor of just going with the flow and if it happens, it will.
Ahhh Joe....such a charmer! Great legs that Joe...
I tried to get Thad, another roomy of mine, to sit still for five seconds but he was just the biggest bundle of energy with the whitest teeth you've ever seen...
Alan is pictured seated at his Majacraft "Rose" spinning wheel. He had debated on bringing it but I know he was glad that he did as it allowed Alan the opportunity to share his experiences and perspective as a novice spinner with persons considering a wheel and he generously allowed people who had never tried a spinning wheel to give it a whorl. Get it? Jack ass...
Michael has a laugh louder than mine which means he got told to shut up a lot as a kid. He's working on a new book (shhh!!!) and is a frickin' fast knitter!
Mel's beautiful Fair Isle sweater worked in Alpaca. The entire project is his design including the stitch pattern.
This is Danny of Toronto, Ontario. Danny knows his way around yarn, dye and needles. A gorgeous shawl of his own design. Danny was the man who inspired me to knit in public. I would see Danny knitting while waiting for the streetcar or on the subway when I used to live downtown and then one day I got the nerve to just sit in Trinity Bellwoods Park or on the streetcar and I haven't stopped since. Oddly, this weekend is the first time I think I ever spoke with Danny yet I've seen him around Toronto for years. Life be funny that way.
Right then. How many men do you know help knit the chuppah ( חוּפָּה) for their wedding? My man Guido did. Go big or go home is his motto and what a wonderful keepsake to have and pass on to his children one day. Check it out, it's just gorgeous! The date of his wedding was fast approaching so he enlisted the help of his knitting group to have it completed in time. That stitch pattern is not the easiest to knit so consistently and between so many knitters. Bravo.
Pictured below is another fabulous man I am so happy I got to meet. Robert brought two gorgeous Cashmere sweaters that he knit for himself and his partner. Robert was born in Quebec but is a New Yorker though and through. He teaches knitting so we had lot's to dish about while having a cigarette. Robert also taught a class over the weekend on various Cast Off techniques. Very witty and very charming. I miss ya!
Dr. Mel and his wedding hose.
Ok - see what happens when your memory starts to fade. Honey - you were one of the fucking funniest & talented guys at the Retreat yet I can't remember your name to save my life!!! Kinda like some great sex I've had...but I digress...check out this crochet scarf, I just love the snowman and snowflake motifs....hey where's my gold embroidered Polo shirt? Please email me.
Post Note: Thank you Josh for reminding me that this big bear of a man is John. A fabulous bear who also happens to be an independent commercial knitwear designer of over 5 lines of clothing, including several for dogs!
Thad shows the results of his mastering the Mosaic Knitting technique a la Barbara Walker.
There's that smile!
"Take off your underwear - I can't see your sox!"
Steven's collection of hand knit socks...odd that they were found in various rooms around Easton but he was happy to get them back...
Until Next Time
No one here in Toronto believes me when I say we had gorgeous weather. This is because nine times out of ten the weather is crappy in Ontario for the spring long-weekend. But once again on Sunday morning, glorious sunshine!
Our final morning together with plans for returning next year - yay!
"Always Measure As You Knit!!!"
Thanks for this photo Guido. I love my shoes too.
You are truly a unique human who has created an interesting niche for yourself within our community. Thanks for keeping it real baby! Hugs.
Finally, my heartfelt thanks to Joe & Ted. I appreciate the hours of work you put in making this weekend possible for us. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
Toronto, Ontario CANADA
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