Change is in the Air

In less than one week we have had temps in the 80’s dropping to the 30’s (about 30c to 2c); change is in the air. What better time to have a knitting retreat than when it is time to change the closet over from light cottons to heavy flannels, from breezy sandals to cozy clogs, from sun hats to knitted caps, from cool fabrics in tropical brights to warm clothes in deep subdued tones. It is cozy fiber time: wools, cashmeres, alpacas, and silky blends.

I have attended several spring Knitting Pipeline Retreats–perhaps it would be more accurate to say late winter retreats–but had only attended one fall retreat before this. Up until this year the fall retreat had been known as The Cornerstone Retreat, named for a cute B&B that hosted the attendees in their meeting room and accommodated some of the guests in their cozy chambers. But as with the seasons change was in the air for the B&B, it was sold and the meeting room was acquired by a local shop for expansion. The Cornerstone Retreat is no more. This fall the retreat was moved from the cozy inn to a rustic camp and retreat center, only a half hour of country lane’s drive away from the Cornerstone Inn in Washington but a world apart. The Knitting Pipeline Cornerstone Retreat has became the Eagle Crest Retreat.

The Eagle Crest Camp and Retreat Center, run by The Salvation Army, is set in a forested and hilly area close to Upper Peoria Lake. Rooms are spartan by any standards, only the bare necessities: a door that closes on a room with a wall heating and cooling unit, some simple furnishings (bunk bed, double bed, dressers, a chair, and luggage rack), a sink with a mounted soap dispenser, a toilet, a shower, and some well used towels in assorted colors and sizes. My room had a mounting bracket for a hair dryer, but no dryer, and no amenities other than the industrial strength soap in a mounted dispenser. It was basic. Growing up where vacations were camping with 4 brothers crowded into a canvas tent, boiling water to wash dishes by the light of a flickering lantern, huddling by an eye watering smokey fire to chase the chill out, and sleeping on an air mattress that failed to hold air through the night, this was luxury by comparison. The summer camps I attended in my early years were better than a canvas tent, but not by much. Bunk beds in drafty cabins with showers and latrines a hiking distance from the sleeping quarters. Looking at it another way, comparing the retreat accommodations to the B&B with cozy quilts and jacuzzi tubs, was not quite as helpful as comparing it to my early camp experiences.

At the Cornerstone, the meeting room was poorly lit and not very large. The camp had a large, well lit dining hall filled with tables and utilitarian molded chairs. There was a comfortable corner with a few couches and cushioned chairs, in other words, the premium real estate. Because the room was larger, the retreat was able to accommodate more attendees. I was worried that having more people would change the character–that it would be less intimate–but we had enough circulation that in the end it was not an issue. Besides, it was fun to meet people who were “retreat virgins” and share in their excitement of attending their first knitting retreat.

If a disinterested someone were to ask me what one does at a knitting retreat, perhaps it could be summed up simply with knit, eat, chat, and sleep, not necessarily in that order. To an interested someone, all of that is true but I do have a bit more to add.

The fall retreat has been going a few years now, and those who have been going since the beginning return and renew acquaintances each year. These are the people who greet one another as old friends. Returning for the second time after having missed last year’s retreat, I recognized a few people from my first time and a few people from the much larger spring retreats. I came with two other people, so never felt at a loss, img_6988but even those who had never been to this retreat did not feel like strangers for long. After the business of checking in, it was not long before people laid claim to their bit of space and settled into spots to begin knitting. Conversations started up quietly among neighboring knitters, tentatively beginning with the simplest of starters such as, “Where are you from?” “What are you working on?” “What yarn is that?” Beginning as a low hum, it was not long before the room was awash in animated conversations combined with laughter, climbing to a pleasant rumble of happy voices.

We did have a schedule, followed loosely, so all was not just eating and knitting. You might say Paula Emons-Fuessle, who hosts the retreat, does not run a tight ship. It is more accurate to say that she quietly and graciously runs things so smoothly that it does not feel like a tight ship. Everything happens that is supposed to happen, but never at the expense of the relaxed atmosphere that can only be produced by being in the company of contented knitters.

The first evening we had a mug cozy exchange. Those who participated marked their cozy with their names, displayed them, and each cozy was assigned a number. For the exchange, we randomly drew a number, found the cozy with that number, oohed and aahed, then searched the room until we found the creator of our new cozy. Mine was a cute cabled cozy with buttons that had stitch markers attached, stitch markers that were put to work before the weekend was through. There was also a give-away table, a contributed snack table, and a winding station, each of which provided a gathering place to start or join into chats.

Two nights in a row we did show and tell. The first night we kicked it off with my local knitting group sharing our very different projects made with the same yarn. I anticipated a brain drain and had printed up a list with the names of patterns and yarns used in the projects I showed, but it would not have mattered if I had not done so. Those who were in front of the group holding up a sweater, shawl, sock, hat, or other knitted goodie and drawing a complete blank for the name of the project or designer were assisted by various members of the audience calling it out. Many of the knitters had amazing creations, all had good stories for what they were showing. Some had obstacles they had overcome, others had challenged themselves with something new, and some very clever knitters had taken a design and made modifications that suited their style and preferences. Presenters had an appreciative audience, and many new projects were put into queues and pattern favorites were added to Ravelry pages.

We had a formal class on brioche taught by Amy Detjen from Knitcircus Yarns. She arrived the evening before the class with bins of gorgeous yarn and had no trouble gathering volunteers to help carry it in from her filled-to-the-brim car. We all excitedly waited for the lids to be popped and as soon as they were lifted the bins were swarmed. Amy had a bit of an issue getting the internet connection for the sales, but once that was ironed out a lengthy line formed. Many bought kits for the brioche class, many bought gradients and/or sock sets that somehow found their way into their hands. The bins remained opened from that night throughout the retreat, the stacks of yarn dropped lower and lower in the bins as time went by. It was almost a relief when a yarn that was singing me a siren song disappeared. The only thing that saved me, and just barely, from buying the brioche kit was the reality check that I would not wear the class pattern; I would have to buy at least two kits to make the length I preferred. And yes, I did seriously consider that, but by the time I succumbed to the temptation I could not find more than one set with the combination I wanted. Scrap yarn was perfectly fine for learning the technique.

Amy was a good teacher and I think I got it; certainly learning it well enough to understand a You-Tube video if I revisit it in the future. I also learned the do-not-make-a-mistake-in-brioche lesson. As I read the pattern, I missed the YO for the brioche purl and thought I could just tink back one row but ended up having to rip back to the original set-up row. Especially nice for those who did invest in the yarn kits, Amy was on hand to offer guidance and fix mistakes well after the class was over. Those who caught on were also ready and able to help others with brioche as well as with any other knitting stumbling blocks that were encountered. Knitters are exceptionally generous with their time and patience when it comes to helping other knitters.

Over the course of the retreat groups disappeared and took field trips to regional yarn shops or took hikes in the woods. My big adventure was to go along with a couple of others to the very little town of Washburn to get soap. Given that our only source of soap was an industrial strength soap dispenser next to the sinks, there was a demand for a milder and accessible shower option. I raised my eyebrows at one request for unscented soap, and little did I know just how little choice we would find at the Casey’s General Store. We found lots of snack foods, beverages, lottery tickets, and gasoline, but very little in regards to sundries: one bottle of men’s Irish Spring Bodywash and one 3-pack of Dial soap, definitely not unscented. We asked if there was a grocery store in town and the reply was well, yes, but it did not open at all the day before, would not be open until later that afternoon, and they did not recommend that we go there as everything on the shelves was past the expiration date. So Dial it was. Fortunately I was able to borrow a knife to cut it into chunks so it could be distributed to the many people clamoring for a soapy shower. A good strong scent was not unwelcome. There must be some geothermal activity near the well, the water in my room smelled of sulfur reminding me of the natural hot springs and the bubbling belching holes found in volcanic National Parks; an olfactory reminder of my tent camping adventures in earlier years. I once “took the waters” at Bath, but drinking that intensely mineral water once in my life was enough. I was happy to have bottled water and scented body wash, although the spouse later reminded me that people pay good money for the experience of soaking in mineral springs.

One of the retreat highlights was a little vendor fair with lots of lovely project bags. Amazingly–in spite of our pre-retreat yarn crawl and onsite market–I stayed within my budget, having put aside a set amount for splurges and spending no more than I had. It may not last long, I signed up for product emails from MariaElena’s bags and am sure to succumb not too far into the future. Temptation would have to wait, we had no cell phone coverage and spotty internet; although we could sometimes get online no one was receiving emails. Not that that is such a bad thing for a few days.

So what was it like to be at a knitting retreat? It was wonderful to renew friendships and make new ones. It was wonderful to be amongst people who share the joy of knitting, the love of fine fibers, and the enthusiasm to share their skills and experiences. Accommodations and fare would best be described as basic, but the time spent with others was platinum-level first-class knitting luxury. It could be enough to keep me going through the winter, the cold months between now and the next late-winter Knitting Pipeline “spring” retreat.


For those who do not know her, Paula Emons-Fuessle is a designer, podcaster, and has several instructional videos on You-Tube with links from her website. She hosts knitting retreats in Illinois, Georgia, and Main and will be co-hosting a knitting tour of Iceland with Amy Detjen next spring. She has two Ravelry threads, Knitting Pipeline and Knitting Pipeline Retreats.


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