Sock Summit – A debriefing
It’s been a week since Sock Summit, and while my life will never quite be the same, things have returned to a sense of normalcy, such that I’m in a position to fill you all in on the wonders I saw, the experience in a nutshell, and my reflections.
In a word, I had a wonderful time.
I arrived in Portland late at night on a Tuesday, and had an hour and a half to go 20 miles, to get to my hostel before their registration closed. I’d chosen this hostel because it was in a nice, vibrant neighborhood, cost an affordable $31 a night (even cheaper if you’re a HI member), and was only a couple of miles from the Oregon Convention Center, where Sock Summit was taking place. It was a great decision, and I absolutely loved the hostel and the neighborhood it was in, as well as the commute back and forth (more on this in a minute), but getting to this hostel at 11pm was tricky, because the MAX, Portland’s light rail system, doesn’t run with much frequency at night, and by Google Maps’ reckoning, I wouldn’t make it on time. So, I investigated cabs, but seeing that I’d be charged something like $50, I found that the Blue Star transport company runs a downtown express shuttle on the half hour for $14. And then I’d be only half a mile from the hostel, and could walk or taxi from there. It was a great plan, and having previewed my walk on Google Street View, I felt comfortable with hoofing it, even at 11:15 PM. I got to the hostel, settled into my bunk bed, and fell asleep to the oceanic sounds of a sleeping lady, snoring loudly across the room.
Wednesday had three goals – to pick up my rental bicycle (aka trusty steed), meet my Aunt Christine for lunch, and to get my registration packet at the Convention Center. These were all uneventfully accomplished. I took a lovely walk in the sunshine to the waterfront where I found Waterfront Bicycles (aptly named, that), picked up my little hybrid, and tooled around the waterfront bike path a bit. I did end up swapping the bike out for one a bit larger, and without squeaky disc brakes, but then I was off! I went back to my hostel to meet Christine, and we had a lovely lunch at Papa Haydn (the best part was the Marionberry Lime tart we shared for dessert – delicious!). I spent some time resting up at the hostel, then biked down to the Convention Center to start the Sock Summit festivities! I grabbed my registration materials, and met up with a group of knitters who’d prearranged to go out for dinner. I was about to join them, until I realized that the wave of exhaustion had truly hit me, and that I wouldn’t be able to hold up particularly well. I dashed off home instead, made a run to Trader Joe’s to stock up on provisions, and called it an early night.
Thursday was Day 1! I didn’t have anything at the CC until 1:30, so I spent the morning exploring the neighborhood a bit, and visiting the famous Portland Food Carts downtown. Lunch was a gyro from a mediterranean cart, and was enjoyed on the grass by the water. Then, for the knitting to begin!
My first class was Making the Next Monkey with Amy Singer, editor of Knitty. She’s a wonderful conversationalist, and really compelling to listen to. The information she gave was, admittedly, a bit specific to her publication – less about how to be Cookie A and make revolutionary, world-changing, über-popular designs, more about how to take your awesome design and get it into the format that Knitty needs. Still very interesting. The best part was seeing the “before” shots of popular designs, including those by Cookie A. The girl really didn’t know how to take an interesting photo, which would be surprising for anyone who’s familiar with her iconic Pomatomus and Monkey shots.
Then – the MARKETPLACE. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, knitters, but the line was incredible – stretching down the corridor, around the corner, into a different exhibit hall, looping back on itself a few times. I’d make a conservative estimate of 500 people in that line at the point when I joined it, waiting for the marketplace to open. Could have been much more than that who arrived in the minutes after the place opened up.
And when the doors opened, it was like the gates of paradise – you could hear harps and the angelic host… and the screams of the mob at GothSocks, being trampled and squashed (and elbowed, scratched, and shoved) as the dyer tried to meet demand, lobbing skeins of fluorescent-and-black striping yarn to the feverish mob. I kept my distance, and having heard some of the horror stories of those who met bodily harm in the chaos, I’m glad I did! On the way into the Marketplace, we were greeted by the Sockgate…just to prove that yes, some knitters are big dorks, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. We were sharing the CC with OSCon, the Open Source convention, so I think the east side of Portland was mightily geeked out for a few days.
I made my way with bated breath to the Blue Moon Fiber Arts booth in the back corner, home of Socks that Rock. I picked up two skeins of StR lightweight – one in a summery blue and green, the other with green, purple, and fuchsia, and fondled a whole lot of others. But, the marketplace was large, and I didn’t want to burn out too quickly – in the first minutes! I did end up returning to this booth on a later day to snag a skein of StR in “Pond Scum” green – a perennial favorite of mine.
Next I picked up my “swag” – a tee-shirt and button I’d purchased at the time of registration, and then started my more aimless wandering around the marketplace. One of the first stops I made was the Ancient Arts Fibre Craft booth. The proprietress, Caroline, was warm and helpful, and I was immediately taken by their “Tibetan fusion” Russian supported spindles. Like a Russian, but with a more angular whorl, and made out of a variety of woods, not just the super-light woods that Russians traditionally come in. I was playing around with them, when one span right out of my control, and as I thrust my left hand out to catch it, I pricked myself on the spindle’s tip! Luckily, no Sleeping Beauty story ensued, just a little bit of blood loss (that I tried to hide for fear that people would freak out about bodily fluids and injuries…). But, for those of you who wonder how Sleeping Beauty could have possibly pricked herself on a spindle, it’s because when you use some spindles (including those used on certain spinning wheels without orifices, c.f. walking wheels), you draft off the sharp, pointy tip of the spindle, not off a hook or orifice. And, as the adjectives “sharp” and “pointy” would imply, these things mean business, and can puncture you if you’re being clumsy. Lesson learned.
I took home this Bubinga wood beauty (incidentally, not the bloodthirsty one), and continued my tour de marketplace.
The place was too large and overwhelming to go into much detail on, as you can imagine, but I did get to see some beautiful yarn, much of which I let someone else take home. Hazel Knits was one shop I was very impressed with. Jennie the Potter had a mob scene (selling limited-edition Sock Summit coffee mugs), but I managed to get a lovely knit-patterned pendant. Sanguine Gryphon had the longest line I’d seen, but it was an orderly chaos, and I took home a skein of orange Skinny Bugga. Signature Needles had a line to rival Sanguine Griffin, with their hand-machined needles. Ultra-precise, carefully crafted for the knitter in mind. $55 for a set of 5 DPNs! I decided to wait (and unfortunately, when I returned on Sunday, they had sold out of the size I wanted! You snooze, you lose!). Blackthorn needles was there too, representing the other approach to high-tech knitting tools, with their carbon fiber needles. These were seriously impressive. I loved the stiletto tips of the Signatures, but the lightweight flexibility, and warm natural texture of the Blackthorns was really tempting. But, alas, they didn’t bring many sets of 5″ needles (their standard DPN size is 6″, and I really prefer the shorter length), so I ended up passing (and ordering them online when I got home…).
Some local folks had also made the journey out West! A big shout out to Stephanie at Dirty Water Dyeworks, who is based out of Arlington, MA, and who I keep running into – at Common Cod’s Fiber Camp, at the Great Rhody Yarn Crawl, at Gather Here’s Pints and Purls, and now, in Portland, OR! She makes lovely colors, and if I didn’t have 2 skeins of her wool sitting in my yarn basket, I probably would have taken home more! Also, I was pleased to see WEBS of Northampton, MA making an appearance, showing off the fact that not only are they an internet powerhouse, but also a yarn shop with real, nice people and good stock. East Coast represent.
The Marketplace was also home to the demos – I caught a bit of the Fastest Knitter competition between classes on Friday, but missed everything else, including the amazing Fleece to Foot competition, where they went from Sheep to Sock in a day’s work. No team actually finished their socks, but it made for a good show, I hear! The Oregonian did a nice writeup of the highlights here. For those of you who haven’t seen sheep shearing, you can see the Sock Summit shearing videos on Youtube: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4. Also in the Marketplace was the World’s Largest Sock project. It’s about 7 meters around, and is a large circular project with a dozen or so needles in it that keeps moving around from fiber festival to knitterly event. The currently-sleepy blog documenting the project can be seen at big-sock.blogspot.com.
I’ve already commented on Amy Singer’s class, but that wasn’t the only one I took. On Friday, I was in class all day with Cookie A herself, talking about how to take sock knitting off the grid, and make a stitch pattern travel around the foot in an interesting manner. In retrospect, it wasn’t all that earth-shattering, but I did get some good ideas about sock shaping, particularly around the gusset. Here’s the little sample sock I made, that has two traveling patterns intersecting at the side of the foot:
Saturday I had a day with Nancy Bush, who was teaching us Twined Knitting. Well, I should have done my research, because it turns out that I know how to do twined knitting already. In fact, my friend Doris had asked for help with a twined pattern (called, in this instance, a Latvian plait), and I dissected it and even posted instructions on YouTube for her, so one could say I’ve even taught twined knitting. So, perhaps a waste of money. But, I met some great knitter friends, and did enjoy Nancy Bush’s quaint pseud0-traditionalism. A side-note from the files: somewhere I’d gotten the idea that she was ancient, but no, she’s just a regular middle-aged woman, probably in her late 50s or very early 60s (she maintains a very small internet footprint, so I’ve been unable to dig up anything to confirm her age, except that she started her fiber arts company, Wooly West, in 1980). I will say that I’m pleased to be able to make the lovely embossed chain stitch from the twined knitting, but the “technique” that we spent 6 hours working on (and $150, plus materials fees for which we were overcharged) can mostly be summed up as, “like 2-color fair-isle, except that you twist the yarn at every stitch like intarsia. And you don’t need 2 colors, you can use two ends of the same color.” Not rocket science.
My fourth class, on Sunday morning, was the most wholly informative, full of new information: Introduction to Natural Dyeing with Kristine Vejar, of A Verb for Keeping Warm. It was great – she had lots of yarn, plants, extracts, and information to share, as well as a powerpoint to walk us through the Indigo dyeing process. It certainly would have been better to get the hands-on experience of working with her in her studio, playing with the dyepots and mixing colors, but sometimes you can’t bring in hotplates and chemicals and drying racks and dyes into a convention center. I get that. (Although, they did manage to bring in live sheep. Just sayin’.) I’m particularly excited to give this a try now that I learned that, with the exception of the indigo dyeing process (and wode, another insoluble dye that also makes an excellent blue), the dyestuffs are totally non-toxic, so I won’t be so shy about playing with them. And, Sock Summit had a silent auction to benefit Doctors Without Borders, and I “won” the natural dyeing kit that Kristine had put together, with madder root, logwood, and fustic, as well as more instructions and some bare superwash merino. So, I’m soon to be on my way!
Outside of the classes, I had some great experiences with my fellow knitters. I visited some lovely yarn shops in Portland, a city that is embarrassingly rich with good yarn shops. Urban Fiber Arts, Knit/Purl, and Happy Knits all got visited, and at Knit/Purl I took home a cone of Habu Textile’s Bamboo Copper, which shines beautifully now, although I fear it may oxidize to green! Happy Knits hosted a wonderful party on Saturday night, with beer, cake (amazing cake), fudge, karaoke, raffles, and the one thing that surprisingly had been lacking in my Sock Summit experience – a social venue to chat and knit. The space in all three stores, but especially Happy Knits, was amazing (so, too, is Yarn Garden, down the street, which I didn’t make it to this trip, but visited in 2008). I envy Portland for its affordable real estate and sprawling spaces…and wonderful community of knitters that makes it possible for all these stores and more to thrive in close proximity to one another!
Thanks to Ravelry, I was able to visit some great (and delicious) meet-ups – one to Voodoo Donuts on Friday morning, and then to a Dim-Sum lunch on Saturday afternoon. Having a bicycle made it particularly convenient to duck back and forth over the bridge to the Convention Center and back downtown, and the weather couldn’t have been nicer. When I last visited Portland, I’d noticed how omnipresent the biking infrastructure was – bike hitching posts at both ends of every block downtown, bike lanes colored fluorescent green in particularly tricky spots, separate lanes and paths for pedestrians and bikes to share. In my 6 days on bike in Portland, averaging 5+ downtown, high-traffic city miles each day, I never once felt like my person was in danger. Anyone who bikes the greater Boston area will know how opposite that is from the situation in our city, where you’re often lucky if you can go a mile on city streets without having to drive extremely defensively to avoid aggressive (or clueless) cars, jaywalking pedestrians, and other cyclists who show blatant disregard for the rules of traffic. It was a lovely change of pace (and helped restore my blood pressure to its normal, mellow levels, after Boston started to invoke more and more rage)!
The final segment of this chronicle is, of course, a recounting of the FLASH MOB. Wh-what, you may ask? Yes, the flash mob. For those of you unfamiliar with this phenomenon, the idea is, in a crowded place, all of a sudden, a group of people appear from nowhere, do something together, and then disperse, bewildering onlookers and making a sensation. Choreographed dances are particularly good for this, as they make it seem like suddenly you’re in the midst of a lyric opera…pretty cool, right?
The idea was a good one, but the problem is that it was organized, well, by the Official Sock Summit Organizers. And the Organizers have liabilities. So, while the coolest thing would have been to have renegade knitters appear in the center of downtown, or at the Brewers’ Festival, and do their thing in front of completely unsuspecting strangers, it didn’t make organizational sense. How do you get everyone there and back efficiently? What happens if someone sprains their ankle or has heat exhaustion or some other medical concern? We need to have it somewhere near the Convention Center for transportation efficiency (even though the CC is in the middle of nowhere). And that way, we can have the music set up in a safe place, and have EMTs on hand in case they’re needed. More responsible…and less awesome. But I dig responsibility, and I don’t want to knock it. I’ve been in that place before. I’m just saying that the Flash Mob was really more a pre-arranged demonstration of sock knitters’ choreographed singing and dancing, and less “flash” “mob.” Because 15 minutes before the scheduled start time, everyone was filling the area, lining up, making it perfectly clear that something was up (and obvious enough that CC management went around warning people not to fall off walls and into ditches). So, we were sunk into a recessed area away from the street (and shielded from view), subdivided by a pagoda with a bell in it (such that you can’t see our true numbers).
But, the hour came, and by golly, if we didn’t have a knitterly flash mob of our own!