The Braintrust

This last weekend, I did something I don’t get to do a lot.  I went away with some people for the sole purpose of knitting.  Knitting is pretty much the thing I’m most interested in, and I believe certainly and fully that to keep the creative well full, I need to spend time with other knitters.  Most of the time this has me in the role of teacher, and I get lots of creative input and ideas from my students – and you can ask around, I bet most teachers would say the same thing. The bounceback that happens when I teach you something, and you have an idea based on what I’ve told you, and I end up learning? It happens all the time.  This though, this was a little different. It was like an informal mini-retreat. A bunch of knitters gathered in the woods, and all we did for two days was talk, and knit, and talk, and spin and knit, which made total sense, because outside it still looked like this.

outside1 2014-04-09

Winter is loosening, but it’s not gone.

outside2 2014-04-09

One thing I noticed was that everyone brought their A-game. Without the distractions of family, kids and jobs, everyone had loaded up their best knitting, their best spinning, their best ideas.  We all brought questions, and concepts and I’m pretty sure that everyone left with more of both.  These women are some of the best textile artists I know, so I brought up a complex plan for modifying  Sweet Dreams (the pattern I settled on for that gorgeous silk and bison) and asked simply “Would this work?” The braintrust settled in on it, and three conversations and a little bit of googling and mathematics later, the braintrust had checked my work, and improved my idea. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

sweetdreamsstart 2014-04-09I’d be nowhere as good a knitter without these times. The times that I gather with the people who care about what I do all in one place – without distraction, without concern, without competing forces.  (There was excellent wine and good food too, because… well. These people care about the same things I do.)

knittersbyfire 2014-04-09There was also something amazing, which is that wonderful thing that happens when you don’t get to hand pick who you’re with. When new people turn up, with new ideas and new ways of doing things and you see them execute something a way you never have, or put forth an idea that your brain wouldn’t have ever, ever come up with on its own.

yarnhandsball 2014-04-09

(Because someone will ask, that yarn is this.)

spinningsupported 2014-04-09

Often when I teach, I remind students to have an open mind. “Your ideas have gotten you this far” I say. “You need someone else’s to really go to the next level.”  I took my own advice this weekend.  Every person there had an idea or way of thinking to offer me – if I was listening. (Actually, this crowd is a bunch of strong, opinionated women. You don’t have to listen very hard.) They all brought their A-Game.  By the way, if one of the textile artists who brings their A-Game is Kim? It looks like this.

kimsbesteffort 2014-04-09

It was a freakin’ mosh pit of yarn. It was amazing.

I’m home now, and packing like a fiend, because this weekend is Strung Along’s April Retreat at Port Ludlow, and I find that after this weekend, and remembering what it is that retreats are for? I’m so, so looking forward to it.  Amazing things happen at retreats, and they’re an amazing treat, and a leap for the soul.

By the way, in case you’re feeling bad you can’t be with us this weekend? We’re doing it again.  We’re having another retreat in June, and by popular demand, this one is just for the knitters. (We heard that not everyone is or even wants to be a spinner, and while we don’t understand that, we sure do respect it.)  Textile artists are creative makers, so this time we’re inviting another special kind of maker to be with us.  We’ve named our theme for the three things we’ll be doing.  Knit (That’s me) Play (that’s CAT BORDHI) and Cook – and that my friend, is Chef Dan, executive Chef at The Resort at Port Ludlow – and we’re so excited that Cat and Dan will be with us.  There will be a day of knitting – where I’ll teach you some finesse and special techniques to customize your knitting and make it more  beautiful, and take a look at (and sample) some amazing yarns. Cat Bordhi will have another day of teaching, and well. It’s hard to describe what Cat’s going to do, but she’s turning her inestimable brain towards a class called “The Joy of Cooking up a Design From Scratch” where she’ll talk not just about designing garments you’ll love, but stitch patterns you’ll love – and take your knitting to a deeply personal place. Her class is all about making what YOU love, and figuring out how to express it.  Finally, Chef Dan will teach a gourmet cooking class – along with a few other wonderful bonuses.  You’ll learn about selecting ingredients, creating a menu, prep, cooking – serving and choosing wine to go with it. You need absolutely no experience in the kitchen for the cooking class, and only solid beginner skills for the knitting.  The retreat will run from the evening of Friday June the 20th, and finishes the evening of Monday, June the 24th.   If you’d like more information about this special treat – email me at  I’ll send you out details.

In the meantime, I’m going to figure out what I can sell to get myself to a few more of these retreats as a student.  I need the braintrust.

146 thoughts on “The Braintrust

  1. Maybe barter with another teacher/writer? Or barter with a teacher/writer and with someone who owns a place you would like to be?

  2. I think you mean the JOY of Creating, not the JOE of creating.

    I have a similar typo problem. My oldest is Milo, which I type every time I made a grocery list and need Milk.

      • Everybody has something. With me it’s typing “repot” for report. I’m always running repots. A friend of mine has the same trouble with quiet and quite. She has quiet (quite) a problem with that.

        Aren’t word quirks fun?

        • I’m a Market Research Manager and have been in this industry for 20 years. Inevitably, it gets spelled “reaserch” at least once a day. I’ve learned to admire my consistency.

  3. Now I wish I had the budget for traveling more this year. I hope the non-spinning retreat will continue to be an option in the future – I’d love a knit/dye/cook version someday.

  4. That first picture must be color because I see red in it, but it could also be a black & white picture with a red filter. In fact I thought it was B&W when I first saw it.

    And if your outdoors looks like a black and white photograph, you need those piles of colorful yarn. Really need them.

  5. Braintrusts are so wonderful, regardless of the topic. When I was writing my mystery novels, I attended a monthly brainstorming session with other writers. They always got me unstuck and took my stories to places I would have never thought of. Sometimes I didn’t even know what to ask, and still they helped.

    • Just wondering why anyone would want to modify an imperfect pattern when there are tons of amazing shawl patterns out there?

      • Well, speaking only for myself as a person who often modifies all sorts of patterns, I’d say that it isn’t a matter of a pattern being ‘imperfect’. It’s more that I see something I like- a shape, a stitch pattern- and think of a way that it might suit me even better. Rather than searching enormous databases for something that might be not-quite-what-I-want in some more important way, I just make the thing I like it the way I want it.

        Some mods are hard to figure out, but many are quite easy, so why pass up something that appeals to me just because I’d like it to be bigger/smaller/wider/shallower/beaded/ not beaded/or made out of a different yarn?

      • I don’t necessarily intend to modify mine, I’m just curious to see how Steph will modify hers. It’s sort of like looking through projects on Ravelry, reading the notes about which fiber worked better or using a different bind off.

  6. Love it! It has such a pretty pointed edging. Are you have some stockinette in it or are you doing the lace from the get go? Can’t wait to see it. I love your bead choice.

  7. i won’t be able to read every word until I get home tonight, but because I rarely miss a DW shirt, did you ask the supported spindler who her first Doctor was?

  8. SO glad I live in the south right now. Don’t hate me, but it;s 83 degrees and sunny today. Just lovely. Of course, come August, I will want to be anywhere but this armpit, so there’s that.
    All that yarn makes me drool. I have no stash to speak of. Just leftovers. Sad, I know! Sigh. My knitting is truly uninspired right now. And when I troll for yarn online (there is no yarn store here), I give up. So you may be jealous of my 83 degrees F, but I’m totally jealous of all that yarn and inspiration!

  9. your brainstorming sounds wonderful — a time just to do what you love, we all get so little of that.. and that pattern you chose is so pretty – it’s now in my queue!

  10. I tried to reply to you via the email address you gave on the subject of the June retreat. My email system wouldn’t allow a “ca” ending. So I sent you my request via “.com” Hope you get it. If not, I’m interested in the information regarding the June retreat. Thanks.

      • I had the same thing happen. It was because I accidentally copied and pasted the . at the end of ca in your email address. When that was fixed, it sent the message without a problem!

  11. Oh My! I can’t believe my message went through! First time I haven’t failed the “human test”. I was beginning to take it personally…. lol

  12. I am going to a knitting retreat this weekend with several friends. We have been doing this for 3 or 4 years. We started out once a year, but now we go twice a year. Knitting, eating, talking, relaxing.. it is marvelous. When I explained to my husband and youngest daughter that my sister-in-law didn’t have the slightest idea what a knitting retreat would be, my daughter piped up and said it was a “like a slumber party for little old ladies.” I don’t consider myself or my friends “little old ladies”, but I did get a kick out of the statement.
    I am glad you were able to relax with friends, doing something you all love to do. Good luck in Port Ludlow. It sounds lovely.

    • When my son was young he asked why I was early picking him up from daycare. I told him I had been at a seminar (CLE). He asked what a seminar was and I told him “a PD day for lawyers”. He got it. It all depends on what your world includes. Slumber party makes perfect sense.

  13. How I wish all my knitting friend weren’t internet friends… There are no knitting retreats in my neck of the woods and I don’t have a “braintrust” nearby. One day, maybe, I’ll be able to go attend a knitting retreat, show, or whatever…
    In the meanwhile, I’ll follow your posts and live vicariously through you! 🙂

  14. Hi Stephanie, I read your blog very often, but I’ve seldom commented. I felt I should let you know that the link to the Resort at Port Ludlow took me to Cat Bordhi and the Cat Bordhi also to me to Cat Bordhi. I’m glad you had such and enjoyable time last weekend and that this one is fun as well.

  15. I could not send mine either. And I send to europe often with no problem? I too would like info on the retreat.

  16. We have such a knitting weekend once each winter. It has been dubbed Eat, Ski, Knit. This year we couldn’t ski (cross country skiing it is) because the world of Talkeetna, Alaska was solid ice. Instead we walked with cleats on because none of us can stay inside for two days. The food is great, and the knitting is always wonderful, as is the stash exchange and the White Elephant exchange. A wonderful thing to drop all responsibilities for the weekend and just knit with friends.

  17. How wonderful! Continuing to be inspired by you. You know we all want to BE you. 🙂 I think I’ll have to settle for the Alabama Fiber Festival. Yeah, who knew Alabama has fiber besides cotton.

  18. I’ve been wanting to ask a sock question for a long time, and keep waiting for the right post that fits the questions. Then I was going to ask when you talked about blocking, because I really want to know, do you block your socks? Do you use sock blockers?

    But my first sock question is, when you travel with socks, how to you pack them in your bag? I prefer double points, but I usually end up with a triangle that doesn’t pack in a project bag well. If I leave the knitting on four needles, they always end up getting pushed off of one end in my bag. Share your wisdom? Thanks!

  19. That yarn looked yummy! I will be a first time attendee at the Toronto Knitter’s Frolic, and cannot wait to see all the yummy stuff at the marketplace. I will definitely be on the lookout for indigodragonfly. 🙂

  20. I LOVE Sweet Dreams by Boo-Knits! I’ve knit this shawl myself – it is such a beauty! I’ve seen different versions and cannot wait to see yours. I hope you share your notes because your version will definitely be inspiring a lot of people to cast this on (me especially). I am so glad you are a fast knitter;).

  21. I was checking my calendar to see if I could squeeze this trip in (I can’t, I have to be in Utah the morning of June 24th) and I noticed that June 24th is actually a Tuesday. So, it’s not clear whether the retreat ends on Monday, June 23 or on Tuesday, June 24. I can’t make it either way, but I’m sure this will affect the decisions of at least some other people.

  22. Your retreat sounds wonderful – and I’m sure it was exactly what you needed after your book tour. I’m curious – who’s knitting what with the Beige?

  23. Ok…I can’t be the only one who finds it deeply amusing that “that yarn” is called Beige.

    One of these times, I will make it to a knitting/spinning/dyeing/fiber-something retreat.

  24. Before I was a single mom, I used to organize and go on periodic retreats. They are the best thing. Sometimes we get so involved in the “Doing” that we forget to “BE”. And being is so free, unlocking our minds and our creativity!
    Good for you girl!

  25. This may be my favorite post ever — and I think I have read every one of yours. Wonderful job capturing the inspiration accessible from teaching and collaborating.

  26. Psssttt. When is there going to be a retreat with weaving? Knitting, weaving, and…well, whatever extra. I love weaving.
    Although now that I think about it, it does take a while to warp a loom. Hmmm.

  27. You are SO inspiring! Raymonde – when I move from California to Salt Lake City this Fall and lose my only knitting buddy, I’m going to have my own retreat!! Starting with 2, but accepting new members 🙂 Feel free to join us. SLC has lots of knitting shops (it’s a very “crafty” place), so I’m hoping for more knitting friends as time goes on…..the Toronto Frolic sounds fun; maybe next year – road trip!!!

  28. It sounds lovely, that retreat! Too far for me, though. I could get to Toronto, though. Maybe some day! Love BOO KNITS – all their stuff.

  29. This sounds just about perfect. No, it sounds absolutely perfect. Must. Get. To. A. Knitting. Retreat. You know, it really should be a requirement for anyone raising teenagers.

  30. Rats. Fudge. Crap…. Sadly, I already have a trip planned, otherwise, my passport would melt at the speed I’d have it whipped out for the Port Ludlow retreat in June… Do you think you’ll do it again NEXT year???

  31. Just found you via a recommendation on amazon. It’s interesting what you say about new people added to the group. I am always the person who wants no one new added and it’s so hard for me to embrace a new person and see the positive that they will add to the group. It’s often a year later that I suddenly can’t imagine not knowing them. Maybe a forced weekend retreat with the new person would help!

  32. I am so happy that so many people are enjoying my patterns. Maybe I might manage to make it to one of your retreats one day – I cannot think of a better way to spend a vacation!

    Bev – Boo Knits!

  33. I am a farm girl and don’t usually wear lacy shawls but these are so lovely, I bought the whole collection of patterns. I look at them frequently and just bought some lovely yarn to work with. This could be the start of a beautiful change in my wardrobe! ; )

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