August 13, 2009

Things I learned at Sock Summit

I've been trying and trying to write about Sock Summit, and two things keep stopping me. The first is that I am still so tired it makes me delirious, and the second is that it feels ridiculous. I keep wanting to say things like that it was life-changing - empowering or something, and then I realize I'm talking about a knitting conference and a bunch of knitters being in one place, and I feel stupid coming forth with platitudes about knitting and knitters and walking amongst ones own kind and what it was like to meet so many people I look up to.. or even gather them in one place.

Planning this thing has been extraordinary. Simply the size of it was crazy, and I don't mind telling you (and I know Tina doesn't mind me telling you either) that this has been really, really scary. It's scope has been huge, and there were times when we were really alarmed and overwhelmed. It's been an organizational Everest and I think that without the help of post-it's and a thousand notebooks and staggering Canada/US phone bills it would have even been possible. There were 40 teachers, 1800 registered students, more than 150 vendors... and a comparatively tiny staff. Through all of it, here's some of the things I learned.

1. It is possible to live on bites of stolen food and appetizers for 4 days, but it leaves you with a deep longing for food that comes on plates and is served with cutlery. This longing lasts for more than 4 days. Food (and the time to eat it in) was so hard to come by at the Summit that you wouldn't have believed it. We ate scraps of odd food with our hands for four straight days. By day 3 all the STs were joking about wanting "to get some of those things we've heard some knitters talking about. They bought some and said they were really great. What were they called again? Oh yeah.... MEALS."

2. There is no sleeping at Sock Summit. In the days leading up to the Summit ST-1 and 2 were totally wiped out, and kept ridiculously long hours to get ready. Once it started, there were about four or five hours of sleep per night, just to keep up with the workload. I think that I spend a couple of days in a complete fugue state, and I know that more than once Tina and I agreed that we thought that babysitting newborn quadruplets would offer more rest.

3. Rachel H was born for a sock hop. Just saying.


4. With a few remarkable exceptions, most people held up to what Tina and I believed during the planning of this, which is that if you treat people as well as you possibly can, most of them will behave as well as they possibly can. All through the Summit I was amazed by the generous, kind and fun vibe. Almost every person I met was fantastic.

5. I learned that there are a few people who will still break all the rules and not ask permission to do things and take advantage of a system - even if you extend them all the courtesy and generosity in the world - and that this continues to be both disappointing and confusing. We have not yet learned what to do with those people, but have learned that they are so seriously outnumbered that it might not matter all that much.

6. I learned that Barbara Walker is one of the most wonderful people in the world. Not just because I respect her work so much that I can't even talk about it, but because she is humble, unassuming, funny, generous and clever.


Also, she wore a tuxedo tee-shirt to the teachers dinner, and in the picture above she's wearing her "Summit Socks" that she finished the night before the last day. I just love that. I love it almost as much as an experience I heard. Two women at a hotel near the summit get into an elevator. One turns to the other and excitedly says "Are you here for the summit? Are you a knitter too?" and the other woman smiles at her ands says "Yes. I am a knitter. I'm Barbara Walker". I think the first woman just about swallowed her own tongue and they had three floors of elevator to go.

7. All the teachers were extraordinary. Really, really extraordinary. I heard some of the most complimentary and lovely things about them, and really, I'm as proud of them as a mother hen. Tina and I popped in on most classes and were really impressed. Also, pissed off, because we can't believe that we didn't have time to sit and learn from them. They were teaching stuff I really want to know.


8. We learned that sexism is (in case you were wondering) alive and well in the world. We'd wondered throughout the entire process if it was our imagination that we weren't being taken very seriously, but thought that it was the topic that was throwing people off. (Fair enough. Knitting is often not taken very seriously as a business and we did complicate it by narrowing it down to socks) We were wrong. Sure, the topic didn't help, but one fine day as we were working on the summit, a service provider trying to give us advice (we won't tell you who, because the gentleman in question did better from then on, and learning should be rewarded) prefaced his information to us with the incredible statement "Ladies, young ladies. Listen to daddy..."
We didn't wonder anymore if we were imagining that the fact that we had breasts was working against us.

9. I learned that if I do a booksigning sitting next to Anna Zilboorg I can hardly spell my name. What an amazing woman.


10. ST-2 rocks. I mean it. Debbi, Rachel H, JoAnn and Debra are just about the most amazing women I have ever met, and this just wouldn't have been possible without them. I knew they were smart, funny, remarkable and skilled or they wouldn't have been designated ST-2s, but really, I can't tell you how much all four of them have been raised in my esteem, which I didn't think was even possible. They are four seriously kick ass women, and dudes, I now believe that there is nothing that is not possible with their help.
I've almost had trouble making eye contact with any of them since this ended, because the look of them, knowing what we've put them through over the last little while, how tired they were... you can't pay people to do that. Money alone won't inspire that much hard work and dedication. They did it because they're fantastic, they truly understand the principles we laid out, and because they love us and we love them... although for a few days there, Tina and I wondered why.

11. I learned that given half a chance to congregate, knitters do.

12. I learned that almost everything is possible, if you do it one little step at a time. Lucy Neatby summed this up with the phrase "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time."

13. I learned that there is no end to the cleverness of knitters and what they can accomplish, and that this is really not anything more than a reflection of how basically good people are in general.

14. I learned that we should all be very glad that my friend Tina Newton is not evil, because surely, her might turned to the wrong side would be as terrible as it is incredible. She's a force, and not one minute of this would be possible without her. Not one minute. I'm a flea on the animal of her formidable intellect.

15. I learned that Tina has the soul of a Nepalese spice trader. When you work with her there are two prices for everything. The price you pay before Tina talks to them, and the real price you're paying when she's done charming, negotiating and bottom lining. It's a joy to watch.

16. I learned that developing the ability to say no in business is not only not rude, but necessary.

17. I learned that spending a day among friends following the summit was miraculous, even if it mostly looked like this:




17. I learned that I would do it all again. Although maybe not right away.

More tomorrow. I have a finished project to show you.

Posted by Stephanie at August 13, 2009 6:30 PM