Monday, April 2, 2012

Spring into Knitting Party


Some details from the party.  The invitation is shown in the upper right corner.  


Typically, the word “relaxing" does not come to my mind in conjunction with my reflections about social gatherings I have in my home.  In fact, by the time I have cooked and cleaned and arranged serving dishes, I am so exhausted when guests arrive that I find myself slurring my words and or talking in a confusingly disjointed manner (even without benefit of of a glass of wine).  As a bit of a perfectionist who enjoys experimenting with recipes and developing themed get-togethers, I also tend to run myself ragged weeks before my guests ring my doorbell, as I try to locate absolutely necessary items (such as the egg-shaped soap I just had to have for the downstairs bathroom for a knitting party I hosted last weekend). 

Thankfully, online shopping, a collection of Royal Doulton Beatrix Potter bunnies, and house stuffed to the brim with vintage shabby chic dishes and linens made this Easter/tea party themed get-together not exactly a breeze to throw together but  not the mind-numbing exhausting marathon having guests over usually is for me.  This occasion was also particularly beneficial to my overall mood and spirits because it afforded me yet another reason to expand my already formidable yarn stash and needle collection.  At this party, I would be teaching knitting, mostly to new initiates who did not have their own supplies. 


 
This is the kitchen table before I put out the desserts.  Apparently, my cat attacked the flowers
in the tea cup at right. 

A week before the party, like some floury ghost, I wearily emerged from my ravaged kitchen with achy feet, a hazy smear of butter on my glasses, a desire not to approach the stove for a month, and a smug sense of accomplishment. I’d made four quiches from scratch, using a favorite pate brisee recipe from Martha Stewart for the crust and Julia Child’s recipe for the fillings—with some variation so that I could incorporate odds and ends I had in the fridge into the recipe. I froze the quiches, but they fared well when defrosted and tasted fresh. My guests seemed to enjoy the all of them (which included one made with smoked salmon and others comprised of bacon and swiss, broccoli and cheddar, and artichoke and prosciutto).  Cooking the main dish ahead of time also allowed me to actually enjoy my company. 


These quiches were actually quite cheap to make, as I always
have flour, butter, cheese, and eggs on hand.
 

Before we ate, though, I gave a knitting lesson. Amazingly, out of the guests who had never knit before, a co-worker’s eight-year-old daughter named Shelby caught on the quickest and instantly mastered the long-tail cast-on method, before she began easily knitting a scarf. I circulated to help the adults who required a bit more instruction before they were able to work independently. One guest, a petite woman named Shirley, had learned to knit a few months ago. Her first project was, impressively, a hat. At my house, she opened a bag and extracted lacy tatted items made from painfully thin string to show us her newest hobby! (This unveiling, for me, prompted feelings akin to those experienced by a student of mine during an occurrence she wrote about for my class.  As a child she had raced to a neighbor’s house to proudly show off her birthday present, a new audio cassette player, only to be faced by a perplexing round silver disk her friend fed into a machine, a machine which produced amazing sounds. I was humbled for a moment, but had to move on. . . .)

I have a large supply of pecans, from
my southern mother-in-law's trees,
so I made sugared pecans.  Ironically,
the  recipe is one from Yankee
 magazine.  (I substituted pecans for
walnuts).   Click here for the recipe.

After everyone had cast on and knitted some, we had lunch. The homemade lemonade I’d made was a nice accompaniment to our meal of quiche, salad, and bread. After a dessert of petit fours and fruit tart (both thankfully purchased), my guests sat down to practice knitting some more. I can’t remember who, but one unwitting woman suggested that I show off the knitted items I had completed. Always a sucker for garnering compliments on my knitwear, I retrieved a large pile of hats, scarves, and fingerless mittens from my hall closet, put them on a chair in the den where we were gathered, and I then went upstairs to the master bedroom closet. There, as I hastily grabbed items, I was faced with the somewhat embarrassing manifestation of my addiction: a staggering load of sweaters, vests, and capes. I couldn’t help but be struck by the sheer volume and number of wool and alpaca garments and the absurdity of possessing so many when I live in mild North Carolina, where only a handful of days each winter actually requires wearing a coat. This pile I amassed, of course, didn’t include the equal-to-or-greater number of items I have made and given away. As I have only been knitting for a little over three years, I can only imagine the Kardashian-sized closet I will require to contain the woolly wardrobe I will acquire as I continue to pursue my hobby.

As I walked down the stairs in my house peering around this towering pile knitwear to avoid breaking my neck, a paranoid thought briefly struck me: Maybe this is an intervention. But I sighed and relaxed, as I remembered that I had planned this get-together and that many of my guests hadn’t even met one another until today. I’m still not certain if the women gathered in my house were impressed by my water-for-elephants burden or if the mountain confirmed something scary they’d always sensed about my knitting obsession. Either way, like good guests, they praised my creations and they then passed a bit more time pleasantly moving their needles.

Shelby, in the middle, caught on quickly.  Tonya, her mother is on
the left, and Shirley, the amazing newbie knitter and tatter is on the right. 
        
Ultimately, this experience was much-needed time out from my frazzling routine as well as an opportunity for me to practice teaching knitting. This day also confirmed something that as a high school teacher I’d always suspected: little children and adults are much easier to instruct than teenagers. Teaching teens requires not only a double shot of java-fueled energy but also the cheerful endurance of Mother Teresa. Instructing a group of calm middle-aged woman and a well-behaved little girl was a cakewalk compared to my experiences teaching this craft at the high school level, although the self-confidence of teens that they will meet any challenge does help to make up for what they lack in patience.

For now, though, the dishes are done, the leftovers reduced to crumbly remnants, yarn and needles stashed away, and I am at the beginning of my usual week teaching high school. But my mind wanders. . . . Hmm. Go to Stitches Southeast? Plan to host a series of summer knitting lessons? For now, I think I’ll just get through the school days, and then go home to unwind a bit and knit.

Shirlette was a good-natured participant
in my first ever adult knitting class. 

Margaret brought her own needles
and yarn and, with a little assistance,
started making a scarf. 


Another Margaret, entirely new to
knitting, works on casting on.

I didn't get clear pictures of all of the guests, but am thankful to the friends and family who attended.  


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