Friday, March 19, 2010

A Week of Knitting

My friends thought I was crazy when they heard I was going on a “knitting cruise.” In truth, there were moments when I thought I might be nuts. For one thing, the ship that was far larger than the other ships I had been on, and the thought of being onboard a floating city had always been horrifying to someone with a dislike of crowds and a terrible sense of direction. But when my friend Debby heard about Debbie Stoller’s Stitch ‘N Beach cruise a few months ago, we decided to sign up – even before we knew about the horrific February we were going to have to endure in New Jersey before the much-needed escape.

We had doubts about whether we would make it to the ship, whose main virtue in my view was that it left from Bayonne, NJ, so we didn’t have to fly (unlike many of the participants, some of whom had real horror stories to tell), but departure day was the third day of a snowstorm that paralyzed the entire Northeast. Amazingly, there was absolutely no traffic on the turnpike (for the first time in recorded history) so we made it to the entrance to the port in about 45 minutes, but then it took another hour to crawl to the less-than-2-miles to the terminal. Once on board, we were able to delete those images of snowdrifts, badly shoveled sidewalks, and dangling icicles from our minds and imagine sunshine and balmy Caribbean breezes.

Or not. The first two days were pretty rough. The second night was interesting. I happened to be awake before 4 AM and decided against getting out of bed because it seemed especially rocky. Suddenly I realized that the ship felt like it was listing to one side and not moving. After what seemed like an eternity (but in fact was only a couple of minutes) it righted itself and started moving again. At one point there was a crash as a toiletries case flew off the shelf in the bathroom – no big deal, though we heard later that there was a lot of breakage in the dining room as china set for breakfast flew off the tables. Twenty minutes later the captain got on the PA system and announced that everything was now fine, but that we had been experiencing 40 MPH winds, and then suddenly a 100 MPH wind had blown up from another direction, forced the ship off course and put out the autopilot, and that they had “temporarily lost control of the ship.” (NOT words anyone ever wants to hear.) The autopilot was back on, we were again on course, and all was well. We should all go back to sleep. Yeah. Amazingly, Debby and I didn’t panic, though we spent the next half hour or so giggling about a variety of apocalyptic scenarios. We heard the next day that some people had panicked, donned their lifejackets, and headed for the muster stations before the captain made the announcement. We also heard that a few morons had gone out to the deck to investigate, one telling us that he was glad he was able to light a cigarette in all that wind! (If this had been an IQ test, he would certainly have flunked.)

While that was the most exciting few minutes of the cruise, the rest was fabulous. We spent 8-10 hours knitting each day. On sea days we had morning and afternoon classes, and every night we had dinner together and then adjourned to one of the lounges for a Stitch ‘n Bitch at Sea, bringing either our own knitting projects or something from one of the classes to knit while we chatted and drank mudslides or mojitos. Most nights we went off to bed to knit “just a few more rows” before turning off the lights. Who would think someone could knit that many hours a day without suffering from achy hands and wrists?

Debbie Stoller is wonderful teacher. While the participants had a wide range of knitting skills, everyone left every class having learned something new. We had sessions on such topics as double knitting, slip-stitch designs, alternative cast-ons, crocheting for knitters, designing your own sweater, and how to fix knitting mistakes. Some of us learned that we had been purling wrong all our lives, holding the yarn wrong for a long-tail cast-on, or twisting stitches inadvertently. Others learned how to crochet for the first time or how to hold the hook in a more efficient manner. Even the accomplished lace knitters learned something about the structure of lace stitches and improved our ability to “read our knitting.”

One of the highlights of the cruise was the “Yarn Tasting” event. Debbie had gotten yarn samples from a wide range of companies, from the big companies to very small producers. We were given lengths of yarn to knit into a sampler, so that we were able not only to look and touch but actually to knit. Not only were there wool and silk, but exotic fibers like bison and yak, wonderful blends of these fibers with merino and cashmere, and some lovely hand-dyed yarns. Many of the companies had also sent her full skeins, which she distributed in such a way that we all came away with several skeins of something we loved. We all expanded our yarn horizons and will unfortunately have to expand our yarn budgets as a result!

We did get a few days of the sunshine and the warmth we were craving, but that was the least of it. We had a nine-day “high” with a wonderful group of knitters from a variety of places and backgrounds, learned a lot about knitting, and discovered what nice, friendly, generous people knitters tend to be.