Because I am enthusiastic and the words got somewhat away from me, this post is longer than intended. Because that happens with my newsletter too, I’m going to use the same TL;DR* format here that I use there to put the key points up top. Find the full post below and the key takeaways right here under TL;DR.
Teaching at Knit Stars
As you may know, I was invited to deliver a Masterclass as part of Knit Stars 6 (2021). It was a completely amazing experience, the highlights of which included regular meetings with my dear friend Jeanette (also a Season 6 Knit Star) to develop our classes and cheer each other on; having the wonderful Robin Fox and his production team filming in my home; working with my good friends at John Arbon Textiles to make special yarn kits for my class; and having an intensely productive few months developing my Masterclass and all its content (read more about that here). The biggest highlights have been hearing from folks who took my class and found it useful and inspiring, and hearing that my project for Knit Stars 6 introduced lots of people to undercelebrated artists.
Being a Knit Stars student
But what about being a student at Knit Stars? This August, in the brief lull after completing the KNITSONIK & Friends: Colour to Knit eBook, I have finally had a chance to properly absorb and process my first Knit Stars season as a student. When I was researching and planning my own class, I watched quite a few individual classes as my homework and was struck by the incredible production values and the wonderful sense of proximity to the tutors provided by the lifestyle shorts at the start of each Masterclass, but I hadn’t done the thing of sitting down, logging in, opening up an individual season, starting from the top and pressing go. This post is about what it’s like to do that, and to be a student at Knit Stars 5.
Each season of Knit Stars is organised around a theme with tutors from around the world developing unique masterclasses that speak to it. Season 5 came out in 2020 and the theme was KNIT THE WORLD TOGETHER – an undeniably apposite theme for that year. Shelley Brander, founder of Knit Stars, opens things with a warm welcome video, explaining the format and what lies ahead. In the year when a new a Knit Stars Season is premiered, classes are rolled out gradually through November. The release of the class culminates in two live Q&A sessions with that years’ Stars. In Season 5, they were:
Åsa Söderman The art of knitting beautiful top-down sweaters with the ‘Ziggurat’ method
Tatiana Sarasa The holistic nature of knitting: creativity, natural color and mindfulness
Bonus: Meri Tanaka The making of Amirisu magazine
Gayle Roehm Exploring Beautiful Japanese Stitches from Charts
Tina Tse Home Sweet Home Formula: Creating with freestyle modular knitting
Yumiko Alexander Working with plant-based fibers
Tian Connaughton Make it fit: How to get the perfect fit every time
Jacqueline Cieslak Body Positive Knitting: How to cultivate a knitting practice that honors your body
Francoise Danoy From potential to manifestation: designing your first pattern
Gaye “GG” Glasspie Sustainable Growth: Finding your own voice through authenticity, consistency, and vulnerability
Initially, looking at this list, I was most excited about Åsa’s class, (hello Ziggurat sweater construction) Tian Connaughton’s class, (hurrah for gauge, swatching and addressing matters of fit) and Jacqueline Cieslak’s class, (yes please, body-positive knitting and honouring our bodies) but, as I’ll discuss momentarily, one of the great joys of exploring a whole Knit Stars season turns out to be discovering new creative influences, and skills you didn’t even know were missing from your life.
If I review every single Masterclass I’ve watched (and I haven’t even watched the whole season yet) we will be here all day, so what I want to try and convey here is less about in-depth reviews of individual classes (though I do talk about a few of them) and more what it was like to curl up on the sofa with my knitting and watch Knit Stars on my TV (yes you can do that if you have a smart TV and some way of transmitting the content to its screen: it really is like watching KnitFlix).
Reframing my stash
Much is made of the specially-curated kits produced between Yarn Producers and Stars for every season of Knit Stars – and for good reason! The kits are a fantastic way to celebrate and uplift the mutually beneficial designer/yarn-producer relationship, to shine a spotlight on folks doing amazing stuff with wool, and to produce something extra special and exclusive for the people who have bought the classes. Kits are also a great way to manage overwhelm – buy the kit and then you have everything for the class without having to think about it. The kits also create a very special marketplace for Masterclass Owners, and enable the tutors to introduce folks taking our masterclass to yarn producers we love.
However, for all the ways in which they are amazing, it’s worth remembering that the kits are not essential. You might not wish to order kits from the US if you are based in the UK, for example, or may have a personal reason to avoid certain fibre types that means you need to put things together for the classes yourself; you might not like the colours chosen by a particular Knit Star! In such instances the materials list is invaluable – a deeply inspiring lens through which to review stash or plan your next yarn-purchases. If you have accumulated quite a bit of yarn over the years, the materials list can give languishing skeins a new purpose. After downloading this list I found myself digging about in boxes all over the house looking for THE PERFECT YARN FOR THIS OR THAT. There is also what can only be described as a treasure-trove of patterns and downloadable resources. In Season 5 – and this is not a comprehensive list but only a few highlights – I can download worksheets for body measurement, bust-darts, planning-sheets for modular garment construction, fifteen knitting patterns and a list of links to pages about artists using knitting in their work.
In addition to these free patterns and downloadable resources up top, each Masterclass comes with its own specific worksheets and patterns. I am dying to know how people manage all these things – I bet there are some incredible binders/folders out there, with people’s notes, worksheets, swatches and workings. Does anyone have one that I can see?
It is hard to overstate just how valuable the classes are. Each one begins with an engaging lifestyle video in which we hear the story of the Knit Star and get a flavour of where they live and what’s important to them. It’s a very warm and humanising introduction, giving a sense of each Knit Star and their creative context. In 2020 the sense of armchair travel and of “visiting” all these different places from the safety of home takes on an extra significance. Yet even without that historic sense of what it meant to travel (or not) in 2020, the introduction videos are full of lovely moments and insights that stay with you. Åsa flying around Copenhagen on her red bike, talking about life and knitting in ways that make you want to be beside her, also knitting; Jacqueline and her dog on the sofa together in Charlottesville, Virginia, speaking about anthropology and knitting; Yumiko sharing the story of how she came from Japan to Arizona; Gayle relating her involvement in the publication of the renowned Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible, developed by Hitomi Shida; and Tian sitting in her garden in Monson, Massachusetts, with her chickens, talking about empowering other women (shout out to Tian’s Pattern Partnership Programme in which I am enrolled: Tian truly is the tide that lifts all boats).
Speaking as a tutor who has done in real life teaching and online teaching, I really love the lifestyle videos as a set up for the class. Not to do myself down but I get deeply anxious ahead of teaching a class and five minutes before we begin going over the material – in real life – I am much more likely to be nervously checking that I have all my handouts, that the class is laid out correctly, and that we have all the yarn on hand. I am not at my most fun and relaxed but, instead, totally focused on getting things right for the class. It is so much nicer to begin the class (in Knit Stars) with a relaxed and joyful introduction, where the tutor is in their element, showing us their world and all the beautiful, enriching things that feed their creativity. Plants, bike rides, skies, sofas, chickens, gardens, light. Sitting through some of the Lifestyle videos for Knit Stars 5, I realised how much I love this as a student, too.
After the lifestyle video we get into the heart of the thing: the content. All the instructional videos are filmed from both overhead and face-to-camera, so that you can see what is happening, but you also feel like you’re in the room with the tutor. There is no background music; the videos are subtitled (there are also downloadable transcripts); and you can speed or slow the pace according to your learning style. All the handouts you need are right there in the same screen as the class. It’s set up so you can stick Knit Stars on and start watching and listening taking notes, if you like; or so you can schedule in a day (and I think you need about six hours per class – just as if it were an in-person full day workshop) to properly absorb and go through the content of each one. The level of intensity at which you want to engage is totally up to you. From an accessibility perspective, I think this is fantastic and accommodates so many different learning styles and paces.
I love how ongoing access to content means you can go back and re-watch it as many times as you like; dip in and out as time require; or go full on INTO A CLASS AND DO IT ALL FROM START TO FINISH. I’m definitely doing that for Jacqueline Cieslak’s class which is one of the most inspiring and enabling things I’ve ever watched about designing for fat bodies, and for building body positivity into your handknits at every level. It’s a beautiful class that walks you through body-positive language and approaches, and measuring your own body. Jacqueline also shows you how to work with the numbers in an existing pattern, your own measurements, and ease/drape to get a fit that really will honour your body. The whole aesthetic of this class is gorgeous, and I found it affirming and informative and joyful on every level. I have taken copious notes and will be going back in to use the lessons from this Masterclass again and again: I loved it.
One of the Knit Stars introduced to me via Season 5 is Tatiana Sarasa and I’m so happy to have found this artist, making beautiful and meaningful work on the island of Mallorca, Spain. Tatiana shares her artistic background and creative influences and offers some joyful occasions for creative expression through her “Be the artist” section before doing a deep dive into dyeing fibres with plants. Everything in her class is suffused with a sense of care and intention; she ends on a very moving note, speaking about the connections between knitting and love. The whole thing is like a retreat – one that includes an art class, a yoga session, a meditation on the connections between love and knitting, and lots of practical natural-dyeing tips. I am saving it up for when I need exactly that.
Another glorious introduction was to the work of Yumiko Alexander, founder of DanDoh – a knit and crochet design and yarn company. Yumiko was born in Japan and lived there until her late 20s, during which she married an American and moved to Arizona. I loved hearing Yumiko’s story, and how a combination of the temperature in Arizona and her own distinctive design aesthetic have led her to develop a range of plant-based yarns such as linen and cotton. I’ve only just started watching this class but in spite of my longstanding love of wool, find myself completely drawn to the lovely drapey shapes, open textures and swooshy aesthetic of Yumiko’s designs – as well as to the many practical tips Yumiko offers for making it possible to wear our handknits year round – even in very warm and humid weather.
The class I was least surprised to love is Åsa Söderman’s Ziggurat class – I met Åsa one very memorable night at Edinburgh Yarn Festival where we got to chat together for hours – and she immediately struck me as mischievous, inventive, endlessly curious, and very warm and funny. Her class is just like her and I have thoroughly enjoyed watching it and trying to get to grips with the totally seamless/only five ends to weave in at the end/zigging and zagging sweater construction method that she shares. One day I hope we will repeat the experience of our happy, accidental meeting in Edinburgh: until then, it’s really wonderful to have the Masterclass. I will always be grateful to Åsa for generously suggesting me to Knit Stars as a potential tutor, and for the way she helped and supported me at the start of building my class. Thanks, Åsa, for this, and thank you for the Ziggurat method!!! I have your book AND your class, so there’s really no excuse for me not to make a Ziggurat sweater now.
There is so much more in this season to explore than what I’ve talked about here. But I’m honestly blown away by the kinds of learning transformations that are possible when you commit to watch a Knit Stars Season, really engage with the content, and make the very best of its online context.
Time to Process
For me the best thing about being a Knit Stars student is the processing time that this format allows. I love that I can watch a segment of video that gets my brain going. Then I can hit stop because I’m tired or overwhelmed and come back to it later. In between watching sessions I can consider what I’ve seen and heard in my own time. I can turn it over in my mind, talk to friends about it, go and find the random ball of yarn hidden in my storage unit that would be just perfect, and so on. I love that I can organise this around my life, and do a few hours here and there as spoons and bandwidth allow. I love that I can trust that even if I don’t know all the Stars, or if I think I’m not interested in this or that topic, in the end I will love it all, because it’s been put together with such thought and care, and because all the Knit Stars give us so much.
I reached out to the Knit Stars Facebook group to see if anyone could share with me the kinds of learning transformations they have experienced through participation in Knit Stars. I got some really wonderful replies that I shall share in coming days, as I think it’s really interesting to hear how owning different seasons has influenced people’s creativity in lasting and long-term ways.
UNTIL SOON –
YOURS IN OVEREXCITEMENT ABOUT LEARNING ALL THE THINGS,
Knit Stars Season 5 is on sale from 25th – 28th August (set a timer if you want to take advantage of the deal). For three days only, you can purchase Season 5 for only $199(usually $229). This post uses an affiliate link, which means that if you make a purchase through the link, I will earn commission. This is a great way to support your favourite Knit Stars: thank you.
*Too Long; Didn’t Read.