All About Our Cheerleaders

Jen mentioned in the launch post that Ann and Kay of Mason-Dixon Knitting will be writing the Foreword to A Year of Techniques. Having talked them through the concept and given them a look through the fuzzy snapshots we have of the samples, I think they're as excited as we are. As our stateside cheerleaders, we asked them to take a break from high kicks and put their pom poms (knitted, obviously) down for long enough to answer a few questions.

 Ann Shayne (left) and Kay Gardiner (right) write the fantabulous Mason-Dixon Knitting. Image © Modern Knitting Media, LLC

Ann Shayne (left) and Kay Gardiner (right) write the fantabulous Mason-Dixon Knitting. Image © Modern Knitting Media, LLC

How did you come to be writing a knitting blog together?

Although we lived in New York and Nashville, we met “in” the UK, or at least on the Rowan bulletin board, circa 2001/2002. We were working on the same Rowan sweater, Deco, a cardigan with sleeves that were coming out super long for both of us. So we got to chatting. Then we got to emailing. Then in July 2003, we started our blog, Mason-Dixon Knitting. It was totally a lark. We thought it would surely be a success because Ann would always read Kay’s posts and Kay would always read Ann’s - a big leg up on the competition!

At the time, blogs were fairly new - we were in the 200s of the “knitting blog ring” that someone set up to allow readers to click through blogs one by one. It all sounds very quaint now! Imagine thinking that you could read all the knitting blogs there were! But until there were knitting blogs, there was no way for knitters to share photos of their work, or at least no easy way. The internet was soon ablaze with knitting blogs. It was a very exciting time.

If you could share one piece of knitting advice with the world, what would it be?

Kay: That’s a hard one! So much knitting advice is orthodox or prescriptive: make a gauge swatch, wash your gauge swatch, etc etc. When you’re knitting for pleasure, trying to get a new project started at the end of the day so you can enjoy it by the fireside with the family and/or the television series you are binge-watching, there’s a strong resistance to following that sort of advice. You just want to knit.

My advice is to keep walking (or knitting) toward the fun. It’s not fun, of course, for something not to fit because you really should have checked your gauge. But my solution to that is to knit something for which gauge is not crucial, or to simply not care if it fits a certain way, and be ready to give the finished project to someone it will fit. Maybe that sounds cavalier but I’m a process knitter, and I do not like to put obstacles in the way of sitting down and knitting something that I’m excited to knit.

My other piece of advice, which I struggle to heed myself sometimes, is that when you are knitting at night and you find a terrible mistake several rows back, DO NOT RIP. Go to bed. Look at it tomorrow. You may be able to fix it. Or maybe you do need to rip it out. But it will all look better in the morning. Going to bed after ripping back a couple of hours of knitting is a terrible way to try to get a good night’s sleep. And waking up to a pile of ripped-out yarn is a really hard way to start the day.

Ann: Try a pattern you don’t think you can do. If you’ve made only scarves, try a sock. If socks are all you do, maybe some lace. There’s something so satisfying about finishing something that seemed difficult or unreachable. If you increase your difficulty level incrementally, before long you’ll be making Kieran Foley intarsia/Fair Isle/entrelac bedroom curtains. At which point you’ll return to garter stitch and have every bit as much fun.

Which technique are you most looking forward to trying during A Year of Techniques?

Kay: Is “all of them” an ok answer? Despite being a process knitter, I rarely want to learn something new just for the sake of self-education - I have to be excited about knitting the specific project. That’s why I love the Year of Techniques approach so much - it’s project-driven. You get to make something - something very specific and interesting, because the patterns are so well chosen - as a way of learning the technique. We are not going to be making a bunch of swatches or samplers - we’re making real things that are cute/useful/giftable.

I think Year of Techniques will remind knitters of how they got excited about knitting in the first place. As a new knitter, I chose projects without regard to whether they were in my technical grasp. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I had this kind of enthusiastic gung-ho feeling (aka “arrogance”) that I could learn anything I needed to, in the course of making that project. That’s how I made a colorwork cardigan with a Norwegian snowflake design and, if memory serves, some reindeer, in my first year or so of knitting. I subbed yarns without really understanding the difference between a fingering weight and a worsted weight. Things came out oddly sometimes, to say the least, and I kind of reverse-engineered my way to knowing how knitting works. Wanting to make a specific thing is very powerful motivation to learn.

Year of Techniques is exciting to me because we’ll all be going through that “let’s do this thing” experience together.  The projects will be really fun to make, and we’ll move from project to project together. And the projects are small and self-contained enough that the rest of our knitting lives can continue on, too.

Finally: I love the fact that people can learn from Year of Techniques without casting on a single stitch, if they want to. The videos will be there for everyone to watch. If you don’t want to start with us, you can dial up the videos any time you feel like it, and follow along. If you’re a visual learner, the book will be there on the shelf, waiting for you.

Ann: The intarsia project has me in its thrall. I’ve done virtually no intarsia, but the combination of yarn, pattern, and technique is just beautiful. I’m going to try to make every single project - it’s all killer, no filler in A Year of Techniques. Wow!

If you could go back and talk to yourself as a beginner knitter, what would you say?

Kay: I’d say, “Kay, you will not believe this right now, but knitting is going to become a major part of your life. You may be knitting alone on the sofa right now, people may be making fun of you for being so into it, but you are going to find so many people who share this passionate interest, and they are going to be a wonderful gift to your life. So keep going to that dusty little yarn shop where they are terrified that your 6 year old is going to touch something. Keep reading the magazines and buying the yarn. It’s going to be just great.”

Ann: “Oh, Ann, someday you won’t be working in this dreary publishing job. You’ll live in a magical world where knitters all over the world will be making the same thing you are, and you can use a miracle telephone you carry in your pocket to look at beautiful knitting all day long. Also: Ann, you really need to understand that it’s a good idea to measure yourself before knitting a whole sweater based on the vague concept of not wanting a sweater to cling.”

I love the online knitting community that you have created through the comments on your blog and now over in The Lounge. If you could turn that into a physical knitting community (as opposed to a virtual one), what would it look like, and who would be there?

Kay: We’ve always imagined Mason-Dixon Knitting as a real place, reminiscent of the basement in That 70s Show. Wherever it is, it has a lot of sofas and they all appear to have been donated by people who upgraded their sofas. There is a Technics stereo stack circa 1984/85 and we have a fantastic vinyl collection. We are well located near everyone’s errands so that people can stop in on their way to the supermarket. We have a coffee maker, but we also have an electric kettle so that the tea doesn’t taste like coffee. People very often bring cookies, yet there are no crumbs. (Friendly Roombas everywhere, or something, I haven’t quite worked that one out.)

 That 70s Show from Carsey Werner Television featured a great basement - check out the blanket!

That 70s Show from Carsey Werner Television featured a great basement - check out the blanket!

Who’s there? Everyone. The living and the dead, all the great knitters and fun talkers; it’s the knitting world’s version of Dubliners. Nobody gossips or judges, because we all get enough of that elsewhere. Well, we gossip about knitting patterns. Who’s knitting what. How many Honey Cowls is that woman going to make? (I know that’s what people say about me.) But it’s very jolly. Perpetual Rhinebeck. The occasional Tupperware party, but with yarn. Also: the best baby showers. No bride without a lace shawl on her wedding day.

Ann: I kind of envision Bonnaroo, without the mud, dust, nudity, and heat. Why isn’t there a humongous knitting extravaganza where you can never wear too many handknits, where there is peace, love, and yarn for a whole entire weekend? Oh wait: I just described Rhinebeck.

And finally, who would you most like to teach to knit?

Kay: Beyonce. Imagine what that would do for knitting. And wouldn’t it be fun to run into her at Vogue Knitting Live, pawing through the Noro bin? If Bey dropped a stitch, Instagram would SHUT DOWN. It would be great.

Ann: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She could crank white lace collars all day long, down there under the desk at the Supreme Court. I would fly to Washington tomorrow if she were game. She seems like she’d be game.

I'm booking a ticket for your real life knitting community now! It sounds like a whole world of fun. Kay and Ann, thank you SO much for sharing your enthusiasm with us. We are so thrilled to have you cheerleading with us on A Year of Techniques.

If you want to get the inside track on A Year of Techniques as well as special offers, do sign up for our Newsletter (link at the foot of all pages on our website). Both the book, and the kits will go on sale in the middle of next week. The print book will ship in September, with 6 monthly patterns delivered digitally, commencing on 1st March 2017.