Susan B. Anderson Workshops: Owls, Mitts, Toys, Dolls, and Dragons

Howdy, knitters! I hope you’ve had a great week. My week has been busy and fun. If you’re a new visitor to the Knitting Daddy blog, I hope you enjoy what you read and come back for more. For my returning readers, it’s great that you keep coming back!

Edit to add (2015/04/14): A special welcome to all the new readers who found my blog via the link in Susan B. Anderson’s post about the weekend! Thank you so much, Susan, for the kind words and the link. After reading my review of the retreat, new readers might especially enjoy reading my knitting origin story to learn more about how and why I started knitting almost three years ago (short version: my daughter inspired me to learn how to knit preemie hats when she was born).

I just returned from a super weekend knitting retreat with Susan B. Anderson in Solomons, MD. I love Susan’s workshops and was thrilled to be able to attend these. I’ll talk about the workshops later in this post. First, let’s take a quick look at the other things that have been going on in my knitting world recently.

Knitting Daddy, Ida B, and Susan B Anderson

Hanging out with my favorite knitting instructor/designer, Susan B Anderson, and the mascot for the IBK Ravelry Group, Ida B Knitting. Photo Credit: Susan B. Anderson

Scrappy Sock Yarn Preemie Hat Update

Wow. You guys really know how to make a new knitting designer feel good. Last week, I released my first knitting design: Scrappy Sock Yarn Preemie Hat. The pattern name pretty much says it all. It’s a hat. For preemies. And it’s made with leftover sock yarn. Response to the pattern has been great, and I’m thrilled to see project pages starting to pop up on Ravelry. The pattern is normally $3, but you can get a $1 discount by using the coupon code “BLUEBERRY” when you purchase the pattern at Ravelry (expires 2015/05/31). All proceeds from the sales of this pattern are going to Family Support Network of Central Carolina (FSNCC), the non-profit organization that meant so much to my family when Blueberry was born prematurely, and on whose Executive Board I am now serving.

I’ve seen a few projects where people knitted this pattern with larger needles and larger yarn to make hats that are sized for a newborn or baby. So if you want to knit a cute hat with the option for lace hearts on it and a fun crown decrease for a baby in your life, this is a great pattern to use — just knit it as written on larger needles with larger yarn.

Preemie Hat Family

The family of some of preemie hat samples I knitted while designing the Scrappy Sock Yarn Preemie Hat pattern.

Thank you all for supporting FSNCC though this pattern, as well as for using the pattern to knit up preemie hats for your local NICU.

This Week In Podcasts

I’m caught up on my current podcasts and am actually in the process of going back to listen to older episodes of podcasts I’ve recently discovered. A new podcast find for me this week comes by way of Paula at Knitting Pipeline. In her most recent episode, she mentioned the Teaching Your Brain To Knit podcast. So far, I’ve listened to the most recent episode and the first couple of episodes from their archives. It’s another knitting podcast with a scientific/research slant to it. I love those kinds of podcasts. I’m enjoying catching up on the back-episodes. They discuss why knitting seems to come easy for some people, but hard for others. They discuss the health benefits of knitting — especially as related to mental health. All in all, it’s sounding to be a great podcast and I’m definitely looking forward to adding it to my regular rotation.

This Week On My Needles

There are a few things on and off my needles this week, but I’ll catch y’all up on that in my next post, because I want to delve right into the meat of this post — the retreat I attended this weekend.

Susan B. Anderson Workshops: Owls, Mitts, Toys, Dolls, and Dragons

This past weekend, I had the good fortune to attend a set of Susan B. Anderson workshops as part of the Reston SnB annual retreat. Regular blog readers probably know that I’m a total SBA fan-boy, so when this opportunity (kinda) close to home presented itself, I worked to make sure I could attend.

Last year, I attended her workshops at the Fibre Space LYS in Alexandria, and it was amazing. This weekend was even better.

Before I go into more detail about the weekend, I’d like to extend a huge thank-you to all the ladies in the Reston SnB group for making me feel so welcome. A special note of thanks goes to Marie, who organized the weekend, provided an excellent venue, and was just an awesome all-around “mom” for everyone.

Food

Marie and the Reston SnB Retreat planners do an awesome job. Look at this spread of delicious — and healthy — food!

This weekend was jam-packed with workshops: Little Owl, Fair Isle Fingerless Mitts Workshop, Build-A-Toy Workshop, Seamless Knit Doll Workshop, and Little Dragon Workshop. There was also great fellowship as we shared meals together, and just had time to “hang out” and knit with each other. The location was Solomons Island, MD, and the house was right on the water. The weather was wonderful. In short, it was a perfect weekend.

I was also thrilled to see my friend Melanie again, whom I know through the IBK Ravelry Group and last year’s workshops at Fibre Space. She even let me knit on her Signature Needle Arts DPNs for a little bit. It was enough to convince myself that I definitely want to upgrade all my needles to Sigs. It will take years to do it, probably one gift-giving occasion at a time. Father’s Day is just around the corner….

Let’s take a look at the workshops.

General Set-Up

Susan has a background as an educator, so it’s no surprise that her workshops are well-run. There were about 15 people attending the retreat, which is a great size for these kinds of workshops. Susan combines giving instructions and information to the large group with breaking everyone into smaller groups for close-up demonstrations of specific techniques. There is also ample time in the workshop to just knit away on the project. Susan circulates through the classroom to answer specific questions and give individual attention to students’ needs. It’s a perfect set-up, and having been though her workshops on a couple of occasions now, I really appreciate how jam-packed they are with information, without being overwhelming. Susan also provides great hand-outs in the workshops that students can refer to when they go home. This is extremely helpful, because most students don’t complete the entire project during the workshop time.

Little Owl

Little Owl was Friday night’s workshop. It’s a workshop for constructing a simple toy, based around Susan’s recently published pattern “Little Owl.” Even though this pattern knits up quickly, it produces a cute toy and is useful for learning a lot of techniques. By the end of the weekend, several people had completed their owls, and it was really cool to see them coming off the needles. I managed to finish the body and wings. With feet and a face to go, I’ll probably complete him this week.

Susan B. Anderson Technique Demo

Susan B. Anderson demonstrating how to close up the hole created by casting on a small number of stitches to start a toy.

During this workshop, Susan covered the importance of achieving the proper stuffing for knitted toys, and how to correct toys that may be over- or under-stuffed. She went over her technique for doing the Kitchener stitch, which makes it a lot easier to remember. She also talked about how to pick up stitches to attach appendages like wings and feet.

This was a great workshop with which to start the weekend, as it introduced a lot of fundamental concepts we used throughout the retreat.

Little Owl

My Little Owl in progress. He needs a face and feet.

Ravelry Project Page: Little Owl
Pattern: Little Owl by Susan B. Anderson
Yarn Used: Classic Elite Yarns Liberty Wool Light

Fair Isle Fingerless Mitts Workshop

On Saturday morning, we had a workshop on creating fair isle fingerless mitts. This was very similar to the fair isle hat workshop I attended last year, and I was excited to have a refresher on fair isle knitting. It was also great for me to have the fingerless mitts workshop instead of the hat workshop, because now I have basic instructions for mitts in my knitting toolbox, with confidence to jazz them up with fair isle designs.

During the workshop, Susan covered many skills associated with fair isle knitting: holding your yarn in two hands, achieving consistent tension with your colors, how to trap your floats, weaving in ends, how to create the Latvian Braid, etc. It was jam-packed with useful information!

I still have a lot of practice to do before I become very comfortable with fair isle knitting, but Susan’s workshops have opened up the technique to make it accessible. Plus, it’s tremendously fun. I highly recommend either Susan’s fair isle hat or fingerless mitts workshop.

Sweet Christmas Mitts

The fair isle mitts in Christmas colors are turning out to be so much fun to make. Sweet sheepy stitch marker from ChaseArt Etsy shop.

Ravelry Project Page: Sweet Christmas Mitts
Yarn Used: Plymouth Yarn Galway Worsted

Build-A-Toy Workshop

Saturday afternoon saw the Build-A-Toy Workshop. This is the same workshop that I attended last year. It was a great refresher, and I’m taking the opportunity to try to design a bat again. We’ll see how that works out this time. I think I’ve got a good handle on the body, head, face, ears, and feet. But those wings. I’m going to have to experiment on the wings. It’ll be fun experiments, though.

Susan B. Anderson Stuffing Demo

Susan B. Anderson demonstrating how to properly stuff a knitted toy, and how to tweak a toy that is over- or under-stuffed. No bunnies were harmed in this demo.

This workshop is a great follow-up to the Little Owl Workshop from the night before. We reviewed many of the basics presented in the Little Owl Workshop, and then dove deeper into some more advanced toy-making techniques. These techniques included a great discussion on the value of knitting appendages like arms, legs, feet, ears, etc. separately and sewing them on — there are so many more possibilities for your finished object doing it that way. Susan also demonstrated many great techniques for embroidering faces on your knitted toys. The face can often make or break the feel of your toy. So many knitters just rush through the facial embroidery and finishing at the end of their knitting and are left with a toy that is simply nowhere near the potential it can be. Spending just a little extra time working (or re-working) the finishing touches on your toys can make such a huge difference.

Bat

This is going to be another attempt at designing a bat. We’ll see how it goes. 🙂 My friend Debbie made me the totally sweet project bag. Manly knitting project bags are awesome.

Ravelry Project Page: Build-A-Toy: Bat
Yarn Used: Cascade Yarns 220 Superwash®

Seamless Knit Doll Workshop

This workshop is what I was looking froward to most. It is focused around Susan’s pattern for her seamless dolls: Mary, Millie, and Morgan and Ben and Buddy. I’ve been wanting to knit these dolls since they were released. They are so sweet, and there are so many possibilities for customizing them to be just right for what you want to create.

For this class, kits from Quince and Co. were available, and I got one of them. I’m knitting up the Mary version of the doll. The kits that Quince sells are awesome. They contain all of the materials you need to knit the dolls, except for embroidery floss for the face. I love that the Quince yarn is portioned to be appropriate for the amount you need to create a doll, in the right colors. These kits are available directly from Quince and Co., but they are a limited edition, so you should go snap them up now.

Mary Kit

The Mary kit from Quince and Co.: some assembly required. It’s an awesome kit.

A lot of the techniques in this workshop were techniques we covered in other workshops during the weekend, and it was great to get refreshers. The close-up technique demonstration I appreciated the most in this workshop was the demonstration on adding hair to the doll. Adding hair really makes the doll come alive, and seeing how to get a good hairdo on the doll was awesome. Seeing this demonstration makes me confident to produce a great-looking doll, and also to go back and knit up a Chloe doll, which has been in my queue forever.

Susan B. Anderson Doll Hair Demo

Susan B. Anderson demonstrating how to create awesome hair for your knitted dolls.

Mary

Mary is ready for her legs.

Ravelry Project Page: Mary
Pattern: Mary, Millie, and Morgan by Susan B. Anderson
Yarn Used: Quince and Co. Chickadee

Little Dragon Workshop

The Little Dragon Workshop was a great capper for the weekend. This workshop is based on Susan’s Little Dragon pattern. We got instructions for both the regular sized and a mini-sized. Of course, I’m going to end up knitting both. 🙂 By this point in the weekend, we were all very comfortable with the basics of toy knitting. Susan reviewed those basics, which was great — repetition helps with learning. Much of the small-group tutorials focused on some of the features that are unique to the dragon. These features included making bobbles (used for the ridge on the back of the dragon), picking up stitches in various ways — like a the triangle used to pick up the stitches for the dragon tail, and the unique construction for the head that allows the toy to be created without having to knit the head separate from the body and attaching it later. These are all great techniques, and really helped round out the weekend.

Susan B. Anderson Little Dragon Workshop

Susan B. Anderson teaching toy knitting techniques in the Little Dragon workshop. Also, Real Men Knit.

Blueberry is on a Sleeping Beauty kick — she has been for some time — and is fascinated by Maleficent turning into a dragon at the end of the movie. While the Little Dragon is a different kind of dragon than the Maleficent one, I’m sure Blueberry’s going to love having a dragon toy of her own to play with. In the workshop, I made it about halfway up the body, and I think the rest of it should knit at a reasonable pace. Of course, I now have 5 new projects on my needles, so we’ll see which ones finish up first.

Little Dragon Belly

The Little Dragon has a belly. Awesome project bag from Halcyarn Etsy shop.

Ravelry Project Page: Little Dragon
Pattern: Little Dragon by Susan B. Anderson
Yarn Used: Cascade Yarns Heritage Paints

Again, it was a wonderful weekend, and a much needed break for me. That’s why they call it a retreat, isn’t it? I am truly grateful for all of the people who made it happen. Susan, your workshops are wonderful. Marie, the organization you put together to make the weekend happen was nothing short of amazing. Everyone in the Reston SnB group, you are the most welcoming group of folks and I hope to see you again. If you haven’t already “friended” me on Ravelry, please do so — I’m looking forward to seeing how all of the class projects turn out!

If you have the opportunity to attend a Susan B. Anderson workshop, you totally should do it. She keeps a list of her teaching schedule on the right side of her blog, so you can always check there to see when she’ll be near you.

What kind of knitting retreats or classes have you participated in? Do you have any suggestions for what to look for when choosing the knitting retreats or classes to attend? What have different instructors done to make their workshops particularly memorable and enjoyable? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below, or head over to the Knitting Daddy Designs Ravelry group and join the conversation in one of the threads there.

Until next time, keep on knitting for the ones you love!

-greg

13 thoughts on “Susan B. Anderson Workshops: Owls, Mitts, Toys, Dolls, and Dragons

  1. Greg, thank you so much for your kind words. We so enjoyed your company this weekend and as some know, you were one of a few bloggers that helped in our research in searching out workshop recommendations for the weekend. Sadly, you can never do them all, but we did pack in a lot! I love your recap and I’m sure I’ll refer back to it because the weekend went SOOOOooo quickly. When everyone left Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t lost a day. 🙂 For bloggers everywhere, these wonderful posts are valuable to organizer and participants…so thanks!

    As for your discussion points… I have a list of skills I’d love to refine so instructors that specialize in these are of particular personal interest. I have attended classes at Stitches as well as smaller workshops at yarn shops. What I have learned is that there are some key points to keep in mind. First, there are people who experts in specific types of knitting and/or trail blazers. Second, there are people who are exceptional teachers. They can break down a topic and know just how to present it clearly. A great knitter isn’t always a great teacher. Third, the instructor and venue set a specific type of atmosphere. Retreats in particular, I’ve heard, have a specific tone to them. Some are very high energy, others are meant to be relaxing and provide downtime to knit undisturbed. It is really important to be aware of that before you sign up! Homework, late night activities,etc is probably not the right venue for someone looking for a quiet R&R, and conversely someone looking for excitement and bonding activities may be disappointed with the other..or not. Large venues can be impersonal and smaller ones less so but a dynamic instructor can change all of that. Participants too play their part. I have found research is the key. Search out people who have attended the events and check out what they have to say.

    I loved the way Susan took small groups for close up demos. She is such a warm and engaging person! Her handouts are an invaluable resource. Personally, I love handouts! One thing stands out, however. Susan has so many resources out there which are a treasure trove but there is only one Susan. How do you know if you are over stuffing your bunny? Having her there in person to give it a squeeze was the one sure way of knowing you “got it.”

    • Hi, Marie — thank you for your thoughtful comments! And, thanks again, for all of the organization that went into making this weekend so wonderful. I’m definitely interested in attending more retreats and classes, and learning from different instructors. I understand what you’re saying about the different “vibe” different kinds of classes/retreats could offer. For me, this weekend, the relaxing atmosphere of the retreat was just what I needed. Your advice on what to look for when selecting retreats and classes to attend is spot on. Having an idea of what you’re signing up for will go a long way towards making sure you’re happy with the experience.

      Susan’s close-up demos are my favorite part of her classes. It really lets you see exactly how techniques are accomplished. Combined with the handouts and the wealth of resources like YouTube tutorials she has available on her website, it’s very easy to come back from her class and still retain the knowledge you gain. Reviewing the handout and/or looking up one of her tutorials is enough to jog your memory back to the personal one-on-one instruction you received in the class.

      • Oh exactly, Greg! Those small groups were a perfect size to see where her hands, needles and the stitches were. Many times as you peek over someone’s shoulder it is a partial view and you “sort of” get it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched someone and thought..”Got it…makes perfect sense” and then got home and wondered what was that? All of those Tutorials and handouts jog the memory. She was also great at checking on everyone while they worked which is so valuable. Can’t recommend these classes enough!

        I have to smile..because you took a big leap of faith signing up. I get lots of questions from people trying to envision what it is like, which is great. People should ask. We’d LOVE to have you back and, of course, you’ll get the email when we start planning for the next. 🙂

        • I think a lot of knitters benefit from a visual style of learning. Actually watching an expert’s hands go through the motions makes a big difference in “getting it.” Because knitting is a kinetic activity, no amount of textual description or photographs can convey exactly what is involved. Being able to stand behind Susan and look over her shoulder gave me the exact point-of-view of the knitting I have when I’m knitting it myself, and it goes a long way to cementing the understanding of the techniques.

          Thanks again for welcoming me. I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes open for the email about next year’s retreat. It was a ton of fun.

  2. Hi there. I’m a first-time reader who found her way here via Susan’s blog. The retreat sounds like a blast and the venue was awesome (if you’re reading this, Marie, your house is absolutely lovely); someday I hope to be able to attend one of these fabulous events–until then I’ll just have to stalk the bloggers who write about them.

    • Hi, Nikki! I’m glad you found my blog through Susan’s blog, and I hope you enjoyed your visit. Welcome! The retreat was, in fact, a blast. Everyone was so welcoming and kind, the instruction was (of course) top-notch, and the venue was perfectly relaxing. I hope you can attend something like that too, sometime. Keep your eyes open for what your favorite designers/instructors are doing, where they’re teaching, etc., and you’ll probably eventually find a retreat that will be a good fit for you.

  3. P.S. Your knitting origin story is very touching, and Miss Blueberry, herself, is absolutely precious! I have done a bit of charity knitting–not for preemies, but for cancer patients–so it’s gratifying to know that these items CAN make such a difference. Thank YOU!

    • Hi again, Nikki! Thank you for the kind words about my origin story, I’m glad it made a connection with you. I may be a little biased, but I do agree that Miss Blueberry is indeed a precious kid. I love hearing from people who do charity knitting, and I especially love that from my own experience, I am able to tell people who do charity knitting that what they do makes a difference. Even though you’ll probably never personally know the recipient of the items you make for cancer patients, I’m sure that when those items are received, it provides a reminder to the patient that they are loved. It’s a big help. On behalf of charity knitting recipients everywhere, thank you for the charity knitting that you do!

  4. Pingback: Darn Good Yarn: Recycled Sari Silk Mittens | Knitting Daddy

  5. Hi Greg-
    Just discovered your blog while looking around on some sites. Your thoughts and descriptions of the retreat in Maryland are spot on. Marie had it perfectly organized and was so warm and welcoming and of course Susan was a great teacher and a complete pleasure to spend time with. I would love to participate in her classes again ! I learned a lot of tips that will help me progress with my knitting. what was also so enjoyable was just being away, relaxing and being with such nice people!!!

    Christine

    njchristine

    • Hi, Christine! I’m so glad you found my site — welcome. 🙂 It was great hanging out with you by the windows and knitting together. I definitely keep my eye on Susan’s blog for when she’s scheduled to teach, and if there’s any possible way I think I can make it out to her workshops, I try to do it. This was definitely a special weekend. Hopefully, we’ll meet again at another retreat/workshop sometime down the line!

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