A 2015 – 2018 Top 100 Knitting Blog!
There is no one more surprised than me that I’ve never been on a knitting retreat. It just never seemed to work out, the timing was never quite right or the trip was too far away.
Then I spotted the Vogue Knitting trip to Oregon which checked all the boxes for me. Portland is a quick 90-minute flight from my new home in Tahoe, I had never visited Oregon, the 4-day event was the perfect length, the instructors looked interesting, and Vogue Knitting has lots of experience perfecting this kind of trip.
Check, check, check and so I signed up not worried I wouldn’t know anyone upon arrival.
The weeks before the event were filled with anticipation, I was counting the days and picking yarn for my classes. I looked forward to spending entire days knitting and relaxing with others who share my love of the craft. I couldn’t wait to go and yet, even with these high expectations, the weekend was so much more than I had hoped for.
We were enthralled by the beautiful Oregon landscape; the bright green early spring leaves, the sheep heavy with their un-sheered wool and newborns frolicking in the corals. The brisk and chilly wind reminded us that winter had not yet given up its hold on the land and had us clutching our hand-knit shawls around our necks.
Classes for Everyone
Friends had questioned why I was taking knitting classes when I teach knitting myself. I recognized that this was an opportunity to learn from experienced teachers and world class designers, a chance to up my game, to see how I could improve the content and delivery of my own classes all while learning a new knitting trick or two.
The classes were a nice mix of core techniques and out of the box thinking. Both of the instructors, Olga Buraya-Kefelian and Lorilee Beltman have extensive experience in teaching and designing. The technique classes included continental knitting, brioche and Selbu mittens. The designers added their own creative twist to knitting in their Colors That Climb and 3D knitting sessions. I definitely picked up some teaching tips from each of them.
Lorilee and Olga both teach and present at many of the major conferences and events and I highly encourage you to take one of their classes should you have the opportunity.
Count me in the Oregon Fan Club
The itinerary included both fiber related events and a touch of local flavor. We broke up the two hour drive to the lodge with a stop at Knot Another Hat, a charming LYS located in Hood River. In addition to the ranch visits I’ll describe in more detail below, we enjoyed the music of a country western artist while tasting some wonderful Oregonian wines brought to us by a local wine maker. The next night we listened to sad, poignant and hysterically funny poetry from a legendary cowboy.
We even took a class on how to paint alpaca from the school’s art teacher. She patiently gave us step-by-step instructions and insisted our attention span was higher than that of her 6th grade class. I’m not quite sure about that.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the effort, I think it’s best if I stick to knitting.
Our hosts, Imperial River Co., were delightful, enthusiastic and accommodating. The lodge normally caters to river rafters so the owners, daughter and son-in-law of the ranch owners, were thrilled to have fiber people take over their lodge.
We listened to the Deschutes River as it rushed by, warmed ourselves by the fire pit late into the night, sipping more wine and chatting about our day.
An American Made Story
Those of you who have heard of Imperial Yarn may recognize it from the Olympics.
Ralph Lauren sourced yarn from Imperial Stock Ranch to create the stunning opening and closing ceremony sweaters, hats and gloves worn by the US athletes for both the 2014 and 2018 Olympics Games. The story of the ranch was so compelling it became the core Made in America theme for Ralph Lauren.
During the weekend we too were inspired by the story of this 150-year-old ranch. The owners, Jeanne and Dan Carver shared with us the struggles of American wool providers and mills to survive during the 1990’s and the comeback lead by this very ranch. Jeanne’s mission to create a market for quality American grown wool has revolutionized the business. Her energy and passion was evident on our tour of the ranch. We all felt lucky to have met her.
The barn is a living museum to those that have gone before. While the tools may have changed, the sheep sheering facilities used today are as they have been since the 1800’s.
Jeanne founded the Imperial Yarn brand in the early 2000s but spun it off (sorry, I couldn’t resist) a few years ago so she and her husband could focus on ranching.
New owners, Stacie and Skip Chavez, are as passionate about their alpacas as Jeanne and Bob are about sheep. The addition of alpaca has allowed them to bring new delicious yarns to market.
Few of us were able to resist the lure of the fiber or beautiful colors and happily added a few skeins to our stash.
Their message about free range alpaca who live off the high desert land was similar and they share the drive to bring back the facilities necessary to take the wool from ranch to yarn or fabric all in the United States.
Skip drove us up into the fields to view the alpaca and Stacie gave us a yarn dying demonstration. They generously gave each of us two skeins of freshly dyed yarn.
An analogy to the French approach to growing wine really stuck with me. Terroir is the concept that the local ecosystem has a collective impact on the characteristics and quality of a crop, normally wine, coffee or chocolate for example. These ranchers firmly believe that their sustainable ranching methods, breeding practices and respect for the animals result in a higher quality product. None of us who pet the sheep and alpaca or fondled the yarn could disagree with that statement.
Ranch to Runway, the Responsible Wool Standard
The farm to table movement is growing in popularity. It’s based on knowing where your food comes from, how it was grown or raised and establishing ethical and sustainable standards that can be traced from beginning to end.
Imperial Stock Ranch has a goal to bring this same idea to the entire chain of wool manufacturing. Their contract to supply wool to Patagonia requires it. They were the first ranch in the world to be Responsible Wool Standard certified. They helped to establish the multi-faceted criteria and passed the 3rd party audit with flying colors.
Imperial Yarn is also active in this area for alpaca ranchers. Stacie steered me to the FiberShed website for additional information. While other countries are embracing certified wool, there is not, at this time, a US yarn company that uses only certified wool.
This now becomes our collective mission.
I encourage you to listen to Jeanne tell her story so you’ll learn more about sustainable ranching practices, the benefit to the environment both local and worldwide. How it has lead to the return of salmon in the area, eliminated the need for pesticides and has a positive impact on carbon emissions. Link here for the video.
I can’t thank everyone enough who made this such a wonderful weekend; Vogue Knitting editor Trisha Malcolm, who gave us fun insights into the magazine (and me some tips on my upcoming trip to Australia), the friendly folks at Imperial Stock Ranch, Imperial Yarn and Imperial River Company and especially all the wonderful knitters I met.
I’m already eyeing the schedule, picking out my next adventure. I hope to see you there!