When I had signed up for classes at The Needle Arts Association Conference in San Diego, the one I really wanted to take, a class on knitting ancient footwear taught by circular needle pioneer Cat Bordhi, was already full. Cat wrote the book Socks Soar on Two Circular Neeldes and also invented Mobius Knitting. I signed up for something else, but hoped I’d find a note on the board from a student who couldn’t make Cat’s Class. That didn’t happen, so I got up extra early the morning of Cat’s class and waited for her to show up in the classroom. I felt like a college freshman again trying to get into an upper-level class I probably wasn’t qualified for.

When Cat arrived, I offered to help her set up and I pleaded my case. She had brought extra materials, and we ended up squeezing in one other eager latecomer as well. I was pleased when Cat said she would have done the same thing I did to get into a class she wanted to take.

Cat began by describing her discovery of the Bata Shoe museum in Toronto. She’s a great storyteller (she’s written a novel called Treasure Forest, which of course I have to read now. She said she tried very hard to keep knitting out of her novel, but it didn’t work.) She showed us examples of socks and boots she’s created based on ancient footwear from the museum. And then we got to try making some ourselves…

Oh, I have to pause here to say that Cat had arranged for all the supplies in the class to be donated. Yarn for our first project of the day–the Plains Indian Felted Slipper was donated by a New Zealand wool company Ashford Handcrafts. The yarn, called Tekapo is soft and easy to work, and it looks like it felts well. We were using it double stranded to give the slipper some heft. Denise Needles donated enough sets of needles for every student to use during the class. Blue Moon Fiber Arts donated some amazing sock yarn for our second project, and Skacel Donated 2 sets of size 5 addi turbos to each student. Oh, and Clover donated stitch markers and their new Chibi tapestry needles. Thank you to all of them!

The first half of the day, we worked on knitting a Plains Indian Moccosin. Cat got everyone using the two-circular needles quickly and easily. She showed that you don’t need two identical sets of circs. With the Denise needles, you can just put the size you need for gauge on one end of each circular and feed the stitches off the (left hand) wrong size needle. This also makes it easier to see which needle you’re working with I got my moccosin mostly done before lunch, and of course, it’s still in that state.

I had lunch with Cat and another student, and I got to hear a lot about her books (she self-publishes them all!) and other workshops she holds, like the Magical Mobius Festival (“a seaside knitting adventure” in Oregon over April Fool’s weekend. Wish I could be there for that one!)

After lunch we began a mini-sock–we were learning a short row heel–it was my first time ever doing short-rows, and that was fun! it was a good thing I had taken intarsia the night before, because this little color block sock had some color changes (as did the morning’s slipper). The yarn from Blue Moon Fiber Arts is beautiful and wonderfully easy to work with.

Cat is an amazing teacher–she’s got a way of explaining technique that makes it seem fun and easy, and she drops little tips and interesting stories in with the rest of the information. One of the things she taught us was that in Japanese, the term for slip one purlwise is “point-to-point” since slipping purlwise is the default (standard) way to do it, it’s just called point-to-point because that’s what it looks like. For me, it’s little tidbits like this that make me feel like a better knitter bacause I gain a clearer understanding of how things work.

She also taught us how to wind a center-pull ball on your thumb! I’ve seen folks at knitting groups wind butterflies or balls on their hands in strange figure-eight like configurations, but Cat’s method of winding on your thumb is simple and elegant. She just starts to wind clockwise on her thumb, making sure to bring the yarn from the bottom of the thumb up diagonally towards the tip. After a few rounds are on the thumb, just turn the “ball” a quarter turn around the thumb and keep winding–this allows the ball to grow evenly. It ends up looking like one of those little balls of string from the hardware store. Of course, when I taught this method to my middle-schoolers, I realized you also need to specify not to wind too tightly, since one student’s thumb turned quite blue!

I’m looking forward to someday attending Cat’s mobius workshop–I was given both her mobius books, A Treasury of Magical Knitting and A Second Treasury of Magical Knitting. They’re both beautiful books–and Cat’s conversational writing style makes them cover-to-cover reads even if you’re not knitting from them. I haven’t yet tried to make a mobius, but I’m looking forward to it–the first book has beautiful, mysterious wraps and scarves. The second book also teaches the basics of the mobius and goes on to show how to “grow” your mobius into amazing containers–bowls, bags and even a cat bed.

TNNA: The Magical Cat Bordhi