Stories from Lakedale: A Knitting Retreat with Cat Bordhi

by | Oct 31, 2016 | Blog, Stories From Lakedale

“Stories from Lakedale” is a series our team will be highlighting periodically to bring you experiences from the Lakedale property. Follow along as we detail some of our most unique and fun experiences to discover what Lakedale is all about!

Cat Bordhi pulls a brass bell from a tan-colored felted bootie. She rings the bell and its sound resonates through the great room of the Lakedale lodge, fire burning warm in the fireplace, with 22 women seated in comfy sofas and chairs encircling the room. They become quiet as the bell grows silent. All are wearing some item of knitwear: a scarf here, sweater there, wildly striped socks revealed below pant legs, textured cloche hats, and cable knit wrist warmers. Their hands never stop moving, all knitting, as Cat starts the knitting retreat.

Cat, a San Juan Islander and former 3rd grade teacher, is a master knitting and weaving guru, who leads retreats at Lakedale for 10 weeks a year, and around the world the rest of the time. Think Peru, Canada, Ireland and Iceland…

Day One:
Woman draped with multiple knit scarvesI was invited to join in the morning sessions of the retreat to see first hand how they work, but I think Cat’s secret motivation was to make me a knitter. “I love to do these retreats because it enables me to get a group of knitters together long enough to allow them to go deeper, and experience the great peace that comes through knitting, and share the paradise that is this island,” she begins. “I love to teach because everyone is capable and I love finding the way to help a student solve a puzzle without scaring them.”Log cabin deck by the lake

She explains that she will teach a number of projects during the week, that we should enjoy making mistakes, which we will inevitably do, and we will especially enjoy the delicious lunches and dinners prepared by Deb Nolan, legendary island caterer. So even if the knitting thing doesn’t work out, I will be well fed.

The next step in the process, before we start knitting, is to introduce ourselves to one another, with an unusual kinesthetic technique developed by Cat. We proceed around the room, stating our names (and other pertinent info about our checkered knitting pasts) and then writing our names in the air in synchronicity. It is surprisingly effective. Pat, Holly, Sandra, Madelyn, Loy, Brenda, Baerbel, Rosemarie, Francine, Monica, Cindy, Darlene, Kathie, Joanne, Chela, Martie, Gail, Susan, Dorothy, Barb, Leslie, Carolyn. I remember them all.

The knitting stories share common themes:

  • memories of grandmothers teaching mothers and daughters the magic of yarn
  • the supportive communities that form when women knit  with one another
  • knitting as therapy, meditation, creation, and addiction
  • and how great fun it is to be around Cat

After a short break, Cat demonstrates making house slippers. I am completely boggled after the demo with knits, purls, and binding techniques, but am assured it will become second nature soon. To further cement our knowledge, Cat assembles participants, 6 at a time, in her “classroom” on the great room stairs, and demonstrates each technique patiently, as many times as she is asked.Woman sitting on steps knitting with four other women watching

Salad and tamale trays on a tableThe bell rings again and at noon, lunch is served: a Mexican inspired meal of freshly made pork tamales, chicken posole and a salad of jicama, avocado and oranges. Immediately after lunch, the owners of Island Fibers from Lopez Island, assemble a rainbow-colored array of yarns and knitting supplies, and a buying frenzy occurs. Apparently, most knitters have huge “stashes” of yarn and are constantly adding to the stash. I succumb to the temptation of the sensuous wool, convinced that I will be making at least 2 double moebius scarves (called MoMo’s), and $245 later, have 8 skeins of hand-dyed yarn in my hands.

Afternoons are completely free for knitting, sightseeing, or driving to Friday Harbor to purchase more yarn at the local yarn shop. Drinking wine is also an activity of choice, and I’m incredibly impressed with the women’s ability to drink, knit, and count stitches at the same. Dinner is at 6pm, with time afterward for Cat’s advice on knitting emergencies and stories about knitting. Quiet time at 8:30pm, knitting strewn all over the great room. A good day.

Day Two:

After breakfast, Cat circles the room and makes time with each participant to check on the progress of their projects. There has been a game of musical chairs played this morning and everyone is sitting in a different seat, causing havoc with my carefully remembered name game.

Woman looking at skeins of yarnThe brass bell is pulled from the bootie, rings and the sound extends…all is quiet, for a few moments. Women start asking questions about Cat’s scarves and bag, crafted from hand-dyed wool she made in Peru. The ladies (men knitters often participate in Cat’s retreats too) are relaxed, comfortable and bonded after only 24 hours together. Cat dons three moebius scarves, along with hats and pair of wrist warmers, and twirls around the room. She talks about the previous day’s project, the house slippers, and shares a technique using ribbon to finish off the slippers.Teal and coral yarn being knitted

Knitting needles are your best friend,” explains Cat, “but the same person can make the same project with different needles. You have to use what is appropriate for you. Never trust the pattern. Gauge and needle size are just what the designer had when they designed the project and may not be the right tools for you.”

And now for the famous moebius demonstration. The moebius is a neck scarf that is essentially a loop with an 180 degree half twist and one continuous edge, knit on a pair of circular needles. Purls and knits flow into each other instead of competing with each other the way they would if you were knitting a simple circle.

Cat demonstrates the concept with long zippers to show us the difference between a simple loop and the moebius. Starting with a slipknot on your circular needles, you curl the left needle around, and tension the yarn. With the right needle in your right hand, you draw the yarn to yourself, bring it back under the cable, landing on the yarn behind, grab the yarn and then bring it back to you. She starts knitting behind her back to show us how easy it is. (Disclaimer: I take no responsibility for the accuracy of these instructions if they don’t work, and I am positive they will not.) Purple yarn being knit

At this point, you cast on enough stitches, about 150 or so, then take a “train ride” by setting your needles parallel to make sure the “tracks” are aligned, place a marker and when you have knit all the way around the ring, you will have completed the first row and the marker will fall off. You can now begin the real knitting.

Once you have knit the width of scarf you want, maybe 12 inches, a rib occurs where the knit meets the purl. You put your needle through this edge and keep loading stitches onto the needle until the needles meet again, with the “live edge” meeting the other edge. Or you can do a rolled edge, or an applied cord, or double-seed stitch bind-off, which is also very nice. As if I would know, but they all look very professional. I may be able to accomplish this in my next life and am now regretting my expensive yarn purchase, as I will never finish one, let alone two projects. And then Cat states, “…and that is how a moebius is made.”Bright knitwear

I am more than thoroughly confused, but Loy, the lovely lady to my right (with a very large black ball of mohair resting in her lap which turns out to be a small dog named Mademoiselle Chantelle), shares the tip that Cat has a Youtube video I can watch multiple times for a refresher course (or in my case, a basic education).

Cat suggests we cast on a few times to get the hang of it.  We use an interchangeable needle kit, with a larger needle in the right hand and smaller in the left, which will “make all the difference in the world!” In the ‘classroom’ I manage to get the hang of casting on the moebius after 5 or 6 tries with my gorgeous new wool and  set of interchangeable needles.

Day three:   Cat rings the bell and the women are already silent, knitting. Cat mentions she once taught a 7th grade class to knit and it was the only time they were ever quiet. Skeins of yarnRecognizable pieces of knitwear are starting to appear, house slippers warm chilly feet, moebius scarves grow on circular needles, and unfinished projects from workshops past are beginning to be completed. In today’s lesson and demo,  we will learn about Tiny Tildes. Cat begins, “A Tilde (pronounced til-dee) is a very interesting thing – there is a symbol for it on your computer, it’s a squiggle on the upper left side of the keyboard. I was working on a piece that was inspired by the squiggle, finished it at midnight and thought it was incredibly enchanting. It was asymmetrical with fins at each end. It has ended up being an evolutionary piece for me.” Woman holding up a knit scarf

Cat’s original Tilde was a long neck scarf with two pointed pieces at each end, connected with cable ribbing from one side to another. She explains a reversible cable ribbing technique (one side looks like a raging river, the other like calm rivulets) that connect the two sides of the scarf. With her characteristic wit, she says, “Predictability is overrated…. except in cars and airplanes, but not in knitting.”

Many of Cat’s discussions of knitting are actually metaphors for life…and the Tilde discussion was the same. The explanation of how to knit the “river” cable, flowed into:

Two women knitting on the deck

  • with a river, you never see the same thing twice
  • you can never find a repeat in a river
  • listen to the river in you versus the adult in you
  • it can be really liberating to let the river carry you
  • knitting is like jazz music…it’s all about improvising

“The world is always so hyped up, but knitting is never that way. It is a humbling craft because you can never do anything wrong. Realize that a mistake is only a dropped stitch…it’s the knitting paradigm.” concludes Cat.

With that, I take my yarn, my well-fed body, my well-fed soul, and sign up for Cat’s next class.

Woman holding up a wine glass and knitting project


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