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In 1969 I fell in love with two things . . . weaving and Kurt Russell.  1969 was a big year for me.  That was the summer I learned to weave and I fell hook, line, and sinker for everything and anything related to weaving.  It was also the year when the Disney movie The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes came out and I fell in love (well, puppy love) with its star, Kurt Russell.  It was then I decided the ultimate man was named Poindexter “Dexter” Riley, drove a dune buggy, wore groovy clothes, and was brilliant-beyond-brilliant.  From that day on, he was the one to which I compared all boys and men.

My fascination and near-obsession with Kurt Russell has remained with me for over 40 years . . . even when he turned in to the ultimate ‘bad boy’ and became Snake Plissken in Escape from New York.   Hotness, personified!

I think he remains an underrated actor and hope someday he has the movie role that proves what I’ve know for over 40 years.  He’s intelligent and boyishly handsome.  The perfect man in my opinion.

Anyway, if you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering . . . What does Kurt Russell have to do with learning to use a knitting machine? Well, I’ll get to that in a moment.

In November last year, I was staying with my dear friend Penny in Berkeley, CA.  I was in California teaching two workshops and stayed with her in between the two workshops and then afterward.  While staying with her in between the workshops, a friend of her’s, Nancy Roberts, who owns Machine Knitting to Dye For http://www.machineknittingtodyefor.com/ came over.  Penny and Nancy collaborate on combining weaving, knitting, and dyeing.  Nancy brought over examples of knitted edges to share with Penny to show how they might be used in conjunction with handwoven fabric.  I was suppose to be catching up on email and tending to business while they worked away.  Yeah, right!  That was not going to happen as I witnessed absolute brilliance and beauty!  Within an hour, Penny could see by the glazed expression on my face and the look in my eyes how captivated I was.  She knew I was hooked.

For years, I’ve looked at different ways to create bands and cuffs for my handwoven garments.  I know some basics of knitting . . . however, I’ve always been impatient with the one-stitch-at-a-time process.  I always knew in the time it took me to knit a stitch or two, I could have completed a whole row in weaving.  Perhaps machine knitting was the answer.  Before I headed home, I purchased a knitting machine, a Silver Reed LK 150, from Nancy.  The tipping point for me was when she assured me one of the best machine knitting instructors, Sarah Etchison, resided in my own backyard and taught at Weaving Works in Seattle . . . a place where I also teach.  Fabulous! I thought.  I’ve just increased the chance of learning how to use this thing.

Apparently, knitting with a machine is a turn off to many knitting “purists”.  I consider knitting by moving the carriage back-and-forth on par with weaving by moving the shuttle back-and-forth.    There’s still a significant learning curve and so many things to understand . . . and so many opportunities to make errors.  Having an instructor makes a huge difference.  I signed up for the four-week long class and started three weeks ago . . . I now have one more class to go and have learned a lot . . . but, I also know I have so much more to learn if I want to use this machine for cuffs and bands on my handwoven garments.

It’s been a very long time since I have been such a newbie beginner when it comes to learning a fiber-related technique.  In addition to being a tremendous learning opportunity and a lot of fun, it has served as an excellent reminder of how ominous it can be to learn something new . . . especially in the company of others.  Just like Nancy told me, Sarah has been amazing!  Patient, encouraging, and funny while I felt like I was all thumbs and trying to relax the tension in my hands.  Kindly reminding me about the same thing over-and-over again.  There was one question I know I’ve asked her at least three times and couldn’t remember the answer (this is where Kurt Russell helps me out).  She’s never made me feel inadequate, only that I was full of potential and was in the early stages of a new journey.  A great role model for any teacher!

The other day, as I was doing my “homework” and preparing for my third class, I told myself  I can’t ask Sarah for a fourth time what the name of this part is.  I have to find the answer myself and come up with a way to remember it. I got out the manual for my machine to look it up . . . Voila!  I had it!  It’s the Russel lever!  Yes, it’s spelled a little differently . . . but, to me it will always remain the Kurt Russell lever!  Whew!  I felt I could show my face in class.

I love to learn new things (BTW, I’m also learning Tai Chi).  It reminds me there’s so much in the world to explore.  Sometimes when I learn something new, I learn it’s not for me.  That’s how I felt after taking a class on Precious Metal Clay (PMC) . . . but, it helped me appreciate the art form and what others do.  Machine knitting???!!!  Yep, I think it’s something I can embrace and incorporate into my weaving.  Does it rank up there with my love and fascination with Kurt Russell?  Not yet . . . but, perhaps I just need to learn more and get better at it.

Stephanie and a lot of claw weights


Sarah assists Maryann

One of my knitted samples


Comments on: "Kurt Russell – How he’s helping me learn to use a knitting machine" (7)

  1. Marlene Golden said:

    Great post Robyn! I’ve resisted the knitting machine lure so far. I’ll look forward to what you accomplish.

    And a great article in SS&D about your collaboration with Susan Lazear for Convergence 2010! Nice to see how the garments were developed.

    Marlene, another friend of Penny’s

    • loomchick said:

      Thank you, Marlene for your wonderful comments about the Design Challenge article in the current issue of SS&D.

      If you’re interested in knitting machines, chat with Nancy. She was invaluable to me in understanding its potential. I’m really glad I bought it and look forward to what I will do with it.

  2. Hi Robyn,

    Penny told me about your post. Thank you for promoting the virtues of knitting machines. They are such underutilized tools.

    I’m glad you found a good mnemonic for the Russel levers. For what it’s worth, I don’t worry whether my students know what the lever is called. I just want them to know what the lever does. As for Kurt, does Goldie know about your crush?

    Like Marlene, I look forward to seeing how you combine weaving and machine knitting techniques.


    • loomchick said:

      Thanks, Nancy! When I’m learning something, I like to understand what I’m doing . . . It helps a lot with trouble shooting. It’s amazing how much of impact an accidental flip of the Russel lever can make.

      I doubt if Goldie Hawn knows of my crush on Kurt Russell, but I’m sure she’s not threatened in any way.

      • Robin,

        I have a challenge for you since you have such an inquiring mind that wants to know the who, what and why’s of a technique. Members of my machine knitting guild gather every spring for a retreat in the wine country of Northern CA. (one of our members owns a B&B there and he lets us take over the place). After a few glasses of wine, the conversation has on a few such gatherings turned to the question of just who this Russel person was and why did they name a lever after him or her. If you come up with the answer, do let us know. Will toast to you at the next retreat!

  3. Robyn, I too have been in love with Kurt Russell for a long time. My favorite movie is “Captain Ron”. He is sooo funny. He should be doing the Pirates series instead of Johnny Depp. I totally agree he is an underrated actor who never got his chance to shine.
    I got to see him fairly close up in a golf tournament Jan. 2010 in Palm Desert. He really is as handsome as his photos. Good golfer too. Sure made my day.
    You can tell I am more interested in KR than the knitting machine. Margaret

    • loomchick said:

      It’s nice to know someone else has great taste in men. I love the movie “Captain Ron” too. It’s good fun and lightens my mood.

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