By Mark Rougeux
What do the Rocky Mountains, an alpaca farm, 12 outdoorsmen, and a rustic lodge add up to? Men knitting, of course. What?! Yep, knitting.
For several years, a group of men who knit head out from faraway places like Chicago, Wyoming, Michigan, and Istanbul, Turkey. These men range in knitting skills from beginner to master knitters, as well as designers and spinners. We all head to a little town in the mountains called Allenspark, CO where we descend upon the good folks who run a charming retreat called Sunshine Mountain Lodge.
The owners Cat and Cory are incredibly welcoming hosts, who have worked very hard to breathe new life into one main lodge with a bunkhouse on top, as well as six cabins built several decades ago. The meals are cooked by Cat and rival anything I’ve had at any 5-star restaurant or resort.
It’s great fun to watch the guys unload their cars as they arrive. Aside from suitcases with personal needs, some really interesting stuff begins to emerge. There are bags of raw fiber, yarn in all colors, cases of knitting needles and other supplies, and portable spinning wheels. Many of the men not only knit, but they take the raw fleece from a variety of animals and clean it, comb it, spin it, dye it, and then knit with it.
As you can imagine, the possibilities of beautiful yarns are endless.
Once the men get settled into the bunkhouse and cabins, they all congregate in the main lodge area.
There are hearty greetings as each new man arrives, but the room starts to calm down as the men pull out their most recent knitting projects and start knitting. The projects range from simple washcloths and scarves, socks of all kinds, and some of the most intricately designed lace shawls I have ever seen. Most of the men are working on patterns they have purchased or gotten free from the Internet on sites like Stitch and Unwind and AllFreeKnitting, but there are those who have designed their own patterns that most certainly would surpass any of those found in books written by established designers.
Each day there are outings planned dependent on the interests of the group. This year we went to an alpaca farm, a spinning wheel manufacturer, and yarn shops that support our group through donations. These donations help defray the cost of the trip for those who have applied for and received a scholarship.
This year, two of the men were recipients of the scholarships, who otherwise may not have been able to attend. Last year, in addition to visiting farms and shops, we had a great time away from the fiber arts visiting the New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins.
For those who have never seen a spinning wheel other than the vintage wheels commonly in use back when our grandparents and great grandparents where spinning yarns, you would be surprised at how many different kinds there are now. Several of the men brought portable wheels like the last one below that folds up making it perfect for travel.
Here are the Schacht-Reeves, Ladybug, Matchless, and Sidekick spinning wheels.
They are all beautifully handcrafted and are truly a marvel in modern ingenuity. At the Schacht Spindle Company we were treated to a tour of an amazing warehouse where spinning wheels begin as raw wood and end up ready to use.
One evening is set aside for a show-and-tell session. Every man in attendance is very proud of his work, whether it is someone else’s pattern, their own, or a combination of both. The great thing about this group of men is the genuine interest they have in what each man shares. No matter what the skill level, each piece of knitting is explained, passed around the room for closer examination, and lots of questions arise about how certain parts were done, types of yarns used, length of knitting time, among others.
The Rocky Mountains are beautiful at any time of the year. Our trips are usually in June or July. The weather has been beautiful both times I have gone to the retreat. One of the afternoons is dedicated to going on a hike. Those who wish to grab their gear, which usually includes a smaller knitting project, can be pulled out while taking a rest.
The Internet has brought most of us together. There are a couple sites where we gather to share ideas, ask questions, boast about our recent knitting conquests, and make suggestions. One such site is our main one, which is appropriately named Men Who Knit.
The site that is used to announce, register, and report on retreats is called Men’s Knitting Retreats.
You will find several groups on Ravelry with dialog about upcoming trips in the forums section.
This fraternity of men is an outstanding example of a fine cadre of knitters. They enjoy the fiber arts with a passion and influence the global knitting community by their wonderful contributions. There are many among us who have begun to use our knitting prowess as a new career. There are those who spin and dye the yarns. There are those who design the patterns. There are those who write articles like this one. It is my absolute pleasure to be among these talented artisans. A special shout out to Charles Parker, Jonathan Berner, and Quinton Lime for the use of his photos.
Have you ever been on a knitting retreat? Would you consider going on one?