A day with Stephen West (and lots and lots of shawls)

On Saturday morning I hopped into the car and headed to YAK in Brighton to meet up with some friends. Technically were were going to a 'Top-down Shawl Workshop' but as I've already made dozens of top-down shawls, it was mainly an excuse for a fun day out smooshing piles of shawls in all sorts of wonderful colours, and meeting someone that can only be described as one of my design heroes - Stephen West.

Stephen West shawls at a top-down shawl workshop, on Crafts from the Cwtch blog
Piles of lusciousness! 
The workshop began with a 'getting to know you' session, where lots of people got to show off the gorgeous West Knits designs they were wearing (I have made several but opted for my latest FO instead). I already knew about Stephen's background as a dancer and how he learned to knit to beat backstage boredom, but it was interesting to hear him tell it, and I loved hearing how everyone else got into knitting too. Some, like me, had been knitting for just a few years while others had been knitting for almost their entire lives.

With the introductions done, we cast on a top-down shawl and talked about shaping, different types of increases and how the shape of the shawl will affect the way(s) it can be worn. There were less than 20 participants (I think) so there was time for Stephen to answer questions and to knit and chat with us all which, let's be honest, is why most of us went. Amongst all the fun, we did manage to get a little knitting done, and Katie even brought her 'selfie stick' so we could prove it...

Stephen West top-down shawl workshop, on Crafts from the Cwtch blog
Knitting with Sophie, Katie and Meg
Here are some of the things I learned:
1. The best way to knit the neat little 'wrong side knit-to-purl-yo' trick which Stephen uses in several patterns
2. Keeping stitch markers on your shoe-laces means you always have them handy (footy?)
3. How to carry a ball of yarn, hands-free, when you have no pockets (!)
4. Totally wacky shapes and colours work incredibly well even on older more 'conservatively' dressed people - most of Stephen's designs looked much more 'wearable' in person than they do in the highly stylised photoshoots that publicise them. In fact, I would wear all of them - including Penguono - and didn't think that would be the case before the workshop.
5. How to wear a shawl, the Stephen West way. He was very gracious and let me video several different tying methods, here's one of them...

video

If you would like to see his (crazy) alter-ego "Stephen East" showing more ways to wear a shawl, check out this video - the 'shift' is clearly very important "for asymmetry and excess"!

In light of the crazy videos and photos, I wasn't sure what to expect from the man himself (I certainly wasn't expecting him to be so tall) and he was great. Entertaining, yes. And knowledgeable, of course. But also just a really nice guy who clearly loves what he is doing and who seems genuinely interested in the knitting and the different ways we do it - he wasn't used to seeing so many throwers as he's also Continental knitter ("How do you purl? Oh, I do it the same way") so that aspect of teaching in England had taken him a little by surprise. He's certainly someone I'd like to spend more time with, geeking out about different techniques.

The biggest thing I took from the workshop was to stop playing safe - the mixtures of colour, texture and shape were very inspiring and so much fun to look at and to wear - yes, we got to play with them and try them on. (And even to recreate some of the photo shoots - Meg!)

Stephen West's Doodler at a top-down shawl workshop, on Crafts from the Cwtch blog
Edge detail from The Doodler 'Mystery Shawl KAL'
I also have an overwhelming desire to learn Brioche stitch so I can knit an Askews Me shawl which is amazing but will probably take an age as I think each 'row' is knit 4 times in multi-colour brioche....?!  The photo below is one of Stephen's but one of the participants was wearing one which I completely fell in love with and I really wish I'd thought to take a photo of it. I've already downloaded *The Essential Guide to the Brioche Stitch technique, so maybe I'll try a small simple project over the holidays.

Stephen West Askews Me brioche shawl at a top-down shawl workshop, on Crafts from the Cwtch blog
Close-up of Askews Me
While there wasn't very much knitting on the day, it was definitely worth attending the workshop. Not in the least because of the great company. The friends I met up with are people I have known 'online' for the last 6 or 7 years, but I'd only (briefly) met one of them in real life before, so sitting together with our knitting was the cherry on the cake. We were the final stop on his UK tour, but if you'd love to learn more about shawl knitting from Stephen he also has a *Craftsy class called 'Shawlscapes' which you can stream or download to watch at your leisure. There will be more workshops and some 'Westknits Weekends' coming up in 2016. Follow Stephen on Facebook and Instagram to stay up to date.

* = Affiliate links

5 comments

  1. I've been thinking of that Askews Me a lot too. I'm a bit scared of brioche though (unless it has chocolate chips). I find if I say it like Stephen then it feels slightly better...briohshhhh. Was lovely to meet you too, I loved it when you thought Stephen might tie a double hammock, worlds colliding!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yes - you have to say it in Stephen's voice, that makes it much easier! :)

      It was a great day - thank you for the laughs!
      xxx

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  2. Am sooooo jealous that you got to meet the Great Man himself! Sounds like the fabist of days. xxx

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  3. What a great post :-) I was listening to his interview on Shinybees and he sounded good fun. And obviously loves what he does. I'm very jealous but really pleased you had a good day xxxx

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