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November 3, 2010     Feather River Bulletin
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Bulletin, Progressive, Record, Reporter Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010 1B REGIONAL Plumas knitter offers purls of wisdom Linda Satchwell Staff Writer Isatchwell@plurnasnews.com Sometimes, an interview turns out to be an adventure. Interviewing Medrith Glover and her 90-year-old mother, Emily L. Ocker, at The Wool Room, Medrith's business in Quincy; turned out to be just that. I walk into the average-looking brown building and I'm greeted by a sea of color. Yarn of all types and eye-popping colors fills the building. I'm also welcomed by mother and daughter, who have spent a lifetime in love with knitting. I'm not the most likely person to do this story. I can't knit or sew, or do much of anything domestic; and math makes me break out in hives. If you're wondering what the connection is between knitting and math, stay tuned. Emily, her son Wayne and her daughter Medrith all grew up in Columbus, Ohio. Emily knitted constantly. Her young son watched her and wanted to learn. When he was 8 or 9, he began knitting. He entered a local needlework contest and won his age category. A local celebrity handing out the prizes was so surprised to see a boy who could knit that she asked him to appear on her show. About that time Medrith, observing, started asking to be taught how to knit herself. Emily says she put Medrith offfor a bit, but by the time she was six, Medrith was knitting. "It's a lifelong passion," Medrith adds. She shows me a beautiful lavender knitted vest. She started it when she was 1~., she says, and finished it when she was 16. "My gauge was set at age 12," she says. "It's perfect," her mother says proudly, "no change." This is my introduction to an entirely new language. "Gauge" refers to the size of the stitch. The vest is not only perfect; the stitches are all exactly the same. By way of background, Medrith introduces me to the work of Elizabeth Zimmerman, the "guru of the craft," who would have been 100 this year: Medrith opens a commemorative edition of her most popular book, "The Knitter's Almanac." She turns to page 113, where Emily's circular stitch is detailed. Medrith's description of Zimmerman gives insight into Medrith's own approach to the craft: Zimmerman was "in- strumental in encouraging knitters worldwide to be fearless, adventurous. It becomes a lifetime attitude." I wouldn't have placed fearless adventuring and knitting in the same sentence until now. But in The Wool Room, I'm introduced to a whole new world. Medrith describes herself, like Zimmerman, as a designer. It was Emily, however, who first recognized the importance of Zimmerman's work. She saw a 1956 Woman's Day article by Zimmerman, who was the first to bring the Aran sweater to the United States. Emily began a correspondence with Zimmerman that lasted 20 years. When Zimmerman died, she passed the torch to her daughter Meg Swansen. Swansen, like her mother before her, holds a yearly series of summer knitting camps in Wisconsin. She also publishes state-of-the-art knitting books through the family's press, Schoolhouse Press (schoolhousepress.com). Emily and Medrith have been to the camp many times, and they have a close, per-sonal, as well as professional, relation- ship with Swansen. After my wild enthusiasm, Medrith, who isn't one to brag, brings out a pile of books from these knitting virtuosos. Medrith or Emily's name appears in every one. Medrith turns to an anonymous quote in one of Zimmerman's books: "My favorite knitting philosophers are Elizabeth A very loving mother-daughter duo, Emily Ocker (right) and Medrith share a lifelong passion for the craft of knitting. Here they model sweaters they've made. Emily laments the fact that, at 90, she can no longer see well enough to distinguish intricate ! patterns in all dark colors. She still continues, however, as a master at her craft. Medrith is a bit artist, mathematician, philosopher, designer and magician in the world of knitting. Zimmerman, Meg Swansen, Medrith Glover, Anna Zilboorg and Debbie New." Medrith is beaming as I begin to realize just what I've stumbled upon here -- something I'm sure many knitters from Quincy and far beyond already know -- I'm in the presence of a master of the craft. As with any craft, a master's understanding is part technical acumen, part genius. One of the surprising elements of knitting genius is that design, according to Medrith, is based on struc- ture and structure is based, at least in part, on mathematics. Now, some of this genius is fairly untranslatable unless you know the language of the craft. For instance, Medrith thinks she's explaining something, which sounds more like poetry to me. It goes this way: "You cast on on the outside ... for circular work ... double decreases, a grafted center ... no seams, invisible." "Sounds like magic," I say. "It is," says Medrith. "The structure of a piece, its fabric, shape it." Medrith doesn't make designs for pre-designated sizes: small, medium, large. Instead, every- thing should be custom-made. Medrith met Henry Glover when the two were in the Air Force in Massachusetts. Henry's known around Quincy for his plumbing, rather than his flying, skills. Here's Henry in a magazine spread, modeling his plumber's Fair Isle sweater. Medrith says she "came up with a reliable mathematical rule that allows you to reflect the patterns at each corner and come out OK in the end." At cen- ter, Medrith Glover and her mother, Emily Ocker, have been regular attendees at Meg Swansen's annual knitting camp in Wisconsin, run by Swansen's mother, Elizabeth Zimmerman, be- fore that. One year campers participated in a themed Contest of knitted suns. The winners would be presented to the CBS Sun- day morning program, which features sun artwork each week. Emily and Medrith were winners at the camp, and CBS chose Emily's sun to appear Sunday morning. issues,' in Zimmerman's designs to "put them into words for the knitter." Medrith's shop, The Wool Room, is open every Thursday and Saturday, and every other day divisible by four. Because there are seven days in the week, an uneven number, and since four is even, this causes the day to change every week. It r " ?I tell her, fitting is you forte, says alSQ ~I~s a parfe.~l~sy~mmtrical, diagonal pattern on the Emily. "The human body is a three dimen- sional form," explains Medrith. "We get into knitted sculpture to fit that form." I Medrith brings out a sweater that ex- emplifies "what I'll be known for when I croak." Her mother doubles over with laughter. The sweater has pockets, but it doesn't have any seams. Medrith came } with the design in the shower. She ex- plains how you knit back and forth. She moves her hand in a wave. "Pocket, body, pocket, body, fold over," she says. I understand none of the science. "Magic again," I say. Medrith nods. She also tells me about her "circumnavigated cardigan," which I understand equally as well; it is beautiful. Zimmerman brought the circular pattern to the United States, and it's what Medrith bases her designs on. The old way of knitting was back and forth in a line. With the circular pattern, there are no seams. The work not only looks superb, it lasts much longer, since there are no separate pieces sewn on. Medrith teaches knitting in her shop. She has also taught on an Alaskan cruise -- an experience she doesn't intend to repeat. In addition, Medrith held knitters retreats in Plumas County for 20 years at various picturesque Plumas places. She finally stopped, because she got tired of all the logistics involved. But, her pupils won't let her quit. Together, they've organized retreat reunions, which is "neat," said Medrith, because "I don't have to organize." The latest project from the Schoolhouse Press group, in which Mildred participates, is a book of Zimmerman designs for which she never made patterns. All experts like Medrith have to go on are finished examples of Zimmerman's detailed design work in photos from the 1950s and 60s. Medrith calls it "forensic knitting." She exlSlains how she "extrapolates and interpolates (to) solve some structural calendar. Medrith shows me her calendar, with the divisible day squares colored in -- it looks like it would make a nice knit- ting pattern. As I'm getting ready to leave, Medrith thinks of one last thing, and it has nothing to do with math or structure, and everything to do with heart. "I'm so grateful that I get to do this for love. That does not escape me." The Wool Room 390 Jackson St., Quincy 283-0648. Hours: Thursday, Saturday and every other day that the date is divisible by four Medrith displays a sampler that shows the evolution of color choices for a sweater. She took the original colors at the bottom and then reversed them. She didn't like either of those, however. As she moved up, she said she didn't like color choices that empha- sized the heavy line through the middle. Note how, at the top, the color choices seem to incorporate the line into the overall design. Medrith displays the final product that came from her sampler experiment. The sweater design repeats, but the color changes make it look new. The line through the center of the design adds complexity and interest, without overwhelming the pattern. An act of love: Medrith took her husband Henry's high school letter from the 1961 Quincy High School track team and made a sweater modeled on the style and color of the time, but in a size to fit him now. One of 10 children, Henry couldn't afford a letter sweater at the time. Medrith has more than made up for that now. Photos by Linda Satchwell This vest, modeled by knitting.guru Elizabeth Zimmerman's grandson, Cully, is dedicated to former Quincy resident Sheryl G. Meyers. Medrith calls Meyers "a mermaid at heart." The vest went through an intricate evolution, finally taking on seaweed hues. It began when Medrith "was exploring the effect dark murky shades of Shetland had on each other. I knew I wanted a single pattern-color of dark green heather on a low contrast, multiple-color background, following a 'mathematical random' I had stumbled upon in 1987." The quintessential knitter's favorite thing: sweater. Medrith Glover, of The Wool Room, is a designer, philosopher and teacher of the craft of knitting. Her favorite things include chocolate (note the chocolate kisses), eloquence (there's noth- ing that pictures eloquence, she says), symmetry (symmetrically displayed forward and backward), poignancy, puppy lips (and noses) and puns (with a pun on spun for knitting fun). Behind her, some of the multicolored yarn that is spread enticingly throughout her shop. ~