Anyone Here Taken Classes from Aaron Lewis?

Stan Stansbury's picture

He's teaching a whole day's worth of classes at Dixon Lambtown that sound intriguing. The prices are so high that I would really feel cheated if they weren't good. I've never heard of him before, so I'd like to get some opinions before I pay. Send me a private message if you've got an opinion that you don't want to say in public.


Stan Stansbury's picture

Thanks for your thoughts,

Thanks for your thoughts, guys. They've helped me clarify mine.
Having been a teacher for a long time, I am very aware of the difference between knowing a lot, and being able to teach what you know. I'm picky about the quality of instruction, and resentful of poor or unprepared teachers, of which there seem to be lots in the fiber-related domains.
So, against that background, I haven't found any evidence that this guy has ever taught anything to anyone. Nothing wrong with that, most folks haven't. But it does mean that I won't be throwing a couple of hundred of my hard earned bucks his way. I am curious about his techniques, though, and will be interested to hear more about them.

Unless you are really,

Unless you are really, really interested in the technique of knitting with a sheath and consider it worthwhile to listen to someone talking about something that you could easily read on on your own I wouldn't bother--unless you don't mind spending the money, which I think you do.
You can knit a gansey on straight, double pointed, and circular needles. The knitting is the same, of course. Many people, myself included, consider today's materials an advance over the one's used in the past. The authenticity of the garment is unaffected by the tools used. That said, how interested are you in absolute authenticity of the garment? I myself am not interested in absolute authenticity, but that's me. Indeed I think it would be authentic to incorporate one's own knitting style into a gansey as the original knitters had done.
I think you'd have a better time just attending the festival.

michaelpthompson's picture

You might have a point

You might have a point there, except that the reason Aaron did ll this research is that there was precious little information available on knitting with a sheath. I'm not sure it's accurate to say you could easily read this on your own. If you could, he wouldn't have had to spend the last four years recreating it.

The other aspect of his technique is that (he claims at least) that knitting with a sheath with long DPNs is much faster and easier on the wrists and hands than using a circular needle. He's not really after historical authenticity as much as trying to figure out how some of these people could make a gansey in a couple of weeks, compared to months for most modern knitters. Plus, those old ganseys were knit much tighter than is currently done, making them warmer and more weatherproof.

As for materials, he says his experience is that modern materials are not as warm or windproof as what they used in the old days, though some of them come close. He used to use Lion Brand Fisherman's Wool, for instance, but now claims they've changed the manufacturing process and it's not as water resistant as it once was.

Basically, he seems to believe that when machine knitting came along, commercial hand knitting died out. Victorian knitters were fancy ladies who did not want to be tainted with the stigma of having to knit for money, so they purposely used techniques that were slower and resulted in much looser knitting than the old commercial knitters. They eschewed knitting sheaths, which were associated with the poor knitters who needed to produce a lot of material, and the looser knits were a brag that their houses were well-heated, so they didn't need such warm garments. The old knitters passed their techniques from generation to generation and rarely wrote them down, so what we know of older kitting styles is mostly from those Victorian lady knitters, and therefore not representative of the quality that preceded them.

I'm not advocating for Aaron, I've never met him, and I only just discovered his blog a couple of weeks ago, so none of this is meant to promote attendance at his workshop or tell you what to do. However, I think it's important to know what he's really doing in order to make up your mind. In my opinion, if you're interested in knitting with a sheath and/or making ganseys in the old style, he would be a good teacher. If the cost is too much or you're not that interested in these things, then don't bother.

If you want more information directly from the source, click here for his web site.

I doubt that 'fancy ladies'

I doubt that 'fancy ladies' in Victorian times knitted anything. They employed people to do it for them. There is a village (Dent) in Yorkshire, England, where the whole village had a contract to knit socks for the soldiers in the First World War and they were knitted in the old style - with a sheath and dpns by men and women. I think he has surmised a lot of things in his blog and having read it all another word entered my mind - but I don't think I ought to use it here.

michaelpthompson's picture

He may indeed have

He may indeed have "surmised" a lot of things, there's not a lot of documentation to back him up. I'm not qualified to comment on that.

The Victorian ladies to whom he refers were knitting for style, not substance. It was in vogue to be seen knitting, much as one might do needlepoint or other crafts. They purposely distanced themselves from contract knitters to avoid the impression they might be knitting for money. It's not that they needed the garments, quite the opposite, they wanted to be seen knitting in such a way as amply demonstrate they didn't need the garments or the money. They purposely knit slowly and loosely to brag about how much time they could afford to spend, and how warmly heated their houses were so they wouldn't need tightly knit, warm garments.

For this much, he does quote documentation; i.e., knitting manuals written by the Victorian women for other women, with techniques that were slow and loose, in contrast to the tight and warm knits of the contract knitters who preceded them. Those people didn't have the time or the money to write and publish manuals, they passed along their skills and techniques to family members, so we don't have much written evidence of their craft. But it was apparently quite different from the fashion knitting of which we do have written evidence.

As I said before, I'm not trying to advocate for this fellow. I don't know anything about his teaching qualifications and I've never met him personally. I'm just sharing what I do know of him, from reading his blog, and lately, some of his discussions on Ravelry. It is my impression that he is extremely knowledgeable and opinionated. If he was teaching in my area, I'd make a genuine effort to go to the class because I'm fascinated by the subject matter. But that's just my opinion, and may not be the same for anyone else. Get the facts, and decide for yourself. YMMV.

michaelpthompson's picture

I didn't know he did

I didn't know he did classes, but I've read his online blog entries going back several years, and he seems extremely knowledgeable. He has spent an enormous amount of time and effort reconstructing older knitting techniques, especially knitting ganseys with long dpns and a knitting sheath. He also does other kinds of knitting and spins his own wool.

His research has enabled him to recreate some fascinating pieces from the old days, but the fact that many "experts" do not agree with his conclusions causes him to come off as slightly arrogant (perhaps bitter is a better word) in some of his statements. From the way he describes this, they just haven't done the homework he has done, but I only know his side of that story.

So, although I only just recently "met" him online, I would take a class from him in a minute. He has a lot to offer.