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Andean Accents offer history and challenge at Vogue LIVE

An example of a traditional chullo from the Andean region.
An example of a traditional chullo from the Andean region.
The Fiber Friend 2013

Mary Jane Mucklestone knows a thing or two about patience. Her sphere of expertise, Fair Isle and Andean color knitting, involves techniques ranging from beginner to advanced, and her classes are comprised of knitters from all skill levels as well. Teaching Andean Accents for Vogue Knitting LIVE in New York involves making sure each student can finish one step of the process before moving onto the next one.

"Don't expect it to look perfect," says Mucklestone, holding her class in the Palace room at the New York Marriott Marquis and encouraging her students to not beat themselves up if their cast on stitches are too tight, or twisted, or even not quite consistently sized. "You are practicing. This is practice." Her examples of the edgings were on brightly-colored, acrylic yarn with a woven feel to the fabric. The first try on a new technique is never that perfect, and Mucklestone assured her students that imperfect is expected.

Mucklestone is a Maine resident who has written three books, including the popular "200 Fair Isle Motifs: A Knitter's Directory." Her class is based on an edging used on the hats of a "new" craft, a combination stranded and intarsia motif knit in the round, which has only been around the South American textile-reliant region for the past 400 years. The students found themselves in a relatively unusual situation: the Andean Accents class is not simply a new stitch. Each student had to practice a technique of casting on in two colors which may more commonly be done with a crochet hook instead of two knitting needles.

Knitters are often eager to learn new stitches, but retraining the brain to knit or cast on in a different way is a bit more difficult. Mucklestone is extremely adaptive in her teaching style, carrying the sample of her edging to each individual student, whether they were a quick or a slower study. Even in the practice of the two-color, chain cast-on, Mucklestone inspected each student's chain to ensure the bumps caused by the second color were going to be loose enough to pick up stitches. She ripped out and re-cast her own set of stitches several times to illustrate the fact that the world does not come to an end if a student would need to start over.

The feeling of challenge by the students actually encouraged them to help each other. Mucklestone understood exactly what her students were feeling. While showing a student how to cast on with two contrasting strands of color, she told that class that every time she uses the technique, she basically has to remind herself that the instructions are correct because they feel so incorrect.

The finished product, even just one piece of the Andean Accent wristlet designed for the class, makes learning the new way of doing things worth it. The "popcorns," or stranded bobbles, can be added as an embellishment to the checkered fair isle pattern. Most impressively, the puntas, or pointed edging requiring three colors, looks like a confusing mess from the knitted side but stuns the knitter with its beauty on the other side. Mucklestone learned the technique from experts in the Andean region, so its authenticity is being passed to her students.

One student, while waiting for Mucklestone to make her way to her place in the classroom for individual help, kept trying and then whispered, "I think I got it!" before Mucklestone made it back. Sometimes, perseverance from both the instructor and the knitter is not just a virtue; it is the crescendo to a amazing creation and a profound sense of accomplishment.

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