Lace knitter Peter Rowe was selected to be the featured artist for the 2022 Longbranch Fiber Art Show, part of the Key Peninsula Farm Tour, October 1.
The show organizers learned of Rowe, who lives in south Port Orchard, from his fellow members of the KP fiber group “Hookers and Tinkers.”
Rowe said he was inspired to learn how to knit in 2005 after seeing a cabled scarf pattern he wanted to make for himself. His sister taught him the foundational knit and purl stitches. He stuck to washcloths for a while to nail down the basics, but after that he knit whatever pattern intrigued him.
Rowe is a graduate of South Kitsap High School. He went on to attend Olympic College in Bremerton before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in applied computational mathematics from the University of Washington in 2004.
“I started playing with computers and programs when I was six or seven years old on our family Apple IIe,” (introduced in the early 1980s), Rowe said. He works for a local company that provides software used in tracking for surgical instruments.
Undaunted by complicated-looking patterns, Rowe confessed that while knitting tablecloths he’s often reading a book at the same time. How he keeps from losing track of his place is anyone’s guess but he downplays the often-cited difficulty of knitting lace.
“It’s really eight repeats around of the same thing and you don’t really have to pay that much attention to what you’re doing in the transition between patterns,” he said. “It’s just do this pattern until the pattern changes, and then do the other thing.”
When asked how he went from knitting simple washcloths and scarves to dauntingly intricate European lace patterns he replied, “Well, you’ve got to knit something challenging, right?”
The three most widely recognized traditions of knitted lace known throughout Europe are Estonian, Orenburg and Shetland lace, each with its own patterning and style unique to its region.
Rowe has done some of all three schools of lace knitting, but his all-time favorite patterns are those of the German grand master designer Herbert Niebling, who popularized “Kuntstricken” (art knitting). The prolific designer created hundreds of mostly tablecloth patterns over four decades, drawing inspiration from the plants and flowers of his garden. His patterns have been recharted to reflect the language of modern knitting instructions.
“It’s pretty old now,” he said as he pulled a rectangular lace tablecloth from its plastic storage bag and shook it out. “I haven’t knit Estonian in a long time.”
True to form, the pattern included the traditional Estonian “nupps” — essentially many stitches knitted together into a single stitch to form a slightly raised bump in the fabric. “The nupps are easy in principle but you’ve got to make sure to catch every stitch.”
Rowe uses 1.5-millimeter-sized needles, about as thin as wooden toothpicks, for knitting lace.
His admits his tablecloths won’t be used for family holiday dinners. But he recalled knitting on one of them at a meeting of the Hookers and Tinkers, held for a time at Blend Wine Shop, and had red wine spilled on it.
“Blend had this nice thing called ‘Wine Away’ and it really works if you get it fast,” he said.
“My normal knitting spot at home is a Morris-style chair — big wooden arms, comfortable sturdy leather, with my yarn on one arm of the chair and my iPad on the other to see the pattern.”
If he has a favorite tool, he said it’s probably his ChiaGoo stainless steel interchangeable needles with sharper tips designed for lace knitting as well as regular tips.
He held up a pair of socks and said, “This is my normal project for when I don’t know what to knit.” He uses the same general shaping for all his socks and then picks whichever decorative pattern appeals to him at the time.
Rowe is a technical knitter, fascinated by stitch structure and the nuances of differing methods, particularly for making decreases that don’t lean to the right or left unless he specifically wants it to for design purposes. He’s taught some basics to knitters but has done nothing formal in the way of teaching.
“I at least occasionally spread my technical opinions online on some aspect of knitting,” he said.
His knitting interests go well beyond lace. Every day he wears something handknit. The upcoming show will showcase the depth and variety of his work.
He has a full-size spinning wheel and a small, wooden drop spindle as well.
“Spindles are somewhat nice in that you can pay a little more attention to what you’re doing,” he said. “On the spinning wheel you kind of get in the zone of drafting and then, ‘Hey look, yarn happened.’
“I’ll have to start a tablecloth soon, so I have something going for the show.”
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