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Woman starts podcast to share love of knitting

by JANE MILLER (Peoria) Journal Star on April 03, 2013 11:00 AM

WASHINGTON, Ill. — Paula Emons-Fuessele is the kind of person who causes friends to remark, “Is there anything that woman won’t try?”

Emons-Fuessele is a knitter, podcaster, designer, retreat organizer and plays bagpipes in the Celtic Cross Pipes and Drums band.

Knitting came first. Like many little girls, Emons-Fuessele learned to knit from her grandmother. But it didn’t become a passion until about 15 years later, when she spent a year in Denmark as an exchange student.

“People were knitting everywhere — on the bus, on the subway, in class — and I saw them knitting in a different way,” said Emons-Fuessele.

“I thought, ‘I need to learn that.’”

She asked her host mother to teach her, and they picked out yarn for an Icelandic sweater.

The method she was taught was the Continental method, which is different from the way knitting is usually taught in the United States. In the Continental method, the yarn is held in the left hand rather than the right, as is the normal procedure taught here. It also is a faster method.

“I took to it immediately and have been knitting ever since,” she said.

After returning to the United States, Emons-Fuessele became interested in the work of knitting pioneer Elizabeth Zimmermann, who had a knitting show on PBS. The women became friends and carried on a correspondence.

Years later, those letters helped lead Emons-Fuessele to start her podcast, “The Knitting Pipeline.” It’s described as “a knitting podcast with a Celtic flair” and often includes musical selections at the end.

“I was listening to podcasts, mostly knitting podcasts, and as I would listen, I would think, ‘If that were my show, I would do it this way,’ or, ‘If I had a show, I would talk about that,’” Emons-Fuessele said.

“I have a couple of friends in the pipe band who are knitters, and I would talk to them about it, but the technology held me back for quite a while. I thought the learning curve would be difficult, to get it on iTunes. Then one day, I decided I was going to try it.”

She studied the process and decided to give herself a month to learn how to do it.

“I started on Memorial Day weekend (2010) and thought I would launch my first one July 4,” she said. “And I did.”

She now has produced more than 100 episodes and has loyal listeners around the world.

Her subjects range from knitting, of course, and updates on the pipe band to observations about nature — including her quest to see a snowy owl.

Friends sometimes join her on the podcast, and several recent episodes featured her youngest son, Peter, who hiked the Colorado Trail last summer.

Some of her earliest podcasts included her reading letters she received from Zimmermann. She still has a few that she hasn’t read on the air.

“And over Christmas, I just found another one stuck in a pattern book,” said Emons-Fuessele.

“It was like finding a new little treasure.”

Emons-Fuessele has never suffered from a lack of material for the podcast.

“Each week, as I have gotten more and more listeners, people ask questions, and I’m always learning something new, and so far, I haven’t had a lack of subjects,” she said.

The podcast also has a show blog, at knitting pipeline.com, and there also is a Knitting Pipeline group on ravelry.com, the popular pattern and discussion site for knitters.

Emons-Fuessele recently began a Knit-Along, or KAL, for her newest published pattern, the Ellison Bay shawl.

It is the third shawl pattern she has designed for the yarn company Quince & Co., based in Portland, Maine.

Quince & Co. also is a sponsor of her podcast.

“I still don’t consider myself a designer,” said Emons-Fuessele, though hundreds of people who have knitted her designs would disagree.

Only once has Emons-Fuessele stopped knitting for a long period.

That was in 1996, when she was learning to play the bagpipes.

She didn’t really intend to take lessons — she went to observe a knitting student as she was taking lessons — but ended up participating and joined the band in 1997.

“I didn’t knit for six to eight months, but then I realized I missed it, and I thought maybe I could knit 10 or 15 minutes a day,” she said. “And when I started doing that, I realized how much I missed it, and it seemed like my piping got better.”

Emons-Fuessele said playing the pipes takes perseverance more than anything.

“I think anyone who is dedicated can learn to play,” she said.

“I don’t think it’s much more demanding than most musical instruments.”

There is a time commitment to the band, which practices once a week and performs frequently.

And last September, six members of the band went to the Netherlands to participate in the national Military Tattoo.

“It’s a big musical event,” she said. “We did seven performances in five days, and we were gone for eight days. It was the experience of a lifetime for a piper or drummer. I never thought I would get an opportunity to do that.”

The musicians wore military dress loaned to them by their hosts that weighed more than 40 pounds.

Emons-Fuessele performed for a much smaller audience last March, when she and a few band members played for attendees of her first Knitting Pipeline retreat.

She has another one scheduled for late April of this year.

Ninety knitters from a dozen states came to Crossroads United Methodist Church in Washington to knit — and eat — for a weekend.

“When I first started attending Elizabeth Zimmermann’s camp in 1978, that was the only knitting retreat I knew about,” said Emons-Fuessele.

“Now there are quite a few knitting retreats, but they’re mostly on the East and West coasts, so I thought it would be fun to have one here. I had no idea how many would come, and I thought they would mostly be from Midwestern states or about as far away as a three-hour drive.

“So it was quite a shock to have people come from as far away as Minnesota and Arkansas.”

Retreat attendees sit and knit at tables and can visit vendor booths set up by local shops. The Blend also offered a coffee bar.

Information on the retreat, as well as Emons-Fuessele’s other activities, may be found at www.knittingpipe line.com.

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