At 6 feet, 2 inches, Kaffe Fassett is not the typical picture of a knitting guru.
"That was the start," he said, "shocking people that you're not a tiny little gnomish woman."
His journey began on a train. While traveling in Iverness, Scotland, he'd purchased skeins of wool, in 20 colors, and on the way back to London, where he resides, asked a fellow passenger to teach him to knit.
The first thing he ever made was a raglan-sleeve sweater. All 20 colors were included.
"I've had two lessons," he said. "They were 20 minutes each. I just knew. When I saw these yarns, they were the most exquisite echo of the landscape of Scotland, which was the most beautiful landscape I'd seen, ever," he said. "I'd never seen any bloody interesting knitting using color. Everyone's going around using beige and navy blue. What is wrong with people?"
Upon finishing the garment, he marched straight to the offices of Vogue magazine.
"I've never been very shy," Fassett said, "and I just thought, 'This is fabulous.' "
Fortunately, Vogue agreed with him. His first design appeared in a spread in the publication.
"Thank God there was a madwoman at the desk that day," he remarked, "a wonderful, crazy person who has become a great friend since."
This was in 1969. Since then, Fassett has become known as the "Mick Jagger of knitting."
Born in 1937 in San Francisco, Fassett is a renowned knitter and textile artist. He is the author of more than 30 books about fabric and needlework, and broke records with his one-man show at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where he resides.
Fassett, along with studio partner Brandon Mably, and artist/niece Erin Lee Gafill, have been giving presentations and workshops in Chattanooga this week. On Monday and Tuesday, Gafill will offer painting workshops at Townsend Atelier.
The city is a part of Fassett's family history -- his great grandfather is T. Hooke McCallie, founder of The McCallie School.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Mably offered a workshop on color interpretation at Genuine Purl on North Market Street. Owner Kathy Brunson said she hoped the opportunity to work with artists such as Mably and Fassett would give local knitting enthusiasts more confidence to branch out in their style of work.
Brunson, 60, learned to knit from her mother in the 1980s.
"I enjoy the feeling of the yarn and the needles in my hand," she said. "I can sit down with the yarn and the needles and just totally chill out."
She said she shares Mably's and Fassett's passion for color, about which Fassett speaks reverentially.
"Color is definitely a religious experience, but you don't have to be of any particular denomination," he said. "There aren't going to be any wars, but ... you connect with people who have the same interest."
He designs yarns himself by tying bits of color together and sending it to a spinner to produce one skein.
He doesn't have a favorite, or a "nasty (least) favorite"; he just loves color in general.
His latest indulgence is patchwork quilting. He designs the fabrics himself, finding inspiration in the places he travels, from Russia to Africa, Asia and beyond.
He works with mosaic as well, and would love to "cover the Empire State building," noting that mosaic is simply patchwork done with porcelain.
Art runs in the family. Gafill is a painter and artist and is handy with a set of knitting needles herself.
"We all grew up knowing how to knit," she said.
It's a skill that's being acquired by members of a younger generation. Knitting, like canning vegetables and '80s movies, is seeing a resurgence in popularity.
"I think it's fabulous," Brunson said. "I think there are so many of these old skills, like sewing, knitting, even needlepointing, that the young people don't know anything about or they think of it as old-fashioned, and knitting especially is very hip. There are Hollywood stars that knit."
She noted that a lot of college, and even high school, students come in to her store to learn how to knit, buy materials and take courses.
Fassett said the trend is no surprise to him.
"I knew it was going to happen," he said. "It's about bloody time. What's a little disappointing is that they seem afraid to do rich things with it. To me, knitting was never going to be about knitting a beige jumper (sweater)."
East Ridge High School student Cory Love contributed to this report.
Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...