Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Although I cannot use the digital camera, I am not without photos.

Here are pictures of the last sweater I completed (which is also the first sweater I made for Julian) and Julian wearing the sweater. I like how the stripes turned out. I wish I had made it a little larger as I don't know if he will be fitting into this in the fall. Of course, the sweater was made with random scraps of yarn leftover from other projects (I have no idea which projects, in truth I have no idea where this yarn came from, but who am I to reject yarn which randomly appears in my stash?) and I am not sure I would have had enough to make this sweater any larger.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Weekend Events

I finished a pair of socks for Fred (using the same gray merino I used for the scarf I made for our friend, Laddie.) I also made a wasabi green merino wool hat for Julian. I would post photos of these lovely finished objects except I can't because our digital camera is not working. I have no idea what is wrong with it, it worked fine before we left the city on Saturday morning, but not Saturday night. Maybe it was the humidity, or being wrapped in a black dress and dragged up to Wisconsin, or Julian dropping it on Easter (we knew that would catch up with us eventually.)

It is an extremely sad thing because, in addition to the finished objects, I also bought some lovely yarn this weekend when I visited the llama farm.

Yes, you read that correctly, my parents' place in Wisconsin is within a mile of a farm which raises llamas and cows. The truly scandalous piece of information is that I have been driving by this llama farm for the past 5 years and never turned into the driveway (alright, we did go once, when Joel and Julie came up for the weekend. But it was cold and rainy and that was the weekend Julian put his hands on the oven, so I wasn't able to take in details. We only noticed the yarn store, but failed to appreciate the significance.) I avoided going because I didn't want to bother people and I didn't know what I was missing.

The fiber studio sells llama wool (as well as a nice variety of yarn you can find elsewhere. And roving, lots of roving) but they also teach spinning classes and sell spinning wheels. While I bought some lovely sock yarn (in color #69, to make Fred another pair of socks) and reevaluated my feelings regarding making my own yarn, Fred, Julian, and my dad watched the cows being fed and the llamas being sheared.

We went back on Monday because I wanted a photo of Julian petting the llamas (although it will take weeks before we get the film developed) and Brigitte took us into the llama pen while they were eating. I bought about 14 ounces of her handspun llama wool (about 12 oz. of a dark brown which will match my shearling coat and 2 oz in black) which is so soft and beautiful and will make a lovely hat (and maybe mittens, or maybe a scarf. I may not have bought enough, but I know where I can get more.)

But, as I said, I can't show you any photos because my digital camera is broken.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Transformations and Fabrications

I have been reading A History of Hand Knitting by Richard Rutt. I should probably be grateful that knitting was of no interest to me when I was in college because this book, published in 1987, would have probably inspired me to change my area of study. Or maybe not. I ended up in history as much because I couldn't do Japanese No Theatre in Reed's theatre department as out of a love of history. Would a witty and informative book on the history of knitting really have caused me to abandon all my artistic pretentions? It is hard to say. Nevertheless, reading this book now, I am overwhelmed by a profound affection for the topic and writer (who kinda looks like I imagine Fred will when he is old, and if he were an Anglican Bishop...Unfortunately, there are none on the internet and I don't have a scanner handy. Trust me when I tell you this man has my husband's smile.) The introduction alone makes me giddy, with a discussion of the histories on knitting already in existence and the linguistic history of words for knitting, along with a lovely little analysis of the use of the word "knit" in Shakespeare (it appears 38 times, but in only one place may it appear to definitely signify what we consider to mean the act of knitting.) He discusses what we mean by knitting and the "structures readily confused with knitting." I now want to take up nalbinding, but I digress.

So, there I am, lying in bed, reading this book, and I decided to skip ahead to a topic which is close to my knitting heart: Aran. What information might the wonderful Bishop of Leicester be able to tell me about the history of my beloved fishermen sweaters? It started out promising: I open the book to page 195, and there is the caption beneath an extremely intricate cable sweater which reads, "A replica of the first Aran jumper to be noticed in England. The original was bought in Dublin in 1936 by Heinz Kiewe." To be noticed? As if the sweater was just minding its own business at the soda fountain when the fashion press happened upon it. Have I mentioned I absolutely love the way this man writes? Anyway, apparently this man, Heinz Kiewe, went to Ireland, found the sweater, and decided to make the case that this was traditional Aran knitting, linking it to ancient Irish art and the Book of Kells and, presto, knitwear became a souvenir tourists to the Aran islands had to have.

That wasn't such a shock to me. I already knew that the romantic notion of Aran knitting was fictional, that there were no traditional family patterns by which the bodies of the drowned may be identified by loved ones. However, I wasn't expecting to read that cables didn't appear in Aran knitting until the twentieth century. How did the cable arrive on the islands? Brace yourself. It came from America. Rutt details the research of Rohanna Darlington, who interviewed a Mary Dirrane of Inishmore who discussed the knitting of her youth and then

she told how her mother, Margaret, with her friend Maggie O'Toole, had gone to Boston, Massachusetts...There they learned to do cable, moss stitch, and trellis or lattice patterns in knitting...Before that the Aran islanders did not make ganseys, but did only simple plain hosiery and crochet.

Mary and Margaret decided not to settle in America and returned to Ireland in 1908. Back home they blended their new knitting skills with what they saw sailors wearing and experimented with patterns. Other women on the island took up gansey knitting. At some later stage they stopped knitting in the round and changed to knitting flat pieces on two needles. Wools were imported from the mainland and it was gradually discovered that the garments were saleable. (pg. 198)

I know this shouldn't stun me so much. It's just so surprising that most of what one hears about fishermen sweaters is just clever marketing and it was really invented by two young women who decided not to emigrate to the New World. I actually find reality to be even more fantastic than the romantic fiction that has been propagated. To quote Rutt once more

In a short time in a small community, Aran knitting evolved to express a singular communal feeling for design. The folk art of a community does not lack authenticity simply because it has a short history.

The knitting has become emblematic. It belongs historically to the harsh world of famine and emigration, and to the hard life of the rocky islands. The patterns have a rough male Celtic beauty that needs no romanticizing, created by female skills. The women drew on levels of imagination that are earthier and more primitive than pseudo-religious allegories about the shapes of their patterns. Thomas Holmes Mason also wrote of Aran: "There is a tradition that the knitting which is done after dark is always best: because the sheep are asleep."

Reading that and I think it would be impossible for me not to love this book.

And in spite of everything, I still really like this website. Yes, of course, they want you to buy a sweater and the, obviously, the notion of traditional clan patterns is not to be believed. But it is a nice place to go when looking for inspiration for designing your own Aran (and you never have to tell the recipient that there is no such thing as a family pattern, you can always just pretend that this is their family's closely held secret which you were so clever to figure out in order to make them a very special gift.)