Sunday, September 7, 2014

Spinsjal Organic Scarf (Free Pattern!)

I do very little pattern writing but here's a little thing that I came up with. It uses my handspun and hand dyed silk. I will also put up a link in the "Free Patterns" section.  Try it and let me know how it turns out!

Organic Scarf
Spinsjal Designs

This is a “recipe” pattern for a garter stitch scarf that can be as wide and as long as you like.  The sample uses handspun silk that was hand dyed with eucalyptus. 


Yarn: I used 100 yards of handspun silk which was 11 wpi (wraps per inch) and a bit “thick and thin.” My gauge was 4 stitches per inch. You can use whatever yarn at whatever gauge you like, but be mindful of drape and softness.

Needles: Pick some needles and knit a sample that creates a nice “fabric” for your scarf, adjusting needle size as needed. I used size 4 straight needles.

Dyeing: My yarn was dyed with eucalyptus. Silk takes dyes well and has a lovely tone to it. If you would like to dye your own, see the general instructions in this post at my blog:  Some prior experience with natural dyeing is recommended before you use a precious yarn as dyeing is always an experiment, and results can vary. I did NOT mordant this yarn, so I expect that the color of this scarf will fade with time.


Cast on 30 stitches. Knit 10 rows or 5 garter ribs. Next row: k 2 tog in each stitch. 15 stitches remain.

Knit to the length that you would like your scarf, minus the ruffle border.  

I had a limited amount of yarn and wanted to use it all. I calculated how much I would need for the last 10 rows of the scarf (the ruffle end) in this way: I needed 5 times the length of a row of knitting to actually knit the row.  I measured out enough for the last 10 rows by measuring out the yarn based on the width of the beginning ruffle. 

When you are ready to knit the end ruffle, do an invisible increase in each stitch in this way: pick up the stitch below your stitch and place it on the needle. Then, knit each stitch. Here’s a good website for pictures of this technique:
At the end of the row you will have 30 stitches. Continue knitting in garter stitch for 10 more rows then bind off loosely.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Knud Rasmussen and his Famous Sweater

Some years ago, I become interested in exploration of the Arctic and Greenland. In my casual reading on the subject I learned about Knud Rasmussen (1979-1933).  (If you know that this name is in my family's past…no, he's not a relative!)

Rasmussen was born in Ilulissat Greenland to a Danish father and an Inuit-Danish mother. His father was a missionary. (OF COURSE we all know that at present, Greenland is an autonomous country within the kingdom of Denmark).   Rasmussen learned  Kalaallisut or  the Greenlandic language as a child. He was educated in Denmark. He became a polar explorer and anthropologist after a failed attempt at being an opera singer of all things.  Here is a favorite photo of mine of Knud, wearing a hand knit "Icelander" sweater.  

Ironically and synchronistically, an article came out on polar explorers and their sweaters in the latest issue (July-August 2014) of Piecework magazine. The article was written by Lita Rosing-Schow, who is Danish. The sweater is called an "Icelander," a type of sweater knitted in the Faroe Islands (also part of Denmark, remember? And while we're at it, Iceland was part of Denmark till 1944 as well!) for export. Schow suggests that while these sweaters were and are still available in Denmark, that they may have been purchased in Faroe, where explorers would stop to purchase sled dogs as well.  The two color pattern is of course warmer due to double stranding of the yarn, and these patterns while "traditional" to Faroe, are ubiquitous to this part of the world. 

Later in the trip I came upon this painting while visiting an artist's home in Skagen

The subject resembles Tom Baker more than Knud Rasmussen but he's definitely wearing that Icelander sweater.  I could not identify the artist or the subject.

I myself knit a sweater that could qualify as one. These sweaters would have been summer wear for explorers but mine was too hot for South Carolina even in the winter and it is now a nice pillow on my sofa!

So naturally while we were trip planning, Mom found that Rasmussen's house was now a museum and we included a stop on our trip. His home is in Hundested, there is no website that I can find.

It was a lovely isolated location where Rasmussen worked in between trips. He was a prodigious writer, documenting his trips well.

More on Rasmussen, if you're interested:

In 1910 he and Peter Freuchen established a trading post in Cape York named "Thule Trading Station", on Greenland's west coast. The west coast of Greenland is less accessible than the east as it is iced in more months of the year. A Danish website this one says that "his goal was not to conquer new ground but to meet new people."  One can tell that just from looking at his face!

Rasmussen led seven expeditions around Greenland and the Canadian arctic; the most notable of which was the Fifth Thule expedition (1921-1924), which sought to learn where exactly those "Eskimos" came from (we now know…from Asia). He and his group which included two Inuit hunters went by dogsled from Eastern Canada to Nome Alaska over the Northwest Passage;  he tried to enter Russia but his visa was denied. During this trip the trip members conducted interviews (his version of Kalaallisut was understood by those Inuit he met across the top of the American continent).

A very nice film entitled "The Journals of Knud Rasmussen" explores his journey in the Fifth Thule expedition.  If you are interested, be sure to read "Across Arctic America," available from our friends at Amazon and reprinted by our friends at University of Alaska Press. It was originally 10 volumes, more or less, but in the introduction Vilhjalmur Stephansson assures us that this single volume was personally edited by Knud himself in English.

For more information on Knud, this is a great website. Yep, it's in Danish, but that's what Google Translate is for. 

If you want more visuals on explorer's sweaters,
a recommended miniseries is "The Last Place on Earth" about Amundsen and Scott's race to the south pole. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Denmark part one: Weaving Viking Sails and Twisting Viking ropes in Roskilde

After arriving in Copenhagen we immediately rented a car and drove to Roskilde.  Roskilde is in Zealand (Sjaelland), about a half hour drive from Copenhagen. Roskilde is the site of The Viking Ship Museum.  

(You may have heard of Roskilde because it is also the site of the largest outdoor rock concert in Europe, held every June).

The museum houses the remains of 5 Viking ships (called all together "Skuldelev" named after the town  north of Roskilde where they were found). The Vikings would block a fjord from attack by scuttling ships in the fjord; a rather passive and effective strategy for a bellicose people. These ships were submerged between 1070 and 1090, discovered by a fisherman in the 1920's, and were excavated in 1962. Those Vikings built  different types of vessels for different purposes. More on the Skuldelev here.

To my delight, there was a small display on how the sails were woven.  Sails were woven on a warp weighted loom. (The horizontal loom was not developed until the mid 14th century i.e. [I always must look this up!] around or about 1350).

Here's a very happy tourist:

The fibers on display were hemp, nettle, and flax although wool was used in Viking square sails as well.  Here is a fascinating article on the subject complement of The International Journal of Nautical Archeology.  Or at least I found it fascinating until I got to the part about warp and weft strength that involved math equations.

A reproduction vessel with  a Viking Square sail:

You could also dress up like a Viking if you wished:

The rope making display was pretty interesting as well for someone like myself who is interested in twisting fibers

The museum contains the remains of the vessels. Viking ships were "clinker built" also called "lapstrake" in which the hulls were built of boards which overlapped.  More info here.

 The museum has a boatyard that builds reconstructions of Viking boats with the method of the time, as well as new boats using old tradition, and repairs old boats.

Later in the trip I went to the National Museum of Denmark. They of course had a wonderful exhibit on the Vikings. At the beginning of the exhibit there was commentary on the Viking discoveries, and how with the loss of Norway in 1814 and southern Jutland in 1864, the national spirit and identity were boosted by discoveries of the Vikings finds which happened in that century.  
Later that day we went to the Roskilde Cathedral; it s a cathedral of the Lutheran Church of Denmark dating to the 12th and 13th centuries. It was the first Gothic cathedral build of brick in Northern Europe. It also incorporates Romanesque features. There are numerous crypts in the cathedral which was used for burial of Danish royalty for. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Book report: Garden of the Brave in War

I wouldn't really want to be a shepherdess in Iran either then or now, but my interest in sheep keeps leading me to provide more quotes from this book before it goes back to the owner

"Come," said Jahan Shah. "Let's go and see the animals---a relief from the whining humans.";  He put the sheepskin coat around my shoulders, and we went out into the muck of the farm courtyard. A little snow now whirled in the wind and we ducked quickly into the stables, dark and warm, smelling of hay--the sheep, at our entrance, thumping their hoofs and bleating. Jahan Shah leaned against a stall while the shepherd moved amount the sheep, pulling them around one by one to show the heavy flap of wool and fat that hands downs over the rumps of the local sheep. Sometimes Jahan Shah would lift a flap, as tough to gauge its weight. Then he moved over to the sheep that had lambed and, kneeling down, he picked up to of the lambs in his arms and began to rub his cheek against their fleece, whispering to them, tickling them, finally holding them out from himself and laughing at them" p. 118

Another instance O'Donnell is talking to Khalom,

After a time, Khanom appeared leading two sheep by long chains Only the oval of her face and her arm in its bright blue sweater sleeve caught the light that was left….I asked her to sit down for she loves to talk…It came out that she had sold the sheep. I knew that dealers had been around all day, prodding and poling at the sheep, and there had been much prolonged and scrappy bargaining. Iranian men do not like to bargain with Iranian women; the latter can be very difficult. In any event, she had sold them and at her price, and further she had known that she would, for she had dreamt the whole affair the night before. p. 127

So, in my internet research started in the last post for knitting in Iran, I found these lovelies from the Brooklyn Museum which has permitted sharing of the image (yay)

If you would like to see a stunning color image of these check this out

Back on the subject of socks, Priscilla Gibson-Robert's Ethnic Socks and Stockings might help one get a little closer to a pair of Iranian inspired socks

And there are some interesting comments on "jorabs" which are toe-up socks from central Asia knit in beautiful colors 

What I'm Going to Do on my Summer Vacation

Leaving for vacation on July 29th, now back.

Here is the driving plan:

Here is the knitting plan:

Because of course there is never enough green yarn, one must go to a shop called Aunt Green "Tante Groen" in Odense

among many other yarn stores that my good friend Bettina has recommended…

including of course "The Butterfly" in Copenhagen

and I will visit some others if I am lucky and my family is patient...

Off I go…!  More later on what really happened!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Knitting in Iran and Thoughts on Provenance and some Synchronicity on the Solstice

I am reading an interesting book for my book group, entitled "Garden of the Brave in War: Recollections of Iran," by Terence O'Donnell.  It is a lovely apolitical book describing the culture in Iran by O'Donnell, who lived there between 1957 and 1971, years that include the hostage crisis.  The book was  published in 1980.  O'Donnell, born in 1924, died in 2001.

 The apoliticalness (is there a better adjective for that…perhaps the political equivalent of "secular"?) of the book is of interest as according to Wikipedia, O'Donnell lived in Iran between 1957 and 1981, during the hostage crisis. (A timeline note: THE Shah of Iran  Mohammad Reza Pahlavi  (1919-1980) was in power between 1941 and 1979 (remember he was the one who was a little more open to modernization and secularization…timing is everything). 

I worked at New York Hospital starting in 1983 and into the mid 90's. I would from time to time go to see a patient in the suite in which the Shah had stayed,  overlooking the East River.

At any rate, I was totally surprised to read that O'Donnell had a male servant, Mohammed Ali, "Mamdali" for short, who could knit.  Toward the beginning of his book he delivers this paragraph

The activity that occupied most of his time…was knitting.  In his village the women wove [does this sound like South America or what?!] , the men knitted, and so Mamdali provided not only his family but also me with all the sweaters, caps, scarves, socked, and mittens we needed.  When there was no other chore to do, he would sit cross-legged in a chair by the fire, or in warm water on the cobbles by the pool, and knit--the yarn threaded and held out from himself by his big toe--improvising with colors and patterns as he went along. Once he made me a pair of mittens from undyed wool, "They are very plain," he said on finishing them, and so "to make them pretty," he embroidered a red flower on the back of each. Once, too, he held up a sweater he had started and said, "I think I shall put a man in it," and then, with a raised stitch which an Aran Islander might have envied, he filled the front panel of the sweater with a saluting warrior. When the sweater was fished, I found he had knitted in "the man's horse," on the back of it. 

So…off I go in online search of men knitting in Iraq: 

No, I should have but did not go through all my back issues of Wild Fibers. [It's a pity that Linda Cortright does not offer an archive of back issues but that would severely cut into her travel schedule which would  be to our tremendous disadvantage.  And as I for one am all about living vicariously through Linda, and that's OK….]

I admit that I limited my search to Iran…knowing full well that just as in the Northern European cities and ports knitting styles were traded and borrowed, that fluctuating borders and boundaries of the middle east would not interfere with the transfer of fiber traditions…

Here's what I found on pinterest


The stitch count…can't even see. Green is the traditional and revered color in Islam. So…where exactly did this image come from?  Here's where my rant about provenance ("the chronology of the ownership, custody or location of a historical object" ty wikipedia) comes in these were found on pinterest via Tumblir…so source…no information. They are hand knit socks from Iran, 19th century according to tumbler no I won't say where but really, I don't even think there was an "Iran" in the 19th century.

So..where did this photo come from? Just because its ONLY textiles, doesn't mean it isn't history that needs proper documenting or notes from the source.

At the top of this page are some socks that I knit.  I actually, believe it or not, translated the pattern from Norwegian.  It's been a couple of years and other than seeing them on Helene's blog, I don't recall how I got the pattern.  Here is the pattern info on Rav.   Called "Russian socks" because they were knit in Northern Norway for trade with Russia for other goods, once upon a time.

I am hardly a big sock expert, and I am not one of those people who only knit socks...but it was interesting to me to see the similarities between the "Russian sock" and the 19th century Iranian sock with the afterthought heel. Although, on "further "research, this construction appears in many cultures throughout the middle east and elsewhere, along with similarly wildly beautiful and intricate patterns in fantastically small gauge.

So here's the big big synchronicitous coincidence…the blue socks that I knit were too hot for even winter in South Carolina…where did I send them?  To, of course, Afghans for Afghans...

Saturday, June 7, 2014

FO: Estonian Lilies of the Valley, A bit on the Wales trip, and A visit to the Fiberguild of the Savannahs show

I finally completed the first project in the "subcategory" (haha) of "Yarn Purchased in Wales in 2013." Why yes, as we all do, I subcategorize my yarn collection in my head.  

This is Lily of the Valley Lace Shawl  from Pam Allen's Lace Style.  ( I love the Pam Allen era Interweave Knits magazine and the fact that her beautiful daughter, Caitlin Fitzgerald, graces the cover of this book).  The pattern is of course a Nancy Bush Estonian-inspired creation.

The yarn is Collinette Jitterbug in Wasabi. While in Wales we visited Colinette's gift shop in Montgomery, and later her store (and dyeing facility) in Llanfair Caereinion, 
Powys, website here.

Here is a map showing Montgomery and Llanfair Caereinion, note where Welshpool is.

Above is a bigger map of Wales with Welshpool as your reference point; it's to the left of Shrewsbury. Yes, this is a hard-to-see map; Welshpool is just to the right of the "N" in "Cambrian Mountains" if your'e interested.

Below is the store front of Colinette's gallery in Montgomery

Here is yours truly at the top of the street in Montgomery…on fiber vacation, what could be better??

And here is the storefront of Colinette Yarns in Llanfair Caereinion

The store held a riot of colorful yarns, but I loved the soft spring green of the Jitterbug Wasabi, so appropriate for the lily of the valley pattern. 

A bit closer to home, the Fiber Guild of the Savannahs held their annual show at  the Coastal Discovery Museum close by in Hilton Head.  It was titled "Fibers Glorious Fibers!" and I went to have a peek.  I did not take photos of works of art as I did not have artists' permissions, but here are a couple of shots

I love all antique spinning wheels

Here is the handwoven finished product from the "Sheep to Shawl" that I viewed the weaving of in Savannah two months ago…

On the garden front, one of the mulberry trees that I got as a birthday gift was settled from the pot into the yard last fall.  I may never have silkworms to feed it's branches to, however it's gift to me was is the first year of berries, perhaps my reward from liberating it from it's way outgrown pot!