Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Kashmir and Flower Basket

Dale of Norway has  a retail line of sweaters and outerwear as well as patterns and yarns for those of us who prefer to knit our own.  The pattern lines for adults are updated with regard to style and color, but still often reflect the heritage of stranded, multicolor knitting.

My favorite Dale sweater that I have done is Kashmir, from Tiur, 60% mohair and 40% new wool, 5 ply sport weight:


I love the original colorway clash of the purple, orange, red, with a little tipping of green on cuffs and neckline.  The pattern is Dale of Norway, book 6030.  It made a lovely fabric that is extremely warm but has some drape.  It's a little itchy next to the skin, so I usually wear a turtleneck with it.  I added some beads around the collar of the sweater. The sweater actually has a matching lace scarf also, which I have not been able to get the edges to lie flat despite several blockings.  But of course I added beads on the end of that too, which weigh it down:

The mohair gives the Tiur some shine and it looks great in this stranded pattern, which to me is  of course reminiscent of an oriental carpet, in a damask print sort of way.

I had a fair amount of Tiur left over.  So, I went on to my favorite shawl pattern at the time, what else but Flower Basket?  After confusing myself in my post on Flower Basket Shawl, I've given up on numbering them.    I added small beads at the border, and I think I ran out of yarn so the points did not come out in the blocking.

I was really pleased with how the Tiur knitted up so well for two very different types of knitting.  The halo of the yarn made it nice for colorwork, but the mohair also has a crisp quality which lends itself well to lace.

This is my favorite Flower Basket, in the draped-over-the-Ashford view:

Here's the bathroom mirror view (yes I have mermaids in the bathroom):

And here's through the sunlight window view:

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Estonian Lace

I bought a book and fell in love, Knitted Lace of Estonia by Nancy Bush.

I'm not sure why this heritage of lace appeals to me more than other types of lace. I just love the way the stitches curve this way and that to form the wavy lily of the valley fronds. Perhaps because it's a more regular pattern rather than something that keeps changing patterns as in fancy Shetland lace shawls, but still provides some serious technical attention span requirements during its creation. (Great for someone highly distractible like me).

Lace shawls are like spinning wheels; I am caught between the attraction to something novel and new; and something old and traditional with time-tested appeal. I love Anne's genius and beautiful shawl designs, and yet I crave being near something with direct history. I love the look (but have never tried) the look of newer spinning wheels like the Bee, but I'm also fascinated with a great wheel. But then I guess, I can appreciate both the old and the new for what they offer. And yes, when it comes to lace shawls, most new designs are based on old patterns; but there's nothing like knowing you're coming fairly close to something that a hard working impoverished woman knit for some needlepointing rich lady a century ago. (Oops, no offense meant if you needlepoint; I used to and wish I had the time and the vision to continue with it).

So my first almost FO from Nancy's book is Triangular Summer Shawl. I'm not done with the lace edge (sewn on) yet. It's my handspun, incredibly enough. By accident I found a nice wool roving at Wild Fibre in Savannah that goes with my default spinning technique quite nicely. This is my second shawl from handspun, the first is a little well, uh, chunky...

This is a newer designed pattern according to Nancy, published in 1983 in Triinu magazine. Triinu was a women's magazine, founded to bridge Estonian culture for women who had managed to emigrate out of the country.

Why is it that I take 40 shots-in-bathroom-mirror-which-knitters-do with my dominant right hand, they all s___, then switch to my left and I get a decent one in the first 5?? Is it a right brain thing? A left brain thing? I ain't bothering to look that one up...

I am simultaneously reading Purge by Sofi Okansen, translated by the writer of this lovely blog. It's the story of two women, and reflects the extraordinarily difficult history of Estonia:

In the last 100 years, Estonia won it's independence from the Russian Empire in 1920, only to be reinvaded by the Soviet Union during World War II, then the Third Reich, then (was there any doubt??) back to the Soviet Union in 1944. Estonia regained it's independence in 1991, after a blood free revolution, very unusual for one small country trying to crawl out from under Soviet dominance, along with other Baltic and Slavic nations.

Purge's story shifts time frames, but the primary reference time is 1991, post independence, when there were still shufflings going about with Soviet influence and culture, including of course women's material culture, pervading in the story. For example, on page 96 ... "The women in the village held on to their Singers, and anyone who did get a new machine got a treadle model, because what if something happened and there was no electricity?"

Well, guess what old thing is in the corner of my bedroom?? (Missing some veneer on the front).

Yep, that's it... my Great Grandmother's treadle Singer. Ain't she a beauty?

If you want a very inspirational documentary film version of Estonia's latest fight for freedom, check out the film, The Singing Revolution. You'll be singing along with the Estonian National Anthem by the end. And they knit on through all of this. An English feminine pleural for they would be nice here. Wonder if they have it in Estonian?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Flower Basket Shawl 1

If I recall correctly, Evelyn A. Clark started me on this path of lace shawls. The first lace shawl pattern I think I ever saw was Flower Basket, from Interweave Knits fall of 2004. Heck, was it only 6 years ago? I have since knit 5 versions of this pattern, which is a record high for me. There was no Ravelry at the time to help to find new triangular lace shawls, so I kept on doing that one pattern.

First, I completed one in purple bulky weight and gave it away. Wish I'd kept a record. On Ravelry, I have 3 flower basket shawls. The one I'm describing today is called Flower Basket 1, which is I think actually the 2nd one.

In 2007 I think, I went to John C. Campbell Folkschool to learn to spin. While there, I spent some time getting lost in their craft shop. I found some beautiful hand spun. I don't know who spun it, but it is a very heavy worsted single and probably has some silk. I'm very bad at keeping ball (skein?) bands. As I was in spinning class, I wondered how a beautiful lofty single was spun; I still can't do that.I purchased three colors: two greens and a creamy white.
Once I started knitting, I realized that I wanted a larger shawl, and I pressed a skein of Morehouse Farm Merino into service for the border. It doesn't quite match but it's OK. I also wanted some beads, and I bought some cheap white plastic beads that I could thread through the yarn and knit in as I cast off. The thing is so big, it's never been fully blocked to bring out the pattern. I really like to cozy up in it on a cold winter evening.

If you love this pattern ( and this isn't the best version of it) it appears that this pattern is available at Fibertrends, if you don't have the old copy of Interweave Knits. Apparently reprints for this issue are no longer available. Of course, it could be done in any weight of yarn; I'll have examples of others in this pattern in the future.

I love Evelyn's book, Knitting Lace Triangles. It appears to be available from Fibertrends, there are some available at Amazon as well.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Norwegian Sweater Story

This is my workhorse sweater. I have always loved the traditional Norwegian lusekofte (“lice jacket”) sweaters. Yeah, sorry, it’s not snowflakes, it’s LICE. This one I completed some years ago; the pattern is from Dale 4405. The yarn is Heilo, and has worn like iron. It’s warm and gets many compliments.
Several years after I completed it, Annemor Sundbo published Setesdal Sweaters: The History of the Norwegian Lice Pattern (2001). According to Annemor, whose knitwear studio in Kristiansund Norway I hope to visit, these sweaters, also called “setesdalgenser” (setesdal sweater) have a long history. Here is a bit of it:
Setesdal is an traditional district running north and south along the Otra river valley in southern Norway. Before the Viking age (late 8th to 11th centuries), these traditional districts were often petty kingdoms. Before telecommunication and updated travel means (bridges, airports, railroads) as late as the the 1960's and 70's these traditional districts were fairly self contained, allowing for preservation of traditional culture.
Annemor says that everyone in Norway has owned a variation of a setesdalgenser at some time in their life. Personally, I feel that the human eye is drawn to a traditional repetitive pattern and that fact adds to the appeal of these sweaters. Traditionally, lusekofte were working men’s sweaters, and in some ways still are: even today in Norway a setesdalgenser with a shirt and tie may be considered business attire.
From old photographs and works of art, Annemor dates these sweaters to the early 19th century. Adolph Tidemand (1814-1876), painted beautiful historical views of Norway’s people and some of these include depictions of lusekofte. Karl Sundt-Hansen (1841-1907) was another painter whose images includes some views of old knitwear. Annemore has many beautiful art images which include garments in her book.

Lusekofte are practical, warm garments. An old one is seen above. These sweaters were knit in their natural colors from the sheep. The black wool was less prevalent and thus used for the visible part of the sweater, above the waist. Men often wore woolen trousers with very high waistbands, sort of resembling overalls, so the garment need not be long. Traditionally the bottom part of the sweater was done in solid white, which was not visible below the waistband. The double strands to create the two color pattern provided warmth. In the traditional manner, the body of the sweater is knit in the round; originally on four long double points, now often on circular needles. Fancier lusekofte had lovely embroidery done in traditional patterns around the neck and sometimes the cuffs, this is still sometimes seen. Helene whose blog I’ve read for a long time has instructions for adding embroidery here. (Helene blogs in Norwegian these days but she is fluent in English is case you've a question for her.) Annemor’s book has instructions as well. My lusekofte has sewn on purchased braid.
Sometimes one sees this type of patterning called “fair isle,” referring to stranded knitting, in common parlance. As we all know (right??) Fair Isle is in Scotland. I have read that due to early shipping, fishing, and of course invasions in the northern hemisphere, knitting traditions were easily transferred from one culture to another. An example of an invasion: one of Tidemand’s paintings is Sinclair’s Landing in Romsdal, an illustration of a Scottish clan invasion in Norway in 1612.
Many variances and variations of all patterned sweaters exist, both due to tradition or cultural variations, and the individual knitter’s or designer's creativity. The incredibly lovely sweaters by Dale of Norway and other companies are all derivatives of these earlier designs. More on updated Norwegian and Scandinavian designs in future posts.
Information on Annemor can be found at her website. For more fiber eye candy, apparently she has a flicker site with many photos of old knitted garments! The story of how she acquired these is in another book of hers, Everyday Knitting: Treasures from a Ragpile. I should mention that one of my favorite books on Scandinavian knitting is Susanne Pagold's Nordic Knitting. She has a beautiful pattern for a lusekofte as well.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Spent time last weekend at Isle of Palms on family vacation. Isle of Palms is just north of Charleston (that's SC).

I walked each morning on the beach, listening to Cast On. Now, I am a huge fan of Brenda's, and subscribe via itunes. I am only up to Episode 34, so I have lots more to enjoy. Both Brenda, her guests, and her chosen music sounded even better while briskly walking in the sand. As I proceeded the second morning, I spied this house:

How bold. This photo was taken from the street side while I rode my brother's bike out the next day.

I have a thing about a strong lime green. It's one of my favorite colors, and I think because it has both very hot and very cold at the same time. I do love green. The house put me in mind of the margarita I had the night before, and then of some roving that I dyed then started to spin:

The roving is cormo and mohair from Juniper Moon Farm where I sometimes buy a farm share. I dyed a portion of the roving in my turkey roaster, and started spinning a tight single for lace. I do kinda vibration dying...I go with my vibe. I don't measure, I just pour in more than I think I'll need! I used Country Classics Key Lime for this batch of roving. I love my dye dedicated turkey roaster.

I'm suspecting that this will be an Estonian lace wrap from Nancy Bush's book, Knitted Lace of Estonia. It's very high on my favorites list this year.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Book Report: Eliza Lucas Pinckney

In thinking about acquiring a second spinning wheel, I thought perhaps it would be interesting to learn about wheels used in early South Carolina. In trying to learn more about the history of spinning in SC, I found a book that really caught me up that I want to share.

The Letterbook of Eliza Lucas Pinckney 1739-1762. University of South Carolina Press, 1997, South Carolina Historical Society, 1972. I don’t recall how I found this book. I didn’t learn what I thought I would from it. So at this point I’m diverging largely from the subject of fiber to talk about Eliza.
Now, if you hail from or visit the South Carolina Low Country, you know the name Pinckney. Folks with the last name of Pinckney are everywhere.

Eliza Lucas (1722-1793) was English; she was born in the West Indies. Her father, George Lucas, served as a major in the British army in Antigua. She was schooled in England, and George moved the family to South Carolina in 1738. Major Lucas’s father, John Lucas, had owned three properties in SC which presumably Major Lucas inherited. These included
1) Bluff plantation on Wappoo Creek, 600 acres, which is 16 miles from Charleston
2) Garden Hill Plantation, 1500 acres, on the Combahee River
3) three different packages of land on the Waccamaw River, totaling 3000 acres, which produced rice
In 1739 Major Lucas returned to Antigua to resume his military duties. Eliza, aged 17, became responsible for overseeing the Wappoo Creek plantation and had responsibilities for supervising the Garden Hill and Waccamaw River properties. Her two brothers were being schooled in England, her Mother and younger sister lived at Wappoo Creek. Her Mother was not well.
Now at this point, have no doubt (if you had any) that African American slaves were involved in the maintenance of these properties. I offer no apologies, and understand that slavery and women’s rights do not mix. I have read my Belle Hooks, and I'm right there with her. But that was then and this is now. And Eliza is way too interesting to drop this discussion.
In 1744, at age 22, Eliza married Charles Pinckney. Charles was 45, and a widower. Charles has the distinction of being South Carolina’s first “native” attorney. After their wedding, Eliza’s mother and sister returned to Antigua; Eliza was the only member of her family left in SC to manage her father’s three properties. Charles built a mansion for the couple in Charleston. He also had a properties of his own
4)Belmont Plantation on the Cooper River, and
5)Pinckney Island and neighboring properties, Port Royal Sound
Eliza had four children, two of whom, Charles Cotesworth and Thomas, were schooled in England at Oxford. They returned to SC in 1758, after the death of their father Charles. Both Charles and Thomas were to become preeminent South Carolina politicians and farmers. But first, they were two important patriots serving in the Revolutionary war: Charles as a Colonel and later brevet Brigadier General, Thomas as a Captain and later Major General in the Continental Army.
Eliza was a perfectly sane individual and despite her fervent Christian faith, she understood that occasional dancing and card playing were not sinful as long as that was not ALL one did. She managed numerous properties and plantations largely on her own; recall that her father died in 1747 and her husband died in 1758. In additional to those listed above are these:
6) Auckland Plantation on the Ashepoo River
7) Marshlands Plantation on the Cooper River
8) Pinckney Plains Plantation on the west Ashley
9) Pinckney House, Colleton Square, on East Bay Street in Charleston.
And there were more. All this without air conditioning.
After suffering loss of much of her life ‘s accomplishments and properties during the Revolution due to British raids, Eliza died in Philadelphia where she was seeking cancer treatment in 1793. President Washington, who had been a guest at Hampton Plantation (not owned by the family, but Eliza had taken refuge there during the war), was one of her pallbearers. She is buried at St. Peter’s Churchyard in Philadelphia.
Eliza’s existent letters are housed in Columbia at the University Library in a fireproof room. (I was delighted to learn the USC HAS a fireproof room for precious historical items. ) Her letters are thoughtful, and full of love and concern for others. She loved botany, and delighted in plant life both near her homes for enjoyment, and the crops that she raised. My son is taking South Carolina history in 8th grade this year; according to his teacher, his class is reading some primary sources, and I hope this will be one of them; it had not yet been published when I was in that class.
So, I delved in to all of this thinking I might learn about fibers grown and used in prerevolutionary South Carolina. It’s clear that flax culture was critical as linen provided the coolest garments, although flax is not discussed in any depth in this book. However, I found more information in another book on Eliza and flax. Alice Morse Earl's excellent research for Home Life in Colonial Days revealed a letter from Major Lucas to Eliza dated 1745; in which he documented sending her via sloop (from the West Indies, presumably?) two Irish servants, a weaver and a spinner. He ordered flax seed sent to her from Philadelphia. The two Irish women were charged with training slaves to spin flax and weave clothing for the slave population. Eliza had spinning wheels and a loom made, and a "sensible negro woman and hundreds of others" had learned to spin. Mrs. Earl's followup comment is "excellent cloth has always been woven in the low country of South Carolina, as well as in the upper districts, till our own time" (p. 183). (Mind you, the book was originally published in 1898. She may have been alluding to the textile industry that is still active in upstate South Carolina).
Obviously, Eliza was successful with flax production. Her letters hint that she experimented with hemp manufacture. Silk production in SC has never been a serious enterprise, but Eliza did produce silk fiber at the Belmont Plantation on the Cooper River. There are white mulberry trees still in Belmont that have naturalized from her stock. The American History Museum at the Smithsonian museum has a silk dress made from fiber from Eliza’s silk worms. Here is a photo of the dress:

Eliza was actively interested in indigo culture and early in her life her father sent her indigo seeds from the West Indies. Her family’s properties were early growers of South Carolina indigo, which became a major export crop in our state.
Sources for this post are:
The Letterbook of Eliza Lucas Pinckney 1739-1762. University of South Carolina Press, 1997, South Carolina Historical Society, 1972.
Earle, Alice Morse. Home Life in Colonial Days. Originally published in 1898. American Classics edition c. 1993 by Berkshire House Publishers.
Information on Charles Cotesworth and Thomas' military careers was located at wikipedia.
More information on Eliza and her family abounds on the internet including here.
More information on South Carolina plantations including the ones mentioned in this post are available here.
More information on visiting South Carolina's plantations is available here. No, I'm not on the payroll.
Now, I’m off to find an indigo dye kit.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Shetland Lace Scarves

Now, I'm not a big scarf user, which makes sense considering where I live. (No, the photo above isn't a South Carolina view, it's the bay in Lerwick, Shetland. We have old tabby ovens around here, but no old stone buildings that I know of.) It does get cold down here in SC although even in January and February it can heat up to 60 degrees if it's sunny by afternoon. Occasionally I will toss a hand knit scarf around my neck, but it comes off quickly.

Now, first some thoughts on terminology. According to me, and please leave a correcting comment if you have other thoughts:

1) a scarf is a relatively narrow woven fabric or knitted item that is long enough to wind around the neck, however, some shorter triangular knitted items (that likewise go about the shoulders) are termed scarves. If you are a Boy Scout, these might be woven fabric.

2) a shawl is triangular, and relatively large.

3) a wrap or stole is rectangular and long enough to wrap around shoulders and upper body.

I do love me some lace, as you can see from the last post. I don't knit lace scarves lately and don't plan to... However, in Shetland last year I encountered some lovely ones. On Joyce's tour, we had a morning workshop in Shetland lace with two lovely women, and we all started a cobweb lace scarf. Below is a rather poor photo of a sampler scarf that's probably a stole in Wendy terminology that I chose not to crop so as not to loose any detail.

Mine has gone untouched since we left, I wonder if anyone has finished theirs? Here's a great photo of my friend Nancy showing our instructors the wonders of Ravelry on her iphone...
I purchased several in this traditional cockleshell pattern, one black and one white. Can't find the black one to photo but here's the white one. It's cobweb weight, and DID I MENTION THESE ARE ALL GARTER LACE?? (Very hard to do, at least for me).

Here's the shabby chic view on back of the rusty chair with falling zinneas in the background:

When in Scotland, I saw a black scarf that an artist had cleverly applied a thin felt backing to in a light color; I thought that was a lovely way to highlight the lace and use two techniques; when I find mine and then learn to felt, that will be a future project.

These tend to be knit in Jamieson and Smith yarn, either 2 ply or laceweight or cobweb. If you are interested in knitting some Shetland lace, J & S has patterns and kits at their website.