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...

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