There are some ideas that come from within. We work hard to brainstorm them with purpose and focused attention. We feel responsible for what becomes of them, because we are personally entrenched in their inception, and because they are something that has emerged from our own thought processes, and for that reason feel compelled and driven to bring them to life. I have had these kind of ideas, and it is exciting to watch them grow from idea to reality.
In regards to the Cordova Gansey Project, however, I feel it has been something altogether very different. Although the project is very personal and I am deeply involved, I was and continue to be just a faithful follower. The idea came from outside of me and I felt it call to me and simply followed where it took me. I felt responsible to the calling rather than to any idea of my own, and tried my best to listen and follow the direction to which it led, all the while recognizing that the pathway of the life I have lived and the places life has taken me had brought me to this very place and project, and I have recognized and acknowleged that entangled with my part in it all, were three things I value very much ... family, fishing, and craft.
Last night, as I packed up Nate's finished gansey, I felt somehow this sense that I was sending off a physical and symbolic "rite of passage". . . a blessing bestowed on a son moving into a place of leadership and authority from young person into adulthood. And although he has now been the Captain for over a year of the good ship Orion, previously manned by my husband, for some reason, I felt an overwhelming sense of depth and meaning, as I attempted to pen him a letter that I hoped would instill in him a greater understanding of what this transition really meant to me.
As I packed up his gansey carefully, first sewing inside the label with my signature, then tying it up with a length of seine twine, I began to reflect more precisely on what I was actually feeling concerning this send off and seeming rite of passage, and what came to my mind is what I believe we share as parents in our hopes for our children in regard to the qualities and character we hope to see develop in them as they emerge into adulthood.
I ended up making up and tying with it a special tag by writing down upon it these certain character qualities that I hoped would guide him amidst his future fisherfolk life, so that he would know that along with the love I knit into every stitch, that there were these valuable qualities I had reflected upon as I worked on his gansey, praying also for his safety and success.
In light of this, I believe there are many different ways one measures success, and my hope for him is that he will always keep the broader picture in perspective, and that he will remember in the midst of his fishing and life endeavors that his character and conscience are the most valuable of all he has or ever will come to possess.
And then I sealed up the box.
After months of knitting on and off, months of story telling, events, discussions, figurings, doings and undoings, all the ends woven in, the tag sewn on, the letter written, the box taped, it is time to let go.
When my husband Bob first said, "I think I am thinking about retiring" and then gave our son a chance to work as a leader on the boat, my husband said, "Well, maybe we could co-captain the boat together." Nate knew otherwise. There can only be one Captain of the ship. It was hard at first for my husband to let go, and even now he still likes to know all the particulars, but Nate knew there could only be just one captain and told my husband so. It could be either one or the other, but it couldn't be both. It meant letting go, and letting the next generation become the new leader. It's hard to let go, and somehow all tangled up in the knitting is this process of stepping back and letting the younger ones take the helm.
And so this particular voyage is complete. Nate's gansey is now in the mail and on its way. I cannot wait for the package to arrive in Homer where Nate is working to completely refurbish the family boat, making it his own, bringing it up to date for him to start his own life journey in the fishing fleet. I have told him to send me a photo when he wears it for the very first time. He will have his own stories to share of deckloads and waterhauls, rocks that make big holes, storms and sunrises, rafting up with friends, berry pancakes and cobblers, hikes on the island mountaintops, nets, and ropes and engines, deck wenches and power blocks, jellyfish, kelp, and that sparkle of sunlight as it dances on the waters of the ocean on a sunny day, and somehow I feel as though I will be there in a way in the gansey I knit for him.
Nate's gansey took me to many special places. On the way I made new and wonderful friends, and reinforced and strengthened those who I continue to hold near and dear. Thanks to all of you who followed along the way. For now, a new voyage is being planned, that of the gansey for my son in law, Michael. The next ship is sailing, and off I go. I had a wonderful visit a couple of weeks ago to Tolt Yarn & Wool, a very very special yarn shop in Carnation, Washington, and after a presentation we gave on the project, I was able to take measurements of Michael to get the project launched.
I feel as though I have had a nice little rest from my gansey knitting and ready now to embark on this new journey and when I let go today at the post office of that package for Nate, I knew the best thing to do was come home, open up my notebook, and start planning the next. Here's to a safe arrival on a distant shore.
FisherFolk Illustration with Orion in the Night Sky - Artist Clare Chapple . Inspired from Gansey talk and gathering at Tolt Yarn & Wool where she works as a member of their fine team.
Measuring Michael at Tolt Yarn & Wool - Photographer Kathy Cadigan
For those in the Seattle region: There is a group within the Tolt Yarn & Wool Community that have joined the project, and if you are in this region and interested in ganseys, we are trying to work together to help those who want to attempt the process have the information and supplies they need to get started.
Father and Son circa 1996
Sepia photo: Captain Nate steering skiff with crew headed back to F/V ORION Snug Harbor Prince William Sound. Photo by Brother Matthew.
Sometimes I feel as though I am in a thick fog swimming after a ship that is sailing far beyond me. Even though I am months behind, however, what I sometimes find myself doing is contrary and astray from the lists that would get me closer to that ship. Last weekend, for example, just one week before Christmas, my kitchen was transformed into a mushroom dye workshop with pots and jars everywhere. Even now, I should be writing and having closure on FisherFolk (still months later), yet off I go into the woods in a completely different direction, like the veers I take as the first mushrooms appear in August, when I find myself off in the marshy forest in my party shoes, when I should be at work. I can't seem to help it. Somehow the forest calls to me, and I am powerless to not heed its beckoning call.
As I write, just having finished cleaning up (almost) from my mushroom and lichen dye blitz, I have many tangled thoughts. In this mixed up migratory life, I feel grateful that I found myself in the right spot and the right time, when dyer friend Alissa Allen and my life converged, just when I was feeling uprooted and disconnected. Two weekends ago, I was fortunate enough to escape the office and tromp through the woods with new found friends in the beautiful down pouring rain in search of dye mushrooms followed by a full day of redwood forest mushroom dye lessons. Can it get any better than that?
In the midst of it all, I was able to see in the wild, a few of the species I had only previously seen in photographs and drawings. Woodland treasures containing the dye pigments that merge woodland with wool, two of my favorite earthly pleasures.
As one weekend merged into the next, my collections began to turn to mush, and it was time for the kitchen to be taken over. I soon found myself in a cloud of steam, lost in a sea of jars, strainers, pots and pans.
Recently, I have rekindled my interest in lichen dyeing and have been trying to reteach myself lichen taxonomy, and have been working on collecting and identifying those nearby. During the walks on the mushroom dye weekend, I found several of the same kind on downed logs and branches, and was able to brew a couple of jars of them alongside my jars of mushrooms. It is always amazing to watch the colors emerge after hours of simmering. During this process, a distinct and lasting lichen fragrance imbeds itself into the yarn, which surrounds one with a wonderful woodland scent when worn.
Thanks to my injection of inspiration from Alissa, I managed to dye over a dozen colors of a variety of yarns. If you ever are somewhere Alissa is teaching, don't miss out. She is a wealth of information, inspiration, and a sweet sweet soul.
Even though I have been mushroom dyeing for many years, I think the most important lesson I have learned from Alissa each time I take a workshop from her is how "approachable" and inventive this craft is, and the value of the woodland walks that produce the raw ingredient source. This reminds me so much of Miriam Rice, and her discoveries that brought forth so much of the mushroom dyeing we currently partake in. There is a freedom in experimentation and a wonder and possibility for something new which may or may not have been done before, plus the alteration and variation that something as simple as pH can produce.
I was thinking about mushrooms and was discussing this with my daughter Nelly. With mushrooms, versus plant collecting or berry picking, there is a hunt. They are elusive. They appear and disappear. The underlying mycelium is present, but you are never sure exactly when and where they will come up. They may come back in the exact place as they did before, or they may not.
Plants and berries are more straight forward, while mushrooms have an element of mystery and surprise to them, at least to me. There is a satisfaction and childhood excitement about finding them. And then there is the color element. You add water and heat and when it is the right one, voila, the color emerges and sometimes so brilliantly and so beautifully I can hardly contain myself.
Such is life. Some mushrooms produce brilliant color immediately, some need an environmental change for their colors to emerge. Some only emerge after long days of simmering gently, and some take months in an alkaline environment. Each pigment responds differently, yet each has its own beauty. Sometimes patience is required and other times you have to act swiftly to acquire the richest color, such as in Omphalotus where the color seems to appear, but can in a moment turn to grey. Lessons and something to be learned and appreciated from each of them, even the soft beiges that may be used to contrast the richer and deeper colors are to be valued.
SO now that I have cleared away the mushroom dyeing fallout, while I am supposed to be thinking about decorating, baking, crafting, and creating a hospitable holiday environment before it is too late, I'd really rather be knitting something with all these wonderful colors.
Think quick .. who in my family needs a mushroom dyed knit hat or scarf, cowl or maybe a sweet handknit mushroom ornament like the ones I recently spotted on instagram...and as for the house, simple festivities with heart and soul, while for the hands, I had best get knitting...like I said before, chasing after a sailing ship. Fortunately I love to swim. Hope you are all well and enjoying all the festivities the season has to offer. These are the times that offer us the opportunities to expand our hearts and minds, to see goodness and light prevail over darkness despite our circumstances , to allow that which is inherently good and useful in us to come to life as we reach out with love to those around us. Peace and love, good will to all. Thanks for listening.
When I was a little girl, we used to go shopping at this one department store. In those days, going shopping with my mother was a special occasion of sorts, and for times such as these, we dressed up. Mary Jane party shoes and party dresses were the attire...Dresses with petticoats and wide bows behind the back, hair curled and fastened with with satin or grosgrain ribbons. I remember even now how beautiful my mother looked to me back then when she dressed to go shopping.
Visiting the fancy department store also meant going out to lunch in the store’s upstairs "Lotus Tea Room". Upstairs was also where they had special events and activities, and I think this was where we assembled each year for the beloved Santa photos, as well. This one below was before my sister was born as I clearly remember her crying through the ones of us with her with us in later years.
I can barely recall being upstairs one time at a very young age, and having to stand very very still, while a woman, delicate sharp scissors in hand, carefully cut a silhouette of my brother and my four year old self, creating a lovely papercut image of that place and time, and so perfectly encapsulating those faint memories into something visible and tangible in a way even more perfectly than simply an old photograph.
I look at this image now and I think how amazing it was how the artist was able to just cut it freestyle right then and there on the spot as we stood before her eyes, capturing the essence of my brother and I, side by side, as well as the elements of the clothing such as the smocked dress with its starched white PeterPan collar and puffy sleeves that I remember oh so well. It is evident even now, that this portrait artist was a skilled craftsperson with a perceptive eye as well as precise cutting skills.
I remember liking these hand cut images, as well as the childhood silhouettes of my mother and her brother in my grandmother’s home. My mother also loved Scandinavian papercuts and would hang them in our windows. There was a Danish shop in our town that had a lovely selection of them which were made from a heavier paper with images of flowers and birds each packaged in a cellophane envelope. I loved visiting the shop with my mother, and seeing the array of them displayed in the windows. She would carefully choose one and we would enjoy the sight of it hanging in the window for some time after as they brightened the view.
I continued to fancy silhouettes, and in high school I used to frequent the tiniest little shop that hardly had room to walk around called Tomnoddy Fair, filled to the brim with all sorts of little treasures. I especially liked the little packages of gummed stickers, as well as sheets of antique seals you had to cut or tear apart. I remember being excited in this little shop when I spotted packets of little miniature silhouette seals.
Thinking on this, I managed to find some of those old seals in a covered cigar box in my collections of keepsakes that have endured the years. I also found some of the treasured little squirrel seals that I also remember finding at Tomnoddy Fair, which I used to save and use quite sparingly as I only had a small handful of them that had come in a teeny tiny box. I recollect having an ample supply of the silhouette seals and using them profusely on letters and in my camp photo albums which I loved putting together, predating what we now call scrapbooking.
Silhouettes continued to capture my interest, and eventually when back east visiting my husband’s relatives, I spotted a large papercut in a little shop in Pennsylvania. I hadn't ever seen anything quite like it. It reminded me of the silhouette paper cuts that I had always liked, but it was larger, cut from parchment and tinted with watercolor, and filled with elaborate images of animals and wildlife. They referred to the framed pieces as examples of Scherenschnitte, founded in Switzerland and brought to the United States in the 1800’s. Below is an example by Pamela Dalton that reminds me of the ones I saw that day long ago in the Pennsylvania gift shop.
A few years later, after The Net Loft was started, I spotted some paper crafting booklets at a trade show. Some were similar to the Danish Designs like the ones my mother used to hang in the window, and others were simplified versions of the style of images I had spotted in the shop in Pennsylvania. I started carrying them in the shop, and learned how to create several pieces. I found paper cutting to be a calming craft amidst my growing family of small children, but as life got busy, although I still loved the craft, there was only so much time, and my cutting time fell by the wayside. I found an old one of the window hangings I had made, stained and faded, wedged between pages of an old cookbook, I am guessing to be from twenty five or so years ago, a simple, yet sweet design, in thoughts of my older son Matthew who loved climbing and spending time in the treetops.
A few years ago, when I began a pinterest page, I began seeing some wonderful paper cutting images, and it brought back my paper cutting memories. It was exciting to see how the designs had evolved and I was fascinated by the beauty and artistry, often multidimensional. I began following some of the artists on instagram and enjoyed watching the photographs of their work appear in my feed.
As I first began brainstorming for FisherFolk, one particular artist, Annie Howe, released a photo on her instagram feed with a fishing boat off in the corner and forested mountains in the distance, and it set me thinking.
I thought to myself that I wished I could have a papercut image with boats and fishing, but mixed up with yarn, plus I also loved the floral images she integrated, and some mushrooms and ferns, as well as fish that I liked, so I thought, why not mix in my favorite Cordova woodland and seaside surroundings into a composition that would reflect our region and our knitting.
As stated in my previous post, for every idea, there is a person. It is one thing to have an idea, but it takes a person to bring an idea to life. I began reading and viewing more of Annie's work, and the more I saw, the more I knew she was potentially the right person. The key would be if she took commissions AND if she would be interested in taking this one on AND if we could fit into her full schedule and have it done in time.
In January of 2015, I wrote to Annie, proposed my idea, and waited to hear back. Her answer was yes, and she gave me the information on commissions. Life got busy, and a year later I was ready to initiate the commission and she was willing to take on the project after she finished some other projects. We went back and forth with ideas and plans, including her rough sketches, and then, one day in March, I received an email with a photo of the image and I was so happy. She sent me a quick view of the cutting, unframed and laying on some planks of wood.
The image was beyond my expectations. It had combined all of the elements into one cohesive design. Lupine, blueberries, Queen Anne's Lace, knitting needles and yarn, ribbons, rope, ferns and forests, fish and fishing boats, and of course, our dear gansey.
My hope was to take the image and use on totes, and there was no time to lose, I quickly sent off the image to be screened on bags that would be ready in time to have for FisherFolk.
The image also made it in time to be made into a knitting needle gauge which was hung on the waxed canvas tote bags of the FIsherFolk attendees and we had more made up so they would also be available for purchasing in our online store, HERE, also a great gift and includes the smaller sizes and half sizes, perfect for the gansey knitter.
Printed copies would be used to generate funds to help finance the Moray Firth Project. I was able to use the negative and positive images to create two different versions. The light image version may be tinted for those interested in hand coloring before framing. These and the bags are available for purchase on our online store and make wonderful gifts as well.
My papercutting silhouette history had found a home with Annie Howe's Cordova, Alaska design. If you look closely there are many elements that reflect our local environment and lifestyle.
Annie also cut for us these sweet little pair of sheep, that Melina Meyer used for creating the hand cut stamp which we used to print on the linen bags filled with our Shawn the Sheep project, but that is another story for another day... and until then, thank you Annie Howe for your contribution and paper cutting skills that came to fruition in your Follow the Fish, Follow the Knitting piece. You were the person who brought this idea to life in a most wonderful way, and for that I am grateful. I would love to have Annie come to Alaska one day and teach some classes. We'll have to see about that....
I had this one last thought....
I think it is interesting that in papercuts there is this intentional process of elimination that eventually unveils the design, and the taking away of that which is not important reveals that which defines the essential,
and in doing so,
the loveliness appears.
A thought to ponder.
Until next time... Hope you are having a pleasant season of holiday crafting...my favorite part of this time of year. After reminicing, I may even be inspired to do just a bit of papercutting again. That would surely be fun, don't you think?
For more information on Annie Howe Papercuts, her website is: http://www.anniehowepapercuts.com/
Pamela Dalton - Scherenschnitte Designshttp://pameladaltonpapercutting.com/
Brother/Sister standing Silhouette by Merle Prince Silhouettes
In a life with a million frayed and loose ends, for those close at hand, it must be hard to imagine that despite my constant whirlwind state, I actually crave and seek out the calmness that comes with completion. In a life that contains multiple lives, I ache for actual closure, and the satisfaction felt in finishing.
A few weeks ago, despite the fact that I had a million things to do, and endless lists of unfinished business and uncertain plans and ideas for the coming week, when my husband asked me to join him alongside the ocean for a gathering, I said yes. I would be late, but I would be there.
That night, while around a campfire in California, on the eve before my early morning exit to return to Cordova, I was asked which life I liked better, and did I wish I was someplace else in the midst of being where I was. I thought of earlier that day and my drive back from the airport to drop off air freight bound for the shop in Cordova. Though in a hurry, I couldn't help but smile at the sight of the yellow gold autumn leaves on the mountain road, the morning light hitting the trees just so, as I wound my way up and down the back woods road. I watched intently, soaking in the beauty as I rushed along, but I didn't NOT see it, or miss that opportunity to catch the sight of it, nor the sunset that was spread so elegantly before me as I attempted to answer her question.
As I have stated in previous posts, I intentionally choose (with more effort sometimes than other times) to take the moments as they come and to try not to miss what is there for me at whatever place and time I am in. It is not as trite or easy as it sounds, and although it sometimes takes extra effort, with eyes wide open, I do all I can, despite the challenge and frustration of feeling half undone, to see and not miss out on what is there for me moment by moment, instead of feeling bad or resentful for what I am not getting done or accomplishing at whatever place I am not in, or wanting to live a different life than the one I am in the midst of. It is the grand dichotomy of my life. Life often neither here nor there, often among the clouds, airborne and between time zones, bits of my heart torn and scattered between multiple places and people.
In light of this, I am wanting to at least finish tales of FisherFolk to just close that page and move forward with all the NetLofting that came after and continues to be taking place. At this point it seems that there have been enough different people who have shared and told about our days together, that I almost feel as though enough has been said, and it is now November, almost December, and June is quickly slipping farther and farther into the distant past. Although FisherFolk is past tense, the gansey project for me is still very close at hand. At this time, I am finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel of my son Nate’s gansey. Hopefully less than one month of knitting to finish it up. I am just about to the elbows on both sleeves.
Since the event, in regards to what was inspired from those days together, I have joyously seen many works in progress, and many works completed, knitters knitting, spinners spinning, and dyers dyeing. My hope continues to be realized when what was ignited in those concentrated days together has been bearing fruit as each of us goes our own way, taking with us what we learned and taking the opportunity to put our new knowledge into practice.
I decided that I would like to have a little show and tell about some of the special touches we had as part of the event , and then share a bit on some of the workshops we had for the rest of the summer. As I share with you some of these details and photos, I think this will help me feel the closure I have been seeking for these last several months. Some of these projects are still ongoing and able to be joined in with, and some of the items we have available in our online store, so even if you didn’t make it to FisherFolk, you can join with us from afar. I thought I would make it not quite so long, and share just an inkling every day or so. As the year gradually comes to a close, 'tis the season of gratitude and giving, and I have a such a sense of gratitude for each of the details and those who made them come to life as FisherFolk came to fruition.
I have this thought, that for every idea, there is a person, sometimes more than one.
There is a thought, and then, there is person that takes that idea and turns it into something concrete. Sometimes it is just a matter of manpower, as some ideas are too big for just one person to accomplish. Others require a unique skill or attribute. Regardless of the reason, for me, each idea has a person attached to it. Some ideas are like a tiny spring of a thought, starting with just a notion.
I am often amazed how seemingly unconnected happenstances weave together to fulfill a concept, and how all these separate puzzle pieces that seem unrelated come together to create a whole. Each piece somehow is it's own long story, and so here we go again...
I will start with an idea that happened during a distracting moment. I like art and I like etchings and I like images that are fish related. Long before the thought of a trip to Shetland, or FisherFolk or ganseys, I was meandering through Pinterest, most likely when I was supposed to be working on my bookkeeping.
Who knows how I ended up there, but I stumbled on an image of a girl holding a fish.
I was struck immediately of how much she reminded me of my daughter Nelly, and the images in my mind of when she was a little girl out on the boat.
It reminded me of the days when the children would dress up and play “olden days” in the third floor of the warehouse where the old Net Loft resided. Nelly had long braids and often resembled someone more likely to live in the mid 19th century than from modern times. We were homeschooling during those years. The shop was closed in the winter and one of the ways we studied history was through literature. We read books and books as the children colored timelines and put their lives in historical perspective. There was a lot of living history dress up going on and when I saw that image on Pinterest, all I could think of was "Olden Days Nelly" with her long braids, and the young woman she had become continuing to embrace fishing as her livelihood as an adult.
I followed the link that took me to the artist's site, and lo and behold there was still a copy left of the etching. The artist was Nicola Slattery from South east England. I sent her pictures of Nelly and told her my story and she shared with me hers. The etching was inspired by a photo of her own daughter holding a fish in rural England. I bought the etching and our relationship began.
When I decided to take a trip to the UK for Shetland Wool Week in 2014, I started making reservations in the spring. I had purchased the etching a few months earlier, and remembering that Nicola was in England, I sort of dawdled around and I thought if there was a way, wouldn’t it be nice to see if there was an art class or something to take while on my adventure. I ended up back on Nicola’s site and saw that the weekend before wool week she was teaching a class on etchings and collographs. I had always wanted to learn this type of printmaking, and the timing was perfect. In October of 2014, I landed in London for the first time in my life, hopped a couple trains until I arrived in Norfolk, then rented a car, and holding my breath the entire way due to the newness of driving on a different side, made my way through the countryside to the little community where she was teaching the weekend workshop.
After a night on a hog farm b and b, I drove to our class, which took place at the Starston Jubilee Hall, and met Nicola for the first time.
Surrounded by her work, I was utterly excited and engaged, fully inspired for the printmaking retreat, something I had always wanted to learn and do.
It was a great weekend. Nicola was a fine instructor, and I was captivated by the expressions of the people in her framed images on the walls that surrounded us. There was a sense of whimsy yet thought in her designs. The people in her images often looked at you eye to eye, and the renderings often included fish, birds, as well as sheep.
Although I felt quite rusty in my drawing, I loved the weekend immersed in art and ink under her care and guidance, as well as the fine tea, treats, and the delicious lunches she provided.
After the full weekend together I had a few different pieces, my default images being harebells, my favorite mountain flower, high bush cranberries, and of course, blueberries.
My time with Nicola had been a fine way to start my time in the UK and it was funny to think that it was all from a distracted moment of bookkeeping and that Pinterest had brought me to that place and time... a wonderful detour. From there I was off to Shetland and on to my wool week adventure.
The following year, as FisherFolk started to take form, I thought of Nicola once again. First of all, I had this art piece, the Girl with the Fish, that I thought would somehow be incorporated into an inspiration for a yarn, but I needed a design for the event, and kept coming back to the girl with the braids as a fisher lassie of sorts. I wrote to Nicola and asked permission, and at that time was struck with the idea that wouldn’t it be nice if Nicola created something expressly for our event, one of her etchings that would be created for both FisherFolk and the Cordova Gansey Project. She responded. We could use the girl with the braids for our event AND she was up for creating a new image, and there it began.
I emailed her photos of salmon and fishing, and then, one day, she was done, and what would become the entrance piece for our exhibit of the Moray Firth ganseys in our little museum in Cordova, arrived in the etching, “Knitting for Salmon”. It was interesting as she had not meant for it to look like the girl was wearing a kuspuk, a native dress, but it worked out that way when she colored the gansey and the skirt adorning the girl in the boat. It was an added touch that made her even more special for our region.
This is Cordova’s own gansey girl, knitting a net with salmon, and perfect for welcoming everyone in a grand entrance to our new museum, chock full of a fine display of ganseys from Scotland for our FisherFolk event. In honor of the original fisher lassies, it was fitting that the artist would be from the UK as well. It was a most perfect fit and a wonderful visual representative alongside her friend, the "Girl with a Fish" for those coming to appreciate the fine display of ganseys that had traveled to see us from afar. overseas, and around the globe.
SO here she is. The Cordova Gansey Girl. Thank you Nicola for your workmanship, and for being just the right person to take this idea from concept to reality. So grateful the path led me to your "door". I loved having your hand etched fisherknitter in our event, and for justly representing our local salmon and our own local fisherknitters of today. A long story with a nice ending, that really is just now becoming its own beginning.
Those interested in learning more about Nicola, purchasing her art, or taking her fine workshops may find more information on her site.
More to come...
ps.. I would love to have some cards made of the image, but will have to work this out with Nicola, so stay tuned.
Museum photo with gansey and etching by Melina Meyer.
Sometimes life leaves us speechless. We are left with no words to describe all that is going on within and around us, while other times there are so many words that we don’t know where to start, or how to sift and sort the tangled collection of them so they may be communicated with some sense of order.
At times like this it seems that we have to remove ourselves from everything and wait. Wait for the emotions to settle, for the piles and busyness to be out of reach, and, in the quiet, wait for the words to come. Some things just take time, and we have to allow ourselves this time for the turbulent waters and sediment to calm down, so we can see things more clearly.
Accompanied by my mother and sister, after almost three years of not being altogether in one place at the same time, I view in the distance the Teton Mountains, a view I have not witnessed for over 40 years. Far away from The Net Loft and all of its busy life, I can somehow feel the words that have been hibernating begin to awaken. As I start to write, I listen to the gentle hum of the voices of my mom and my sister, a comfort felt deep down in my soul. This comfort calms and settles this chaotic mind of mine, which has had difficulty these last several months quieting down enough to even begin to think about the thought of returning to the blog, especially when I wasn’t sure where to pick up after I finished writing the “Long Story” about the Cordova Gansey Project origin.
As I continue to listen to the quiet voices and their long awaited up close and personal conversations, my eyes take in the expansive view. It is stark and dry, with craggy mountains in the distance. In the foreground, the wind sweeps across the valley of subtle shades of sage interspersed with gold and reddening grasses.
Fall is in the air, and the colors of the trees in the distance seem to be changing right before our eyes from green to brilliant yellow gold, as chokecherry bush leaves cry out with hints of rose and scarlet.
And so the message is not from me, but to me. The brilliance of the changing colors reveals a message and not so subtle reminder that time is marching on, and there is no holding it back. Time presses on. Our compliance is non-negotiable. Either we leap into life and observe and embrace each moment of it while we have the opportunity, or we will simply miss it. This moment will pass, the colors will fade, and the leaves inevitably will fall, with or without us. There are times such as this that we have to stop and let every part of ourselves experience and appreciate this moment, the views, the company, the sounds, the smells, regardless of everything else vying for our attention.
Along these same lines, if I had to describe anything about this time since last writing here, it has been something of this sort. There have been these opportunities that have continued to present themselves to me, and although I often feel incapable in so many ways, I have learned that I cannot let my inabilities keep me from doing what I am meant to do, and for that which I am actually capable of doing, even if it is a little difficult or challenging. It isn’t always simple, or easy, or without complications. I have also learned, however, that just because we face barriers, or stumble along, it doesn’t mean we are not supposed to be doing something. I think I have mentioned this before, but I keep going back to an old “Trigger Bill” camp motto, “You cannot let what you cannot do keep you from what you can”.
And so, it is with this attitude that I flung myself full force into FisherFolk, our event that was aimed towards honoring the heritage of the fishing and knitting connection. It was an idea and opportunity handed to me, and so I obediently followed its lead. As the year progressed, FisherFolk began to take shape. As I followed along caring for the details, the ideas grew and began to take on a life of their own, as each person involved embraced the concepts and ideas and injected their own inspirations triggered from within, prompted by the mission and goals of the Cordova Gansey Project and FisherFolk gathering.
After an intense season of planning and preparation, June 24 arrived, and our ten day FisherFolk event took place here in Cordova, bridging the gap between dream and reality, and creating an outward manifestation of past knitting and fiberart traditions entangled with our here and now actively engaged fishing community. With a bustle of activity, the arrival of old and new friends began, as we all joined together to celebrate the fishing and fiberart connections.
Event bags were packed, tables were set, classrooms were staged, baked goods prepared, and one by one details unfolded thanks to the many helping hands who brought life to the lists.
From my perspective, there seems to be an ongoing truth that I have witnessed throughout the years at The Net Loft, and I am sure it exists elsewhere as well. It is the life within people that bring things to life. Knitting patterns are just lifeless pieces of paper without the knitter’s hands that bring the instructions from concept to reality. Yarn is lovely, but it is that human touch behind the needle that create form and function. And so, in like manner, ideas and events such as this cannot or would not want to be performed singly, as it is in the group effort that community is found and experienced. Thank all of you who made this come together. You all know I could not have done it without you.
I suppose it is true wherever we are in the world as we come together to celebrate life via the fiber arts and handcrafts in general, that it is this commonality we share that create these special bonds of friendship. There is also this collective interaction that takes place with the dynamic of students and instructors multiplying ideas and instilling a special energy that is conducive to creativity and new ideas that happens when we are physically in the presence of one another.
Despite my busy role, there were so many moments of this event I will remember. I am grateful for the new Cordova Center for providing the space for our dinner, classes, and evening programs. I tried ever so hard to soak every bit in. As I ventured from class to class to check in on things, I remember sitting in with handspinning instructor, Elizabeth Johnston from the Shetland Islands, as I walked into the room with those old wooden planks in the Pioneer Building.
I loved hearing her soft Shetland accent to the hum of the spinning wheel whir, smelling the fragrance of raw fleece, and then, as I left, sneaking off with a fresh baked blueberry coffee cake with homemade icing taken from the table with the big bouquet of wildflowers, made by the class hospitality helper, Kristi. I was in heaven….
So many moments. It all came together (despite my many fears) and I reflect on it all, it was this lovely bow, tied from the golden ribbon of all my years….
In retrospect, because I had felt a prodding to explain the origins of the gansey project, I found myself writing and sharing these thoughts in what became “the Long Story” which is an important read to make sense of how things came about, as well as the heart and soul behind the project, and the event as well. All those blog chapters, one by one, each building on the last, and as the tale unfolded of its own accord, chapter by chapter, I realize now that something happened within me as I began to connect the dots of my own life in a way that I had not previously taken time to reflect upon, and in that, I was able to see that amidst this fractured life, there existed a golden ribbon that connected a lifetime of seemingly random events and encounters, and I gained a wide view perspective of meaning and purpose, especially in regard to my life as a “fisherknitter” and craftsperson. And so, as I have said, FisherFolk was the bow that tied the ends together, and wrapped up this lifetime of craft, fiber, and fishing into something concrete, while at the same time intangible, and I in the midst of it did my very best to absorb every drop of it, with thanks to all who helped bring it to life.
To be continued….
I would like to thank Karen Templer for her interview and posting on our gansey project and event on her excellent blog for Fringe Association, released today in conjunction with photos and post from one of my favorite yarn shops, Tolt Yarn & Wool's Anna Dianich, who attended our event with gracious project and event photographer friend Kathy Cadigan. Always so nice to meet these fiber friends along life's path whose friendships enrich our lives.
Papercut designed and created for us by Annie Howe Papercuts.
(Story to follow at future date.)
I invite you to journey with me for a moment back to the chapter of our story which took place on the fishing vessel Swan LK 243. This was the boat I boarded for the "Fishing for Ganseys" class with Stella Ruhe. If you didn’t get a chance to read this segment, or haven’t read the full long story, you may want to read some of the previous chapters in order to better understand the context of this current post.
On this day, back in October 2014, I had stepped on to what I would later come to know as “Swan LK243”. When I was on the boat that day, I was engulfed in the whole knitting experience and though interested, I didn’t really hear much about the boat, other than the fact that she was a herring fishing boat off the coast of the Shetland Islands, and that those days were long gone.
So today, it is here that we pick up the story. Last spring, when I first started writing out this long tale, I found myself digging…digging for photos, digging for information, digging for details. At the time when it came to the Swan LK243, all I had really wanted was a photo, perhaps of her in her earlier years, but what I discovered was so much more, for the Swan LK243 had a story to share, with lessons woven through her history.
Let's go back to the year 1905, Lerwick, The Shetland Islands. With help from the Swan Trust I share with you a bit of her story.
The Swan's appearance was in the midst of the peak of the Scottish herring fishery in the early years of the 20th century.
Every summer hundreds of sailing vessels packed into Lerwick harbour and other ports around the coastline. Those of us along the coast of Alaska know well the flooding of boats and crew during the summer months, so I can imagine what it must have been like, the town swelling with the influx and intense activity of the boats and fish packing crews .
At that time two types of vessels dominated the fishery; the Fifies, and the Zulus. These massive timber boats were unique to the Scottish fleet, and were the ultimate development in Scottish herring sail boats. The Fifie Swan LK243 was built and launched in 1900 at Hay and Company’s yard in Lerwick. I am assuming the LK stood for Lerwick, her home port, and at a length of 67 feet, a bit longer than our seine boat, the Orion.
The swan under sail, c.1902
She was regarded as “one of the finest fishing boats afloat in the North of Scotland”. In her early days the Swan was operated from Lerwick and was used for longline fishing for white fish in the spring, and driftnet herring fishing from May to September. She was taken over by a crew from the island of Whalsay, still in the Shetland Islands, in 1905, and was worked from there for almost half a century. I thought it interesting how the boat was designed so that each mast could be lowered down and set to the side to make way as they pulled in the net.
As I read about this, I thought about the reality of bringing in the net by hand. In these present times of hydraulics and power blocks, I can remember vividly the few times when I was on the boat and getting the net in the wheel or having the hydraulics fail, making it necessary to hand pull the seine back on the boat, an exhausting and thankfully infrequent experience. No pictures of those kinds of days, too busy working quickly and often in the midst of keeping the boat from drifting into the rocks. Certainly not a preferred method for getting the net on board, it is hard to imagine this activity on a regular basis. I can see their need for a strong and ample crew. Even so, I am sure they had a rhythm and routine, just as we do now, and the sounds and the motions created its own form of music as net went out and net came in.
I would love to have watched them making a set just to see how it was accomplished with the sails up and the sails coming down, nets going out, nets coming in. A window in time, these sail driven fishing boats, and even though the Swan was the pride of the fleet, like so many great creations in the midst of progress, her days were numbered, as steam drifters were already beginning to push sail boats out of business.
By 1935 the Swan was one of only five herring sail boats left in Shetland. She had an engine fitted, and was given a new lease on life. When the seine net fishing was introduced in the late 1940s, Swan participated in yet another chapter of Shetland's fishing history. Finally, in the 1950s the grand old lady was retired, and in 1960, she was towed to Grimsby, England to be converted to a houseboat. In 1982 she ended up even farther south in Hartlepool, eastern England, where she lay neglected, sinking two or three times due to lack of care.
Eventually, the Swan was spotted as a classic vessel by boat enthusiast Keith Parkes in the late 1980's, despite the fact that she lay submerged with only her masts showing. From the thousands of Fifies that once fished around Shetland, the Swan was now the last. As I read this, all I could think about was our fishery and the fragility of it, and I imagined what if our boat was the last seine boat left sometime, somewhere in the future, many miles south, found submerged, with just the crows nest peeking out from the water, a haunting and humbling thought.
Keith, the man who had spotted the Swan, bought her in 1989 and began restoration, planning to sail her back to Lerwick when completed. The restoration, however, was too time consuming, and he offered her up for sale. His advertisement in ‘The Shetland Times’ newspaper caught the attention of Shetland navigation teacher, Tom Moncrieff.
Swan in the restoration process 1990
Tom, a keen yachtsman and expert on all aspects of Shetland's maritime heritage, wrote a letter to ‘The Shetland Times’ to encourage funding the return and restoration of the Swan to be used as a living museum and sail training vessel. He ended his letter stating,
"There will never be another Swan".
It was true.
The Swan Steering Group was formed, negotiations began, and it was decided to buy the vessel and bring her back. In 1991 a crew traveled to Hartlepool, England, where she was made seaworthy enough to undertake the long journey north to Shetland. Radar, echo sounder and navigational systems were all also installed to prepare for the trip – instruments which hadn’t been dreamed of when the Swan was fishing.
The trip was difficult; the engine had to be kept running as every time it stopped it filled with water due to a cracked liner. The boat’s nails were found later to be in much worse condition than previously thought, but with the crew’s skill and perseverance she continued on. After a three day journey, the fatigued Swan made it home and docked in Lerwick after an absence of more than 30 years.
Work is underway, c. 1992
The Swan Trust was formed in 1990 and the painstaking restoration process took 6 years to complete. Local craftsmen with specialist knowledge, those that saw and appreciated her value, worked to faithfully to restore her to her former glory. On 11th May 1996 the Swan proudly spread her wings. She was relaunched in Lerwick harbor, almost 96 years exactly since she first took to the water.
Oh my...Such a story from a boat so full of life in the midst of the peak of the herring boom to an aged and weary boat left to deteriorate, only to be rescued and brought back to life years later. I had no idea when I first sat in the galley of this boat the extent of her incredible story of survival, the days of her fishing life long gone, her life underwater sunk, alone and abandoned, and then her emergence and new life of purpose, despite her obsolescence.
At the time I didn't know where the stirring thoughts of the day would take me and that the gansey wearing men who once worked aboard would somehow come home with me, their patterned jerseys imprinted on my heart and mind. My sheepish grin and tightened lips held a smile within that I could hardly contain, and I could feel somehow an inner explosion of thoughts and ideas, that day, there on the Swan.
When I hear and reflect now on all she went through, I think of all the ups and downs of this life of my own, all tangled up in fishing and life's challenges and realities. In light of this, the Swan is a kindred spirit and now a faraway friend. How wonderful that there were those who saw the value in this broken down vessel. There have been times where I too have felt like a sunken ship, barely afloat, and I am grateful for those who have seen the value in me, and restored my hope amid the trials, tribulations and stormy seas of life, and reminded me of renewed purposes despite changing times.
Ok. Now I have to share one last thing with you, coupled with a closing story. Last spring, as I was reading the history of the Swan LK243, I came across a sound clip on the Swan Trust page with music that was inspired by this dear old wooden boat.
First go to the link below and start to listen to what she has to say about this piece of music. Then, come back to this page, let the music of the Swan be the backdrop as you imagine yourself sailing on the last fishing Fifie from Shetland while reading the rest of this last bit of the long story.
the last bit...
Time waits for no one. Like the swift river of tradition, so flows the elements of this lifetime. I am in the midst of my own Swan LK, as just as I was beginning to write this part of the blog story last spring, my husband informed me that after almost fifty years of working as a fisherman he wanted to pursue other adventures while he was still able. And so, this past summer my husband did not go fishing. He was not at the helm as skipper of his boat, the F/V Orion, and at least for now, his time for fishing appears to have come to a close, and our son Nate who has fished alongside him for several years has taken over the task. Truthfully, I had not anticipated what an emotional experience this would be for me. I knew the time was coming, but the thought of it always seemed somewhere distant, off on the horizon.
After he told me, as I listened to the Swan's song and went back to my writing, for some reason, all the years of the interlacings of my personal relationships, shop, and fishing came to mind, and I was catapulted back in time.
I thought of how this seasonal fishing life and the ebbs and flows of the salmon runs interwoven with running The Net Loft are all I have ever known for many many years.
As told in this long story, from the day of our wedding on the back deck of the Tawnia Lynn, our summer days have been marked with fish openings and closures, interspersed with knitting nights and gatherings of fish moms and friends at the shop, beside the pond, and around the campfire….my own little mesh of fishing and knitting. So many stories...we all have them.
As I continued to listen to the melody of the Swan my soul filled as I thought of the life this boat must have had, and reflect on my own fishing times way back when I used to plunge off the back deck of that old wooden boat as we fished off Point Elrington.
I scan the days in my mind and think of when the children and I would fly out on a float plane to see Bob and the crew, and those special times of waking up in the wheelhouse and watching the fish in the bunt being brought up over the rail on a misty morning, and times of sitting alongside Bob in the wheelhouse working on a knitting project watching the other boats fish as we waited our turn in line, the radios lit up and alight with the voices of fishing chatter. And though as a knitter I can still say, “just one more row”, for him, it seems, like there is no longer “just one more set”.
A sinking heart.
This is the postlude.
But take heart, there is a prelude..
In all honesty, perhaps it is because I struggle with a sense of my own obsolescence, and as I read this story I felt a kinship to dear Swan LK243, and especially that time she spent underwater with barely a mast showing. And then I think of the beloved knit stitch, and how it endures, loop into loop, row after row, whether it be with a straight or circular, sheath, belt or cable, the stitch is still the same. Loop into loop, row after row. There is something very comforting about that to me. The fisher lassies well knew the rhythm of the needles, and in that there is no distance or time between us.
Somehow, in a similar sort of way, the Swan, and the fisherfolk of long ago are our fishermen sisters and brothers, regardless of the time and space that divides us.
The salty seas
and the good part is that in the faces of the children in the photo above, there is to be found many of the fishermen and women of today. As I have mentioned before, our son Nate as well as our daughter Nelly and her husband Michael are just a few of the many young fisher men and women stepping in beside or in place of those that came before them. They have a fresh outlook and ideas as well as a renewed care and concern for the waters that provide their living and lifestyle, and they will be the ones I will keep knitting for.
And the river flows on...
so there you go...that is the long story
Whether you are a fisherman
Friend of a fisherman
Family of fishermen
Come follow the fish to Cordova, Alaska and follow along with us on our knitting/fishing adventure as we breathe new life and meaning into the heart and history of the fisherman’s gansey and gear in our little fishing village, and hopefully throughout the coastal communities of Alaska, honoring the proud heritage of those who came before us.
Its not just a then,
It’s a now.
And though sometimes it feels like it may be an ending, actually, we are just getting started, …and by passing things along, a bit of the old is retained in the new, and a bit of us can go on, even when we may not be able to.
When I think of my gansey for our son Nate, a bit of me, and my husband Bob who sits beside me as I knit, will be stitched into every stitch. Out to sea and off and away, it makes me glad to think that in this sweater, a part of both of us will watch the fish come over the bar, the dolphins swim alongside the bow, the jumpers leap, the schools swim into the net, the friends raft up together, attend the campfires on the beach, direct the anchors being set and pulled up in the early hours, climb the ladder to the crows nest, shift the levers of the hydraulics, and attend to all that bring the fish into the fish hold and off to the world.
"follow the fish, follow the patterns"
come along if you will...
thanks for listening to the story that brought this project to life.
We hope you will join us as we venture into the days ahead and the tales yet to be told.
..where the trail will take us
and where the river may flow....
Photos and story with kind permission from Swan Trust
When I first met my husband, Bob, he affectionately told me that I reminded him of his favorite Aunt Margaret, the sister of his father, William. He would share stories of how she collected sticks and weeds, took pleasure in the out of doors, and especially of how she loved the New Jersey wildflowers, knowing each one by name.
I only met with Aunt Margaret a couple of times before she passed away, but I have often heard from her family that Margaret loved to share a good story, some of which were very long and involved, laced with details and all the “particulars”. It came to be a common expression when she would start into one of her elaborate narratives, that someone would chime in with the question, “Is this a long story, Margaret?”. To this day this expression lives on, and if someone in the family begins to ramble, one of the others will cut them off saying, “Is this a long story, Margaret?” regardless of who is speaking or sharing their tale, thus bringing all a smile. And so, in this, as well as other ways, dear Aunt Margaret’s memory lives on in a happy sort of way.
All this being said, in regard to our own long story, the Cordova Gansey Project is well underway. I am presently knitting along on Nate's gansey, as are others in the group. I have myself on a "number-of-rows-to-knit-a-day" schedule in hopes of having it finished by spring. So far, I have initials, salmon bones, fishing nets, and a cork line completed. I carry it around in my gansey knapsack wherever I go, and every spare moment I am working on it, stitch by stitch, row by row, not unlike the gansey girls with their fishing inspired raised patterns, needles and yarn close at hand and put to use during their spare moments.
There are, however, a couple of chapters still waiting to be told in this particular "long story" concerning the project. Remember, my husband did say that I reminded him of his Aunt Margaret, and so, it is not just our shared love of wild flowers and wild things that we hold in common, for as you have witnessed, I am a long winded story teller as well. Perhaps like Aunt Margaret, the details seem to me a necessity and the means of shedding light and understanding on what happens here and now. So, my friends, here we go again..on to the Lassie.
Shortly after my discussion last fall with Beth Brown Reinsel concerning the inception of our gansey project from a traditional perspective, I spoke with Bonne Marie Burns of Chic Knits. I told her of my travels and inspirations, and how I believed her perspective as a contemporary designer was a desirable aspect that had the potential to compliment what Beth would be providing for our group.
We had a great conversation, and I invited Bonne Marie to join in the project if she would be interested. I was fascinated to learn that a gansey inspired design had already been percolating in her mind. This would be the perfect opportunity to bring life to her inner stirrings while at the same time provide the valuable skills and abilities needed to help our gansey venture be successful.I chose Bonne Marie for her conceptual design skills and her careful attention to fit, as I felt it would be interesting to take the gansey concept and create a contemporary piece, yet one still functional for the northwest lifestyle. I also wanted her clothing designer input on the traditional component that was already brewing with Beth. From this conversation emerged the development of the Fisher Lassie cardigan in honor of the historic knitting fisher lassies from the United Kingdom, and in celebration of those women presently associated with the industry.
Bonne Marie arrived in Cordova late June as instructor and guide for New Traditions in Gansey Knitting, part two of the Fiber and Friends Gansey event for 2015.
For two days Bonne Marie taught skills workshops.
Following these sessions, Bonne led a small group of primarily local knitters in a two day workshop featuring the pattern launch of her creative gansey inspired piece, the Fisher Lassie, a top down feminine shaped cardigan. Like a puzzle, this seamless garment fits together with pieces connecting one to another by picking up and knitting top, down, and around.
This contemporary version of the classic design, modified for a woman’s silhouette, includes a unique version of the notorius gansey underarm gussets, with shaping that enables it to adapt to different body types. As each student in the workshop had an opportunity to try on the garment, you could see this adaptation first hand. Bonne Marie then advised each person as to how to further adapt and change specific areas for better conformity in length, which was very helpful in understanding fit and its relationship to design elements and garment construction. It was a great learning experience, as well a fun time together.
Knit in Jo Sharp DK wool, one of my favorite garment yarns, I chose to knit the cardigan for my fisher lassie daughter Nelly, who selected a lovely soft golden tone. After I finish Nate’s gansey, I will finish what I started during the workshop, and believe it will be perfect for her to wear on the docks or around town.
I was touched by all the details and design elements incorporated into this piece. I am so glad for the workshop and the time with Bonne Marie. There are some interesting details that I found helpful to have her explain first hand and walk us through as we began to knit her vision into our own.
Bonne Marie also spent an evening consulting the group of gansey knitters from Beth’s class, looking over our individual plans and providing counsel and guidance on our traditional gansey projects.
In the midst of the weekend, I felt grateful for all Bonne Marie had contributed through her participation and involvement in the project. Her commitment and attention to precision in design was evident as we worked our way through the new pattern, continuing to fine tune the details.
We are more than excited that Bonne Marie will be returning in 2016 for our summertime FisherFolk 2016 event, and the Fisher Lassie cardigan workshop will be offered again, as a contemporary component of the Cordova Gansey Project. She will also be teaching a "Hat Design & More" workshop which will cover hat construction and the designing of contemporary outdoor working headgear, as well as a fiber art photography course. Registration is almost up and running, so stay tuned. Hopefully my cardigan for Nelly will be ready for summertime show and tell as well.
This past October, one of the students in the workshop came by the shop to share her Fisher Lassie progress. Though not quite finished at the time, she put it on and allowed me to take a few photos. Jane, a modern fisher lassie of sorts, is a salmon otolith reader at the Fish and Wildlife office. Her new cardigan fits beautifully with the adjustments recommended by Bonne Marie. I am encouraged when friends come by and show me their finished projects. They inspire and spur me on to continue arranging these types of events and projects.
What a wonderful sweater and what a story the Fisher Lassie reveals of Cordova life... the forest spruce trees, the fishing nets and the ropes that tie these friends together, the fisher lassies of today, who knit and share good times, and tell the long stories we love to hear...of boats in the harbor, fish in the nets, life in the Fish and Wildlife office and more, winter days around the fire nestled with knitting in hand, children growing and grown, adventures and days gone by, and the hopes and dreams of days to come.
Is this a long story, Margaret?
Why yes it is, sit down, join me, and listen for a spell...just a little longer...
...there's still more, and if you listen carefully, you will understand how it all fits together, just like the ins and outs and around the neck of the cardigan, it all connects and comes together until the lessons unfold and the tales have been told.
It was just over a year ago that I returned to the states after my Shetland Wool Week
and Fair Isle excursion. If it is true that "tradition is a river that flows towards new ground" *
, then I was headed downstream, afloat on a vessel of its own accord, surrounded by satchels of unformulated ideas and plans, and a seed of inspiration held close in hand and heart.
It is an interesting habit and tradition that we name our waterbound vessels. Sometimes we may name ranches, or cottages, or even cars, but water vessels are most always named, and proudly painted on bows and sterns to identify and admire . Sometimes one may inherit a boat name, and other times one gets to choose their own. In 1980, when we had our first boat built, we had the opportunity to give our new boat a name of its own. My husband wanted to call it the ORION, the mighty hunter, after the constellation, and consequently, the ORION became a part of his personal identity and that of his crew and his fishing operation. He even named his next boat the ORION as well, wanting to maintain the identification that had attached itself to his persona and commercial fishing life.
And so, in like manner, the "vessel" that I was aboard and headed downriver was deemed officially "The Cordova Gansey Project", whose home port of call would be Cordova, Alaska. The project would not necessarily be limited to our town, nor represent the migration of just a single pattern or knitting style, but would rather be a broader collection of traditional handknit working gear borrowed from those in other regions with a shared fishing and knitting history, and would hopefully extend its reach to anyone who was interested and grasped its vision.
As I began to move forward, ideas emerged. First, as an American, I thought this project would ideally be integrated regionally , and I knew of an American author Beth Brown-Reinsel who had a book, Knitted Ganseys, that we carry in the shop. Awhile back, we had hosted a small study group workshop on the book, taught by one of our local knitting instructors, Valerie Covel. Even though I wasn't able to be part of Val's group, it still interested me. Beth was my first inkling and first stop. I started emailing her to initiate a conversation about this idea that was brewing.
Through my emails and phone conversations with a very kind, helpful, and receptive Beth, I began to formulate a plan. We would start with a core group of knitters who were interested in knitting a loved one a garment designed specifically to suit the modern fisherperson. My thought was..
- I have fisherman son in law (who I had promised to knit a sweater for over two years ago)
- I have a fisherman daughter married to the son in law
- I have a fisherman son
All three are current fisherfolk (although we call everyone male and female fishermen here) and part of a group of young fishermen who have recently entered the fishery
- that I would love to enrobe each of them in a functional handknit made-to-fit garment that they could work in that would actually be superior to its synthetic counterpart. This would be the “working in wool” component.
- I love the thought of taking fishermen sweaters back from fashion to function, although there is nothing to say that these would not just be functional, but I hope that they would be fashionable as well.
- perhaps others might want to join me in this project, and we could be work on this project together....
The plan would be to start in June 2015, and it would involve Beth and begin with a Fiber & Friends Gansey Workshop.
The initial workshop with Beth was set for 20 students to be predominantly locals that were interested in creating a “working in wool” garment, whether it be for fishing, forestry, or other outdoor use. For two days we would work on constructing a reduced size model and for two days we would design a garment specifically geared towards a specific person, with the goal of completing the garment by the first day of the gillnet opening in May 2016. At the same time we made these arrangements, I had this idea in my mind that we would bring her back again the following summer and start a new group, as well as invite other instructors and build a symposium style event centered around the fishing/knitting/fiberart connection, and so the Net Loft Fiber & Friends:FisherFolk event was sketched into the calendar for 2016. It would be an opportunity to launch our first set of ganseys and share this concept with others, as well as celebrate our local fishing fleet and community.
An important element to be figured would be our yarn choice(s) for the project. One advantage the United Kingdom had was the great sheep close at hand, and since we have no flocks of sheep in Cordova, I began to research who was making gansey yarn in the United States. Beth Reinsel-Brown referred me to Upton Yarns on the East Coast, as they sell an American 5 ply naturally hand dyed sturdy gansey yarn. I initiated a dialog with Sarah of Upton Yarns, hoping we could make our initial set of garments for this year with her yarns, but there just wasn’t enough available at this time. Sarah was good to talk with and we made a plan for her to have some of her yarn available in gansey quantities spun and naturally dyed with indigo by June 2016 for our planned FisherFolk event. We decided people could choose the yarn they wanted, but also had available a wide selection of Frangipani traditional gansey yarn from the UK, which the majority of the group chose. I had spoken to Russ at Frangipani, who was also very helpful, and even shared stories with me of his time as a commercial fisherman whose boat went as far as Greenland years ago. He shared his story of how when he first got there, they gave him a close fitting gansey to be worn right next to the skin, and though a bit rough, it "did the job".
I was able to take a workshop with Beth at StitchesWest in February. Such a wonderful teacher, just being with her that day and seeing her in her gansey cardigan made me look forward to our summertime sessions in Cordova with excitement and anticipation. I was assured that she was the perfect person to help and guide us with our project.
We warmed up to Beth's gansey workshop with a knitalong where those interested could knit a gansey wrister designed by Beth. Particants could use Frangipani, and Sarah from Upton made some of her yarns available for those interested in working with a domestic 5 ply yarn. Beth met us online for a Ravelry chat online, and we were off and running. I was really glad for this opportunity to practice the channel island cast on and to practice some of the techniques we would be learning more about in her upcoming class.
Beth came to Cordova in early June, and our pilot group had 4 days with her lessons and instruction in traditional gansey knitting.
The days were filled with knitting, planning, studying reference books, calculating, and charting.
Using our swatches, measurements, favorite garments, and input from our end users, we began the design process for our individual garments.
Our new gansey knitting knapsacks would hold our yarn cones,
and there was a little exploring around the area thrown in, just for fun, for those from out of town.
As far as who would receive the first gansey from me for the project, I decided on my son Nathan, who was excited about the prospect of a custom fit sweater and I obtained his measurements to help with the process, and already had ideas on ways he wanted it customized to suit his particular practical needs as a fishing sweater.
As we were working in the classroom, I looked around and I thought about my time in Shetland and more specifically the fisher lassies and the old photos that had drawn me in. I thought about the friendships and the smiles on the faces of the women in the photos with their knitting in hand. I was reminded of this as I scanned the room and watched the faces of the women who "hopped aboard" and joined me on this venture, and feel grateful for their friendship and willingness to take part.
I was amazed to see how each of the participants embraced the spirit of the project and watched as they each brought their ideas to life as they began to chart and create their own unique gansey sweater blueprints.
Finishing off our time together with a shared potluck feast which included fresh grilled Copper River Red Salmon was the perfect ending to our fisherknitter four day "Traditional Gansey" workshop. We are continuing to meet periodically in town, and also stay in touch via Ravelry and a Facebook Group which you can join if you are interested in following along with our progress.
This was Part 1 of the plan that emerged and focused primarily on the history and knitting of a Traditional Fisherman's Gansey. Part 2 focused on another version with a contemporary twist, and I will share more on that coming up...For those who would like to join in, you can contact us and I can get you started now using Beth's book, DVD (excellent), and Frangipani yarn, OR you can take Beth's workshop which we will be repeating again next summer. It was a wonderful experience, and loved seeing all her knitted samples, and having her close at hand to answer all my questions. We will have online registration available soon.
I would especially like to thank Beth Brown-Reinsel for her guidance and expertise as we embark on this journey to help an old tradition flow into new territory here in our commercial fishing village of Cordova, Alaska, and we look forward to her return next summer for Net Loft Fiber & Friends 2016: FisherFolk when she will start another group of FisherKnitters on their way.
credits: Painting by Jen-Ann Kirchmeier Copper River
* see previous blog entry #8G
on Fair Isle
treeless grassy slopes
bound by lichened stony walls
and the sea.
With similar latitudes, it is hard for me to imagine Cordova treeless, or to even attempt to visualize Cordova's rock and mossy wild forests smoothed and tamed by the presence of sheep and strings of stone walls. Interestingly enough, there does happen to be one sheep in Cordova, whose breed just happens to be Shetland, brought here from inland Alaska. His name is Shaun, but he is solitary and no rolling hills for him. As I walk alongside the trailing lichen encrusted stone walls, I wonder, did Fair Isle ever have trees, or was it always this way with its bare windswept dramatic hillsides. The interplay of man's intervention with geography and biology is that which determines past, present, and future. Despite the lack of trees, and markings of many years of civilization on the island, Fair Isle still retains a sense of wildness about it.
I have always liked lichens. Perhaps, also from my Colorado mountain climbing days. As I walked past row after row of these lichen covered rocks, I looked closely, searching to find any recognizable forms, but I am not enough of a lichenologist to know exactly what I was seeing, other than just liking what I saw. I wondered to myself who had stacked all these stones, and how much lichen dyeing had occurred on the island over the years. My head was full of unanswered questions.
I followed the lane beside the rock walls to the cottage of knitting designer Mati Ventrillon, who was expecting me, as Tommy had given her a call and let her know I might be stopping by. I briefly met in her home business studio, and felt an instant liking to her and only wish we had been able to spend more time together, but grateful for the moments and dialogue in the time we shared.
A more recent resident on the island, Mati and I also discussed this concept of tradition, which had been an underlying theme since I had arrived on the island. I shared with her my ideas on the Cordova Gansey Project and she explained to me the project she was working on. In some ways, it shared some similarities, as she was attempting to bring new life to the Fair Isle garments, hoping to create something new out of an old tradition. I was feeling on the verge of bringing the fisherman gansey tradition a new life and home in Alaska. Not that ganseys aren't being knit, or being designed currently with new adaptations, but the fishermen in our area have not as a group worn hand knit wool sweaters like those fishermen of the past. I wondered if it would work, or if it was ok to borrow these cultural traditions for our own fleet of fisherfolk.
I asked her how she felt about tradition and that tug of war between honoring the old and introducing the new and where the two intertwine. In response, here is the quote she shared with me.
From her perspective, tradition is not static or stagnant. It is as alive as the knitters that take knitting on new ventures. In conjunction with my conversations with Kathy, my time with Mati helped me make that final leap in forming the foundation for my ideas concerning the gansey project and another Fiber and Friends that would center around the fisherfolk and their knitting traditions that we would take hold of.
For me, as I think of it, the goal is not to lose or dishonor the past. Time marches on, people move and migrate, and cultures, ideas, designs and practices merge and meld. For these places like Shetland and Fair Isle, I found a legitimate concern that culture and traditions, especially in regard to textiles, not be lost or forgotten, and even with some, manipulated. Hopefully, there is a remnant that continues to honor the past and perpetuate the honored traditions alongside those who may want to take those traditions and allow them to manifest into something new. I have seen this said as "not only preservation but perpetuation", for in bringing new life to old patterns, alongside the old, there can be rebirth and continued industry and an assurance that the craft is kept alive. It is a challenge to balance the two sometimes, but they can be compatible and work together, like a treaty of mutual respect between the past and the present. But credit should be given where credit is due and the patterns and creations of the island of Fair Isle need to be remembered and referenced accordingly, and those who have worked and strived to preserve them need to be acknowledged and supported.
Mati's pieces are creative and unique, and I was inspired by her work. She was still in the setting up stages while I was there, and I was pleased to see recently on her Facebook page photos of her current makings. If you have a moment this youtube video gives you a less than two minute peek at what she is up to.
I appreciated this short, yet meaningful visit with Mati, and then wandered "home" in the near dark, After dinner, and an insisted upon mandatory glass of fine scotch whiskey (not my usual, but all part of the experience) and deliciously wonderful citrus sponge cake, we were off to the birder's meeting of the week.
Just as Cordova and the Copper River Delta attracts both birds and birders due to its geography and location, Fair Isle is known as a birding destination, so much so they even have a birders lodge, observatory, and evening programs. I brought my knitting and knit away as the speaker shared bird news, then called out a long list of birds, as birders acknowleged their sightings. For the night, my treasure was found in the lodge's adjoining gift shop, where I was able to purchase a couple of authentic hats, machine knit on the island by Elizabeth Riddiford, one a genuine fisherman's kep in traditional colors. I still didn't know very much about what was what, but I knew I liked them and the kep reminded me of all those I had seen in the museum. After I returned home and was able to read more and fill in more of the blanks, I was glad for what I had purchased at the birder's building, as I came to a more full understanding of the roll the fisherman's kep had in the development of the concept of "Fair Isle" as a distinct pattern form.
Though some things are logical, sometimes it takes time for me to connect the dots, but then the obvious seems obvious. Recently I was reading about how there used to be even more birds on the island, before the herring went away. The birds followed the herring just like the fishermen. When the fish were gone, the fishermen were gone, and the birds as well, and the general population of the island declined as well. Maybe I wouldn't know the difference with my limited knowledge or familiarity, but an Islander would know, just like we know in Cordova when the fishing runs are weak or strong, and are sensitive to fluctuations and effect on the entire community.
I am still trying to understand what happened and how the progression of efficiency moved faster than the understanding of the damages done. When you look at the history of the island of Fair Isle, it speaks of fishing having been an important industry for many many years. When you are in a fishing family and you are visiting a place that once was a fishing place and now isn't, you wonder, could this happen to your own region as well. It might not be for the same reasons, as our area is carefully regulated, but you never know the other factors that might come in to play.
In the meantime, I will knit for the present fishermen in my family in the active and sustainable fishery that presently exists, being attentive and responsible for those things we do have control over. I think also I now feel grateful to be in this time and place where wild salmon runs still provide a healthy and viable source of food, income, and lifestyle for our coastal community.
So much learned, so much to think about, so much more to learn. I had a treasure in my pocket from this journey around the planet. These traditions I had witnessed, including Fair Isle’s rich fishing and knitting history, as well as what was transforming from them in color and pattern would follow me home and onward to new ground.
Like a dream these days had been. It is all that I have shared and so much more. My welcome had now become a farewell, and such a welcome it had been that I could not contain the smiles within me.
And what a sweet and friendly face as part of the flight crew, to send me on my way, it was Mati.
Fare thee well Fair Isle..
Eventually, in England, after finishing up a wood engraving workshop at West Dean College, I had a day to visit a living history park of historic houses that had been saved and brought to the property, many of which had been in near ruin before their rescue. On display, there was these beautiful hand painted panels that had been uncovered behind various wall "makeovers" of a house that was to be demolished, now under glass for all to see and appreciate.
As I went to take a photo of the wall of illuminated design, I saw my reflection in the protective glass and I thought of the past and present merging in that moment, and via the photograph, the two becoming one, my image being cast into a new and unique creation where my presence was as integral as the original works of someone's hand.
Perhaps this is akin to what becomes of the designs and inspirations from the past that each of us connect ourselves to and with through our knitting. We create something new and fresh with a part of us in it, and thus become an integral part of the melding of past and present. For me this has to do with that fishing and knitting connection that has drawn me in and revealed itself to me along the way, bit by bit. I just cannot escape or get away from it. Though not always searching for it, it somehow finds me, and so, at least for now, I have given way to it.
Credits: Sheep and Auld Haa Guest House etching by Tommy's father, Roger Hyndman. For more info on his solar printing techiniques: http://www.solarprintmaking.com/about-the-artist/
I left the cool and crisp outside air and entered the warmth of the Auld Haa Guest House, welcomed by the fragrance of a savory dinner and a glowing coal fire. I love to eat, and to be cooked for is a real treat, as usually I am the one commanding the kitchen and this meal happened to be a very fresh leg of lamb. For someone whose diet generally consists of salmon, salmon, and more salmon, this was a special delicacy, and Tommy cooked it to perfection with a crusty layer of his own blend of herbs. Followed by a warm chocolate pudding cake topped with chocolate ice cream, an evening of knitting on the couch, and a deliciously cozy bed, it couldn't have been a better ending to a perfectly lovely day.
For the rest of my time on Fair Isle, I was able to spend more time with Kathy, enjoying a lesson and first time spin on her great wheel, not so much my usual "craft nap" which I often call my spinning time, with a bit new coordination needed to keep the wheel spinning with my right hand while standing, and then drafting and winding into the spindle with the other hand. It was a fun first attempt on her great wheel, and something I have always wanted to try. Kathy is a kind and gentle instructor, and also has accommodations in her home. If you are planning a fiber artist visit to the island, her place would be a nice spot to stay as well.
Kathy then shared her three hundred year old flax wheel with me. Dear "Lady Haddington", as she was called, with her golden drive band, spun like a charm, swift and fine with the Fair Isle fleece Kathy provided. I felt it a privilege to push down on her treadle and watch her work as my hands did their best to keep up with her pace, amazingly smooth for her age, and with a just little song in her step, which filled the air with a harmony and clickety whirr, as Kathy spun on another of her wheels alongside.
I always feel a little sad for the spinning wheels in museums perched motionless in a display, so much usefulness still within, yet silently frozen in time, held captive within an exhibit. In my mind I imagine them eager and waiting for someone to just place their foot on the treadle, allowing their wheel and flyer to be set free and fly once more. How fortunate for Lady Haddington to have such a home as Kathy's, living a continued life of productivity and providing others with the joy of taking her for a spin.
Sometimes I wrestle with feeling older and outdated, and Lady Haddington gave me a nudge and reminded me that there can still be usefulness and productivity, despite my aging years, and though time goes by and we get a little worn, there are still those who appreciate and find joy in our longevity.
As my stocking foot found its place on the wood worn pedal, I thought and wondered who was it so long ago that had spent so many hours at that wheel, most likely out of necessity, spinning spinning spinning. Who were they and what was their story?
We spun and talked, talked and spun...and at one point we discussed the difference held in the handmade. Kathy put into words what I had thought and felt so often about the part of us that becomes embedded in that which we make by hand, especially in hand spinning and knitting, as every single strand and stitch has physical contact with our hands as we touch the fiber or yarn. There is something concrete, yet esoteric, that is transmitted from the life in our hands to the objects we make.
This relationship between the creator and the created, I think is the component that is hard to describe, but well understood by anyone who is a maker or the recipient of that which is made by someone. It is like my hat from Elizabeth Johnston, the handspun and hand knit one that I treasure. Kathy's idea was that it is as though a bit of our DNA is knit in as we touch and make, and it is what makes a piece authentically unique on a molecular level. (Kathy, if you read this, please correct me if I didn't get that right).
I know for me, and for those who make things, we all know that our love for those we make things for, is the most important and significant ingredient we put into the things we make. But in terms of what Kathy was saying, it does seem very true that a part of ourselves is in that which we make, even if we don't know who will be the recipient, and those in tune know and understand on a deeper level the difference that that human touch makes in the final product.
In addition, Kathy commented in regard to this final end product, the garment itself, and the nature of how it is worn provides the other half of the story, one that goes beyond the hands of the maker. In her own words, "The garment itself witnesses and teaches you its story, more than just reading about it." It is this interesting combination of the makers making and the wearers wearing of it that tells the full story of a handmade garment. There are so many stories to be told, and it is interesting to think that the knitting itself and its life in use is able to be a testimony and means to reach backward and forward through time.
This time with Kathy was a perfect compliment to my visit to the George Waterston Memorial Centre & Museum, just a short walk up a small hill from Kathy’s place, where I met with Anne Sinclair. I studied the cases thoroughly as I wanted to glean everything I could from them and from any knitting articles I could find there. There were several examples of fisherman's caps (keps) on display and I even was able to purchase a pattern for the traditional design which Anne had written up. My ears always perk up when I hear that word..."Fishermen? Did you say fishermen? These are my people...boats, nets, fish, lines...."
What is it that we expect from our places of rich history, and what did I expect from all those books that led me here, from all the stories, patterns, sweaters, old photographs that beckoned me to come? Perhaps it is to catch just a glimpse of some remnant of that history to touch and feel for our very own, and to entwine somehow our history into theirs, even if just for a little bit.
Anne was very kind, and after finding I was a spinner invited me to her parents home, so after my museum tour, we headed to their place up the hill.
She introduced me to her father, Stewart Thomson, and her mother, Annie, well known for her exceptional knitting. Stewart invited me to spin on a wheel of his own making there on the island. He showed me his wheels, and the tools he had made, as well as the wheels he was teaching his grand daughters to make. This time with Stewart in his spinning room was a gift, and his daughter Anne must have seen my heart without it being spoken that day when she invited me to spend that time with her father.
For the rest of the day, we spun yarn and shared stories. Every moment precious, both in conversation as well as in the quiet lapses of simply spinning, the time beyond words. The hope and desire for a touch of that remnant that I had been seeking that had originally drawn me to the island, I found in that time with Stewart.
It gets back to that human element. It's not just the knitting or the handspun yarn, lovely though they may be. The time with Kathy around the kitchen table drinking tea and sweets was the treasure of my time with her and the same held true for Stewart. Life is so fragile and so short, sometimes the knitting outlives us, and grateful we are for the brief moments and human touch, and the warmth of the smile from a new friend, amidst the aches of the human heart from the trials and challenges we can't help but encounter in our earthly lives, and that no place can escape regardless of its beauty or seemingly idyllic life.
When I returned home after my trip, I was digging through all my old books, so curious and hungry for more information on Fair Isle and Shetland, and there I found in the fine print, two photos of Stewart Thomson, from one of those early early books that had started the trail so many years ago, leading me onward to this place and time. It was so perfect to have this perspective, like the view from the mountains at camp, I could look back and see where all the trail had taken me. There he was and there I had been, and when I realized it, I found the physical touch of Stewart, spun into every fiber of the skein he gave me as I left, to be the treasure I continue to hold as a symbol of all I learned and encountered on Fair Isle. I'll have to make something special with it someday soon, but not sure just what that is quite yet...
But as far as this tale is concerned, I had not quite yet left the island, with still some tales to tell. And although my time across the sea was drawing near to a close, these ideas of handmade and fishermen and spinners and knitters were growing a life of their own, with an old purpose made new, and soon to blossom for us here in Cordova, Alaska.
the story continues HERE
Today as I was writing, I was feeling bad for taking so long to tell this story. It is just that so much life goes on imbetween my telling of it, and each little part plays a part in it and hard to leave those things out. Isn't that so true of life itself.
Each little part is part of our stories and each little part has value. I think of The Net Loft and how for me, each and every person that walks through the door, or for those who find us from afar online, each of you is important and has value, and I thank you for finding us. So onward with the story, which for The Net Loft, for now, is ongoing, and glad to have you listening and following along. We appreciate you.
And now....back to our story and my first afternoon on Fair Isle...and a special afternoon it was for me.
Tommy dropped me off at a home just around the bend from the Auld Haa Guest House, and I was greeted most pleasantly with the warmth and hospitality of Fiber Artist, Kathy Coull. Kathy is a spinner & knitter and instructor who has her own sheep and small yarn production. She recently had completed coursework for a BA in Contemporary Textiles with honours at the University in the Shetlands, but was now back on Fair Isle and her life here. In no time I found Kathy to be a kindred spirit with a sharing heart. On her wall was a large cross stitch bearing the words, "Laughter brings sunshine into the home" and that certainly was so, for in each moment her joy overflowed and filled the room.
There were so many jewels I wanted to hold on to and not forget. I had thought so much about everything while on this trip as I had spent so much of it alone driving or in the quiet of my down time as a solitary traveler. I wanted to take down so much of our conversation, as she had such a wisdom and appreciation for handcraft, and found myself taking notes and scrawling down bits and pieces of her sentences so as not to forget.
These conversations were timely and memorable. With all the taps on the shoulder, pats on the back and lumps in my throat up until now, I was prime for these days of mental sorting and one on one discussion versus my days in Shetland racing from one workshop to the next. Things were beginning to gel for me and this idea for the “Cordova Gansey Project” was taking a literal shape in my mind. The idea was no longer just a slight tap or nudge, it felt tangible somehow by this point, be it small, more like the size of a very tiny seed that I could almost feel being carried in my pocket. Like any other seed I felt it had a true possibility for growing into something far bigger. As I talked with Kathy, it was as if I brought the seed of of my pocket to show her, and watered by our shared conversation and discussion of thoughts and ideas, I could somehow feel it swell as our dialogue deepened and ventured from the practical to the philosophical aspects of handcraft, which I found we both shared a high regard for.
In the midst of our discussion she brought out her current commissioned project, a pullover of finely spun naturals knit in bands of traditional Fair Isle design. Beautiful inside and out, we analyzed the spinning, pattern, and structure of her work in progress. The practical interwove with the philosophical as we ventured into the topic of "tradition", and her perspective on the subject. I had this question, "What REALLY is Fair Isle knitting, and what features distinguish it from other stranded colorwork?" I was trying to understand the distinction and details that set it apart, which led us into a deeper discussion on tradition, and the conflict and controversy that sometimes comes at the juncture of tradition and the progression of pattern and design.
It seems like no matter where you are there exists an interesting relationship, and sometimes tension, between traditional and contemporary, and yet it seems they are interwoven and dependent on one another. Contemporary builds on the past and tradition is dependent on the present here and now to carry it into the future. Sometimes those who have a high regard for tradition desire to preserve it intact unchanged.
Kathy talked about how sometimes traditions may not necessarily be an institution from the faraway past or surrounded with pomp and circumstance. A tradition may just be someone deciding to do something here and now. It could be started by any of us. It is interesting to me having lived for a little while now, to see how traditions cycle and how they sometimes are made new possibly having been disregarded for some time or on the verge of being forgotten.
We talked about this in light of the gansey project, and how I might show honour to the past while at the same time starting something new and relevant for our current generation of knitters and fisher folk. Right now I see so much of the older styles of knitting being given a rebirth as they integrate and find new life superimposed on newer and updated styles as well as how they were, being appreciated by a new generation, and this is what I see for our project as well.
As we looked through her notebooks we talked further on these topics of contemporary versus traditional concepts. Much food for thought. I felt as though she had helped me sort out some things, just being able to talk and discuss them, thanks to dear Kathy, with many smiles and much laughter.
At one point, as we talked, I looked out the window and there was Kathy's "catty" wistfully looking in on us, as only cats can do, and it dawned on me, that here I was sitting at a kitchen table peacefully having tea and a chat with a kitty peering in the window on the island of Fair Isle, and the thought of it just made me smile and laugh a little to myself. There is no place in the world I would have rather been than just right then and there.
After showing me her yarns that she has milled and produced from her sheep, and her wonderful upstairs loft filled with an array of spinning wheels, including one three hundred year old flax wheel named "Lady Haddington" that caught my eye, we agreed to meet again the next day for more time together which I really looked forward to.
Several hours had passed and I walked home in the quiet of the approaching twilight along the single lane path and eyed the glow in the window of my Fair Isle home that welcomed me in the distance. The gentle sound of the wind and lapping waves along the rocky coast was the only sound, and though far around the world from where I had come from, for tonight, this home was where I felt I belonged and felt grateful for where life had taken me this day.
Back to our story...
(For those who are just dropping in, start here to read the full story)
A place to stay and a way to get there... that was the extent of it.
Pressed for time, once I decided that the island of Fair Isle would be on my itinerary, I did a little searching, wrote off some emails, and ended up making arrangements with a gentleman named Tommy at the Auld Haa Guest House, built for the island's Laird in the early 1700’s. Tommy kindly made my flight reservations from Tingwall to the island, so I was set.
A place to stay and a way to get there.
I had heard repeatedly that the flight to Fair Isle was weather dependent, and there was always a chance that if the weather wasn't right, then the trip would be off. This being said, I was delighted when the storms of the previous week had passed and appreciated the blue skies I awoke to on the morning of the flight. Knowing that this wasn't always the case, I was grateful for the clear and wonderful view of Shetland as we lifted off from the runway. I loved that I could see below many of the places I had traveled to and from throughout Shetland Wool Week as we passed across the islands and headed southward.
I was in the far back seat and could see the view on either side of me. On my right I could look back towards my little home at Vementry Farm off in the distance, and to my left I could look out and see as we nearly flew right over the bridge and the village where I had traveled to weave in the evenings with Emma Blain of Aamos Designs.
Continuing south I spied the outline of the lengthy Burra Island where I had silversmithed with Mike Finney, and could see in the distance the ridge and on down the east coast where I had taken the spinning course at Hoswick. What a wonderful week it had been.
Soon the Shetland Islands were behind us, and as we flew across the deep blue waters, I reflected on these present times and this little lone crossroads island I was headed for that at one time was only reachable by sea. Once an important way station for North Sea seafarers, now not so necessary. How swift the changes come and go through time as inventions that create new opportunities sometimes cast shadows on those they displace.
As we flew, I knit and thought about this tug of war between traditions and the need/desire to keep them intact and the inevitable forging forward into the future and allowing of ourselves to break free from the traditions that somehow might possibly limit us.
I thought of Joan Fraser, the designer at the town hall Makers Market just a few days previously in Lerwick, and her fine gauge machine knit merino cowl I had bought from her that incorporated traditional patterns into a contemporary piece, yet still made and designed in Shetland. In contrast to this refined "high tech" accessory was the handspun handknit mushroom and lichen dyed hat I had purchased from Elizabeth Johnston that same day, which has since become my favorite day by day cap. Though very different, I love them both.
Fodder for future conversation…but for now, we were sweeping around the island preparing to land. This was it now, the island of Fair Isle right below me, where the trail of years and friends and fiber had led me...
Which takes me to the idea of expectations...I hadn't had a chance to form many concrete expectations, and believed I was wide open for whatever lay ahead, especially since I had so little preparation. But preparedness isn't always an indicator of how much or how few expectations one may hold within. And sometimes they are deeply embedded, and we don't even know we have certain expectations or assumptions until they are not immediately realized. Perhaps it is like the person arriving for the first time in Alaska and thinking to themselves, even though perhaps they may know better, "Where are the igloos?"
I stepped out of the plane and although I was just barely above sea level, as I my foot rested on solid ground, I felt as though I was taking a step on to the top of a mountain peak. Like my old camp days, the view and perspective from above was akin to my view back through time and what had led me here, and in all of that, my heart swelled with emotion. My host, Tommy, greeted me donning his Fair Isle knitted cap. As we drove to my new "Fair Isle home" I peered out the car window scanning the countryside, and found myself looking for what I didn't realize that I was thinking and expecting to find. Maybe down deep I thought I was going to see the road lined with cottages with rows of hand knit jumpers (sweaters) on wooden stretchers drying on their porches and alongside the fences. I didn't know that I expected to see them until I didn't.
Perhaps it was the scenes in the Alice Starmore video I had viewed so many times so long ago that had made a long forgotten impression, or possibly I had been influenced by the photographs in those Fair Isle books cast away on the shelf at home. All seemed very very very peaceful and still, except for a random birder binoculars in hand ( or "twitcher" as they called them) here and there, walking beside the stone fences harboring grazing sheep, but other than that, not a soul or sweater in sight.
Like I said, it is funny about expectations, sometimes we don't know we have them until things are different than what we sometimes don't even realize we are expecting.
We arrived at the Guest House and I loved what would become my "Fair Isle home" for my days here, a two story building with worn wooden floors and deep window sills resulting from the thick stone walls, and a large fireplace with coal burning insert and mantle topped with Tommy's wonderful handmade wire & carved cuttlefish creations.
Tommy knew I was a knitter and that I was interested in seeing the "knitting sites" on the island because of our shared correspondence. After a light lunch, he kindly showed me his personal knitted examples, his Fair Isle hat collection. Each hat a story, some were handknit, some were hand spun, some were natural Fair Isle Wool, some were hand dyed colors. I soaked in all the stories which wove into the history of the island itself, and through them, tried to get a feel for what the current state of knitting was here on the island.
There was something settling for me about seeing all the knitting and patternwork. Down deep, I think it was because this was Fair Isle and I was primed to see "authentic Fair Isle knitting". I guess you could call me the epitomy of the "knitting tourist". Knitting...could you show me your knitting? Embarrassed to admit..Such a tourist. My expectations were calmed and quelled by this handful of handknits.
What is interesting is after looking at all those patterned hats, and studying them so carefully as we set them on the floor to photograph, I looked beyond and over to the rug on his floor and noticed how several of the shapes on the rims of his hats bear a close resemblance to this motif on his rug. It was an innocent observation, but interesting to note and observe, knowing this rug was more than likely from a faraway place, and loved thinking about how from makers hands, through craft and pattern, distant cultures may find common ground and connection. This, of course, rekindled my own personal curiousity about the trail and movement of patterns that have followed migrating cultures, especially when worldwide communication was more difficult. This was not just about the movement of people, but also about the traveling objects of their making, even when they didn't, and that part of them that unbeknownst to them influenced others as they melded and mixed with the designs along the way.
I also loved his use of worn Fair Isle jumpers which still had some usefulness left in them in these seat cushions, pillows, and even in his whimsical wired bird creations.
But what I liked most were the stories he shared entwined in the knitting. I was listening carefully to Tommy's tales and really appreciated the foundation they provided for my time here. With only 55 permanent "Islander" residents and several of those away at school, it was a small world here, and because of its geography, somewhat like Cordova, but on a much smaller scale, limited and isolated in the flow of passing through traffic. It wasn't always this way, for in the days when ships were the main mode of transportation, Fair Isle was an important stopping place, and frequented by fishermen. He mentioned that the hat he wore and several of his hats were actually traditional fisherman caps or as they called them, "keps". I had seen photos of them in the books long ago, but it just never really clicked, and now that all my gansey thoughts were stirring, I was more in tune to hear that this hat style he had was another fishing, fisherman and knitting connection, especially I would find out later on my trip, in regard to Fair Isle knitting. Aha....
Because of our emails back and forth, Tommy had so kindly pre-arranged for a knitterly focused visit and had planned meet ups for me with certain people on the island. While on the phone to someone I was scheduled to visit, I overheard him say, "I have Dotty the knitter here to see you", and as I heard him speak, I felt somewhat intimidated by the title he was referencing me by. In my head I thought, perhaps I would consider myself "Dotty a knitter" but certainly not "Dotty THE Knitter".
I had two instant thoughts. First it reminded me of when I was homeschooling our children and when we were studying history through literature and how we read this one book which we all loved which told the story of Leif Eriksson, called Leif the Lucky and how his father was known as "Erik the Red". It just felt like that same sort of title.
Then I thought back on this concept of the worthiness we sometimes wrestle with in our lack of confidence concerning our abilities, like those I spoke of earlier who I ask those that come in the shop if they are a knitter and they question if whether or not they are REALLY a knitter. In my own self consciousness, I just didn't believe I was anything special to deserve any such title.
I had to laugh at myself, however, as I soon realized that this was merely a reference to what had brought me here. I was simply being referred to as “Dotty, the knitter” in contrast to "Dotty the birder, or ticker or twitcher", the names they give the birders who bring the greatest number of visitors to the island. Silly me...
But for now, Dotty the knitter had people to see and places to go, and I couldn't wait to see where the rest of the day would find me, and Tommy was preparing to drop me off at my first stop. And so from my new two story "home", the Auld Haa Guest House, we left down the lane, and I was on my way to my next adventure...
Like a sailor from a journey to a far away place, I came back from New Zealand with treasures to be shared. I returned to Cordova with a myriad of yarn, fiber, wheels, looms, and a further hunger to learn everything I could in hopes of sharing a taste of what I had experienced on my trip.
I took the hanks of beautiful naturally colored and hand dyed wool yarn and hung them on nails in rows along the walls of our net loft. SO much for hanging fishing nets. The wide boarded doors which were meant to swing open to allow the full length of the net to be "flaked"and repaired, or stretched to hang new ones were now covered with yarn and knitting needles. What I had envisioned as a corner cabinet whilst I work on nets had suddenly expanded to fill the room and vertical surfaces..
I became friends with a woman in town named PJ who not only worked with children, but was also an avid knitter, and I solicited her to teach a knitting class around a simple round table and a handful of folding chairs that were centered on the plywood floor. Upstairs in the net loft, gathered around the table, we had to bundle up to stay warm, as there was no heat and it was often times damp and cold, but we were all so excited we didn't mind. As the rain poured constantly on the tin roof making its own sweet music, we drank tea, laughed and shared as we worked our way through the hat and yoked sweater in Elizabeth Zimmerman's Knitting Workshop book, and I was beyond amazed as I knit and completed my very first sweater, and absolutely stunned when I found myself knitting with two colors. We forget when we have done something for so long how important these milestones can be. Thirty years later, my daughter now wears it, a natural brown corriedale DK with pattern work in hand dyed yarns from Anna and her sheep who I had met on the trip, who I still keep in contact with, and who has dyed yarns for me for many years.
In addition to PJ and her great willingness to teach and share, at that time many of my teachers were the books I read. Often times these were referred to me by friends who lived in isolated places with limited information and the books had been their main source of education as well. When I was introduced to a new author, I felt as though I was making a new friend, and felt a kinship and care for them as my companion and guide in my quest for learning. I was constantly on the lookout, hunting for literature that could help fill my huge knowledge gaps and insatiable appetite to learn all I could . I was new to all of it, there was so much I didn’t know, but there was so much I was determined to learn.
I wish I could remember exactly how it went, but somehow someone in those early days had mentioned the author Sheila McGregor, and I obtained her address and we began a correspondence. She signed some copies of her book for me, The Complete Book of Traditional Fair Isle Knitting” and we spoke back and forth of the possibility of having her come to Alaska, and then between the births of multiple children, multiple businesses, and just the busy-ness of life in general, I lost touch. I sincerely regret losing contact with her, as I loved her letters. and haven't been able to track her down since. I have always felt so disappointed in myself for missing out on having her come for a visit and getting to know and spend more time with her in person.
I remember at that time how entranced I was with the old photographs and the pages and pages of knitting charts. It seemed too much of a fantastic idea to even think about visiting this far away dreamy knitting land in person, but my imagination certainly longed to set foot on the island someday somehow which held the namesake as the origin of what had become one of my most favorite knitting styles. My love of cross stitch merged with knitting as I combed through the designs reminiscent of motifs and images in the samplers I had loved stitching.
Around the same time, I discovered St. Martin's Press, and another Fair Isle book by Sarah Don went through my hands and onto the shop shelf. Once again, I was transfixed by the pages of charts and patterns, but most drawn to the photographs of island life.
Books such as Knitting from the Nordic Tradition captured my attention, especially loving the photographs with hiking knitters knitting up the wildflower laden hillsides, and the older women with balls of yarn pinned to their chests.
For me, seeing the faces and surroundings of those in similar environments were as important as the patterns they were knitting. I remember touching the photographs the author's shared, having a sense that as I was touching the people and knitted objects in the books that I was somehow reaching out to them across the miles and back in time. The circle had widened, the authors who my friends had introduced me to had now introduced me to an expanded fellowship of kindred knitters whose stories they shared through their writing. I felt it unfortunate that I would most likely never meet these friends in person, and yet in some way, I felt that I "knew" them somehow, because of our "knitterly" and often "fisherly" connection.
Eventually the Book of Fair Isle Knitting from Alice Starmore was released and when I ordered it, I received a wonderful video cassette of Alice speaking about Fair Isle, the knitting, and her book. I watched that video over and over again. I remember that I was absolutely mesmerized and felt captivated by the words and photos of her books that were steadily being printed and all the future knitting I imagined as I combed through them.
It wasn't just me alone. I remember looking at these books with friends and how we would ooh and ahh over the pictures together in the old Net Loft, and in doing so our appreciation was not just the sum, but rather multiplied the joy in our sharing of the treasures we found inside those pages. It is wonderful that Dover has republished these treasured books and has made them available for a new generation of knitters, and glad that we can carry these "old book friends" in the shop.
I know this still happens today. A new book, a new pattern is instantly appreciated by tens, hundreds, and thousands on instagram and such. A technological mass of shared excitement. Same idea, just on different scale, but no less valuable or significant. I think the good part about the slower rate of release of books and information back then was that it gave you a little more time to savor and digest what was coming out. Even so, it seemed and still seems like there was and is never enough time.
Time passes so quickly, and for us it has been marked and remembered by the fishing seasons, and what kind of "fishing year" we have had... good season, bad season, low prices, high prices, oil spills, and crew members, long boat line ups, water hauls, deck loads, brailers, boat scales, brooms in masts, and the final back to town trip and putting away of nets and gear until the next year . Our children spent their summers between Net Loft life and our boat, the Orion. Like other fishing families, they learned from an early age the world encapsulated on a fishing boat, and the ebb and flow from set to set, as the net went out and the net and the fish harvest came in, as well as the explorations found during the in between times in Prince William Sound soaking in the surroundings and life with their father and fellow crew.
For me, my visits to the boat via float plane offered a break from busy shop life and I would watch everyone out the window as I knit away, listening to the hum of multiple conversations and fishtalk coming through on the string of radios in the wheelhouse, and even sometimes venturing off for a kayak ride.
And so, although I had been inspired by all those wonderful books and their lessons, I was also very busy with these aspects of raising children, running the shop, and "fish wifing" and despite my love for the books and all the patterns held therein, I could only soak in so much. I was squeezing in as much knitting, spinning, weaving and dyeing that would fit, but eventually and unfortunately, as time went by, with the advent of the internet and a flood of knitting publications and patterns being produced, this collection of specific books became still, except for occasionally referencing them as needed. I think of how they just sat there patiently and quietly, just waiting for my return. Although relatively undisturbed on my bookshelf, busy as I was, I still held these books near and dear, and the island of FAIR ISLE never lost its place close to my heart.
Now it was nearly thirty years later from when I had first became "a knitter" and followed that winding trail that led me hither and yon, that just as I decided I would be going to the Shetland Islands, I concurrently made plans to step foot on the distant island of Fair Isle. I really knew nothing more than that and it had been so many years since I had read through my books and too busy to research beforehand, that I simply stepped on the small plane that day open to whatever adventure lay ahead.
Once airborne, I soon realized, however, that I was experiencing a massive surge of adrenalin, fueled by the tucked away memory of those books and old photographs. Suddenly the pictures and patterns I had treasured from those earlier days flooded my mind, taking me by surprise. It wasn't just the books, but also the thought of the friends, both known and unknown, and old Net Loft/Fishing times that had brought me to this place and time. I felt this feeling of anticipation, as though I was on my way to visit an old, dear, and long lost friend that I had somehow lost contact with, but had missed for a very long time, and my excitement could not be contained, nor the smile upon my face.
# 8 b where the trail had taken me
When I was growing up, my mother had a tall mahogany chest of drawers in her closet. Built into the bottom drawer was an intriguing cedar lined chest with a special round inset brass latch. When opened, inside were stacks of hand knit skirts and matching tops that she had made, alongside several neatly wrapped and arranged bags of yarn, and an array of cables and needles. Tucked beneath, were these little boxes filled with what I thought were especially "interesting looking things". These were her needlework tools and accessories, and I found these especially inviting, especially because I wasn't supposed to get into them.
The skirts and tops were my mother's way to afford the fashionable knit suits of the era. Her art and various forms of needlework permeated my childhood and immediate surroundings, and creativity was considered as integral of a component of life as eating and drinking.
I asked her this morning whatever happened to those knit suits and this afternoon she brought out a cardboard box where they had been been in safe keeping. I tried them on, and though slightly creased, we were amazed at the good condition and fit from these archived knits from fifty years past.
I then asked her the most logical question a knitter would ask. Do you think you still have the patttern for that? She directed me to a small plastic tub in the closet and after digging through the leaflets, we found the booklet of suits amidst decades of patterns ranging from argyle socks to infant layettes.
Packed with the suits, we even found a fitted pullover in her signature wedgewood blue color, that I remember her wearing often.
At some point, I must have asked to be taught to knit, probably about the same time that she had felt it was time for me to learn. Unfortunately, my childhood handwork's only byproduct was a bright red uneven and irregular garter stitch scarf laced with gaping holes, and so I decided and determined right then and there that obviously I was not "a knitter" and went on my way to other needlework pursuits with materials provided by my mother.
In her eyes, as long as I had busy hands it didn’t matter to her what particular handcraft I chose. There were plenty of other needlework options, and so off I went pursuing various forms of needlework and embroidery which kept my idle hands pleasantly well occupied as my mother steadily stitched her way through the ups and downs of life. Her example even today continues to provide a model for me to follow and has led me to many wonderful passing moments behind the needle in her good company, and as I have written before, has provided a means to settle and process the ebbs and flows of life . We stitch on...
Years passed by and I was content to do cross stitch and a mixture of other needlework until my friend Joan offered to teach me to knit. Despite my obvious lack of confidence, Joan was convinced she could teach me. No fanfare, no formal instruction, just a simple, "I'll show you how", and, I have to admit, I was surprised to see what better dexterity I had in my “older” age, and excited that my own predestination of myself as a "never to be knitter" was overthrown as she patiently guided my hands.
Herein lies a good reason why I encourage many I see at the shop to give it a try, even perhaps after an unsuccessful previous attempt, when they feel insecure and underconfident at the prospect of becoming a knitter. I find it interesting that there are even those who already knit, who will meekly say that they aren't a "real" knitter, as if there was some rite of passage that makes one go from unreal to real, thus they be called "a knitter". I generally ask them, "Do you knit?" to which they reply, "Yes". and then I say, "Then, you are a knitter..." in the way one would make a proclamation of sorts, akin to knighthood. Maybe I should just call it "knithood"....with a knitting needle tapped from one shoulder to the next, " I now pronounce you.... A Knitter! Go forth!"
This long story would have ended long ago if not for those elbow to elbow hand guiding moments with Joan. One cannot always know the effect that the time that we take to be with someone and share something of ourselves with them may have and the value of what may lay ahead for them in the big picture of their lives as their lifetime story unfolds. And so, to my friend Joan who helped me make that leap, I will be forever grateful for opening up a world where friendship and solitude intertwine, and continue to provide that special quality in handcraft that has brought me a sense of order, rest, and relaxation in the midst of my often chaotic life. Though living far apart at this time, I was also so happy that I could tell my mom I was now knitting, and felt it to be a special common tie that brought us closer together despite the physical distance between us.
This was the winter of 1985, and very shortly after my lesson with Joan, our family was off to spend a few months venturing in a long time scheduled trip to New Zealand. It wasn't planned this way that I should learn to knit before I left, but it was where the trail led, and so timely looking back on it, for New Zealand was the perfect place for a new knitter to wander.
I was immersed in a world of wool. All along the way I had the opportunity as we traveled to be exposed to a variety of fiber related activities, as well as connect with what would become life long fiber friends.
My eyes were opened and they opened WIDE. Hardly knowing much of anything in this realm, and a fresh knitter just out of the gate, I asked a trillion questions, and excitedly purchased yarn and fleeces first hand from several of those I came in contact with, and who so kindly spent time with me sharing and educating me with their knowledge and wisdom. Being in this environment was contagious and although new in this realm, in a deep down sense, I felt as if something inside of me was connecting with something ancient and ingrained within.
Thanks to a network of fiber friends shared with me through a friend of a friend back in the states, we went from town to town meeting and visiting with a web of weavers, spinners and knitters throughout the islands.
What is so interesting is that this list had come to me several weeks before our trip, before I had even learned to knit, and only shared because we were going to New Zealand, as this one friend had this other friend who happened to be a knitter and spinner who had been there, and felt compelled to connect us with one another. It was all orchestrated through letters and written correspondence, across many miles and between people who had never met.
As it turned out, that list was the most valuable and instrumental asset and means for connecting with those who took over where Joan, my knitting mentor, had left off. I look back at that trail of people and events and the expansive view brought into sight, and, once again, so much of it was simply where the trail had taken me, and I, in my youthful adventurous spirit was just willing to follow it along.
where the trail leads us
When I was a young girl I spent many of my summer days at a camp in the Rockies climbing mountains thanks to my thoughtful grandparents. Donned in my grandfather's old plaid cotton dress shirts, swiss army knife, and instamatic camera, I proceeded to venture on as many hikes and backpacks as the camp would let me. I just remember that despite my young adolescent awkwardness, at that time, there in the mountains with friends I felt at ease in my own skin.
The hiking trails we followed often began in the forest below treeline and usually were clear and distinct starting out, but often led us into expansive meadows of wildflowers or fields of snow where we would have to pay close attention so as not to become disoriented or lose sight of where we might once again find the trail.
As we continued on, generally we could see the tops of the mountains as the trail opened into tundra with its lichen covered rocks and cropped flora, and we would simply make our own way to the top, while other times we would follow little stacks of rocks that those who had come before us had left to help us make a good decision as to our route, especially when the way became steep and treacherous.
There are so many different trails in life to follow, but for some reason or another, we choose a path, and follow along. Once on that trail, often what comes next is a product of where we have been and where the trail ultimately leads us. Just as with the mountain trails, sometimes where we are headed is not so clearly defined. Sometimes we trust the trail that beckons us forward and sometimes we forge our own paths with our goal clearly in sight.
One of the favorite things I remember about climbing mountains from those camp days. was to look back from the top and see down into valley and forest, tracing our route from up above. You couldn't always see the mountaintop while hiking beneath the forest canopy, but on top of the peak you could easily look back and see the overall picture and perspective of the path we had traveled.
And so, likewise, with a view that comes from "hiking" along the many years of life, I reflect on the day I began to board the plane in Shetland en route to Fair Isle last fall, and I look back and view the path that eventually led me there. It was not a random event, like a visit to some tourist spot that happened to be on some list of suggested places to see, although it may have appeared that way if one only looked on it superficially based on the amount of time I had spent preparing for the journey. But actually it was the trail that had led me there, and I merely had put one foot in front of the other, beginning with the first footsteps taken decades earlier.
These early footsteps found me in the summer of 1985, and it had been just a year since we had started to construct a fishing home/warehouse at the edge of a beaver pond "out the road" from town. What is funny is that just a few years previously, when we first bought the property, after seeing it briefly in the midst of a torrential rain storm, all we could see in the low clouds and pouring rain was a dark and dense rainforest, knee deep in water. We still smile at the thought of that pleasant surprise of finding that just beyond the thick stand of trees lay a beautiful pond, grassy marsh, and panoramic view of sweeping forests and distant snow capped mountains, which eventually would become the backdrop for a host of summertime campfires and potlucks shared with our friends and their children through the years and seasons marked by fish openings and closures. Sometimes gifts arrive in unusual packages.
It had taken a couple of years from that first day we stepped on to the property to actually build. Like a giant erector set, our fishing crew had ended up putting the building together during their down time as they happened to be on strike that summer, in hopes of raising the grounds price being paid for their fish. Once the crew were off and on their way and back to fishing, framers came in and erected the infrastructure, and it didn't take me very long after to begin operating the makeshift needlework shop which would eventually end up in the net loft of our building.
I painted a simple sign on a board and nailed it to a tree, put up a new sign at the post office and I was ready to begin. I already was selling and teaching cross stitch from the back of my truck, and, as ignorance is bliss, in my own mind, it was all it needed to be. I had fine linen and Danish Flower thread from Denmark, DMC floss from France, precision needlework scissors from Germany, lovely little porcelein boxes awaiting needlework from England, a variety of patterns and kits from Europe and the United States, and all I wanted was to show and share my true love of needlework and somehow provide an opportunity to make a connection of sorts. It didn't matter in my mind that there was no fancy surroundings, for fine materials and friendship were the most important components, and I had to use what I had, and not worry about what I didn't, or it never would have come into being. I still planned to continue to hang fishing nets, and so the net loft was constructed with that in mind. But, you know, sometimes trails don't always go the way we think or expect them to. . .
and what comes next around the bend will show you just what I mean.
the journey continues...
It has been a full and productive summer here at The Net Loft. As summer merges into fall, and with Shetland Wool Week 2015 about to commence, it seems a perfect time for me to reflect on my final days almost one full year ago in that fair place along our shared Latitude 60 Degrees.
In the meantime, here in Cordova, Alaska, we have been painting, knitting, dyeing, needle working, needle felting, gluing and pasting our way through the spring and summer days in true Net Loft fashion. With the rains that have finally arrived, the mushrooms are emerging and my not so secret love of wild mushroom foraging, harvesting, and dyeing is my most current distraction and greatest means of procrastination in the midst of the usual shop life which entails my not so favorite pile sorting and organizing following all the Net Loft summer activities.
Today, however, I direct my thoughts to this special spot on the other side of the globe, in hopes of completing at least this part of the long story I have attempted to tell over these last several months. It is time for me to take a moment and return to those beautiful green rolling hills and the beginning of a very special journey that followed the Shetland Wool Week Activities.
After of full week of classes and events, I was happy that I had given myself an extra day or so in Shetland, following the programmed activities. These last couple of days were just as eventful and were filled to the brim with a variety of memorable social engagements.
- A Fiber Artists multi-course feast in Hoswick.
- Fleece buying from Margaret in Whiteness...
- A most delicious salmon meal followed by an evening of good company and sharing stories at the home of Gudrun Johnston's father along with the company of Mary Jane Mucklestone and Ysolda Teague. The hospitality provided in this home in another land at the edge of the sea, was such a pleasant and relaxing experience, and these moments together and our conversation I count as precious and very special. Gudrun and Mary Jane had come to Cordova for our Net Loft Fiber & Friends 2014 and it was nice to have some time together when I wasn't in the midst of managing so many logistics.
- That same night after the long winding drive back to my cottage, I had a late evening show and tell session with my "neighbor" Marion at Vementry, ending with a purchase of one of her just completed Shetland yoke sweaters sans buttons. Those who know me, know my love of buttons, and I am excited that I get to choose some Net Loft ones to compliment her fine workmanship.
While sitting in her living room, she showed me some examples of her collection of knitting including a very sweet vintage ruffled baby hat.
I had mentioned that I was still struggling with how to choose colors and deciding how to place them in Shetland designs. Marion kindly spent time helping me to grasp her process of selecting the symmetrical gradations and arrangements of color. What I observed mostly, was her intuitive sense of color variation, demonstrated in subtle and beautiful color changes aided by the extensive pallete and variety of the lovely heathered hues of Jamieson Shetland wools.
This was such a treat for me to have this time to focus and inspect her pieces carefully one on one and one by one into the wee late night hours. Time is such a precious gift and appreciate every one along the way of this journey who has taken the time to share their wisdom and life skill knowledge with me. I am always touched by all those who take the time in the midst of their own projects to stop and come alongside to those just learning. What a wonderful force exists in the collective body of craftspeople around the world of kindred spirits sharing their mutual love of handcraft and needlework.
- The next day was a journey to and through the Jamieson Wool Mill in Sandnes. A perfect destination after the previous evening studying pattern and color, the Jamieson mill is one of the two major sources of production of the rainbow of yarns responsible for the Shetland signature sweaters and colorwork.
I walked in the mill and was greeted by owner Gary Jamieson, and let him know that we had his wool for sale around the globe here in Cordova, a half a world away. It was fun talking with him and he advised me to wander about and ask questions of anyone who I might bump into as I toured the facility.
I wandered in and out of the various rooms, and had the opportunity to visit with a weaver weaving yardage destined for Italy.
I strolled by myself in and out between the giant machines watching as the fiber made its way from fleece to finished product bagged and bound for knitters hands around the world, the music of the mechanics of the machines humming throughout .
- My last destination was off and down to the island of Burra for the rest of the day for a silversmithing session to make buttons and a necklace at the Red Houss with Mike Finnie.
The process was fascinating and so excited to make myself a set of sterling silver buttons and a Shetland sterling silver necklace in the hours that followed in his Red Houss studio. Mike kindly gifted me his smaller demonstration button, so I ended up with a total of three beautiful buttons awaiting some special future hand knit. I appreciate the fine Shetland hospitality both he and his wife extended to me.
In all of this, I contemplated my brewing thoughts of the Gansey Project, and how this entire program here in Shetland had been an immense collaboration and celebration of the past merging with the present through the care and efforts of a host of instructors and volunteers... tradition entwined with this modern life...patterns and designs prevaling through the efforts of generations of knitters and the hope of preservation of the craft for further generations to come. Halfway around the world I felt as though I were gathering up this bed of knowledge and packing it up in my suitcase to be carried off to our little Alaskan fishing village to be carried forward in its own unique way. I didn't know exactly at this time what shape or form it would take, but I knew an idea had definitely taken hold.
I cannot imagine a better last couple of days in Shetland with all its fullness of rich activity, and the next morning, as I said goodbye to my little croft house at Vementry, I wished to myself that I could stay another week just to rest and absorb all that had taken place. But further adventures were to be had, and such an adventure ahead that I had only imagined for many years...
As I drove up to the small airport in TIngwall and boarded the tiny plane on that beautiful blue sky day, I could not believe that this next dream was about to come true and as our plane gently lifted into the sky, with a tilt of the plane's wing, I bid dear Shetland a fare thee well.
Part 8 to follow. Onward to the next adventure....
6B: The CORK LINE
From Behind the Green Door with Felicity Ford to Beyond the Distant Shore
( a continuation of a LONG story starting HERE and most recently with 6A HERE)
Sitting down alongside my classmates around the table at Jamieson and Smith, I was overwhelmed by the tabletop piled high in yarn colors and choices of Shetland fingering yarn. I was so sorry to have missed the beginning, but with my morning adventure behind me, I jumped right in, with help thankfully from those seated on either side of me. Fortunately Knitsonik, Felicity Ford was still sharing and showing her examples and techniques for her Quotidian Stranded Colourwork.
Felicity's excitement and enthusiasm was contagious.
Still hungry for an understanding of the "right way" to put colors together, I found it interesting that Felicity, like Stella, after presenting her process for developing patternwork, gave us the same type of opportunity to put this process into practice. With Stella, the day before, we had used a monochromatic format using texture as a means to interpret pattern, but now, with Felicity Ford we were instructed on the interpretation of a visual idea that incorporated both pattern AND color into the design.
I found a common and valuable link between these two classes that I felt related to the ideas that were now brewing in my mind of a "Cordova Gansey Project". Here I was in Shetland, trying to learn about these two types of knitting, gansey and colorwork, both rich in history. This was especially in the forefront for me, as I was literally sitting there in the geographic hub of historical and traditional knitting. What I was learning, however, was that there was more to this process than merely duplicating previous patterns or attempting to create an authentic and historically correct garment.
This was about taking the past and letting it be an inspiration and guide for something new. A fresh perspective, a new vision, a new idea, a personalized version in the hands of the knitter.
The concept involved reflecting on the symbols and visual elements that held meaning to one personally, and taking those designs and elements and incorporating them into patterns in one’s knitting. In both of these classes, it wasn't just about studying and learning traditional patterns, copying them and integrating them into one's knitting, perhaps shuffling them around in different order, but rather, for me, it seemed to be starting from the questions,
- What do I love?
- What is important to me?
- What do I want to communicate through my design?
- What images define me or who I am going to knit for?
- What images in my surrounding environment resonate with me?
This is surely not a new concept, as patterns and designs throughout time have had such originations. Yet in my case, however, in love with the traditional and buried with life, I have ended up defaulting for the most part to traditional charts and designs. This is not to say that I haven't wanted to try something new. For years I have fawned over photos in certain books which align scenes and colors into knitting designs, such as Alice Starmore's Fair Isle Knitting, and deep down have wistfully yearned to do so as well.
And so, I was embarking upon a journey to a place I had longed for, but never made the time for. Now was my opportunity. The wrestle between what I wished I could do and what I ended up doing was no longer. I was in the right time and the right place with the right person being told to do something I had for years wanted to do, but only dreamed of. I have to admit, mixed with my excitement, I felt a little pressured, especially since I had arrived so late and I didn't want to "mess up" what I regarded in my mind as a special moment in time.
Like the day before, I was presented with yet another chance to be creative and to reflect upon a graphic interpretation of an aspect of my life and surroundings. Yesterday, In Stella’s gansey class, I had chosen the images of nets and fish. In Felicity’s workshop, I selected the cork line of a fishing net.
Another fisherknitter image, the corkline seemed a natural choice. The cork line: afloat on the waterline and of dire importance to fishermen for keeping the net buoyant and carefully secured in such a way that the net not only hangs correctly, but also comes back with minimal tangles.
As I began to experiment with ideas and chart my pattern on graph paper, I reminisced and reflected on the simple element and image of the cork line and it's meaning in my life. My mind drifted to the days before the shop, and to the fishing times after the birth of our first daughter and first child Rosemary.
This was the summer I didn't go fishing on the boat, and learned how to hang fishing gillnets from Bonnie in the APA net lofts. I was able to find an old wooden crate box that I lined with blankets and cushions, and there, as well as on a cushion on the warehouse floor, Rosemary slept while I worked on nets.
During that time, I remember the nice gesture of a dear wife and mom of father and son fishermen who lived in the bunkhouse who offered to take Rosie for walks now and then in an old stroller frame she had found and had put blankets in to make it more comfy.
She and Rosemary would stroll in this makeshift buggy along the wildflower lined road that went out to what is now Orca Lodge, and though unpaved at the time, it was a peaceful walk along the water's edge and allowed me time while Rose was awake to still keep working on the nets and would often be just what she needed to put her down for a nap.
When Bonnie started me out working on my first net, I was quite green and not famililar with gillnets as we had a seine boat and the nets are completely different.
I remember the instructions she gave me when I first started out. The net had to be hung "just so" she explained, describing its likeness in seamstress terms akin to a giant skirt of sorts. The distance between hangings and where you tied your knots was very critical and had to be so precise that if you were off by even a slight amount, the whole 150 fathom long net would be thrown off and the hang of the "skirt" would be affected, sort of like a knitters gauge and its effect on the final dimensions and fit of a garment.
Fishermen have formulas for their net hanging and these vary from fisherman to fisherman. I had to be very careful lest when the net was reeled in it would roll up or wind on improperly and I would be to blame, as it could cost the fisherman time and money.
Hanging and repairing fishing nets is an art and craft of itself. Even now, most of this work is still all done by hand. At the time I learned on a board that had markings along the surface to determine the spacing, but it is also done on a hanging bench. This NET HANGING VIDEO taken this spring of my daughter and her husband will give you a quick glimpse of both methods. It is a handcraft of rhythm and repetition, not unlike knitting.
The nets catch the fish, but the cork lines allow for buoyancy, aligned vertically by the weighted leadline. I thought about that which is necessary in my own life to provide structure and shape to my goals and dreams, and that which holds me up and provides buoyancy in an ordinary life that sometimes feels adrift or sinking. Without the cork line the net is just a heap of mesh.
Sometimes life gets full and just like a full net, the corks begin to sink from the weight of the load. During these times friends come alongside and keep the net from sinking and spilling the fish, as friends help us stay buoyant when life pulls us under. What would we do without friends.
As I continued to chart out different ideas for my cork line image that day with Felicity, my mind continued to conjure up these pictures of the past and I could almost hear Networker Bonnie's voice gently speaking to me as I filled in the boxes on the knitters graph paper provided for the class. It had been interesting that this trip and this time when I was off and so very far away so rekindled these memories encapsulated in these simple images such as the cork line and the nets.
With this added element of color to contend with, I began to swatch my charted design. To me, one of the most helpful things Felicity shared was about the value of swatching, and that it was important to remember to just keep trying different combinations and to experiment with them until you liked the results, and especially to not be discouraged by unsuccessful attempts. All of the attempts were an important part of the process.
As Felicity said and showed us in her swatches, sometimes designers may only show you a small part of their swatch and only the one that worked in the end, and you don’t see all the attempts made before they got there. For me this meant you have to start somewhere, with an idea and be willing to flounder a little before getting it right, and that thought held with me as I ventured into thinking of this gansey project that was taking form in my mind.
I thank Felicity for the thoughts she shared and for these reminders, as sometimes I can feel discouraged and lose confidence. I jotted down these quick notes around the borders of my charted design as I listened to her talking.
- doesn't have to be perfect from the start
- don't give up... keep trying different things and different ideas
- the WHOLE swatch with its seeming failures and multiple attempts has value
- EVERY ATTEMPT IS IMPORTANT TO THE FINAL DESIGN.
- ALL attempts are part of the process and the only way through it or to get to where we want to go or end up is to swatch and swatch again
As I looked at Felicity holding up her long swatches (she had a wonderful stack of them), which of course to me looked delightful as a long collection of pattern and color and design, I thought that perhaps with some of these attempts we might think we don't like, in the big picture, incorporating some of them may actually make the final design more interesting. Therefore, in these swatches it seems important to keep going and not take out everything we think we don't immediately care for, and how it helps for us to visually see everything right next to each other, good and not so good, just for comparison, so we can clearly see the difference of what works and what doesn't so much.
I loved hearing this and instantly thought of this "messy" life of mine where I have so many attempts that seem inferior in so many aspects of my life, and it is easy to lose perspective and feel discouraged instead of seeing the big picture. Again, it is ALL important, and it ALL has value. As far as this developing gansey project, it means that we will have to get in there and get started and be willing to experiment and try new ideas, and some ideas and attempts may not be as successful as others, but that is ALL part of it.
And so I left with my not so perfect cork line image, sketches, and swatch, and a reinforcement of the concept of the integration of lifestyle and handcraft, fishing and knitting. The corkline image was my connection to all fishermen throughout the centuries; a particular element relevant to our fishing family in our present lifetime as well. It is an image I hope to develop and keep working on, and eventually incorporate into a color and patternwork piece. And more colourwork understanding is where I was headed next, to a fair island rich in mariner and color knitting history.
My question for you is, what images resonate and tell your story, and as I heard once from a weaving instructor, I believe it was Anita Luvera Mayer, "there are over 10,000 mistakes to be made in weaving, so you better get started." Same applies all around to a lot of things... wouldn't you say?
Enough for now...Off we go... more to come...
Thanks to Felicity Ford for an encouraging and inspiring workshop.
Felicity's Book KNITSONIK COLOURWORK & SOURCEBOOK is wonderful, and in stock at the shop, and may be purchased onlne at The Net Loft via THIS LINK.
NetHanging Video courtesy of Drifters Fish Co
Piet Klaasse "Gillnetter" Watercolor used with permission from Artists for Nature. Thank you, Ysbrand Brouwers
The Long Story continues...Chapter #7 link
#6 the corkline
(for previous posts start with Cordova Gansey Project The Long Story Introduction)
After several weeks and a busy reprieve, the long story continues, and now... back to the Shetland Islands, where our story finds us on the last Saturday of Shetland Wool Week in October 2014. Following a wonderful week of classes scattered around the islands, the icing on the cake was that my final class would be a color workshop with Knitsonik Felicity Ford.
I was still reeling from the "Fishing for Ganseys" class on the fishing boat from the day before, where Stella Ruhe, our instructor, had shared her expertise with us on Dutch Ganseys and the Dutch interpretation and modification of the traditional ganseys of the United Kingdom. She had given us the opportunity to convert our own ideas and imagery into patterns and graphic charts. Using knits and purls, we designed, then created swatches to test these ideas and how well they translated into actual knitting. (see blog #5 A & B )
Dressed and ready to face this last class day with plenty of time to spare, I was a little sad leaving the cottage at Vementry that beautiful morning, yet proceeded to pack up my car for the days outing. I remember thinking to myself, I wish I could spend the WHOLE day right HERE just soaking it in; so peaceful with the calm water wrapping around the spaces between the sunlit hillsides dotted with Shetland sheep and ponies. With my full schedule of classes, it seemed like each day it was already dark by the time I got "home", and that I had hardly had the time to explore much around the property.
Be careful what you wish for. I quickly took some photos and jumped in the car to find that my petite lime green rental car had a dead battery. Now what? I asked myself. I knew the kind woman, Marion, in the cottage immediately up the hill who had been my lodging hostess had gone off to work for the day. I realized I had to explore the "neighborhood" for help, and in reality, I knew there was only one other house on the property which was where Marion's family lived, and no other options for at least a mile or two away.
I hiked up the little hill and around to the two story house. I first hesitantly knocked on the door, as it was still fairly early in the day, but no one answered. There was a boat engine idling on the dock down below, so I then wandered down the muddy path to the boat dock and shed, but unfortunately found no one there.
I walked back up the hill and tried knocking on the house door once again, this time a little more forcefully. I heard noises and giggles, and then two sweet little girls with the cutest faces answered the door. They went and fetched their mum. Although I felt bad disturbing her morning, I was grateful for her offer to help. She tried calling her husband, who was off attending the mussel beds. After unsuccesssfully attempting to reach him on his cell phone, she took off on the four wheeler to go find him, leaving me with the children. While she was gone, I had a delightful time visiting with her girls. They were quite friendly and wanted me to have some of their "lollies and biscuits". I loved hearing their sweet voices and accent as they showed me their "catty" (kitty), their trophies, and their big screen tv.
It is funny, for me, as I drove around Shetland, seeing these charming crofts scattered on rolling green hills, in my mind somehow I imagined walking up to the door of one and maybe finding an 18th or 19th century family living inside. This house at Vementry in particular with the stone walled garden full of giant cabbages and vegetables, and Shetland ponies wandering about, and from the way the building itself in all its charm looked on the outside, I half expected in my imagination that the inside would be a step back in time as well. I thought on this as I listened to the girls chatting and sharing their stories with me in their little Shetland voices, looking out through the foot wide window coves as we pet the cat. Eventually their father returned and helped me get my car going and I was off and on my way.
Although I was VERY late to class and embarrassingly so (once again), this unexpected morning walking around the property up and down to the dock and into this home with the delightful children was as a much a part of the wonderfulness of the day as the rest of it that followed. If not for my dead battery, I would not have had that chance for those moments with the young Shetlanders, or an eyeful of the giant, beautiful, bright orange carrots with huge fluffy green tops overflowing from the edge of their kitchen sink, petted and scratched a Shetland catty behind the ears, or had the very much desired hike I was longing to take around the property.
I reflect now on that time where I had no other option but to just sit and visit with those girls as we waited for their mum and dad to return for my auto rescue. Such a good example of the priceless incidental and accidental adventures that we encounter and savor as we look back on our days. The extra bonus was that I was able to speak with the father after he helped me get my car started, as I had hoped somehow to purchase a fleece from the farm there, and when I returned that night I found on my doorstep a most beautiful prize fleece. A treasure indeed from a mishap morning.
Perhaps when we are in a faraway place we are more prone to be open to appreciating these unstaged moments, but it is a good lesson for me to remember about making the most of the opportunities to appreciate what is there to be had in the midst of inopportune times.
All this to say, that when I FINALLY arrived at my class with way too long of a story to explain, I just crept in hoping to not be too disruptive, and squeezed in around the full table of knitting students at the Jamieson & Smith Yarn store where the workshop was taking place.
That is all for now...The Cordova Gansey Project and the Long Story continues when we find out what happens next...
Behind the green door with Felicity Ford.
#5 of lockers and fishing boats, fishermen and those who love them ...part B (for part A, please read first)
And so, alas, 'twas in the Shetland Islands, after I walked down the cobblestone path through the narrow village walkway from atop the hill that fine October day, that I reached the harbor in the town of Lerwick and made my way excitedly down the modern dock to the F/V Swan LK243, the boat on which my next Shetland Wool Week knitting class would take place.
I just remember walking along the planks of the wooden ramp that early morning and taking a big long deep breath just to really take it all in. I was so happy and grateful to be where I was right then and there.
And then, there it was, as clear as could be, "the diesel and the docks", and though half way around the world in an unfamiliar place, the fragrance spoke to me like the voice of a familiar friend. Just like that day of Nathan's hug, I was somehow reminded of other places and other times, and there was something quite endearing and comforting about that and the start of this very special day.
Grinning from ear to ear at this point, I joined the group as we were aided on board by the crew with our satchels of yarn and knitting. One by one we climbed onto the boat and down into the cabin. Here to take a class on Dutch Ganseys with Stella Ruhe, pictured below, the group of us from the UK, Europe and abroad arranged ourselves in the galley on benches squeezed around a small wooden table, rocking slightly with the lilt of the ocean, even though we were still tied up to the dock for the day.
Knowing nothing about the boat, its history or much about the fishing industry in Shetland, I assumed the Fishing Vessel Swan LK243 was still actively being used for fishing. At one point, as we were getting settled, I asked the skipper more about the boat and fishing life. Of course I wanted to know more about “his” boat and what he fished for and how they fished in the Shetland Islands. I thought myself somehow a compatriot of sorts, though I truly had no idea. I was wide eyed in general about being in this new place and so much to soak in, but so eager to connect to this place at 60 degrees latitude (just like Cordova) and what we held in common, ie: fishing for a living. Besides that, it was such a charming little boat, and I was somehow caught in this romantic nostalgia enhanced by the atmosphere and surroundings.
Ah yes, without a word at first, in answer to my question, the skipper patiently motioned me back up the stairs and up on the deck. In all honesty, I thought he was taking me up to show me his nets or something, but instead, he simply pointed in the direction of a VERY large vessel, at least 300 feet long on a MUCH larger dock off in the distance, and explained to me that although the Swan LK243 was at one time used as a herring boat, that these days, the herring fishery was performed by a few mega boats such as the one off on the distant dock and all is accomplished in just a few days of the year. He told me that the boat we were on was actually owned by a historical trust and that it’s fishing days were long gone. So sad I thought.
With that I returned down the stairs and back around the table, reflecting on the skipper's news and listening to the mesh of voices and accents from Shetland and Fife in Scotland, London, Suffolk, and Cullercoats in England, the Isle of Man, Denmark, and New Zealand as we all handled and studied Stellas's swatches and discussed the pattern ideas and were inspired by her stories of the Dutch ganseys that grew out of the herring fisheries in the UK.
Her words “follow the fish, follow the patterns, follow the herring trail and you will find the trail of knitting patterns that spread through this region" sunk deep into my heart and mind.
As mentioned before, Stella is an enthusiastic speaker. She is genuinely excited about her topic and what her research has revealed, and even now in the midst of a second collection of ganseys collected from Holland. She was a diligent detective and investigator, hunting and searching out photos and digging up clues as to the origins and evidence revealed by these garments she so eagerly sought. With little physical evidence left behind, she relied on the photos she uncovered through her research, and reknit them based on what she could see in the photograph. One reason she cited for so few being around, at least in Holland, was that they were worn until they were worn out, and that once a gansey became no longer able to be worn, the fisherman would often use it as a deck mop at the end of a stick.
One of my favorite stories and photographs she shared with us concerned the pompoms that were on the end of some of the men’s gathered gansey collars. It was odd and amusing to see these grown men with pompoms hanging from knitted strands tied in a bow on the front of their garments. As she explained the reasoning for the pompoms, I had to laugh to myself, as they weren't a decoration as I had assumed, but rather they were there to wipe away the jellyfish that would land in their eyes as they brought up the nets, and the drawstring were there to help draw up and secure the neckline. Beginning with the basic elements they found in the UK sweaters , these Dutch women who had knit the sweaters had added practical special touches of their own at the request of their fishermen husbands to help them as they worked, implementing their own tradition and creating a Dutch gansey knitting heritage.
As she spoke, still caught in an emotional fishing memory state, I was once again mentally transported to the days on the back deck of our seine boat, stacking the leadline, one of my jobs, and to the unforgettable memory of the hurtful sting from the jellyfish as the net came over the power block splattering jellyfish bits into our eyes. Right then, glancing at the photographs I felt an immediate connection to the gentlemen in the old photographs, for we shared the sting of the jellyfish, as well as the connection to their knitting wives with their desire to care for their loved ones via their knitting. If you look closely in the second photo below you can see the bits of peachy gold in the net, which are the bits of jellyfish.
The class was wonderful and halfway through, we all shared a delicious potato and smoked haddock soup with home made bread cooked for us by the "galley girl". After Stella's introduction and history lesson concerning the Dutch gansey version and how they came about, she further elaborated on the graphic designs that were incorporated via knit and purl in a way that varied from gansey to gansey.
These ganseys were "a reflection of life, fishermen, and their families". I think I continued to be most struck by the willingness of the Dutch women to make it their own and to comfortably adapt the patterns in a way that genuinely personalized them as they interjected their own motifs and that which they held important as translated graphically into their designs.
In light of this, as part of the workshop, instead of merely copying their ideas, Stella invited us to think about what we felt was important in our lives, and how we might graphically translate those values and images into simple patterns. WIth graph paper and pencil, then yarn and needles, we set about to reflect on this and bring our own ideas to life.
She also spoke about the garment she was wearing which wouldn't be immediately identified as a gansey, in the traditional sense, for it incorporated the essence of a gansey, yet looked completely modern and contemporary. In the quiet moments that followed, as I began to knit my swatch, I mentally wrestled with this myriad of thoughts concerning traditional, contemporary, fishing, fisherman, fishing boat, fishing towns, old patterns, new patterns then, now, now then...I wondered if anyone else's head was spinning as fast as mine was right then.
What rattled around in my mind was the thought of this fiber (ie:wool), this wonderful fiber with these wonderful qualities and how it was incorporated into a garment and personalized via the handknitter and worn by loved ones. I thought again as I had the night before when Stella had given her talk, that the Dutch gansey, in regard to actual fisherman was shrouded by these words, “was” “in the past” “historically” “traditionally”, and yet Stella was weaving together past and present in regard to ganseys.
Yes, it is true, ganseys ARE still around, and I do see ganseys and their influence all the time in the knitting fashion world, modified and unmodified, but what about the fishermen? If these were fishermen sweaters originally designed and worn by fishermen, then why weren't more fishermen still wearing them? The first realization, at least for today, was that at least here in the Shetland Islands, there weren't a whole lot of independent fishermen anymore.
Hmm....The pat I had felt earlier was no longer a pat, it was a lump in my throat. This is precisely what went through my mind.
- We are a fishing town. It is our proud identity.
- We bring a healthy sustainable product into the hands of the consumer.
- We are more than historical, and we are continuing to make history.
- We are an active, living, and thriving coastal fishing community and state in an industry where independent fishermen in small boats are presently harvesting an unadulterated product that is nutritionally superior than its farmed counterpart.
- We are knitters by choice and desire.
- We love to knit and we love to knit for those we love.
- Wool is a superior fiber with superior qualities, ideal for those working in cold and wet environments and we are a cold and wet environment.
With all this in mind, why could we as handknitters not put all these together once again in a way that was somehow new and different and incorporated our unique and special Alaska harvesting heritage?
The words, “working in wool” came to my mind. Just as the Moray Firth Gansey Project was about ganseys of the past, why couldn’t we have a project that clothed the fishermen of the present. Just as the Dutch women modified the patterns that they came in contact with that followed the fishermen on the herring trail and integrated them with their own designs and modifications and had implemented their own tradition, why couldn’t these patterns follow the fish once again and come to OUR fishing port and OUR fishing fleet, and be modified by our local hand knitters for an active present fisherman?
Simply put, why couldn’t we put fisherman sweaters back on the backs of the fishermen?
Wouldn’t it be ideal to not only knit my fisherman son, daughter and son in law each a gansey ( I promise, no pom poms...), as I have thought and wanted to do for awhile now, but also to pull together and collectively knit as a group wool gansey sweaters that we designed ourselves for our fishermen and outdoorsman loved ones to work in. I know this is nothing new and that there have been those in our town who have knit for their fishing family members for years, but this would be something we could do together as a group, just for fun as well as function, and maybe not just for us, but eventually we could ignite from Cordova an idea that could spread amongst this next generation of other Alaskan fishing communities as well.
The one thing that is taking place in our industry is the attention drawn to the care that our fishermen are purposely tending to the fish they catch in order to preserve best the quality of their product. What better way to care for these harvesters than to clothe them in that which is made with care and purpose. As I continued to knit, my mind mulled over all these thoughts. Sitting on the benches of that boat, rocking gently with the water, I felt both calm and excited at the same time.
As class came to a close, I climbed up the ladder and out of the cabin of the F/V Swan LK243 and into the ocean air. Once again, the diesel and the docks swept over me reminding me of the fishing life back in Alaska, and more questions filled my mind. With all this talk of ganseys, I wondered if ganseys were ever worn long ago by the fishermen in Cordova, or anywhere else in Alaska? And for now, would there be a way to combine these ganseys with our wonderful local Copper River Fleece gear in a way that would bring out the best of both worlds?
And so from all the taps on my shoulders and pats on the back, and beyond the lump in my throat, I began to put to words what had been stirring within all week, now grown from concept and idea into something tangible, so much so, I almost felt I could touch it..
I traveled back to my little cottage that night full of ideas and wrote in my travel journal about the day's adventure. I looked over my notes from Stella's class as I wrote and came across these words that I had written down, which she had shared concerning the growth of her idea and what was going on in her mind as she was just getting started. As I reread them, I felt a bit of myself in them, "...but if I don't do it, what would happen?" How I could relate. These words seem to be what has kept me doing so much of what I have done over the years in The Net Loft, and although inadequate in so many ways, I always have thought to myself, "it might not be perfect and someone else could probably do it a whole lot better than me, but if I don't do it, what would happen?".
What was even more interesting were the next words in my notes that I had jotted down and put in quotes from her sharing. It was just a phrase..."With enormous joy in my heart". I wrote this down because she was so beaming in describing the journey she had taken in making the Dutch Gansey Project happen. I believe it wasn't just an impersonal and technical study on sweaters, but rather it was the stories about them and the people in and around that brought them to life that brought her joy. It was the joy she found of the human experience and the people she met along the way, those from then and those from now, as she unraveled the Dutch gansey story.
Stella's excitement and passion concerning her project is that which happens when we follow that inkling, that tap on the shoulder, that pat on the back, that lump in the throat, even when we are not so sure always what we are doing or where it will take us. Thank you Stella for an inspiring day...
Finally, before dropping off to sleep, touched and inspired again by the hand knitters who came before me, and from all that led up to this day in Shetland and in my own fishing and knitting life, the closing words I wrote at the bottom of the page of my journal posed a simple question... "What about a Cordova Gansey Project?"
As a sidenote, from a recent correspondence with Stella, she now has 125 sweaters in the Dutch Gansey Collection that are hand knit reproductions of Dutch ganseys found in old recovered photographs, and is just as excited about her second book in the making as she was the first, which promises more stories of life and living conditions on the herring boats in the early 1900's, and further history of the life and times of these fishermen and their families. To be published in the future initially in Dutch, here's hoping an English translation will soon follow.
top photo from: http://www.historiegaasterland.nl/Sites%20hist.archief%20%20HWG/Haringvisserij.html
bottom photo: http://www.geheugenvannederland.nl/?/nl/items/ZZM01:F021570/&p=44&i=19&t=911&st=breien&sc=(breien)/&wst=breien
all other archival Dutch Photos courtesy of Stella Ruhe Dutch Ganseys
#5 of lockers and fishing boats, fishermen and those who love them ....part A
Years ago, before we built our fishing warehouse at 6 1/2 Mile Copper River Highway, we kept and stored our gear in an equipment storage locker in the Alaska Packers Association warehouses. APA, as it was called, was where our newly purchased first fishing boat had been stored by its previous owner, and so became our inherited new home of sorts.
In order to get to our storage locker, there was a maze of steps and corridors that wandered through the multiple story old metal and wood buildings which were connected by enclosed wooden catwalks. At one time, these structures housed a cannery that used to pack salmon and later clams, but these days, the old buildings were storehouses for boats and fishing nets.
At first, because we were new, they gave us a locker on the uppermost level of the buildings. At that time, we lived on the boat and didn't have a bunkroom yet, so whatever we owned in our fishing life either was on the boat or in the locker. In order to take things on and off the boat, we had to first climb up and over the rails and across the decks of all the boats we were tied up next to, at either the pilings or the floating dock at the end of the buildings.
From here we had to climb up a precarious rusty ladder, or up a wooden ramp, depending on where we were docked, and then follow along on a very narrow wooden plank boardwalk under the warehouse structures along the rows of pilings that supported and were just below the warehouses. From under the buildings you emerged and continued around the dim walkways, winding through narrow passageways and multiple stairs until you finally arrived at the locker. Although some of the details are a little fuzzy, I just have this recollection that at low tide it was quite a journey, especially with boxes or armloads of gear.
I do remember, however, that at that time, everything I owned seemed to reek of diesel fuel and mechanical fluid. We (mostly Fred our mechanic and crewman) had put a new engine into our "new" 35 year old wooden boat before launching it for the season. I remember standing there passing tools back and forth, when I wasn't busy repainting the exterior and letters of the boat name. Launching it was an adventure in itself, as the whole building seemed to quiver as it was lowered into the water. Mechanically speaking, it was one thing after another, and from that point on it just seemed like everything I had was drenched, and I mean drenched in the fragrance of oil and fuel, hydraulic fluid, mildew from the dampness of endless rain, and the lingering aroma of past fish harvests.
As it turned out, the roof above our first locker leaked profusely, and consequently, we were given a new and different locker on another floor, and so we proceeded to haul our soaked gear and goods down to our new spot. Now, if my memory serves me right, it seemed that from then on, Captain Bob, my husband, was in search of the perfect locker. Somehow, he would find that someone was moving out of their locker, and had us crew move everything to this new spot. Of course, these new lockers were never close by or on the same floor. And so, it seemed, that over the next several years of our time at APA, when we weren't out on the fishing grounds, we crewman experienced an endless parade up and down the stairs, and around and about the warehouses hauling our gear from boat to locker, locker to boat as well as from locker to locker...buckets, ropes, oil cans, net mending supplies, raingear, clothes, and a myriad of odds and ends.
Maybe being bound in that little space had something do with it, but regardless of the location, upstairs or downstairs, our locker never ceased to contain this distinct "fragrant" concoction of dampness, diesel, and fish. Anything you put into storage would quickly absorb the fragrance of the locker, and I was always reluctant to store in there anything I really cared about, but often didn't have the option, and the same went for that old wooden boat, whose old wooden hull seemed like a sponge to every fluid it ever came in contact with. I thought about that in terms of all the people that had come in contact with that old boat and these buildings once astir with the rattlings of a cannery and cannery workers, and then and moreso now, the hum of fisherman's voices and their discussions on fish prices and dreams of better boats, with a hint of secrecy about how many fish they actually caught. I often wondered if somehow a bit of them lingered as well.
Eventually, we purchased our first fiberglass boat, and a few years later bought land and built a warehouse, and even farther down the line, opened up the shop in the net loft of the new warehouse. Everything was new and fresh, and although I missed my friends and life at the bunkhouse, I appreciated having a fresh environment for my possessions. It wasn't long after opening the store out the road that I started carrying lotions and perfumes in the shop as part of our repertoire. I knew first hand the need to smell something of a different sort of fragrance even more so while working on a boat or in the cannery.
Fragrances are known to stir memories, and although as years go by, one may sometimes forget what they have forgotten, a whiff of a scent can somehow bring it back to mind. And so it was one day last summer, that our fisherman son, Nate, wandered into The Net Loft for a hug and a hello. Surrounded by the usual Net Loft fragrances of lavender, lemongrass, perfumed Lollia lotions and candles, interlaced with fresh chocolates and wool yarn, Nate reached out and gave me a long hard hug, weary from working on his boat, which he had been tearing apart learning and figuring out how to fix and maintain.
To my surprise and without a conscious thought, in that moment of embracing him, loud and clear, I was instantly catapulted back to that old fishing boat and APA locker. I felt myself hesitate and had a sense of time collapse as past merged with present. In those brief seconds, I didn't want to let him or the memory go.
Having been recently out on the water for a fish opening, and then without stopping to change, as is common in fishing life, working on his boat for the last few days changing hydraulic hoses and doing engine maintenance, Nate's clothing and body had accumulated and become saturated with that distinct strong aroma and combination of just the right formula of diesel, dampness, engine fluids and fishing.
As I breathed in its "perfume" it had transported me back in time 35 years, and all the memories of those early days came flooding in and filled me with nostalgia. One more hug please, I thought. What once was something I willingly tried to avoid but could not get away from, I now longed for more. It wasn't so much for the buildings and the boat, but rather the friendships formed and the lifestyle lived while being in the midst of them...of weddings on boat decks, babies in the bunkhouse, conversations in the cookhouse around the big black iron eight foot diesel cookstove, exploring attics and finding "treasure", of youth and vitality, new love and a new life.
Our boat these days is down a dock, rather than at the end of an old cannery, and yet as you walk the docks you can still catch a whiff in the air in the Cordova Harbor of diesel, boat mechanics and fishing.
Though not quite so intense as that found in our old boat or locker, it is still a distinct combination, and evokes the thought of fisherman astir throughout the season. Perhaps one could simply call it the aroma of "the diesel and the docks", even though it really is so much more. And those who know it can tell you, indeed so very much more...
Soon to follow...Part B the docks of Shetland
Watercolors by Karl Becker , Cordova, Alaska
Oil Painting of Fisherman at the Dock by Jen-Ann Kirchmeier, Cordova, Alaska (there a few signed glicee copies of this fisherman at the docks painting available which may be ordered directly from Jen-Ann)
On a side note, our Net Loft Custom Colorway from Three Irish Girls Yarns was derived by the watercolor painting shown above by Karl Becker of the old APA Cannery. Though not in our online store, these yarns are available in a variety of bases at the shop. You can now understand where this color comes from and why it is so special to me. Yarn inquiries for yarns in shop but not online may be made to email@example.com.
#4 a spin of the wheel and a pat on the back
The reality of my time in Shetland for Wool Week is that basically I had just signed up and so I showed up. I was too busy with life to really take time to figure things out too much beforehand, and so everything was an adventure and a surprise, and I was open to whatever came my way, with few expectations. I just showed up each day in each place that I had just sort of picked out without much thought. I knew what I liked and what I was interested in, and that I wanted to make the most of every moment, so I had a full schedule of a variety of classes in a variety of subjects that I had quickly chosen last April, so I wouldn't miss out. I was so busy with planning and executing Fiber and Friends that I didn't have the time or energy to invest in much research. There were, however, some classes I had thought I would have liked to register for, one in particular, but that one was full, and I felt grateful for the classes I was able to get into, so I was mostly content.
It was now Thursday, and I was registered for a spinning class in the southern town of Sandwick, and providentially found myself in class with Suzanne, another American and a kind and dear soul, who happened to have joined us at our Net Loft Fiber and Friends event in Cordova this past summer. What a great surprise!
Oh my goodness, this was a delightful class. Our excellent instructor, Elizabeth Johnston of Shetland Handspun, was a wealth of information and had a wonderful sense of humor. Suzanne, our classmates, and I had a fine day learning about the remarkable and special qualities of Shetland sheep.
I felt excited and grateful to be having this intense learning experience and took careful notes of Elizabeth's teachings. We cleaned and studied a variety of Shetland Fleeces, examining the details and unique qualities of the fleece from these sheep and what make them special. This was followed by demonstrations of a variety of techniques, all of which reinforced the joy of handling and transforming fiber to yarn, and further strengthened my love for wool, and especially for this primitive breed that I had had no previous experience with.
It was a great day, and I was delighted to be spinning again. I was so enthused from the class experience with Elizabeth that I actually purchased a few fleeces, which is a tale in itself. I was able to get them in a variety of colors with hopes of spinning enough yarn for a natural colored Fair Isle jersey for myself someday in the future.
It is hard to put into words, looking back at how this all fit together, but what I find interesting is that my love of spinning placed me there that day in that particular place at that particular time. The chain of events in all this and what followed is one of those serendipitous times that makes life and its circumstances somehow come together in a way one cannot always plan or expect.
My love of spinning, The Net Loft Fiber and Friends and meeting Suzanne last summer. My involvement in fishing. My presence in Shetland. My years at The Net Loft. My love of handcraft. Generally not having time to think or reflect on such things, looking back I see that these elements of who I am and who I have met and where I have been and what I do and what I like and what I want to know, were at that time converging in the same way spokes of the drive wheel on a spinning wheel come together and intersect in one spot, and how that coming together is where it finds stability. In the whirl of life, things often seem to be spinning in mad constant motion in a million different directions, but now these different components were actually meeting and coming together in synchronicity.
This being said, Suzanne and I, after having been reacquainted during our class decided to have dinner together. During dinner I mentioned to Suzanne that I had been interested in this "Fishing for Ganseys" class that was supposed to happen the next day. I had been explaining to Suzanne this connection I was experiencing inside me concerning Fishing and Knitting, and that I had originally wanted to sign up for the class, but that the class was full. I shared with her about the taps on my shoulder, and how something unknown was stirring inside me that I couldn't explain. As it turned out, I was surprised to hear that she actually had a spot in the class, and I was excited for her to be able to participate, as I heard the class would take place on an actual Shetland fishing boat, which sounded fun to me. Even though I wouldn't be able to take part, I looked forward to her return and hearing more about the class and her adventure.
That night, together we both went to hear the evening program, which included a lecture from Hazel Tindall, who had been my instructor for the Fair Isle yokes class, and another, as it turns out, by Stella Ruhe, the author of the book, “Dutch Ganseys”, and the teacher scheduled for the class on the fishing boat the next day.
Stella was genuinely excited about her Dutch gansey project and book. My mind opened further as she further unfolded the story of the transport of knitting patterns that followed the herring fishery in the North Sea. As she spoke, the auditorium screen revealed larger than life images of fishermen donned with the Dutch version of this fisherman’s attire. The words HISTORICAL and TRADITIONAL were a large part of the conversation. It was as though the words historical, traditional, fishermen and knitting, were somehow entwined and closely bound together.
Looking back, I had always been fascinated by ganseys and those that knit and wore them, but that was the extent of my knowledge. Years ago, I had corresponded with Mary Wright in Cornwall, England, because I loved the photos in her book on Cornish Ganseys that we carried in the shop, and she had actually helped me get copies of several of the photographs printed from her local museum to hang in the store, like the one below which has always been one of my favorites, because I loved the look of the fisherman leaning back on the stone in the background looking at the fisher girl knitting . If you have been in the Net Loft, you may recognize this picture we have had hanging since the days in the old Net Loft. It just seemed like a perfect fit and was nice of Mary to help me get a copy.
In the past, I hadn't really paid much attention, or grasped the extent to which historical, traditional, and fishermen were bound in regard to working in wool ganseys. As I was listening to the lecture, and after my day with Elizabeth, I felt like I was literally being pulled even moreso into this tangle of fishermen and knitting and wool and my own personal connection to it all. Day by day it continued to grow stronger.
After the lecture, to my surprise, Suzanne offered me her space in the class for the next day, as she could see I was feeling this strong connection. She would not let me refuse. I have to admit I was very excited.
Then came more than a tap; this was definitely an encouraging pat on the shoulder, and I felt grateful for Suzanne’s gift of her class space, for how it all came about, and really looked forward to the next day and what more lay waiting to unfold. A fishing boat and knitting.... the perfect combination...
Follow the fish...sail on to #5 to find where it leads you....
Cornish Gansey Knitter from http://www.thatsmycornwall.com/stitch-in-time-cornwalls-knit-frocks/
# 3 - Friends in a Faraway Place
We all have our reasons for finding our way to a faraway place. Sometimes we are simply born there, and other times we follow an inkling or follow a friend, for fun, for a job, or both. Sometimes it is for a long while, and sometimes it may just be for a week or two. Regardless of the time spent, these places off the beaten path change us, and we are not quite the same as we were, or would have been, without the influence these kind of places have on us.
Cordova is such a place one has to come to with intention. It is not on the way to someplace else, but rather a destination one must choose. It takes a little extra effort, but definitely worth the journey. Sometimes around the Net Loft Knitting Table the conversation arises as to "what brought you here", "how did you come to be in Cordova?" I always love to hear the different stories and responses as they are shared.
For my husband, Bob, he had a friend who had gone to Alaska and came back with tales of life on a fishing boat. Like his grandfather Charles on the right in the photo above, who had left the comforts of home in England during the gold rush in search of adventure and fortune in Alaska, Bob and his friend Kenny headed northward on their own sojourn, and found themselves in the town of Cordova, Alaska, just months after the 1964 earthquake.
After walking the docks, these greenhorns both found jobs as deckhands on two different salmon fishing seine boats, and joined the ranks of the fishing migrant summer population.
Cordova has long experienced this swell in numbers in response to the return of the salmon. Captains, crewmen, and cannery workers fill the town, just like the salmon fill the sound, streams, and rivers. The town bustles with activity as they gear up for another season. It is the fish that draw them here. The scenery and the surroundings bid them to stay, or be compelled to return, such as these two friends, Kenny and Bob.
And so for me, it was an inkling and a long standing desire that was MY reason and what inevitably led me half way around the world to the Shetland Islands. Perhaps it was that photo in my geography book in the 5th grade with the children standing by the Shetland pony, or the yoked Shetland sweater my best friend at camp in Colorado would wear that I always loved. The sheep, the yarn, the knitting, and from far away, it just drew me to it and just seemed like a place that I would love, although it was a long time wanting to go before finally culminated in a getting to go. And then, it happened, I set my compass heading purposely for this faraway land and made the journey, without really thinking too much about it beforehand.
As a migratory individual, I generally consider home as the place where I am at that moment in time, more of a state of mind than a physical condition...never a "local", but always "at home". So it was, that in just a few days, Shetland and my little cottage by the sea with the Shetland ponies in the yard, was now "home", and I settled in and felt my roots sink quickly. Waking up in my new "home" after a good nights sleep, I felt more comfortable and ready for what lay ahead. It was now Wednesday of Shetland Wool Week. I awoke extra early, as I had a special place and activity to reach that were two islands and two ferry journeys away on the far north island of Unst, famous for producing beautiful handspun fine lace and the northernmost inhabited island in the British Isles. I was signed up for an all day lace design class with the “Lace Knitters of Unst”, and because of the ferries, timing was criticaI.
Today's journey began via the north entrance to the town of Aith on a narrow back road. There were no cars on this single lane byway that wound up and down and through the mountains and heathered hills where sheep roamed on and along the roadside. As I ventured down the lane, it was so beautiful my heart was literally fluttering with excitement, and in the early morning light, the landscape virtually took my breath away. There was so much adrenalin pumping through my veins, I felt like I was going to burst. Off the beaten path to a faraway place, definitely worth the journey.
A few hours and many miles later, I arrived at the Unst Heritage Center for my class. The small center had been a school at one time, but now had an assortment of displays on Unst history, lace knitting, as well as a small gift shop of books, knitting patterns and knitted items. The entrance to our classroom had this lovely hanging handknit lace framing the top of the doorway. Our class met on a table they set right between the small glass cases and living history vignettes with old style mannequins dressed in their period clothing. All day, I would catch a glimpse of them with the corner of my eye and forget they weren't real. It was as though these characters of the past were there overseeing our lessons. Squeezed into the room alongside us were racks with more of the ganseys on display from the Moray Firth Gansey Project that were on exhibit in Shetland for Wool Week. We were literally surrounded with historical knitting in our close quarters.
The day's workshop was led by Hazel Laurenson. With just three other students in the class and lots of personal attention, the day was one that is deeply etched into my memory. My heart felt laden with so much of the experience to absorb. I didn’t want to miss a drop of it. I recently stumbled into a blog post by one of the other women that was in our small group. She felt a similar response to her experience that it was one of those very special days in her life to long remember.
Hazel was a patient and kind instructor. During her introduction, as she gave us a lesson in Shetland lace history and structure, she pulled out a pillow case filled with these acid free tissue paper wrapped rolls, and unrolled piece after piece of beautiful hand knit lace. Clearly I was in the presence of a living treasure.
So interesting to hear her care and concerns that the craft not be lost. She mentioned that knitting was no longer taught in the schools and her fears that the next generations would not or were not interested in these old knitting ways. This was a genuine concern that I heard over and again throughout my time there, this heartfelt desire for their knitting traditions to not fade, especially on the island and throughout Shetland, hard to believe with so much excitement and interest during wool week. I also thought of how Ravelry has reignited and reintroduced some of these traditions and fine knitting to a new generation, and though maybe not so fine of yarn, some of the same ideas conceptually are being taken on throughout the world now and the incredible exchange of pattern and ideas via the internet.
After carefully studying and fondling her beautiful samples, we jumped right into our knitted lace projects using Jamieson Cobweb Laceweight Shetland Wool. We had a choice of two different sizes. I was actually surprised at how "sensible" and simple the knitting was structured. It was so logical and with the knitter in mind.
During our tea break, I had time to look at the Moray Firth ganseys up close. On each garment was a tag and each tag told the origin of that particular garment. What is interesting about knitting is the person and the place and the situations that surround each project. I really liked getting to take a closer look at more of these sweaters that had caught my eye and that had stirred up my attention a couple days earlier. I found that they had been collected from around Scotland and I was impressed by the fine gauge knitting, intricate design, and workmanship in each piece.
During lunch while others were off in the other room eating, I wandered around and took time to study the display cases searching for more details of Unst history in the quiet of this little museum. The mesh between fishing and knitting on this distant island continued to unfold, and I was interested in finding our more on the subject. Not knowing too much yet, I wondered to myself, where were these fishermen that used to line the coast? It all seemed very still here and sparsely populated. I am sure others knew, but this was new history for me.
I soon learned that Baltasound, the main village in Unst, once vied with Lerwick as the top herring port in the boom years 1880-1925. During the ‘season’ the population of 500 rose to 10,000 with the influx of gutters and coopers, supporting some 600 boats. Our town of Cordova may more than double or possibly triple, but this was twenty times the nonseasonal population. What a major change in the dynamic of the town this must have been. Where did everyone live? Where did everyone go? Was fishing still happening even if the boom years were gone?
I wanted to know the details and I was especially intrigued by the women who were the laborists in this open air on the docks cannery of sorts. I continued to be drawn to the photos of the“herring or fisher lassies”, who would gut the fish and pack the barrels. I wondered who they were and how they felt or what they thought about this faraway place that provided their living, and their part in this moving mass of people that followed the fish. There was something about those girls with their smiles, and here I was on a faraway island in their fish town gazing at the hills that once were their migrant fishing "home" for those days they were here, moving along with the migration of the fish.
It wasn't just that they were connected to me because we were both tied to fishing, but it was the fishing and the knitting I wanted to know more about. The simple words I found were, "in their spare time, when they were waiting for the fish, they would sing or spend time knitting ganseys and stockings". Those words sounded so wonderful to me. Even with the long hours and hard work, they would sing and knit in their down time. Just for fun, here is one of their songs I found which they also sang as they worked: herring girls song http://www.banffshiremaritime.org.uk/index.php/following-the-herring/herring-gutters-song
I know well this waiting for the fish. The boats go out, the boats come in. As a fish wife, my summer life has been marked by boats going out and coming in, with the weaving in and out of the "Captain" being home and crewmen in the house, alternated with concentrated Net Loft time.
It also reminded me more specifically of my friendships in the past with some of the young women from the cannery office during the summertime, who have come to the shop, and knit with us on their off time, a reprieve from bunkhouse life, or come by to show us their knitting accomplishments, as we always love show and tell. When not working, they would often knit. Along the same lines, I reflect on some of the very dear friends I have come to know over the years whose families, some like my own, followed the fish, and often around the Net Loft summertime table, as a mix of summer and year round residents, have knit and shared stories when the boats were out...our own version of knitting and fishing.
I read recently of an interview with Margaret Ann, a herring girl (quine), from years past found in the book The Herring Lassies
. One of the things she said reminded me so much of this group of us that fishing has brought and kept together over the years. The interviewer mentioned how what came across most strongly from listening to Margaret Ann was the bond of fellowship and friendship which the quines had with each other. They helped each other, shared what they had, and looked out for one another, and their knitting was what they enjoyed when they were off duty. In our fishing community of Cordova, I have often experienced these special bonds. For us, or we like them, the knitting and the fishing have gone hand in hand. We didn't really think about what we were doing, we were just doing it, and I think that was the same for them, and in the midst of it, deep bonds of friendship were formed.
Knitting…Fishing. Fishing….Knitting. These were “my people” in this faraway place. Another tap on the shoulder. Tap #3. As I returned to my lace knitting class, listening and appreciating the voices from new knitting friends around the table on this distant island of Unst, my thoughts were definitely stirring, but not yet sure where they would be taking me.
there's still more tales to be told...stay tuned...#4
Shetland Islands #2 The next nudge...for the love of sheep... the list
The next day of my Shetland Islands Wool Week Adventure, I was pretty overwhelmed from all that I had experienced thus far, and needed to catch my breath. The place I had chosen to stay for the week was more of a bit of a drive than I had anticipated. The night before, after a full day of classes and activities, I had arrived in the dark after driving for quite some time with a few sheepish friends that joined in here and there. It was late, and I was very very tired.
My little spot at Vementry Farm was at the end of the road beyond the town of Aith. When I awoke (late, mind you, weary from the travel) to see the scene from my sheep farm croft cottage at the edge of the sea, the panorama took my breath away, but hardly had a minute to catch it (my breath), for I had to make haste to get back down the road and off to Lerwick for my first class of the day, even though the view from my little Shetland home for the week beckoned me to stay.
There was no such thing as rushing on the small lane I had to travel leaving Vementry, and trying to acclimate to driving with the steering wheel on the right didn't help, even though the inside of me was racing at full speed. I had a workshop on Fair Isle Knitting with Hazel Tindall on my schedule for the morning, and I was desperate not to be tardy, but it was too late for that. I could only drive so fast, and there was no way I could make up the time. The class was on "Designing Fair Isle yokes for Round Yoke Jumpers and Cardigans". I took a deep breath and walked in late, with my head held low as class was already in session. I didn't like having to race to get caught up with the class, but I loved hearing the stories Hazel shared and tried to soak up every drop I could of the colorwork and design of her samples on the table.
If you are interested in The Art of Fair Isle Knitting, Hazel has an excellent DVD on the subject and worth investing in. http://www.hazeltindall.com/dvd She is a great instructor and grateful I could attend even though I was a little frazzled.
I now could really take a deep breath I had no afternoon class, and so I finally had some free time to explore the museum and read through the literature provided in our welcome pack, and so, after milling around the museum, sitting down for a rest and quietly leafing through papers seemed like a really good idea. I found myself a cozy corner and I began to read through the brochures they had given us. There was one document in particular from the Campaign for Wool that I was compelled to read over and again . I had seen it somewhere before, but this time I read it extra intently. Much of it I already knew, but there it was, point by point, in black and white, all the features of wool that make it such an excellent fiber.
This is the list that I read again and again...Take time to read it slowly, it's worth the read.
Wool is a protein fibre formed in the skin of sheep, and is thus one hundred percent natural, not man-made. Since the Stone Age, it has been appreciated as one of the most effective forms of all-weather protection known to man, and science is yet to produce a fibre which matches its unique properties.
As long as there is grass to graze on, every year sheep will produce a new fleece; making wool a renewable fibre source. Woolgrowers actively work to safeguard the environment and improve efficiency, endeavoring to make the wool industry sustainable for future generations.
At the end of its useful life, wool can be returned to the soil, where it decomposes, releasing valuable nutrients into the ground. When a natural wool fibre is disposed of in soil, it takes a very short time to break down, whereas most synthetics are extremely slow to degrade.
Wool is a hygroscopic fibre. As the humidity of the surrounding air rises and falls, the fibre absorbs and releases water vapour. Heat is generated and retained during the absorption phase, which makes wool a natural insulator. Used in the home, wool insulation helps to reduce energy costs and prevents the loss of energy to the external environment,
thus reducing carbon emissions.
Wool fibres are crimped, and when tightly packed together, form millions of tiny pockets of air. This unique structure allows it to absorb and release moisture—either in the atmosphere or perspiration from the wearer—without compromising its thermal efficiency. Wool has a large capacity to absorb moisture vapour (up to 30 per cent of its own weight) next to the skin, making it extremely breathable.
RESILIENT & ELASTIC
Wool fibres resist tearing and are able to be bent back on themselves over 20,000 times without breaking. Due to its crimped structure, wool is also naturally elastic, and so wool garments have the ability to stretch comfortably with the wearer, but are then able to return to their natural shape, making them resistant to wrinkling and sagging. Wool therefore maintains its appearance in the longer term, adding value to the product and its lifespan. Wool is also hydrophillic—it is highly absorbent, and retains liquids—and so dyes richly while remaining colourfast, without the use of chemicals.
Thanks to its hygroscopic abilities, wool constantly reacts to changes in body temperature, maintaining its wearer’s thermophysical comfort in both cold and warm weather.
The protective waxy coating on wool fibres makes wool products resistant to staining and they also pick up less dust as wool is naturally anti-static. Recent innovations mean wool items are no longer hand-wash only. Many wool products can now be machine-washed and tumble dried.
Wool is far more efficient than other textiles at absorbing sweat and releasing it into the air, before bacteria has a chance to develop and produce unpleasant body odor.
A SAFE SOLUTION
Wool is naturally safe. It is not known to cause allergies and does not promote the growth of bacteria. It can even reduce floating dust in the atmosphere, as the fibre’s microscopic scales are able to trap and hold dust in the top layers until vacuumed away. Thanks to its high water and nitrogen content, wool is naturally flame-retardant, and has a far higher ignition threshold than many other fibres, will not melt and stick to the skin causing burns, and produces less noxious fumes that cause death in fire situations. Finally, wool also has a naturally high level of UV protection, which is much higher than most synthetics and cotton.
All of these features, growing in this environment, on this creature. What a marvel.
As I read and reread this list, all I could think about was the ganseys I had seen the day before, my fishing family, and the idea that wool is indeed a very good idea.
Now, I have always liked wool, but somehow being in this environment surrounded by sheep, knitters, and with a moment to contemplate, I pondered these qualities and the first of the dots began to connect. I thought about our fishermen and the work they do and these living animals with this inherently superior fiber growing on them, roaming the green hillsides. Of course there is the economics of it all, and much more complicated than my simple thoughts, but the elementary concept of sheep, wool, fleece, yarn, knit, wear, work, fish just seemed like such a natural and logical progression to me. My thoughts were drifting. It worked for them...it could work for us...in the midst of knitting, I was contemplating fishing...
It was then as clear as day that I felt another tap on my shoulder, and maybe even accompanied by the ting of a bell, maybe even a ship's bell. Something was most definitely stirring. This was tap number two.
More to come… the saga continues...
Etchings by Nicola Slattery
I was fortunate enough to take an etching workshop with her while in the UK. For more info on etchings and workshops, folllow link above.